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Only a Global Green New Deal Can Save the Planet

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Bernie Sanders’s Green New Deal is nothing short of remarkable. It faces the climate challenge more honestly and comprehensively than any other proposal yet. It calls for government action on a heroic scale—committing the United States to do its fair share to cut global greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, in line with the findings of the landmark scientific report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last October—and outlines a set of bold policies to achieve that extremely ambitious goal. The plan’s 10-year, $16.3 trillion price tag raised eyebrows among the usual inside-the-Beltway suspects, but the Democratic presidential candidate isn’t backing down. “The fundamental question is do we respond to the degree that the scientific community tells us we must, or do we not?” Sanders told Mother Jones. “And from a moral perspective, I think we have no choice but to act.”

Unveiled on August 22, when his presidential campaign visited Paradise, California, the once-idyllic town incinerated by last summer’s record wildfires, Sanders’s Green New Deal envisions “a ten-year, nationwide mobilization centered around justice and equity.” It promises to “end unemployment” by creating 20 million “good paying, union jobs with strong benefits.” It would prohibit the import and export of fossil fuels, ban fracking and mountaintop-removal coal mining, and end emissions from the US transportation sector by 2030. It would establish a “just transition” program so that workers in the fossil fuel industry don’t suffer from the shift to a greener economy, and it would create a separate fund to help communities of color meet the climate impacts to come. Give Sanders his due: This is what a serious climate plan looks like in 2019.

But the true genius of Sanders’s Green New Deal—its secret weapon for achieving the massive emissions cuts he promises—has gone unnoticed by mainstream news organizations and even most climate activists. He clearly recognizes that eliminating greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, as the Sunrise Movement and other climate activists have demanded, is all but impossible in an economy as enormous and energy intensive as the United States’—at least without paralyzing transportation systems, endangering food supplies, and otherwise triggering a social backlash. But rather than just endorse the 2030 deadline anyway, as some activists insist, or pretend that the science is negotiable, as most politicians do, Sanders has found a credible way around the dilemma.

His Green New Deal includes a pledge to help the world’s poorer countries move rapidly away from fossil fuel use, reducing their greenhouse gas emissions as part of a transition as deep and comprehensive as the one that would simultaneously unfold in the United States. Specifically, he proposes that the US provide $200 billion to the UN’s Green Climate Fund, a program that helps poor countries leave coal, oil, and gas behind in favor of solar and other renewable energy sources. This, he says, would “reduce emissions among less industrialized nations by 36 percent by 2030.” Combine that reduction with the 71 percent drop in US emissions by 2030 that Sanders projects under his Green New Deal, and the net effect, he estimates, would be equivalent to cutting US emissions by 161 percent—far more than the 100 percent that the climate emergency movement is demanding.

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