This is a top-of-mind set of thoughts having just read Jill Stein’s interview with the Washington Post’s editorial board. The short version? My statement still holds: Stein’s a menu with no restaurant. She is articulate, intelligent, and pretty informed. But I find her lacking on an issue that she and I have much in common on: mitigating climate change.
Her statements on the Paris Agreement and climate solutions trouble me for three reasons. First, they don’t seem to account for the problem of the U.S. Congress. In order for Obama to sign on diplomats had to make it so that the American legislature wouldn’t need to ratify it. Second, it is flawed but it’s leaps and bounds better than the top-down post-Kyoto what was before. The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions totaled together lock us to somewhere around 3 to 3.5 degrees C as Stein rightly says. That’s really troubling. But the Agreement also contains a ratchet mechanism intended to tighten up the INDCs over time and accelerate carbon mitigating technologies. It may not keep us below 1.5 degrees C. In all likelihood, it won’t as I’ve written before:
“If we are to meet the aspirational goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a limit that might prevent disastrous impacts to poor and low-lying island nations, we have between about 5 years (66% chance) and 16 years (33% chance) of fossil fuels to burn at current levels.”
I find the carbon budget numbers I just stated frightening. If Stein wants to take climate change on, we have to use the ratchet in the Paris Agreement and start cranking. The idea that she will lead some new global process to craft a better package comes across as magical thinking.
Third, her Green New Deal approach to renewable energy seems very unlikely. I am with the Washington Post editorial board who write, “Ms. Stein is nevertheless spinning up a fairy tale — an appealing fairy tale to some, but still a fairy tale. To support the feasibility of her plan, Ms. Stein cited experts whose models in fact envision an energy transition taking decades longer than she posits.” In fact, she brings up the rapid and feasible (though still really ambitious) transition plan from Mark Jacobson’s plan for renewables by 2050. Not 2030.
Stein suggests we can do something faster. She invokes the image of the United State converting 1/4 of its economy in six months to support the war effort against Japan and Germany. While she and I may agree that we are in a climate crisis, the political and economic will for such a mobilization isn’t here.
It’s true that a 2016 Gallup poll, found that 36% of people support fracking and 51% oppose it. This is up from a 40% to 40% split the year before. Unsurprisingly, there is a partisan divide with Republicans supporting fracking more than Democrats. A majority of active participants in the environmental movement oppose fracking. And a clear majority of people want to support renewable energy. That’s great.
But solar and wind growth aren’t anywhere near where they’d need to be to get 100% renewables by 2030. As David Roberts pointed out yesterday in Vox, solar is growing and prices are coming down and policies are bit by bit working out all over the country. But the plain fact of the matter is that there are tons of state-level issues to clear. My own state has a wickedly insufficient Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard and a massively state-subsidized fracking industry. Those two things alone need legislative action to move the Public Utility Commission among other things. And that says nothing about the United States Congress.
Let’s say that Stein won the White House and entered with a Democratic majority in the Senate. Who is she going to work with in the Senate to get this done? This is totally unclear. Elizabeth Warren is from her own home state of Massachusetts but there’s no indication of a working relationship there. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. And thrown in Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) for good measure. What about the House of Representatives? You think they are going to support the (fantasy-priced) $500 billion renewable energy makeover just like that? I’ll just leave it there.
We need to be ambitious. But it doesn’t do any favors to say we are going to do something that’s vanishingly unlikely. So let’s be honest about the threats, serious about who we are going to work with, and elect people who have policies that are serious and can do serious work. Let’s not buy into fairy tales.