Feinstein’s Green New Deal Alternative Is Par For The Course

Which is to say that it’s insufficient.

Before we get to her proposal, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein caught a lot of deserved flack over the weekend for her response to child protestors linked to the Sunrise Movement (boldface mine):

But Feinstein was, in fact, demonstrating why climate change exemplifies an issue on which older people should listen to the young. Because—to put it bluntly—older generations will be dead before the worst of it hits. The kids whom Feinstein was talking to are going to be dealing with climate chaos for the rest of their lives, as any Californian who has lived through the past few years of drought, flood, and fire must recognize.

This means that youth carry the moral authority here, and, at the very least, should be treated with the solicitousness due a generation that older ones have managed to screw over….

Later Friday evening, Feinstein’s aides released portions of her proposal, and on first view they appear to be warmed-over versions of Obama-era environmental policy: respect for the Paris climate accord, a commitment to a mid-century conversion to renewable energy.

It’s not that these things are wrong. It’s that they are insufficient, impossibly so. Not insufficient—and here’s the important point—to meet the demands of hopelessly idealistic youth but because of the point that the kids were trying to make, which is that the passage of time is changing the calculations around climate change…

But, in the case of the environment, the opponent is not the Chamber of Commerce. The opponent is physics, and physics doesn’t negotiate. It’s not moved by appeals to centrist moderation, or explanations about the filibuster. And it has set a firm time limit. Scientists have told us what we must do and by when, and so legislators must do all they can to match those targets. The beauty of the Green New Deal legislation is not that it’s shiny or progressive or a poke in the eye to the oil companies. Its beauty is that it actually tries to meet the target that science has given us.

The irony is that, when Feinstein said she’s been “doing this for thirty years,” she described the precise time period during which we could have acted. James Hansen brought the climate question to widespread attention with his congressional testimony in 1988. If we’d moved thirty years ago, moderate steps of the kind that Feinstein proposes would have been enough to change our trajectory. But that didn’t get done, in large part because oil and gas companies that have successfully gamed our political system didn’t want it to get done. And the legislators didn’t do anywhere near enough to fight them. So now we’re on the precipice.

Looking at Feinstein’s proposal, there are several weaknesses compared to the Green New Deal:

  • It defines the problem in context of 2050, not 2030, despite new scientific evidence to the contrary.
  • It says nothing meaningful about transportation, especially mass transit. There is no way to get a handle on the problem without significantly reducing vehicle miles traveled, even if people are driving electric vehicles (EVs help, but miles traveled is what really matters here).
  • It does not talk at all about the relationship between housing and mass transit (building dense housing doesn’t do that much if you’re still driving.
  • It doesn’t recognize that many of the Obama-era programs need to be stricter as the science has advanced.
  • Despite her claims, there are no pay for mechanisms (which was a complaint of hers about the Green New Deal).
  • It says even less about the role of agriculture in global warming than the Green New Deal does.

So as a ‘pie-in-the-sky’ non-binding resolution, it’s inadequate. But doing something like this is normal behavior for Feinstein. She has a long history of offering ‘centrist’ alternatives that tank and weaken Democratic initiatives. At a time when McConnell is trying to fracture Democratic unity by forcing a vote, Feinstein’s response is to denigrate a popular Democratic initiative by claiming to offer a ‘responsible’ alternative. Instead, she could have argued that she agreed with the goals, but looks forward to offering solutions ‘that work for California’ or some other bullshit. In addition, Markey is a leader in the party on environmental issues, and has managed to get much of the caucus to support this. Feinstein is being incredibly divisive.

As is always the case, party unity is a one way street and it’s not heading towards liberal Democrats.

I have no idea why Feinstein has done this (again). Whether it’s ideology or narcissism* doesn’t matter. Regardless of the motives, her proposal is inadequate to the task at hand.

*I doubt she’s running again, so it’s probably not about raising campaign funds.

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