Last week, Freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez released an FAQ to accompany her co-sponsored Green New Deal. Among the many dramatic and far-reaching statements was that the Green New Deal would make air travel unnecessary. But you can relax, it’s not going to happen.
The Green New Deal
Presented this week in Washington DC, The Green New Deal borrows the ambition, progress and national unity from FDR’s New Deal during the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s New Deal (the only four-term president in the United States) was a desperate solution for a very desperate time and a nation on it’s back. The economy was nearly dead, Americans were starving, Government intervention was key.
In the end, the United States economy was able to pull through with the Government providing millions of jobs to hard-working Americans and toward the end of the New Deal, a wartime economy where everyone pulled together.
Representative Ocasio-Cortez and her 67 co-sponsors have outlined a dramatic and sweeping package with millions of new jobs and heavy government investment to radically attack the problem of climate change. The US alone contributes some 20% of global emissions and some scientists have suggested that the world has just 12 years to make a major impact to stop the effects of human-contributed climate change before serious consequences and irreversible actions commence.
The Green New Deal intends to make the US carbon neutral within ten years by mobilizing the government in a wartime effort to radically re-engineer the country, benefiting the economy, workers, while saving the environment and leading the way for other nations. The entire Green New Deal FAQ can be found here.
Adversaries and supporters can both laud the intention of the Green New Deal. Leading the world by example with a radical new approach that creates jobs for millions, stimulates the economy, replaces or upgrades every single building in the United States, introduces high-speed rail travel in a way the world has never seen before and goes from consuming 25% of the world’s oil to becoming carbon-neutral is nothing but commendable.
Equally, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez setting an audacious goal of completing the work inside of 10 years, citing examples of previously-thought impossible targets reminisces the hallmarks of great leaders before like FDR, JFK or in the private sector, the Wright Brothers & Elon Musk. I’m currently listening to an audiobook about Musk and he is famous for setting completely unrealistic targets and missing them but in the process finishing faster and cheaper than by factors of ten or more than his peers. Setting unreachable goals and occasionally achieving them or coming very close to the timeline has pushed his achievements stratospherically. Perhaps the audacity of the timeline could be key to getting closer to the goal than if a realistic target was applied.
Impractical as Written
Despite best intentions, the bill, at least as presented in the FAQ released from Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s office, is laughable when it comes to execution. Even proponents and co-sponsors started to back away from the claims Ocasio-Cortez issued on the same day it was released.
First, the plan is sometimes exact, such as the ten-year target, but then in other places, it is rather vague. Vehicle charging locations will be “everywhere” and air travel will become unnecessary simply because trains will be a more viable option. For a plan this audacious, credible specifics are required especially when its incredulous in nature. For example, the Green New Deal intends to replace every combustible engine in the US in the same decade as high-speed train rapid development and every building in the US being upgraded or replaced. But that’s not just cars, that’s lawn mowers, airplane tugs, cranes (that will be busy building everything of course) boats, tanks. It doesn’t appear well thought out let alone practical. Other goals are as specific as “healthy food.”
The plan acknowledges not every “farting cow” and airplane can be phased out within the first ten years (kudos). But still somehow suggests it’s remotely achievable. Also, for those who were doubting it, no Green New Deal would be complete without completely free higher education and healthcare plus… and I want to quote the following from Rep. Ocasio-Cortez herself,
“Economic security for all who are unable or unwilling to work.”
Also, all of the work provided by the government will utilize “high wage” union jobs – which has never led to the failure of an entire industry (everyone in Detroit can undoubtedly relate.)
Why It Couldn’t Possibly End Air Travel
More specifically pertaining to the statement regarding air travel, the bill could certainly be effective for those in particular coastal markets that travel solely between major cities in a confined space. From the congresswoman’s FAQ regarding the specific goals to achieve carbon neutrality inside of ten years:
“Totally overhaul transportation by massively expanding electric vehicle manufacturing, build charging stations everywhere, build out highspeed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary, create affordable public transit available to all, with goal to replace every combustion-engine vehicle”
There are really a few parts about this that speak to the impossibility of the proposal and why detractors have an instant case for dismissing the bill simply on the basis of being an ecological daydream and not a plan of action. Pretending for a moment that this it was remotely possible to expand high-speed rail inside of ten years to replace air travel simply in nearby massive markets where travel often takes place (Boston-New York-Philadelphia-Baltimore-Washington DC, San Diego-Los Angeles-San Francisco-Portland-Seattle, Miami-Orlando-Atlanta) there is an awful lot of country to fill in on the map. The plan may work for the Eastern corridor but is a fallacy in smaller markets that are significant in size, but not on the scale of the Boston to Washington DC level.
If we suspend belief that the above could be achieved at a scale for the massive volume of traffic, there would still not be enough bandwidth to expand it to smaller markets. Jets would still be required to fly business people from New Orleans to Minneapolis, from Omaha to Tampa, Kansas City to Buffalo. Therefore, air travel would remain necessary for traveling families and business people throughout a majority of the country that travels between the coasts.
The speed would also be a problem. High-speed trains currently consist of 120-160 mph trains on either existing or new tracks. Maglev trains run on tracks averaging 200-400 miles in distance at a top rate of speed of 374 mph. Not a single high-speed train nor Maglev currently runs in the US (though some are in development). The concept of moving from none to enough to replace millions of travelers every single day in a single decade seems more than fanciful, it’s absurd. That’s just the volume of travelers, which does not factor in the tremendous additional time required to take the journey and does not include the changing of trains which will be required several times for a long journey.
What naive enthusiasts misunderstand about train travel in Europe when comparing it to a potential model in the US is that cities are simply much closer together in Europe with fewer topographical challenges, and many more cities and people. London and Paris are separated by a channel and some 300 miles but have combined metropolitan statistical areas of 30 million. The entirety of the United Kingdom would fit inside of Oregon but would encompass more than 20% of the population of the US. As a nation, the US is just too spread out to make that work.
So Relax, It’s Not Going to Happen
For all of the logical reasons above, even if the well-intentioned but unrealistic and devoid of reason Green New Deal is somehow passed in Congress, the Senate and signed into law by a President – it still won’t end air travel. While I can appreciate the enthusiasm, as does Rep. Pelosi while verbally patting Ocasio-Cortez on the head, it may make the challenge even higher for environmentally-related charges. If the progressive democrats are seen as so detached from reality that they believe they can run all of these programs concurrently and achieve them inside of a decade, then are they not just loons who should be dismissed as quickly as possible? Are there concerns over climate change valid if they can’t comprehend the ridiculous nature of their plan?
What do you think? Is the Green New Deal going to make air travel unnecessary? Is this plan more plausible than it appears to me? Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ambitious or delusional? Both?