Beto O’Rourke released a new climate plan on Monday, and it’s big.
The Democratic presidential candidate from Texas promised that the first bill he sent to Congress would be a climate bill that would surge $5 trillion over the next decade — “the single largest investment to fight climate change in history,” a news release said — into the global warming fight. He aims to get the United States to produce no greenhouse emissions on net by 2050 and to get halfway there by 2030. That is a mere 11 years away — and a mere nine years after he would take office. Meeting this goal would require a massive shift in how the country generates and consumes electricity, not to mention big changes in how American farmers grow food, how American industry builds things and how consumers spend their money.
Which is why the Sunrise Movement, a growing force on the environmental left, quickly attacked him?
“If he wants to earn the support of young people he needs to show he’s ready to stand up to the oil and gas lobby and push for the scale and speed of action we need,” the Sunrise Movement said in a blistering Monday statement.
O’Rourke tried to make his plan seem as unrealistic as the Sunrise Movement’s expectations. “Beto’s plan aligns with the 2050 emissions goal of the Green New Deal,” a campaign news release insisted. In fact, the Sunrise Movement and other radical Green New Dealers demand that the United States get to net-zero emissions by 2030, not 2050, even though the United Nations sets the target for global net-zero emissions at mid-century.
Never mind that O’Rourke’s plan is far more detailed than the Green New Deal resolution or the accompanying fact sheet that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) released, then retracted. As expert after expert explained after Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) revealed the Green New Deal resolution, getting to net-zero emissions by 2030 is a fantasy that, even if the science demanded it, is utterly infeasible. Net-zero by 2030 would require a national mobilization of resources surpassing that of World War II. Good luck with that.
It is a measure of how much Democrats fear getting on the wrong side of the nothing-realistic-will-satisfy-us contingent that O’Rourke tried to make his plan seem consistent with the Green New Deal label. But support for the Green New Deal is a bad litmus test for presidential candidates. Opposing the Ocasio-Cortez plan does not make one a climate denier. It makes one informed. Pretending otherwise alienates people who should be allies in the climate effort. O’Rourke is not the one standing in the way of action on climate change. Neither is Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), an earlier object of the Sunrise Movement’s ridicule.
The problem with O’Rourke’s plan is not his ambitious goal of net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050, which is the horizon to which serious climate wonks should be looking. It is that he would direct hundreds of billions of dollars into federal grants and tax breaks rather than make carbon pricing, through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, the centerpiece of his effort. Economists agree that a market-based program would slash greenhouse emissions efficiently, while direct government spending is a recipe for massive investment in infrastructure that might help — or, like California’s high-speed-rail mess, might not. O’Rourke favors carbon pricing, but he buried the idea on the fourth page of five in a campaign fact sheet, probably because a growing swath of the left irrationally opposes the policy.
In the fight against global warming, we do not have the activist’s luxury of ignoring reality. O’Rourke’s plan avoids some of the worst excesses of the Green New Deal ideologues — but not every mistake they make.