Stan Cox outlines achievable ideas for a climate solution that addresses glaring gaps in most GND articles.
No 2621 Posted by fw, May 11, 2020 —
“A leakproof, declining cap on fossil fuels is a necessary step to constrain global warming and stabilize the ecosphere, but doing so will have huge economic repercussions, and it’s hard to imagine Big Petroleum, Big Coal, or private utility companies going along with anything like it. As they have throughout their history, they will use their great wealth and pervasive influence in Washington to fight or sabotage this or any serious attempt to further regulate fossil fuels. Therefore, I expect that a Congress determined to impose a cap and prevent climate catastrophe would have no choice but to nationalize the fossil-fuel industries, and the states would need to convert private gas, water, and electric (including renewable electric) utilities into locally controlled public utilities…. the Green New Deal’s energy conservation provisions will kick off a national home-insulation and efficiency effort starting in lower-income neighborhoods, as well as an expansion of affordable housing and public transportation. There’s a plan for this. In November 2019, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) introduced an ambitious bill called the ‘Homes for All Act’, which would provide for 12 million affordable, environmentally sustainable housing units. The bill, she wrote, would be ‘a key part of the Green New Deal.’” —Stan Cox, Resilience
Stan Cox began his career in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is now the Lead Scientist at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. He is the author of a new book The Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can (City Lights, May 5).
In The Green New Deal and Beyond, author and plant scientist Stan Cox explains why we must abolish the use of fossil fuels as soon as possible, and how it can be done. He addresses a host of glaring issues not mentioned in most GND articles. And he guides us through visionary, achievable ideas for working toward a solution to the deepening crisis. It’s up to each of us, Cox writes, to play key roles in catalyzing the necessary transformation.
In his concluding paragraph, Cox notes that while his book (and this article) focuses solely on US climate policy, GND policymakers should also have an eye on the global actions it should pursue or abandon.
His very long article, reposted below, is excerpted from his new book. My repost features my added subheadings, text highlighting and bulletted reformatting to facilitate easy access to main ideas and quick browsing. As well, I have added several hyperlinks to important information.
To read Cox’s article on the Resilience website, click on the following linked title.
[Cox’s Transition Scenario]
Transitioning from fossil fuels is necessary, but the economic repercussions will be huge
A leakproof, declining cap on fossil fuels is a necessary step to constrain global warming and stabilize the ecosphere, but doing so will have huge economic repercussions, and it’s hard to imagine Big Petroleum, Big Coal, or private utility companies going along with anything like it. As they have throughout their history, they will use their great wealth and pervasive influence in Washington to fight or sabotage this or any serious attempt to further regulate fossil fuels.
To achieve transition, the US Congress will have no choice but to nationalize fossil-fuel industries
Therefore, I expect that a Congress determined to impose a cap and prevent climate catastrophe would have no choice but to nationalize the fossil-fuel industries, and the states would need to convert private gas, water, and electric (including renewable electric) utilities into locally controlled public utilities.
Here’s one possible transition scenario —
Here’s how the buildup of green infrastructure might be managed
Green New Deal’s energy conservation provisions will include —
At the same time, the Green New Deal’s energy conservation provisions will kick off…
With aviation fuel supplies dwindling, rail travel will replace air travel, urban public transportation will replace private cars
With aviation fuel supplies dwindling, rail travel will replace air travel.
New energy-mix capacity won’t be able to meet IPCC and GND emission targets, so energy shortages will be inevitable
Both the IPCC and Green New Deal targets for driving down emissions would require a cap that reduces oil, gas, and coal use on a schedule so tight that new energy capacity can’t be built and deployed fast enough to substitute fully for their retirement. Nationwide energy shortages will inevitably occur during the transition and beyond. No one wants to see a return of the panic and chaos that was triggered by the oil crisis and inflation of the 1970s.
Before energy shortages arise, safety nets, including government price controls on energy, must be put in place
Well before any shortages arise, safety nets must be put in place. As use of oil, gas, and coal is phased out, the prices that both producers and consumers pay for fuel and electricity will rise, raising the risk of inflation throughout the economy. The government will likely have to impose price controls on all energy, as the office of Price Administration did in the 1940s and the Nixon Administration did in the 1970s.
In the event of energy shortages, a fair-shares rationing system will be needed
Price controls will keep the energy affordable, but they won’t increase its supply. If there is not sufficient fuel or electricity to fully satisfy unchecked demand, a fair-shares rationing system will be needed in order to ensure that households have equitable access to electricity, gas, heating oil, and vehicle fuel. The simplest and fairest approach would be to allot to each household a monthly number of credits, free of charge, to be handed over when buying electricity and fuels. Those credits would be used like points in World War II–era meat rationing, when a household could buy only as much as its point coupons allowed. The numbers of credits issued to each person or household, to be handed over when paying utility bills or buying vehicle fuel or other energy products, would be determined each year according to the total quantities of electricity and fuels available under the national cap and allocated to the household sector.
It will also be necessary to ration all electricity whatever its source
Output from solar parks and wind farms will be increasing, but not as quickly as output from coal- and gas-fired power plants is decreasing under the cap. Therefore, it will be necessary to ration all electricity, whatever its source, to ensure fair shares of a limited supply. I suggest equal numbers of credits per adult for each energy source, with an additional half-credit each for up to two children per household.
[A Comprehensive Transition Strategy]
A comprehensive strategy is needed to ensure fairness and equality in the industrial sector
In the industrial sector, national allocation of energy will help ward off shortages of essential goods, but as the fossil-fuel cap lowers, shortages of consumer goods could develop throughout the economy. At that point, a more comprehensive strategy to ensure fair shares and sufficiency for all will be needed.
Cox cites “Climate Mobilization” for its strategy
[Note: Although Climate Mobilization’s website was accessible on May 11, 2020, there was no response and no sign of activity at the site].
For several years, The Climate Mobilization has been working on just such a strategy as part of a “Victory Plan” through which the United States could effectively address the climate emergency and much more. The group has published drafts, most recently in 2019, but its plan continues to evolve. Extraordinary in scope, it covers –
Climate Mobilization’s “Victory Plan” plans for a “rapidly declining” carbon emissions budget
The Victory Plan includes the general outlines of a cap-and-ration system for greenhouse emissions. (The plan’s authors cite my book Any way You Slice It: The Past, Present and Future of Rationing as a reference, but I was not involved in the plan’s drafting.) Under the proposed mobilization, there would be –
Role of a “Climate Mobilization Board
Modeled in part on the civilian mobilization for World War II, the Victory Plan would be carried out by a broad array of agencies, including a Climate Mobilization Board, which would –
Then there’s Tradable Energy Quotas, proposed by the UK’s Fleming Policy Centre, judged to be “ahead of its time” in the early 2000s
A proposal focused more narrowly on fair-shares energy rationing is called Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs). The system, which was developed over the past couple of decades by the U.K.-based Fleming Policy Center, was introduced, studied, and debated in Parliament in the 2000s, but it was judged to be ahead of its time. Now, with an emergency widely acknowledged, it warrants another look.
Victory Plan and TEQ provide detailed examples of how fair-shares energy rationing can work at household level
I’m not saying that a Victory Plan or Tradable Energy Quotas should simply be copied and pasted into future policy; rather, I am using them as detailed examples of how fair-shares energy rationing can work at the household level.
How a Tradeable Energy Quotas system cap would work
Briefly, a Tradable Energy Quotas system would set up its version of a cap:
Whatever system is used for “fair-shares energy rationing,” it must be applied equitably, nationally
Whatever basic procedures and formulas end up being used for fair-shares energy rationing, they would need to be applied equitably throughout the nation. However, they could and should be administered locally, democratically, and inclusively, as is envisioned for Green New Deal policies. Local decision-making was a feature of both U.S. and U.K. rationing systems during World War II.
Management of Green New Deal funds should be determined by local, democratic, participatory processes
When Green New Deal funds flow into communities for energy conservation and reduce dependence on fossil fuels, their use also should be determined by local, democratic, participatory processes. We should remember that when the New Deal faltered, the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, the West Coast dockworkers, and others stepped in to shake up the system and demand a course correction. Local and regional activism will almost certainly become important in seeing to it that national climate policy is applied fairly and effectively.
The Risk in “Climate Keynesianism”
In the US, where would Congress get the funds for a Green New Deal?
House and Senate resolutions call for the Green New Deal to be developed through “transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses.” Funding would come largely from the federal government, but where would the government get the money? Such resolutions are not the place for specifics, so the documents have simply stated that Congress will provide capital for the Green New Deal in a way that “ensures that the public receives appropriate ownership stakes and returns on investment” through community grants, public banks, and other public financing.
Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren propose higher, fairer, income tax rates
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a sponsor of the House resolution, unleashed panic in the upper classes when she advocated that the United States raise additional revenue by bringing back the top income-tax rate of 70 percent or more that prevailed in the 1950s through the 1970s. Around the same time and unrelated to the Green New Deal, then-presidential contender Elizabeth Warren proposed a wealth tax that would apply to all personal assets in excess of $50 million. More progressive taxes have been badly needed for decades, whatever the atmospheric CO2 concentration, and the climate emergency could boost the movement for fairer taxation.
The case for cuts in US military spending to pay for a Green New Deal and drug costs
In May 2019, Yeva Nersisya of Franklin & Marshall College and L. Randall Wray of Bard College published a paper, “How to Pay for the Green New Deal,” its title echoing that of John Maynard Keynes’s 1940 book how to Pay for the war. They argued that the U.S. government could handle the expense of the Green New Deal much more easily than it paid for the World War II effort, which from 1942 to 1945 consumed 35 to 45 percent of all federal spending. In fact, they showed how costs of the Green New Deal’s big industrial effort and universal job guarantee, which would make up the bulk of the expense, could be largely paid for by cuts in military spending along with savings in administrative and drug costs under another big GND component, Medicare for All.
Proposal that a GND could be funded by increasing economic growth “would be self-defeating”
Others have pointed to economic growth as a source of revenue. New Consensus, arguing that the Green New Deal could be paid for with “carefully targeted, Congressionally authorized spending,” predicted that “the new prosperity that the Green New Deal will bring to scores of millions of Americans below the top of the income and wealth distributions will rapidly grow the nation’s tax base, vastly expanding federal revenue even without raising marginal tax rates.” In 2019, a fact sheet accompanying the House resolution for the Green New Deal stated, “At the end of the day, this is an investment in our economy that should grow our wealth as a nation, so the question isn’t how will we pay for it, but what will we do with our new shared prosperity.”
Paying for a green transition through economic growth sounds easy and painless, but it would be self-defeating.
Beware Green New Deal success does not trigger a return to high-consumer lifestyles that increase emissions
Any credible Green New Deal needs a concrete plan for ensuring that the salaries from all the good green jobs it creates aren’t immediately poured into high-consumer lifestyles that inadvertently end up increasing emissions—a scenario where everyone has a good job and lots of disposable income and it all gets spent on throwaway crap imported from China destined for the landfill. This is the problem with what we might call the emerging “climate Keynesianism”: the post–World War II economic boom did revive ailing economies, but it also kicked off suburban sprawl and set off a consumption tidal wave that would eventually be exported to every corner of the global economy. In truth, policymakers are still dancing around the question of whether we are talking about slapping solar panels on the roof of Walmart and calling it green, or whether we are ready to have a more probing conversation about the limits of lifestyles that treat shopping as the main way to form identity, community, and culture.
“In an ecologically rational economy, production must be reduced and redirected, not redoubled”
In an ecologically rational economy, production must be reduced and redirected, not redoubled.
The 33 Percent
To achieve a fair climate-emergency policy, the bigger burden will be on the top third of income earners
If we manage to achieve a fair, effective climate-emergency policy, the 33 percent of American households with highest incomes will most likely bear the greatest economic burden. I’m not just talking about more progressive tax rates; I’m suggesting that the kinds of efforts that will be most effective in reducing emissions while ensuring good quality of life for everyone will require a far greater economic sacrifice from the top 33 percent than from the rest of the population. And within that top one-third, the richer the household, the heavier the burden will have to be.
America’s top third have for too long been unfairly benefitting from affluent lifestyles
Thirty-three is not a magic number. But as we free ourselves from the catastrophic impact of fossil fuels, I would expect the actual percentage to end up within shouting distance of that figure. In his 2017 book Dream Hoarders, Richard Reeves suggests that the top 20 percent of income earners in the United States, those whom he calls the upper middle class, are unfairly garnering the lion’s share of the nation’s quality education, housing, health care, and other necessary goods and services. The remedies he suggested for this problem, he writes, will be costly, and the funding for them will have to come from those same top 20 percent.
A Green New Deal economy in America must come to look much less like a pyramid with the rich perched on top
Future sacrifice should indeed come from the upper part of the economic pyramid, especially when a transition to social, racial, and economic justice are accepted as essential to a deep-green society. As we succeed in creating a more equitable, just, and ecologically sustainable society, the economy will come to look less like a pyramid and, as proposed by economist Kate Raworth, will better resemble a doughnut, with everyone living within its “safe and just space,” neither in the “hole” of insufficiency nor in the ecologically insupportable space beyond the doughnut.
The disparity between the 33% and the rest of the US population revealed in numbers
For the sake of argument, let’s say that taking this path will impact the top one-third of today’s economic earners—those in households with incomes that annually exceed $95,000.
“The conversion required to free ourselves from fossil fuels will have to be heavily subsidized”
The costs of the conversion to green energy capacity and infrastructure have been optimistically estimated at $15 trillion for the United States and $100 trillion globally—and the latter will require a large U.S. contribution. No one really knows with any precision how much it will cost to stop global warming before it’s too late, but I doubt that the eventual sum will be handled as casually as Nersisyan and Wray have predicted. The conversion required to free ourselves from fossil fuels will have to be heavily subsidized, with the money coming from taxation of higher incomes and deep cuts in military appropriations and other wasteful spending. And it will have to be regulated so that it provides plenty of employment and no profiteering.
The cost burden for the conversion will be bigger and more varied for the 33%
To pay for the conversion, the more steeply progressive income tax rate suggested by Ocasio-Cortez will be necessary, but for the 33 percent, the bigger impacts will be indirect.
“For purposes of funding the transition, the largest contributor will be the ultra-rich one-percenters”
For purposes of funding the transition, the largest contributor will be the ultra-rich one-percenters—1.2 million households—at the peak of the economic pyramid. This small group of Americans now earns approximately $1.8 trillion in annual income and pays $600 billion in taxes. Nevertheless, wealthy as they are, the one-percenters’ contribution alone will not be sufficient to fund and sustain the conversion to a just and sustainable society. An additional 32 percent or more of high-earning households are going to have contribute as well.
This book focuses on US climate policy, but with an eye on the global actions it should pursue or abandon
This book is focused primarily on domestic climate policy, because neither we as individuals nor our government can, with a straight face, presume to advise the wider world on climate issues unless we ourselves have at least started the journey toward life within ecological boundaries. In preparing for that journey, we need to weigh the various actions that our country should pursue as it addresses the global climate emergency, as well as those it must abandon.
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