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The Green New Deal Isn’t Just Affordable, It’s Necessary Now

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By Ryan Smith

The Green New Deal resolution Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) have proposed has captured the attention of the American public like nothing else. The deal presents a sweeping vision for meeting the challenge of climate change by creating a more just, equitable and equal society — in the weeks since its introduction, the Green New Deal has stirred up enormous controversy. It’s been co-sponsored by five Democratic presidential candidates and panned by others like Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and former Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) as unrealistic with Delaney going so far as to say:

The Green New Deal as it has been proposed is about as realistic as Trump saying that Mexico is going to pay for the wall. Let’s focus on what’s possible, not what’s impossible.

Donald Trump easily takes the cake when he said, “I really don’t like their policy of taking away your car, of taking away your airplane rights, of ‘let’s hop a train to California,’ of you’re not allowed to own cows anymore!”  In fairness, you have to be impressed by Trump topping former President George HW Bush’s ranting that environmental regulations would leave everyone jobless, “and up to our necks in owls!”

Regardless of the criticism, some of which is couched in more reasonable language than others, there’s strong evidence that the Green New Deal is not only desirable but actually very feasible.

Sunrise Movement protesters urging Democrats to back a Green New Deal in late 2018. Photo courtesy of Vox

Economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Center for Sustainable Development, wrote in detail for CNN how the Green New Deal all its components are affordable and make good economic sense. He shows decarbonization, social justice and economic equity are easily affordable and enacting all these policies will be economically beneficial. He concludes by saying supporters of the Green New Deal should focus on showing how it will improve different parts of the country. In the case of the Bay Area, not only does such a discussion show the deal’s benefits, it also proves the economic justice components, like affordable housing for all, are necessary for creating a carbon-free society.

When it comes to electricity generation and overall greenhouse gas emissions, the Bay Area is already well on track for meeting the deal’s progressive goals. As of last year, California is ahead of meeting the Paris Climate Pact goals for emissions reductions. This boom has created over 500,000 new jobs in the state while also adding billions to the Golden State’s economy. The Bay Area in particular is leading the way in this transition, with reports as of 2017 showing the region was already a decade ahead of scheduled electricity targets. If electricity was the only thing that needed to change then the Bay Area would be more than fine, having proven the more radical elements of the proposal would be unnecessary for meeting the challenge of climate change.

Yet things aren’t that simple when tackling a problem as big as climate change. Based on data from the Metropolitan Transport Commission, the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the Bay Area is from transportation.  Over time the percentage of emissions coming from these sources has increased to an estimated 42.8 percent of all greenhouse gases produced in the Bay Area.  You could assume the growth of the tech industry and the Bay Area’s swelling population are factors in these developments.  When you look at the bigger picture it becomes clear that housing, transportation and emissions are all intimately connected.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks to Green New Deal supporters. Photo courtesy of The Intercept

When you put the median housing prices for San Francisco and San Jose metropolitan areas side by side with emissions from transportation, a clear pattern emerges. The rise in transportation emissions follows the same trend of steady increase that you see in housing prices. A similar trend also shows up in the average commute times in the Bay Area.  In fact the problem is so bad that transportation emissions have effectively wiped out any progress made by cleaning up electricity generation leaving California stuck at square one.

Further information makes it clear that increasingly unaffordable housing is a direct cause of these growing transit times and transportation emissions. While the Bay Area has taken the lead in green energy, it’s also managed to claim an even more dubious gold medal in mega-commuters.

The Bay Area now has the largest number of people in the country whose commute is at least 90 minutes in length and each leg of the commute is a minimum of 50 miles long. The biggest cause of this growing surge in super-commuters and longer commute times is increasingly unaffordable housing. People working in the Bay Area simply can’t afford to live in it, creating a situation where people have to move further and further away while spending more time on the road.

What really hammers this home is a report by Bay Area Economy that goes deeper into what exactly is happening in housing and commuting. They point out areas with the largest increases in super-commuters trekking to the Bay Area for work are from the upper San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento. These areas are not tracked by the Metropolitan Transport Commission’s data, which shows emissions from transportation plateauing, reflecting more and more commuters coming from places that are outside of the MTC’s reporting area.  With so much information pointing to the same cause there is no doubt the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the Bay Area is a direct result of the growing housing crisis.

Bay Area commuters in Oakland, Calif., October 2013. Photo courtesy of CBS San Francisco

This is where the Green New Deal’s ambitious promises of affordable housing for all Americans offer both an opportunity and a solution to the Bay Area’s seemingly intractable transport emissions problem. Promises of affordable housing and fully-funded regional transportation systems will greatly improve quality of life for all Bay Area residents. It will also, along the way, create countless jobs both to build regional light rail systems, increase the capacity of existing networks like the BART, overhaul old networks and improve the quality of life for everyone.

Challenges and opportunities facing the Bay Area show the Green New Deal’s demands for economic and social justice aren’t just some Trojan horse for pushing a broader agenda. When you consider the clear connections between the housing crisis and greenhouse gases in the Bay Area, it becomes evident that tackling climate change will require comprehensive solutions. Such correlations reinforce the necessity of implementing all of the Green New Deal’s ambitious vision. Dismissing these elements as unrealistic completely misses the point that everything needs to be changed if we, as a species, are going to survive climate change. It also ignores that such changes will make a genuinely better life for everyone.

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