A New Green Deal

The government helped launch the digital revolution by investing in technology—why not do the same to create an energy-efficient economy?

| November-December 2001

George W. Bush handed his opponents a golden political opportunity with his energy plan, and if they use it wisely they can block his anti-environmental agenda, much as Bill Clinton was undone during his first term by the health care issue. So far, environmentalists and Democrats have correctly pointed out that Bush’s emphasis on drilling at any cost will increase pollution and reward his former colleagues in the oil business. But name-calling, no matter how accurate, will not be enough to win this fight.

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White House strategists are betting that Americans’ economic concerns about electricity blackouts and rising gas prices will trump any unease they feel about the environmental consequences of the administration’s energy plan. Bush’s opponents can triumph, therefore, only if they put economics at the heart of their message. They must take the offensive and offer Americans a clear, compelling answer to a genuine challenge facing the nation: how to keep the economy strong without trashing the planet.

Toward that end, those who oppose Bush’s energy plan should join in calling for a New Green Deal: a government-led, market-based plan that will solve the nation’s energy problems while also yielding economic returns and addressing the most urgent environmental hazard of our time, global climate change. Such a deal would be green in both senses of the word: it would clean up the environment, and it would make money for workers, businesses, and communities. In essence, the New Green Deal would do for clean energy technologies what government and industry have already done so well for computer and Internet technologies: help launch their commercial takeoff.

Under a New Green Deal, the government need not spend more money, only redirect current subsidies more intelligently. By championing energy efficiency and shifting government spending away from fossil and nuclear fuels to solar, wind, and other renewable sources, the New Green Deal would foster jobs and stimulate business. Investments in energy efficiency yield two to ten times as many jobs per dollar invested as do investments in fossil fuels and nuclear power—not a minor consideration during an economic downturn.

The political advantages of a New Green Deal are nearly as great as its economic benefits. Since both business and labor stand to prosper from it, it should appeal across the political spectrum. Can anyone say the same for Bush’s plan? Free-market rhetoric is all very well, but ultimately business leaders want results, and Bush’s plan will do nothing to prevent electricity blackouts in the economically crucial states of California and New York.

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