Nicolas Loris: The Green New Deal would cost trillions and make not a dime's worth of difference

Remember those office supply ads with the “that was easy” button? The premise was, just hit the magical red button and all of your supply needs are taken care of: It’s just that easy!

The Green New Deal, which earlier this week garnered exactly zero votes of support, was an “easy” button for climate change and more.

The Deal was truly magical because, despite earning the immediate support of the nation’s leading liberals and socialists, it contained no policy details. Just hit a “Green New Deal” button, and we’ll fundamentally transform the economy to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

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For advocates of the Deal, the absence of policy details is a feature, not a bug, because it makes generating a cost estimate for the plan, shall we say, challenging.

For example, the plan calls for eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, manufacturing, agricultural and other industrial sectors to the extent it is technologically feasible. Well, it’s technically feasible to require every homeowner to make expensive renovations and to force factories, oil refineries and pipelines to shut down. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, and economic models can’t account for these green wish list items.

It is, however, possible to make a broad estimate of what just a fraction of the Green New Deal would cost.

A Green New Deal FAQ sheet states that “a carbon tax would be a tiny part of a Green New Deal.” Heritage Foundation analysts modeled the cost of phasing in $54/ton carbon tax by 2021 – a step projected to reduce U.S.-generated greenhouse gases by slightly less than 30 percent by mid-century. That represents only a small portion of the emissions reductions envisioned in the Green New Deal.

Our analysis also assumed the deal would impose carbon-cutting regulations on manufacturers, and mandate the production of significantly more renewable energy than is currently projected.

How much would just this “bare bones” version of the Green New Deal cost? By 2040, we can expect:

* A peak reduction of more than 1.4 million jobs

* More than $40,000 in lost income for a typical family of four

* An average 12-14 percent increase in household electricity costs

* An aggregate loss of over $3.9 trillion in gross domestic product (GDP)

Unquestionably, these projections significantly underestimate the costs of the Green New Deal’s energy components. The same FAQ sheet argues that massive amounts of spending are necessary, and “government is best placed to be the prime driver.”

In other words, the deal’s advocates expect taxpayers to foot the bill for a massive, economy-wide transition. Researchers have estimated it would take more than $5 trillion just to switch from coal, nuclear and natural gas to 100 percent renewables.

Proponents of the Green New Deal argue that the costs of inaction are dramatically higher. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., claims, “We’re going to pay for this whether we pass a Green New Deal or not. Because as towns and cities go underwater, as wildfires ravage our communities, we are going to pay.”

It’s an unlikely doomsday scenario, and it can’t be found anywhere in the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In fact, the report finds no trends in floods, hurricanes, tornadoes or droughts – nor does it attribute extreme weather to anthropogenic emissions.

And even if it did, the Green New Deal would not actually provide any “climate insurance” because it would do absolutely nothing to abate temperature increases or slow the rise of sea levels.

In fact, the U.S. could cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 100 percent, and it would not make a discernable difference in global warming. Complete elimination of U.S. emission would inhibit warming by less than 0.2 degrees by the end of this century. It would reduce the rise of sea levels by less than 2 centimeters.

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That doesn’t mean we should do nothing. Regardless of the cause of extreme weather events, preparing for natural disasters and adapting to land and water changes over time is common sense.

Safeguarding against current and future vulnerabilities with more durable infrastructure and innovative designs will mitigate risks and save lives. Conversely, forcing pricier energy on the American people will make the country less prosperous, leaving us with fewer resources to adapt to a changing climate and mitigate risks from extreme weather.