The Energy Debate
Over the past few decades, public policy debates have been increasingly focused on issues related to energy security. Questions about access to natural resources and fragile geopolitical tensions have had an impact on the global energy industry. China has been competing with other developing nations like India to secure fossil fuel reserves in the African nation of Angola. Similarly, other nations have been racing towards the Arctic in order to establish extraction rights to obtain some of the biggest remaining untapped fossil fuel reserves in the world. As a result of increasing summer temperatures and less overall sea ice, international efforts have started to ramp up to explore for oil and gas in the Arctic. Even in some of the world’s most conflict-ridden countries, global leaders are working on plans to overcome severe geopolitical challenges to enhance opportunities to extract fossil fuels. One of the latest proposals between Middle Eastern fossil fuels producers and China has been to transform Afghanistan into a global energy transit hub. With the geopolitics of energy being increasingly rooted in efforts to secure fossil reserves, some policy makers in the U.S. are hoping to move forward with a plan known as the Green New Deal to reduce American dependence on fossil fuels.
The Formation of the Green New Deal
In 2019, Democratic policy makers within the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate introduced legislation to eliminate U.S. carbon emissions within the next decade through the establishment of a non-binding congressional resolution that calls for meeting 100 percent of American power demand from renewable sources of energy. The Green New Deal would also initiate programs to modernize transportation infrastructure, cut greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural and manufacturing sectors, make homes and businesses more energy efficient, and expand land conservation efforts. Democratic policy makers say that the Green New Deal was established in response to the report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that outlined how global temperatures need to remain under 1.5 degrees Celsius over global preindustrial levels to prevent the most catastrophic impacts from climate change.
Senator Edward Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were the two Democratic policy makers that have sponsored this legislation to move the American economy completely away from fossil fuels within the next decade. Senators Kirsten Gilibrand, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Corey Booker have co-sponsored the resolution for the Green New Deal. At a press conference to publicize the legislation, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez emphasized that “Today is the day that we choose to assert ourselves as a global leader in transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy and charting that path” (Volcovici, 2019). The text of the legislation outlines an overall goal to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for a fair and just transition for frontline communities and displaced workers” (Coleman, 2019). While the Green New Deal does not explicitly make a bold claim to eliminate fossil fuels from the American economy, it’s fairly well understood that eliminating greenhouse gas emissions would require a complete shift away from oil, gas, and coal.
The Future of Fossil Fuels
Fossil fuels, especially oil and natural gas, have historically been politically charged commodities. As the primary sources of power and electricity for the global economy, fossil fuels have been critical for development. Until at least 2030, oil is predicted to continue to be the largest source of fuel within the world’s mix of energy resources, supplying at least 30 percent of the world’s energy needs (Goldthau & Wite, 2010). During this same period of time, the total global demand for energy is estimated to increase by about 45 percent (Goldthau & Wite, 2010). Even though fossil fuels continue to be vital to the development of the modernized world and are critically important energy resources for everyday life, the momentum of the opposing forces to the fossil fuel industry has already started to have an adverse impact on coal and oil production, which are quickly losing their appeal among many of the world’s developed countries.
Alternative sources of energy in the form of wind, solar, and hydro have begun to replace coal-fired power plants. Moreover, the rise of electric vehicles is already starting to impact sales of vehicles with gasoline- and diesel-based internal combustion engines. Furthermore, numerous cities with progressive agendas and even some entire nations have revealed that they are working on efforts to totally ban vehicles powered by fossil fuels within the next couple of decades. When viewed from a holistic perspective, the global energy transition is rapidly gaining steam. While some economists within the fossil fuel industry have dismissed this movement as an implausible outcome, even some of the world’s leading petroleum-exporting nations have already begun to recognize opportunities to diversify their industries away from fossil fuel extraction. The example of Dubai transitioning away from fossil fuels is one of the more prominent cases that conveys how former fossil fuel powerhouses can make the transition away from an economy based solely on oil and gas.
Life After Oil
Is there life after oil? Democrats within the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate hope to show the rest of the world that the U.S. can be an example of a nation that can move its economy away from fossil fuels. However, in order to achieve an economy that boasts net zero greenhouse gas emissions, a slew of new regulations would be needed to incentivize solar, wind, and hydro, while simultaneously making it more challenging for fossil fuel producers to turn an profit with oil, coal, and natural gas production. The American coal industry has started to collapse, even without a massive new portfolio of restrictive policies. However, as the coal industry has declined, the natural gas industry has started to thrive. If the Democrats are serious about their Green New Deal, they would have to implement policies that require changes well in excess of those that were implemented by the Obama administration.
During the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, nearly all of the candidates publicly supported initiatives related to the Green New Deal. Some of the candidates even pitched policies that went beyond the fundamentals of the Green New Deal. For example, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders unveiled a $16.3 trillion plan to fight climate change by investing in sustainable development, public transportation systems, and renewable sources of energy. His plan also called for the investment of $200 billion for the United Nation’s Green Climate Fund and $40 billion for the Climate Justice Resiliency fund. Both of these funds would allocate resources for developing nations to move away from fossil fuels and cut carbon emissions. While Bernie Sanders had the most ambitious plans to address fossil fuels and climate change among the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, many others also called for increased efforts to move forward with the Green New Deal.
For Vice President Joe Biden revealed that he would allocate a little over five trillion dollars over the course of ten years to tackle climate change. His plan would move forward with initiatives to conserve 30 percent of America’s untouched land and water resources, while also seeking a commitment with other G20 nations to end fossil fuel subsidies for a wide array for projects that would be deemed as high-carbon projects. Biden’s plan also stressed the importance of reducing the carbon footprint from America’s homes and business by 50 percent by the year 2035. While the Green New Deal calls for completely eliminating carbon emissions within the next decade, Biden’s plan is markedly less ambitious in this sense. His plan outlines eliminating carbon emissions by 2050, which would still be an extremely challenging goal to reach, especially given the current political climate with the Trump administration.
President Trump’s Agenda
It comes as no surprise that President Trump has vehemently blasted the idea of the Green New Deal. As someone who has taken a great deal of pride by rolling back environmental regulations, President Trump has publicly mocked the Green New Deal legislation, calling it an unthinkable decision that would kill millions of American jobs. With President Trump’s long history of skepticism around the science of climate change, he has even refuted reports from his own presidential administration that has linked climate change with the burning of fossil fuels. The Trump administration’s fossil fuel agenda has heavily favored the use of fossil fuels over the development of alternative sources of energy.
Many of the officials within the administration were former fossil fuel industry executives. Even the Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Andrew Wheeler was a former high-profile fossil fuel lobbyist. The main driving force behind Trump’s rollback of regulations related to fossils has been the notion that environmental regulations have hurt economic growth and created numerous burdens for businesses. On the other side of the argument, Democrats say that initiatives related to renewable energy development could create a wave of new jobs to fuel growth within the American economy, while also transitioning former fossil fuel workers into new green energy sectors. Even with President Trump’s statements about how his agenda is better for the American economy, the majority of American’s have not supported his efforts related to climate change. According to poll conducted by the Washington Post, 62 percent of Americans do not approve of President Trump’s efforts related to climate change (Zeballos-Roig, 2019).
The Continued Debate
In response to President Trump’s blasting of the Green New Deal, a number of environmental organizations have taken aim at his fossil fuel agenda. Leaders from the Sierra Club fought back against Trump’s claims by saying that he holds the “worst record on the environment and climate action of any president in the history of the country” (Zeballos-Roig, 2019). With his efforts to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, dramatically diminish fuel efficiency regulations, and dismantle the National Environmental Policy Act, the Trump administration has moved forward with more efforts to reduce environmental regulations than any previous president. Supporters of the Green New Deal say that this plan is exactly what is needed to combat the damage that has been conducted by President Trump. However, not everyone is on board with the Green New Deal.
Numerous fossil fuel organizations have viciously lambasted Democratic policy makers for their efforts to push forward with the Green new Deal. Organizations like the American Petroleum Institute have slammed the movement, calling it a threat to the American economy. Moreover, labor unions that employ fossil fuel workers are equally concerned about the ramifications associated with efforts to dismantle the fossil fuel industry. If the fossil fuel industry is dramatically overhauled, there could be ripping effects throughout the economy. For example, nearly one-third of all construction jobs are tied to projects with the oil and gas sector (Coleman, 2019). On the other hand, Democrats and environmentalists question whether the country can afford to remain complacent on efforts to combat climate change. Scientists from the University of Leeds say that even if world leaders start to phase out fossil fuels immediately, there is only a 64 percent chance that global warming in excess of 1.5 degrees Celsius can be avoided.
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Volcovici, V. (2019). “Democrats float ‘Green New Deal’ to end fossil fuel era.” Reuters Sustainable Business.
Wolf, S. (2019). “Green New Deal must cut fossil fuel supply and demand.” The Hill.
Zeballos-Roig, J. (2019). “President Donald Trump used a speech aimed at touting his environmental record to declare war on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s ‘unthinkable’ Green New Deal.” Business Insider.