The Green New Deal Isn't Realistic, but We Can Still Save the Environment | Opinion

Have an extra $2,000 to spend?

That's how much the Green New Deal could raise the average household's annual electric bill, according to a new study from energy research firm Wood Mackenzie. It estimated that transitioning all power plants to clean energy—a central goal of the Green New Deal—could cost American consumers a staggering $4.7 trillion over the next two decades.

The Green New Deal isn't a serious proposal. Renewable energy sources like solar and wind have their place. But eliminating fossil fuels wholesale would prove prohibitively expensive.

Fortunately, it's possible to save the environment without destroying the economy.

Introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the Green New Deal is nothing if not ambitious. The proposal seeks to transition the United States off fossil fuels, ideally within 10 years.

The plan has become a rallying cry for progressives. Numerous candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination support it. But so far, proponents have too often downplayed the proposal's cost.

Thanks to Wood Mackenzie's findings, that should be no longer an option. As the study's authors point out, the Green New Deal would require "a complete redesign of the power sector" that, among other things, would entail an 11-fold increase in energy production from wind and solar. Such an overhaul would also demand 900 times more energy storage and 200,000 more miles of transmission infrastructure than we currently have.

The study doesn't even attempt to measure the cost of the Green New Deal's other, non-climate related reforms, like setting up a single-payer health care system or guaranteeing a job to every American.

Thankfully, we don't have to rely on pie-in-the-sky proposals to combat climate change. Over the past few years, advances in drilling technology have unlocked a glut of natural gas. Power plants have switched en masse to this fuel, which is considerably cheaper than dirtier energy sources like coal.

As a result, America recorded a historic drop in reported greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions from power plants decreased by 19.3 percent between 2011 and 2017, thanks mostly to the natural gas boom.

The Green New Deal stands no chance of becoming law. Even Markey didn't vote in favor when it came up for a roll call vote.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York speaks during a rally at Howard University on May 13 in Washington, D.C Alex Wong/Getty

Accelerating the transition to natural gas, by contrast, is politically feasible. It doesn't require any financial sacrifices at all—some power plants are switching voluntarily to save money.

This lack of sacrifice is important. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that almost 70 percent of Americans support aggressive action on climate change, but just one in three is willing to pay an extra $100 a year in taxes to finance this action.

Of course, renewables can help reduce emissions too. According to the latest projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, energy sources such as wind, solar and hydropower will account for 18 percent of America's electricity production this year, and 20 percent in 2020.

An all-renewable future simply isn't realistic in our lifetimes. A lower-emissions future is—thanks largely to natural gas.

Drew Johnson is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.