On the one hand, moving aggressively in the direction of cleaner energy is a great thing. So I think the proposal has many goals that are themselves in the right direction. But the entire bill is presented as a goal that isn’t realistic as a whole, and it isn’t one that is going to get much bipartisan support.
Anyone who actually thinks we could achieve close to 100% renewable energy in 10 years either isn’t being genuine, or they don’t understand the nature of our energy systems. It’s not like Kennedy calling the moon shot within a decade. It’s like him talking about a manned mission to Mars in 10 years. One is a serious proposal, and the other will get you dismissed as someone who doesn’t understand the complex issues and who needn’t be taken seriously.
The need to decarbonize is real, but 100% zero-carbon energy in 10 years isn’t. Especially considering that the plan’s proponents plan to get there without nuclear power. As my fellow Forbes contributor Michael Shellenberger recently pointed out, some of the key proponents of the GND pushed for Vermont’s abandonment of nuclear power. That decision resulted in Vermont’s carbon emissions increasing at a time the rest of the country’s carbon emissions were declining.
It is worth noting that no country in the world has come close to achieving zero-carbon energy. There are instances where some small countries with ample wind, solar, hydropower, and geothermal resources have managed to produce most of their electricity with clean energy.
But their transportation systems — cars, trucks, ships, and airplanes — are still utterly dependent on petroleum. There is simply no way to phase fossil fuels out of those systems in 10 years short of vastly scaling back those systems. We don’t even have a reasonable theoretical pathway toward getting there. Yet far too many extrapolate the success of some countries in vastly decarbonizing their electrical production into decarbonizing all energy consumption.
There there is also the political will to do it. If you ask Americans to choose between two degrees of global warming or giving up airline travel and steaks — I can tell you what they are going to choose. We are notoriously short-sighted, and that impacts our ability to do important long-range planning.
If the GND is going to be taken seriously by the majority of the people, it needs to take a set of achievable goals and package them into an overall achievable objective. Packaging it as they have makes it easy to dismiss as naive proposals from idealists that may understand the urgency of climate change, but that don’t possess a deep understanding of our energy systems.
The cynical view is that some of the people behind this proposal know it isn’t realistic, but then when it isn’t achieved they can always blame special interests and the establishment — as opposed to their unrealistic objectives — in failing to achieve success.