Green New Deal: Aggressive Goals Or Delusional Thinking?

Moving aggressively in the direction of cleaner energy is a great thing. Setting goals that aren’t based in realism is a good way to be ridiculed.

Last week freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal (GND).”

The proposal initially caused an uproar after Ocasio-Cortez’s office sent a copy of the resolution and a FAQ to media outlets. Some noted that it would practically mean eliminating air travel, eating steaks, and that it contained a number of progressive agenda items having nothing to do with energy or the environment.

Ocasio-Cortez responded to the confusion with a tweet and linked to the bill itself: “There are multiple doctored GND resolutions and FAQs floating around. There was also a draft version that got uploaded + taken down. There’s also draft versions floating out there.”

Confusion aside, the bill is vague on details but the gist is that it calls for a massive 10-year mobilization plan to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in the U.S. and “create economic prosperity for all.”

Moon Shot or Mars Shot?

To head off skepticism of such a plan, the FAQ cited John F. Kennedy’s famous 1962 speech in which he said “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade…” Of course that lofty goal was met, so it has been used again and again to justify aggressive goals — realistic or not.

But by the time Kennedy made that speech the space program had accomplished many important milestones that would help get us to the moon. Humans had already made multiple space flights, and we had crashed objects into the moon. An achievable schedule based on achievable milestones was developed.

Imagine that Kennedy had instead said “We choose to build cities on the moon in this decade.” Or “We will land a man on Mars this decade.” Those goals wouldn’t have been achievable, because technology (and our willingness to pay the steep cost) simply hadn’t advanced enough. Kennedy would have lost credibility by setting impossible goals.

The Danger of Delusional Thinking

There is a real danger in setting goals that aren’t based in realism. I have worked for people who put out aggressive, but achievable goals. I have also worked for people who put out goals that weren’t grounded in reality. What happens over time is that you work hard to achieve the former, and you become disillusioned and stop taking the latter seriously. That’s the real concern I have.