By Ben Adler
As progressives have coalesced around the Green New Deal, its proponents say that its ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions would, if adopted, protect the Earth from catastrophic global warming. An article in the Nation called the Green New Deal “our best hope for saving the planet,” because it would “confront climate change on the scale that this crisis demands.” Some present averting climate disaster as a kind of national race against a foreign enemy, like a Manhattan Project for the whole economy. “In the 1960s, the U.S. pointed the full power of its military-technological industry at going to the moon,” wrote the Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer. Rep. Alexandria “Ocasio-Cortez wants to do the same thing, except to save the planet.”
You never would know from these encomiums that the Green New Deal cannot stave off calamity by keeping the planet from warming 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures, the threshold endorsed by most scientists. That’s because, like the 1930s New Deal and the 1960s space program, the Green New Deal is focused on the United States.
Yet the United States is currently responsible for only 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and that share is declining as pollution from the developing world rises. So while radical cuts to U.S. emissions — which are the largest per capita after a few Persian Gulf nations and Australia — are necessary, they’re insufficient. Every other rich country also needs to make similar cuts, immediately. The developed nations with large emissions (Saudi Arabia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Britain and others) can afford their own Green New Deals; perhaps they can be persuaded to do their parts, if we do.
Politically, this may be toxic for American voters. Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly accept the science of climate change, are increasingly worried about it and in theory support the notion that the government should address it — but they are more divided in their willingness to actually pay for climate action. Last year, a national poll by the Associated Press and the University of Chicago showed that 44 percent of Americans said they supported a carbon tax and 29 percent opposed one. But only 23 percent said they’d pay at least $40 per month to fight climate change.