Global Awareness: STEM Current Event

In recent years, climate change has become a more prevalent political issue. Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has brought more attention to the issue of climate change with the Green New Deal proposal. The Green New Deal focuses on climate by proposing to stop the use of fossil fuels entirely, rely on zero-emission energy sources, update all buildings to be more energy efficient, revolutionize travel to use electric cars and high-speed rail, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions of farmers. The deal also suggests non-climate related issues such as guaranteeing a job and quality health care for every American [2]. Although the deal proposes these ideas, no programs or actual solutions to these issues will be created by passing the deal. The deal would simply affirm that actions need to be taken to fight climate change within the next ten years.

The goals the Green New Deal aims to achieve by 2030 are simply not feasible. Within ten years, every American would have to start driving electric cars, gas stations would need to be converted into charging stations, and high-speed rail ways would have to be constructed. Not only would this be a major construction project, but the price of exclusively using clean energy would be substantial. The Green New Deal would argue that the clean energy industry would be a source of new jobs and would therefore help the economy. In 2016, the solar and wind industries have increased the number of jobs by 25% and 32%, respectively [1]. However, although there is an increase in the number of workers in these clean energy industries, the amount of power produced is significantly less than the fossil fuel industries. According to the U.S. Department of Energy in 2016, coal workers produced 7,745 megawatts of power per worker, natural gas produced 3,812 megawatts of power per worker, and solar produced 98 megawatts of power per worker. With these statistics, it would take about 80 solar workers to produce the same amount of power as one coal worker. This undoubtedly creates jobs in the clean energy industry, but this also increases the price of clean energy since more workers must be paid to produce the same amount of power.

Even if the United States could afford the cost of reconstructing its infrastructure and paying more clean energy workers, the actual amount of time that it would take to completely switch to clean energy would be greater than the 10 years that the Green New Deal proposes. A postdoctoral environmental fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School stated that stopping all carbon emissions by 2050 would be an “enormous challenge” that would require more rapid reductions in carbon emissions “than have been achieved historically” [2]. Additionally, the carbon dioxide (CO2) that has already been emitted will affect the atmosphere for thousands of years to come. Even if all CO2 emissions were to stop today, approximately 20 percent of the CO2 would remain in the atmosphere for tens of thousands of years [3]. Although the future of the Earth may seem bleak, it’s important to remember that actions taken today can still make a difference. However, politicians and citizens need to create realistic goals and understand that their actions might not have direct results that they witness in their lifetime.

On March 26, 2019, the Senate voted on the Green New Deal. The deal failed by a vote of 57-0, with 43 Democrats voting present instead of taking a stand for or against the deal. Aggressive actions need to be taken to help prevent farther warming of the Earth, but these actions need to have realistic timelines. If the Green New Deal was revised to reach its goals by 2050 or later, the proposals it lays out might not seem so dramatic. Also, if the deal focused exclusively on climate change initiatives instead of employment and health care, which are already highly controversial political topics, it may receive enough political backing to pass. Until these changes are made or a new, better constructed deal is proposed, the United States will continue wreaking havoc on the climate that will have consequences for generations to come.

 

[1] https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2017/01/f34/2017%20US%20Energy%20and%20Jobs%20Report_0.pdf

[2] https://www.npr.org/2019/02/07/691997301/rep-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-releases-green-new-deal-outline

[3] https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2010/12/common-climate-misconceptions-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide/