The race to become the Democratic candidate for President is on. And with Joe Biden recently entering the race, Elizabeth Warren releasing a comprehensive higher education plan, and Bernie Sanders, well, existing, it’s getting harder and harder to stand out among the crowd. Which is perhaps why presidential hopeful Beto O’Rouke has released a proposal to tackle climate change. It’s the former Texas House Rep.’s first official policy proposal in his six-week-old campaign.
Up until this point, O’Rourke has been standing on tables and asserting that he would tackle food deserts with farm-to-table restaurants, so it’s refreshing to see a legitimate policy proposal from his camp. The fact that he’s picked climate change first is no surprise: it’s the cornerstone of Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s presidential campaign, and all six of the Senators who are running support passing the Green New Deal. Every single Democratic candidate has called climate change a significant threat, including O’Rourke himself.
So what’s in O’Rourke climate change proposal? We break it down.
What is he proposing?
From 30,000 feet up, here’s what O’Rourke wants to do:
- Invest $5 trillion over 10 years in updating aging infrastructure and “empower[ing] our people and communities to lead the climate fight”
- Rejoin the Paris Climate Accord
- Reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050
More specifically, O’Rourke rolled out a “four-part framework” which will start on day one of his presidency. He will not only rejoin the Paris Climate Accord via executive order on day one, he also plans to “reduce methane leakage” in the oil and gas industry and ban hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a synthetic greenhouse gas that is “9,000 times more potent” than carbon dioxide.
The first bill he introduces to Congress will create $1.5 trillion of revenue by changing “the tax code [to] ensure corporations and the wealthiest among us pay their fair share.” That includes ending tax breaks for fossil fuel companies.
That revenue will be put right back into the economy via O’Rourke’s plan to update aging infrastructure. His infrastructure plan, he says, will not only create jobs, it’s also absolutely necessary in order to maintain our cities and highways as climate change-caused extreme weather increases.
He also plans on introducing several financial measures to incentivize individuals and private industries to switch to green technologies. Per O’Rourke, some of these investments will be:
- Temporary tax incentives for “nascent technologies” that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions “across all sectors,”
- $250 billion in multidisciplinary research and development in both the public and private sectors
- $650 billion in direct capital in low-income housing grants for sustainable buildings, green transportation technology grants, and small business and start-up grants for new businesses tackling climate change-related issues
The plan isn’t just looking ahead to a distant future, either. It also accounts for the fact that climate change is already happening, so the last part of his framework includes massive investment in pre-disaster mitigation and disaster relief. If implemented, his plan would likely prevent events like the national failure to help Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in 2017.
In other words: Beto is going to invest massive amounts of cash in green technologies that will help reduce carbon emissions, programs that will help the low-income and marginalized communities that are usually on the front-lines of environmental disasters (both natural and man-made), and de-incentivize fossil fuel investments by eliminating tax breaks. That said: there is a lot of vague language in his proposal about incentivizing green technologies and protecting communities on the front lines that’s not yet linked to practical initiatives.
How does it compare to the Green New Deal?
O’Rourke’s plan is very similar to the Green New Deal in several ways, not least of which is investing massively in green technology, updating infrastructure, and divesting from fossil fuels. O’Rourke’s plan outlines a gradual divestment via ending tax breaks and “decarbonizing” industries across public and private sectors, whereas the Green New Deal doesn’t dive into specifics.
Further, both O’Rourke’s plan and the Green New Deal will rely on taxing wealthy individuals and large businesses to raise capital for their plans, though Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the architects of the Green New Deal, has stated that wealthy Americans will be looking at marginal tax rates of upwards of 60-70 percent, and O’Rourke has only stated that the wealthy will pay “their fair share.”
There’s one way in which O’Rourke’s policy differs greatly: his goal is to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and get halfway to that goal by 2030. The Green New Deal’s goal is to achieve net-zero carbon emissions within 10 years (as well as meet 100 percent of the U.S.’s power demands with renewable energy in that same time-frame).
Is it enough?
If the bombshell October 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report, “Global Warming of 1.5°C” is any indication, O’Rourke’s plan isn’t aggressive enough. According to that report, the world has less than 12 years to stop the warming of the planet and keep it under 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — 2 degrees at the very most. To give context, by 2015 the earth had warmed by 1-degree Celsius since pre-industrial times. His goal is to reach net-zero by 2050, by which time it could be too late.
After all, we’ve experienced 18 of the 19 hottest years on record since 2001, and the five hottest years have been the past five years.
If we don’t stop the warming of the planet, the results will be disastrous: 99 percent of coral reefs will die off, wildfires, floods, and hurricanes will get worse, 350 million people will be exposed to deadly heat annually, and if that isn’t enough to convince you: the economy will tank. Natural disasters are expensive, and the disasters associated with warming between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius are predicted to cause upwards of $1 trillion in damage to infrastructure and coastal homes in the U.S. alone.
While O’Rourke’s plan was more thorough and comprehensive than what we’ve seen out of him thus far, plans from other candidates may end up being significantly more aggressive.