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THREAD - Here’s my first treatment of Beto O’Rourke’s climate change plan. Sorry it took 48 hours to get out, and hope you read this monster.
1/Now that the “first” 2020 candidate climate plan is out from Beto, I’ve been getting a lot of questions on my feelings and how in particular it compares to a Green New Deal, whether that’s the resolution or our @DataProgress blueprint
2/Off the top, I should say I find the Beto plan commendable and am encouraged by how serious some candidates are in making climate change the *most* important issue of the campaign
3/When candidates lean into ambitious climate policy we should pat them on the back and offer constructive input. This plan is thoughtful in some areas and inadequate in others but sets the first mark that other candidate now have to respond to
4/Second, while I reference specific pieces of the plan, I’m not going into super detail on everything. You can read it for yourself and all the great coverage that has come out and will still come out. So let’s get into it…
5/A strong climate plan does not sink or swim on just one component - ie, whether it sets the right target or includes the perfect decarbonization mechanism.
6/We also can’t know how great a plan is unless we have some history to compare against similar plans that succeeded, or wait until future results start coming in.
7/ Therefore, we first require some consistent criteria against which to evaluate the ambition, thoughtfulness, and likely efficacy of these climate plans.
8/ Mine are: 1) proposed outcomes and indicators of success, 2) implementation strategy, 3) allocation of resources 4) understanding of trade-offs and priorities, and 5) expertise and record to actually implement it
9/ On the first - proposed outcomes and indicators of success - it may be important to first define “ambition” from the climate perspective...
10/Ambitious doesn’t mean throwing tens of trillions of dollars in a hundred different areas to force wild change across the economy in a short amount of time. Though that is ambitious in a traditional sense.
11/Climate ambition is whether a target or plan comports with a path to deep decarbonization on a timescale consistent with 1.5 or 2 degree warming. Bc we waited too long to start, truly ambitious plans also happen to be big & far-reaching - i.e., ambitious
12/This is the first area where a comparison to GND is useful in terms of eliminating emissions. While there are a lot of good words and intentions in here, it’s actually pretty light on the outcomes and vision of the future it creates.
13/Starting with the central outcome - a target of 100% net-zero economy-wide emissions & 50% by 2030 - it is absolutely ambitious in the true climate sense for a few reasons:
14/First, 50% by 2030 is still a very heavy lift. We can get a lot from the power sector, but transportation, buildings, and industry require more than 10 years to cut emissions by 50%. Second, even Obama’s mid-century strategy only had 80% by 2050.
15/Third, 100% by 2050 is still roughly in line with global mid-century goals. Yes, there are great arguments the US has a responsibility to go faster bc of historical equity and the likely (and scary) lag by other countries...
16/ But there is no way to know if we can hit 2050 goals unless we start building the low-carbon economy today and see where we are by 2030. Now a few areas of improvement...
17/There is a lot of detail lost in 100% by 2050 that makes this feel like a “check the box” rather than an implementation plan (which I’ll elaborate more on in the next criterion).
18/This is why I am on the record saying that Beto’s plan is “less specific and less ambitious” than the GND resolution or the DFP blueprint. Beto lists a lot of specific sectoral investments, but does not list any sectoral targets.
19/It’s one thing to list mid-century and decadal emissions targets, it’s another to translate those to sectoral transformation and work toward those ends with specific policies and investments.
20/This is also important for monitoring the transition, as official emission estimates have a 2-year time lag, while sectoral data is often updated monthly.
21/For example, the plan wants to rapidly accelerate adoption of ZEVs. How much by when? When do we hit 100% ZEV sales? This matters not only for hitting a goal, but for planning and investing in the infrastructure around it.
22/Similarly for building efficiency standards. There are hundreds of millions of buildings in this country. When do we start building only high performance zero emissions buildings? When and how do we complete retrofit of existing?
23/Lastly, saying “net-zero” masks where you agree to continue emitting and where you capture. Does this imply continued fossil fuels? For power? Or just industry? Even a 30-year time horizon requires a defined window to turn things off.
24/And hitting net-zero by 2050 doesn’t mean a leveling off. It means continued and increasing negative emissions to draw down existing carbon through at least this century. We need to start building that today too.
25/The second criterion - implementation strategy - the fact is the Beto plan is entirely light in its implementation strategy. I don’t mean a whole bunch of implementation actions, but rather the system of administration to achieve the 2050 goal
26/ The implied administration in this plan is the traditional federalist approach of agenda setting, some strengthened federal regs and standards, and new federal spending in some but not all key areas
27/ So taken at the 30,000ft level, this plan includes a endpoint and a set of enabling conditions, but avoids the whole 5, 10 and 30 year intervals of administration to get there.
28/Passing new code or standards is not enough. There has to be a high level of administration over the transition. And that is actually how the public with see and feel the transition.
29/ This is why I ultimately called the Beto plan an ambitious neoliberal climate mobilization with the trappings of a GND. It uses the federal government to set some new market conditions and crosses its fingers that the economy gets there.
30/Particularly with a codified goal, a plan *needs* to enumerate some new and strengthened policies, regs, programs, and agencies that will carry out transformation. The “middle” part of this plan is almost entirely absent.
31/ I’ll call out specifically carbon pricing. The Beto plan keeps the door open for a price signal, which I agree is entirely necessary. Some economists have already hit Beto on not being more aggressive for a full-economy carbon price or tax...
32/But whether that was political strategy or not, I’m fine with this. I’m already on the record that a carbon price is a useful tool in the box, but a price is not a plan. I actually commend Beto not pushing all his chips on a price
33/However, the call out for "consumer choice and market competition" in electricity and transportation is a signature neoliberal play that opens the door too wide to a lot of different futures.
34/The reality is that decarbonizing both those sectors on a science-informed and technically feasible timeline actually requires some constraints to consumer choices in what types of vehicles and buildings are on the market not and over the next 10 years.
35/That said, I fully support performance standards that create space for innovation and choice in how to meet them. But it’s hard for Beto to both agree with the science and then put forth policies that do not comport with the pace
36/Lastly, I will commend the strong emphasis on resilience, which is 1 of the 4 tenets. While it is relatively short and illustrative, it sends exactly the right signal of putting it eye level with emission reductions.
37/Third criterion - allocation of resources - which I say off the top is woefully inadequate. The plans say $1.5T of public spending and 3.5T of private spending over 10 years...
38/Broken our that's...
$300B in tax incentives
$300B in direct spending
$250B in innovation r&D and science
$650B community grants
All of which tries to mobilize the other $3.5T through profit-driven private sector investment.
39/Setting aside the obvious attempt of inflating spending numbers through careful word-smithing, $5T of private spending over 10 years does not exactly represent the “full mobilization” (his words) of our $20T annual economy.
40/$550B on tax incentives, innovation, R&D sounds like a good start, and more maybe needed later. But there are insufficient specifics on the $300B for direct spending, therefore hard to evaluate.
41/On grants, mobilizing 180B a year (public & private) for housing, trans, health, small business, service corps, land mgmt, training, ag extensions, and local economic development is *less* than current federal spending on all those areas today.
42/It’s hard to say what of this is additional spending and what is redirected toward climate-friendly goals. But again, this is where sectoral targets are important bc that can inform where direct spending is needed to adequately push the sector.
43/This is also where a stronger justice lens is needed (see the next criterion) bc it’s well understood private sector doesn’t often lead to equitable outcomes. So greater public spending on green housing, for ex, must counteract that.
44/This plan also falls into the “pay-for” trap where it feels justified to cover the $1.5T in ending FF subsidies and new corporate taxes, both important policies, but not for “paying for” something else important.
45/Spending and taxes are different tools that have unique rationales and justifications. Therefore, we *can* make those choices together or independently, but certainly *do not need* to make them together.
46/In all, this plan relies too little on thoughtful direct public spending and too much on private sector action via their investment, which history tells us is predominantly profit driven and doesn't guarantee equitable outcomes.
47/The fourth criterion - understanding of trade-offs and priorities. This is where GND framing is also useful whether it addresses climate jobs and justice. There are hallmarks of a GND, but there is not enough in this plan to signal that trade-offs are really considered.
48/This plan can do everything it proposes without much pain, because it is not too heavy handed on directing the economy. It is not strong on eliminating fossil fuels altogether, or electrifying everything, or overhauling industry.
49/Therefore Beto chose not to address trade-offs and prioritization, making it hard to evaluate whether it considered them in the background. But then it is implicitly avoiding the trade-offs of maintaining *current* inequity.
50/The reality is while jobs and justice are mentioned, they do not come through as central tenets nor does it contain enough detail on how it will guarantee direct policy and investments that is meant to strengthen specific communities.
51/Even requiring “any federal permitting decision to fully account for climate costs and community impacts” implies a large number of trade-offs that need treatment. As others noted, moving quickly means *expediting* permitting processes.
52/Instead, this plan should just say what they really mean. If they mean no permitting for projects that increase FF-based emissions or exposure to current and future climate impacts, then just say that.
53/Lastly, simply listing politically important constituencies - organized labor, farmers and ranchers, communities of color, businesses, or the young people - isn’t enough to communicate how they are part of the solution or will be better off.
54/The final criterion - expertise and record to actually implement it - is where Beto deserves the the greatest amount of critique, healthy skepticism, or downright cynicism.
55/On political record, Beto has never been known as a climate champion. He has not taken the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, and as recently as 2018 voted on various legislation that supported the oil and gas industries
56/This would not be surprising for a Texas congressman and candidate for U.S. Senate whose district and state rely on these industries. But is disconcerting for a US Presidential candidate running on an aggressive climate plan.
57/On practical record, whether a “true” GND or something similar, any ambitious economic and energy transition is a massive endeavor that requires strong leadership and experience with various levers of government.
58/The perfect person to lead a national transformation likely doesn’t exist, but one could imagine strong experience in managing an economy, executive experience, government agency management, and working w/ states and across the aisle.
59/Lastly, no leader knows everything, so we should have confidence they can surround themselves with the most talented people to execute this plan. It’s not public who advised Beto, but it could shine more light on how a Pres. O’Rouke might implement this plan.
60/There may be more evidence we don’t have, but as it currently stands, Beto does not appear strongest to implement a Green New Deal or the ambitious decarbonization of our economy.
61/In conclusion, when the AOC/Markey resolutions dropped, @jnoisecat and I challenged 2020 candidates to show us their GND. Beto was the first to do so, but I wouldn’t call it a complete Green New Deal in the way I see it.
62/Yet it was absolutely right of Beto to say that this should be the top priority for the next President and it officially kicks off the necessary debate necessary between candidates and the public about who has the most credible plan.
63/Beto’s plan embodies some of what we need for deep decarbonization, but not everything. Even still, the contents do not reflect the scale and urgency even he signals the problem demands.
64/This was a quick take on the plan, and I’m sure we’ll do a blog or longer piece on this soon, and every candidates’ plan. Thanks for reading the whole thing. /end
PS1/NEWS - 30 minutes ago Beto O'Rourke says he's signed the No Fossil Fuel Pledge. Updates my 5th criterion
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