MENR Paper

The final requirement for the Master’s in Environment and Natural Resources is a paper that pulls together several aspects of what the student has learned through the program. I chose to look at the Green New Deal, a proposed resolution in Congress to pursue a bold transformation of the United States economy to address two crises in our society – climate change and inequality.

If passed, the resolution would call on Congress to mobilize vast public resources to transition the United States from an economy based on fossil fuels to one based on renewable energy, worker protections, and equity for disadvantaged communities. To achieve this economic transformation, the GND resolution establishes a number of lofty environmental goals, including:

  • To achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers
  • To create millions of high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States
  • To invest in infrastructure and industry to sustainability meet the challenges of the 21st century
  • To secure clean air and water, climate resilience, healthy food, access to nature, and a sustainable environment for all people of the United States
  • To promote justice by stopping future and repairing past oppression of frontline and vulnerable communities.

These are important goals for any nation, particularly the United States, which is facing the extreme effects of climate change and income inequality, both of which are only getting worse. But how specifically could these goals be implemented? What policies and programs would be needed? And are there examples of existing policies and programs in cities or states that could be scaled up to the national level, or current national programs that could be strengthened?

I identified three policies areas, each with several programs that could be pursued under a Green New Deal:

  • Policy 1 – Infrastructure renewal
    • Energy efficiency building standards such as enacted in Illinois
    • Buy Clean laws requiring a manufacturing and supply chain that meets energy efficiency and renewable energy requirements such as enacted in California
    • Building a smart grid
  • Policy 2 – Transportation
    • Local: Light rail vs bus rapid transit
    • National: High-speed rail vs air travel
  • Policy 3 – Protecting and restoring the environment
    • A Green Brigade modeled on the Civilian Conservation Corps

Quickly I realized this was enough for a book, not a single paper to be done in about six weeks over the summer. So in the end, I chose one area to focus on: high-speed rail, the flagship project in every vision of the Green New Deal.

The paper had seven parts:

  • An introduction to the twin problems of climate change and inequality
  • High-speed rail around the world – Japan, France, Germany, Spain, and China
  • The difficult history of high-speed rail in the United States, and high-speed rail projects in California, Florida, and Texas
  • Sources and amount of carbon emissions in the United States
  • Potential of high-speed rail to reduce carbon emissions
    • By displacing regional flights, which a lot of research says is likely
    • By substituting for car transportation, for which little research has been done
    • Life-cycle analysis of high-speed rail
  • Equity impacts of high-speed rail
  • Conclusions and recommendations

Here’s a link to my MENR paper, Evaluating High-Speed Rail as an Element of the Green New Deal (pdf)