Commentary: We need a Green New Deal to save our future

Sen. Edward Markey, D- Mass., speaks at a rally for Green New Deal, Tuesday, March 26, 2019, outside the Capitol in Washington. The Green New Deal calls for the U.S. to shift away from fossil fuels such as oil and coal and replace them with renewable sources such as wind and solar power. (AP Photo/Matthew Daly)

Climate change — not migrant caravans — is the true national emergency.

Indeed, climate change is not merely a threat to our national security, it threatens our very survival as a species. Unfortunately, the answer to this crisis is not as simple as falling in love and breeding away the problem as Sen. Mike Lee suggests.

Without immediate, dramatic change, much of the livable land will flood with sea water. There will be considerably less fresh water for consumption and farming. Large swaths of currently arable land will be either under sea or so hot and dry that nothing will be able to live there. Diseases currently confined to the tropics will move north with their vector hosts.

As national political and economic systems break down refugees will flee floods and drought. More frequent and violent disasters like hurricanes, floods and wildfires will destroy towns and cities. As the population collapses. a new political, social and economic order, more medieval in nature, will replace the present order. Charismatic leaders will use brute force like gangsters to maintain control. Gone will be anything like civil rights. Freedom of speech and religion and the protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, torture, unreasonable bail or cruel punishment will all fall by the wayside in exchange for protection from roving bands of thieves and refugees as resources become ever scarcer.

Finally, once the global climate warms sufficiently, a number of cascading effects, such as the release of frozen tundra methane, will launch temperatures to new even more deadly heights, which no amount of human intervention will change.

This is the fate our children, and their children, face unless we act now. The first steps are personal, although having babies is not the answer. Buy only the amount of food you can consume. Eat less beef. Walk, ride a bike, take public transit, even if it is inconvenient. Consume less electric energy. Use personal solar power to add to the grid.

That however, will not be enough. What we need is a Green New Deal. Some politicians have derided it as “socialism” and too expensive, saddling our kids with enormous debt. Lee says that the Green New Deal is a fantasy and will do nothing to address the problem. With regards to “socialism,” naked laze-faire capitalism is not the answer to every problem. Capitalism is amazing in its efficiency when markets are free and open and no barriers exist to entry. In some ways its efficiency replicates natural selection in the way it creates opportunity for the strong and dispassionately allows for the predation of the weak.

Free market forces harness near-term greed for the greater good. However, as markets become expensive to enter, such as aircraft production, or require expensive and wasteful duplication of infrastructure, like electric power delivery, a transparent authority, government, must impose regulation to insure fairness as a buttress to pure freedom. Without that regulation, capitalism unrestrained, leads to concentration of wealth in a few individuals that slowly strangles the whole system. Like a backyard pond once filled with clean water, fish and plants, without nurturing and forced aeration, will become a foul fetid green pool of warm green slime and nothing else.

Regarding the second complaint, unless we spend (and tax) now there will be nothing left of this world for our children to have. Debt will be the least of their worries.

Eliminating greenhouse gas emission is an enormous and multifaceted exercise. Accordingly, the Green New Deal is not limited to pollution control. At its core, the Green New Deal calls for the complete transformation of the means of power generation. But it also demands restructuring of the economy to provide training and the workforce necessary to convert to clean power production.

The Green New Deal not only turns away from dirty energy but also turns away from beef and milk production. Though beef and milk taste great and provide nutrition, ruminants like cattle create a tremendous amount of methane, a greenhouse gas. Because of their sheer numbers, cattle are a significant and growing contributor to climate change. A Green New Deal must reduce cattle contribution to climate change through different husbandry techniques and reducing their number while offsetting the food loss.

The Green New Deal does not create a centralized economy but must insure wealth continues to circulate in the economy like oxygen in the healthy pond to pay for the necessary changes like clean cars and clean energy. Thus, the Green New Deal emphasizes trade union protections.

The Green New Deal also emphasizes physical health. The economy functions more efficiently when not encumbered by sick workers and workers who are trying to care for a sick family member. Further, those workers cannot be at their most productive when being crushed by medical care debt. Transforming the economy and infrastructure will require education opportunities. Education debt or the threat of education debt is a drag on efficiency like running a race with a ball and chain locked to your ankle.

There are difficult choices ahead. As a veteran, I know how important it is to have a strong military. I am not so naïve as to think we just have to hold hands and say “no more war!” But history is littered with nations crashed on the shoals of military spending oblivion — Spain, pre-revolutionary France and the USSR, to name just a few. Thoughtful but dramatic cuts in military spending are necessary and are part of the Green New Deal.

Not spelled out is a careful analysis of our national security plan for the next 30, 50, 100 years. Regardless of the Green New Deal we cannot defend against every possible risk. We need bright imaginative leaders who will look at the risks that “we the people” face and assess the risk and construct a plan for the future that will address those risks. The foremost of these risks is climate change. We need leaders now, both young and old, to face that threat, to hammer into existence the actual structures of, and give life to, the Green New Deal — so that we can give life to subsequent generations of Americans.

Protecting our planet is not simply a scientific imperative based on data and laboratory studies. If you are a believer, a person who takes seriously a faith tradition in which God has given humankind possession of God’s creation, then you ought to take a keen interest in how to take care of that creation. If we do nothing and it all burns down around us how will we face our Creator and explain that when we realized there was a problem threatening creation we did nothing.

Byron Burmester

Byron Burmester, Millcreek, is a deputy district attorney for Salt Lake County. The thoughts expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.