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March 14, 2019

I love the Green New Deal but ...

Arshad M. Khan


Ever since out first ancestor lit a fire, humans have been pumping CO2 into the
atmosphere.  Add to that the first herder because ruminants are another large emitter
of greenhouse gas (GHG).

Some people want to declare a national emergency and ban fossil fuels within ten
years.  How?   I am for it and all ready to go.  But please tell me how.  Think of the
quarter billion vehicles in the U.S. and the infrastructure supporting them; the myriad
gas stations and repair shops and the people employed in them; the thousands of
miles of domestic gas pipelines to homes using gas stoves and gas heating.  Think of
the restructuring, the replacement, the energy required, the megatons of metal and
other materials used and their production which all require one thing -- energy.  And
what about air travel and the shipping industry?

What of the millions of jobs lost?  Think of the jobholders and their families.  Most of
these workers cannot switch skills overnight.  These are not just the million and a half
employed in the industry directly, but include gas company employees, your gas
furnace repair and maintenance man, the people building furnaces, gas stoves, the
auto repair infrastructure -- electric motors of course are darned reliable and need
attention only to brakes, tire rotation and battery coolant checks for the most part --
and so on.   

When you offer this laundry list, the response is likely to be, "Well I didn't mean that."  
In effect, it defines the problem with the Green New Deal:  It is remarkably short on the
'whats' and especially the 'hows'.  Funny though I first searched for the Green New
Deal at Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (whose courage I admire greatly)
official web page and surprisingly found ... well nothing.  Why not something practical
like mandating solar collectors on new homes constructed?

So you want to suck the CO2 out of the air; you can.  It takes 300MW to 500MW of
electrical energy per million tons annually.  To put it in perspective, we need to
remove at least 20 billion tons (20,000 times more) each year to remove the minimum
of a trillion tons expected to be emitted by the end of the century.  The 10 million
megawatt electrical base  required for this is ten times the current total US electrical
power grid of 1.2 million megawatts.

You want to bring carbon emissions down to zero.  I am all for it even though our
ancestor -- the one who lit the coal fire -- could not.  Just tell me how.  If you want to
talk about carbon neutrality ... now there's an idea.  But "switching immediately away
from fossil fuels" as I read from one advocate recently ... I wish it was possible.

The rest of the goals are equally laudable -- in fact I have advocated many including
the necessity for well-paying jobs, infrastructure spending, eating less meat, and even
net-zero emissions.  The big question is 'how' against entrenched interests.

In the meantime, would someone please electrify my local suburban train. The 1950s
diesel-electric locomotives spew black smoke and the carriages were designed in the
same era.  Worse still, the service is chronically late.  Electrification of rail lines and
improving public transport in the U.S. should be job one.  But every activity -- and
change particularly -- uses energy.

Author's Note:  This piece is enlarged from an earlier version that appeared on