The Green New Deal Is Not the Radical Position, It Is the Compromise Position

With several Democratic presidential candidates, along with numerous other Democratic politicians, calling for a Green New Deal, it goes without saying that the Green New Deal has been called radical. But the Green New Deal isn’t radical, it’s the compromise position–though it might not appear that way to the fossil fuel industries. This piece by Alex Baca gets at why this is (boldface mine):

That America’s most famous progressive city, one where nearly everything is within walking distance, spent $40 million to renovate a parking garage one block from a subway station suggests that progressive Democrats remain unwilling to seriously confront the crisis of climate change. America’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions is transportation. In California, the proportion of CO2 from transportation is even higher: above 40 percent. Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín anticipates that the Center Street Parking Garage will out-green all others in the state with a LEED Silver rating, making it a perfect example of our approach to climate change: glibly “greening” the lives we live now, rather than contemplating the future generations who will have to live here too….

But the Green New Deal has a big blind spot: It doesn’t address the places Americans live. And our physical geography—where we sleep, work, shop, worship, and send our kids to play, and how we move between those places—is more foundational to a green, fair future than just about anything else. The proposal encapsulates the liberal delusion on climate change: that technology and spending can spare us the hard work of reform…

Environmentalists know transportation is the elephant in the room. At first blush, the easiest way to attack that problem is to electrify everything, and that’s largely what the Green New Deal calls for, with goals like “100 percent zero emission passenger vehicles by 2030” and “100 percent fossil-free transportation by 2050.” The cars we drive feel more easily changeable than the places we live.

But electric vehicles are nowhere near ready for widespread adoption—and even if they were, “half of the world’s consumption of oil would remain untouched,” Bloomberg reports. A Tesla in every driveway just won’t cut it…

Unsprawling America isn’t as hard as it sounds, because America is suffering from a critical, once-in-a-lifetime housing shortage. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reported last year that the U.S. has a national deficit of more than 7.2 million affordable and available rental homes for families most in need. Of course, if we build those homes in transit-accessible places, we can save their occupants time and money. But the scale of housing demand at this moment is such that we could build them in car-centric suburbs, too, and provide a human density that would not just support transit but also reduce the need to travel as shops, jobs, and schools crop up within walking distance.

The Green New Deal is ostensibly a jobs program, an environmental program, and a redistributive program. If it’s a jobs program, it must wrangle with spatial mismatch. If it’s an environmental program, it must tackle the fact that an all-electric fleet of cars is functionally, at this time, a pipe dream. And if it’s a redistributive program, it must grapple with how roads paved into suburban and exurban greenfield developments deepen, expand, and exacerbate segregation.

The ‘radical’ position–and I put it in scare quotes because both socialists as well as conservatives recognize this problem–is to alter our housing and transportation patterns. That is, we need more people living in multi-household dwellings (apartment buildings, duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes) who do not use cars (or use them rarely) to get to commute and to generally get around.

This is a much harder proposition. It requires more investment in mass transit. It requires upzoning. It requires significantly higher densities to support walkable and ‘mass transit-able’ businesses. It also means that at least part of the suburban environment will be worth significantly less–which is to say that housing as an investment, or even a nest egg, will be lost by some people, maybe quite a few. That is what is needed to combat global warming. Meanwhile, even in many cities that already have good infrastructure, we can’t even get rid of de facto single-family housing zoning.

The various Green New Deals don’t really push these policies very hard (though it doesn’t completely ignore them). Moving to electric vehicles will only lessen the increase in the damamge, but it won’t reverse it. Weatherizing housing is great, but even a crappy apartment building uses far less energy per square foot than a stand-alone house.

So the next time someone calls the Green New Deal ‘radical’ or some other synonym, tell them it’s the compromise position. Because it is.

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2 Responses to The Green New Deal Is Not the Radical Position, It Is the Compromise Position

  1. adameran
    adameran says:

    You make a good point. However, one omission is the market acceptance for these pedestrian- and transit-friendly neighborhoods. It’s very, very high. Premiums paid average 40%, with Seaside Florida getting a 600% premium for interior lots.

    More at

  2. Pingback: GNDP | Technology as Nature

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