Seattle Green New Deal: Wasting 92% of funding is the best-case scenario

Jun 26, 2019

As part of their effort to combat climate change, Seattle city councilmembers pledged to take CO2 emissions in Seattle and move them to other countries so they would be someone else’s problem.

Led by 350 Seattle and Got Green, the councilmembers announced their support for a Seattle version of the “Green New Deal.” By adopting a “climate emergency tax on big business,” a “one-off climate emergency levy,” or taxing cars in the city, they promise to “eliminate Seattle’s climate pollution by 2030.”

What this is most likely to do (in addition to wasting a ton of money) is move carbon-emitting industry out of Seattle to other locations, which doesn’t help the environment.

According to the city’s most recent CO2 emissions inventory, finished earlier this year, industry in Seattle accounts for about 17% of total emissions. Putting a large tax on the energy these industries use is likely to cause them to leave the city. At the state level, these energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries are largely exempt from carbon tax proposals for this very reason.

Cement production, for example, accounts for 384,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually because it is energy-intensive. Cement production is not compatible with high energy taxes and the goal to “eliminate Seattle’s climate pollution.” Seattle can’t have cement production and reduce emissions to zero. Although cement production would cease in Seattle, demand for cement would not, so worldwide production would continue, along with the emissions they create.

If Seattle’s Green New Deal wanted to eliminate these emissions, it would prevent any new purchases of steel and concrete in Seattle. That would reduce demand and the emissions associated with them. Of course, it doesn’t do that because the consequences would be obvious. It is easier to move concrete production elsewhere and take credit for reducing CO2 emissions, even as city residents continue to purchase carbon-intensive products.

That’s not the only problem. The expenditures proposed by advocates show how reckless and ill-conceived their plan is.

They note, “it will cost at least $1.6 billion to transition Seattle’s 160,000 fossil fuel-powered homes to electric heating; the weatherization of our housing stock could cost around $800 million.” Let’s assume, for the moment, that this reduces CO2 emissions from Seattle residences to zero. Currently, residential emissions account for about 500,000 metric tons of CO2.

For this expenditure to pay off, the refurbished homes would have to last 480 years.

Using a standard price to reduce CO2 emissions of $10, spending $2.4 billion should reduce 240 million metric tons of CO2, the amount Seattle homes emit in 480 years. The problem is that the residences are likely to last for only 40 or 50 years before they need new equipment or refurbishing. Thus, city taxpayers would only get one-twelfth of the CO2 emission reduction they could if they paid the typical rate for CO2-reducing projects.

We should also stress that even supporters admit it may cost more than this. They say it will cost “at least” that amount. Wasting 92% of funding dedicated to reducing CO2 is a best-case scenario. That gives you a sense of how absurd their plan is.

Perhaps most telling is that details of the plan have not been developed. Press conference first. Details later.

The lack of details is particularly notable because the Green New Deal is being pushed by 350 Seattle, headed by KC Golden who has been an advisor to the City of Seattle, Washington state, and was recognized for “lifetime achievement” as a climate activist. One would think that 350 Seattle, Got Green, and others who so routinely tout their climate credentials would have some idea what could be done to meet their own radical targets. If they do have an idea, they aren’t sharing it.

They did, however, take the time to fully develop their talking points.

Politicians like phrases like “climate crisis” because it creates a crisis mentality where panic and symbolism supersede thoughtful and effective solutions. In a crisis there is simply no time to stop and consider what we are doing or, most importantly, hold politicians accountable for the remarkable amounts of waste that accompany ill-conceived policies.

When activists spend more time developing memorable hyperbole than sound policy, the result looks a lot like the Seattle Green New Deal.