Whether or not one believes that global warming is significantly caused by man, or is instead the result of normal long-term climate swings, there should be no debating that the environment is stressed by pollution in ways which are worrisome, and affect our quality of life.
Pollution, by definition, is caused by man. And most of modern-day pollution stems from the burning or transformation of carbon-chain organic matter, wood, coal, natural gas, oil, for the convenience of humans. Most plastic is made from petroleum, and in developed countries, one-third of plastic is used in packaging.
The reception given to freshman US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal, an ambitious works program seeking to transform our fossil fuels-based economy into one less stressful for the environment, was nothing short of breathtaking. Ocasio-Cortez obviously intended her resolution to be somewhat of a first draft, and said so. No one was "doing anything" she said about the climate change problem. So as she saw it, it was up to her to "do something."
The fury which followed shows she struck a nerve, and opened a discussion long overdue.
AOC was specifically referring to global warming, from the point of view of those who believe that humans play a significant role. But she could just as easily been referring to all of the effects of burning fossil fuels for energy or using it for making plastic. That means pollution, a problem in and of itself.
A close look at the Green New Deal Resolution shows that it is a high-level, visionary document, which lays out ambitious goals while leaving the specifics of how to get to them to further deliberation. A close look also shows that much of the criticism, not to mention ferocious coordinated attacks, are pure hyperbole and hysteria.
Nowhere does the plan mandate anything. Rather, the move toward the use of "100% renewables [energy]" in the near future is stated as an ambitious goal. The plan does not outlaw anything, such as gas powered transportation. Instead it soberly calls for such progress, where "technologically feasible."
No one expects doctors to operate by candlelight. No one is going back to the horse and buggy.
The extent to which the Powers arrayed against Ocasio-Cortez are threatened by Green New Deal was starkly illustrated by the cynical parliamentary maneuver undertaken by Senate President Mitch McConnell, aimed at dividing Democrats and saddling the party with a preliminary and undeveloped Green New Deal. AOC opposed it, and urged her Senate counterparts to vote "present" on the plan, as a way of showing unity against McConnell's machinations.
Ocasio-Cortez said she wanted a bill which had gone through the committee process, the procedure by which the real work of cobbling together a law which can be passed takes place.
It seems AOC may be new, but she is a fast learner.
What was clear was that Ocasio-Cortez had rather innocently uncorked some powerful forces, including forces which could not tolerate even the mention of a national program which would challenge the dominance of the oil, coal, and natural gas industries in America.
So where to go from here on Green New Deal? A list of specific environmental problems that we know about are:
- a Russian scientist is proposing a radically innovative way to fight one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years, the melting permafrost of the Arctic region. Green New Deal should write a grant to pursue this innovative line of thinking, described in a 60 Minutes segment, Pleistocene Park.
-The ocean's great coral reefs, such as the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, are dying, a direct result of, among other factors, the acidification of the oceans which results from increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Coral reefs are a vital part of ocean ecosystems and home to a quarter of marine species. Scientists say a rise in average ocean temperature of a mere 2 degrees F can compromise the health of these "rainforests of the ocean" as they have been called, and prompt mass die-offs, or "bleaching." This is the name given by scientists to the dead white masses after the plant and animal life which they consist of has died off.
-The ocean is becoming choked with garbage patches, a half dozen so far, which wreak havoc on ocean life. The largest, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is twice the size of Texas. We are all familiar with the heartbreaking pictures of turtles, fish, and other sea life suffocating slowly from being entrapped in plastic beer can yokes or other plastics.
- The ocean's fisheries are declining and being over-fished to the point where scientists are predicting that this will be the last generation to enjoy wild-caught fish from the ocean.
- It is no longer safe to eat the fish we catch from US freshwater waterways, due to elevated levels of mercury and POPs (persistent organic pollutants) detectable in every species of fish in every state, including Alaska. State agencies now issue routine warnings on what is relatively safe to eat at any given time. The pleasure of simply fishing and eating what you catch, without worry, is over. The prime cause of mercury pollution in the environment is reliance on coal-fired power plants, which release tons of mercury into the air and waterways every year.
- Despite improvements over recent decades, air pollution in the US from industry and automobiles is still a problem, with research cited in Time estimating that air pollution leads to more than three million deaths annually.
These trends alone would be a full plate for any Green New Deal program. Reducing fossil fuel use drastically would positively impact some if not all of these worrisome trends.
A mature, fully developed Green New Deal, for which Ocasio-Cortez has submitted an initial call, could include:
- A program, working with other nations, to clean up the ocean garbage patches, with ocean-going robotic technology which has been, and is being developed by concerned scientists, engineers, and inventors. Building and manning such technology could create thousands of new jobs.
- A national drive toward the use of renewable energy, as AOC's Green New Deal calls for, driven by tax incentives, R&D grants, and other subsidies. One irony of the frequent criticism of such subsidies is that it constitutes "socialism" and "socialism doesn't work," but such charges are rarely leveled at what amounts to a subsidy in the form of the present oil depletion allowance, which is a tax law which allows oil companies to lower their taxes.
- A program to address one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas pollution, and one of the easiest to remedy: the energy loss which occurs as a result of poorly insulated buildings. A study cited in Scientific American estimates that energy inefficiency in both residential and commercial structures contribute "more than one third of the continent's greenhouse gas pollution output." This would be a labor-intensive undertaking which would require the hiring and training of thousands of workers for skilled jobs.
- International cooperation on restoring the oceans' fish stocks, by addressing over-fishing and other man-made causes of fish species collapse.
The indiscriminate use of fossil fuels really is a problem. But it is a problem whether one believes global warming is man-made or not.