Trains, Planes, and Automobiles (and Cows)

There is plenty of material for laughter in the Green New Deal, a 29-year-old self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” congresswoman’s ambitious (to say the least) 10-year plan of national “mobilization” to help halt climate change by drastically reducing carbon emissions. An appropriately green-suited freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) unveiled it last month, with great fanfare, as a nonbinding congressional resolution that aims to replicate Franklin Roosevelt’s efforts to end the Great Depression via a government takeover of large portions of the U.S. economy. (Senator Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., is the resolution’s Senate sponsor. But during the press conference, the 72-year-old stood well behind the photogenic and media-savvy Ocasio-Cortez.)

Consider that this proposal to end all fossil-fuel use by substituting energy from “renewable” and other carbon-free sources, and to retrofit or replace every energy-wasting building in the country, is actually only a tiny slice of a pie-in-the-sky program for transforming America.

No, the Green New Deal isn’t just about global warming. It’s also a vast utopian social program promising:

  • guaranteed “family-sustaining wage” jobs for those who work;
  • guaranteed no-strings welfare for those who would rather not work;
  • guaranteed housing; guaranteed “food security”; guaranteed higher education;
  • universal single-payer health coverage;
  • paid medical leave;
  • paid family leave;
  • paid vacations;
  • paid retirements;
  • an end to racial and sex discrimination;
  • new respect for “migrants” and “indigenous peoples”; and
  • trees planted everywhere.

USA Today editor David Mastio counted 55 separate social and economic problems that the Green New Deal expects to solve by 2030, none of which has much, if anything, to do with climate change. Mastio called this attempt to tackle every “problem you can think of” all at the same time (and all within the space of a single decade) “certifiable.”

President Trump was even more withering, in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend: “When the wind stops blowing, that’s the end of your electric. Let’s hurry up. Darling? Darling, is the wind blowing today? I’d like to watch television, darling.

Then, of course, there’s the matter of the “farting cows.” They—and the aspiration to “fully get rid of” these gaseous, cud-chewing bovines by 2030—don’t appear by exactly that epithet in the resolution itself, but rather, in a “frequently asked questions” fact sheet that went up on Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional website and got sent to various news organizations on the morning of the February 7 press conference. The fact sheet was hastily taken down and explained away as an “unfinished draft” after people started laughing.

Nonetheless, flatulent cattle seem to be a major source of methane gas, an even more powerful contributor to global warming than carbon dioxide, so the congressional resolution includes “working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible.” That sounds a lot like getting rid of cows. And indeed, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez declared on a Showtime comedy program that she didn’t quite want to force all Americans to turn vegan, but “maybe we shouldn’t be eating a hamburger for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

There was more laughter when, a few days later, a bystander took a picture of the new congresswoman dining out with one of her staffers, who happened to be devouring what looked very much like . . . a well-stacked and beefy burger. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is not known for her sense of humor, and she lashed out on Twitter against the “stalkerish” “dude” who had “creepily” displayed a cat-may-look-at-a-queen attitude in daring to photograph her in a public place.

Bullet Trains and Boondoggles

And then there is the transportation-transforming linchpin of the Green New Deal: the “clean,” electricity-powered bullet train. “High-speed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary” was the way the since-removed fact sheet had described this fossil fuel-avoidance measure. Or, to quote blunter language elsewhere in that embarrassing document: we can reach zero net emissions when we “ fully get rid of . . . airplanes.” The resolution’s language is a little calmer: “investing in . . . clean, affordable, and accessible transportation; and high-speed rail.”

Except that, oops—less than a week after the press conference, California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he was pulling the plug on most of that state’s own high-speed rail project (the only one in the country) owing to huge projected cost-overruns and the fact that hardly any Californians of either political party wanted the thing built.

The bullet train, approved by the state’s voters in 2008, was initially supposed to hurtle passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco via a two-and-a-half-hour ride at a total cost of $40 billion—all to be completed by 2018. But opposition from the get-go from environmentalists, wealthy coast-dwellers, Silicon Valley tech lords who didn’t want the trains whooshing past their backyards, and Latino activists in Southern California who didn’t want the above-grade tracks planted in their communities, forced the state government to move the train’s initial construction to California’s distant rural inland—where there was plenty of antagonism from farmers objecting to having their orchards sliced in half. But there weren’t that many farmers, and they tended to vote Republican, anyway. So the train’s initial phase wouldn’t link Los Angeles and San Francisco but out-of-the-way Madera and Bakersfield, populations 55,000 and 400,000 respectively, with a spur up to Merced, population 83,000, which isn’t even on the original San Francisco route.

Jokes about “the train to nowhere” aside, repeated construction delays (not a single foot of track has yet been laid), alleged mismanagement, enormous cost overruns (the total projected price of the train shot up to $77 billion), and the fact that massively debt-ridden California has virtually no money for infrastructure of any kind clearly led the new Governor to pull the plug on all but that Bakersfield segment, which is at least partially built.

And then the Trump administration stepped in on February 19 with plans to claw back nearly $3.5 billion in federal funding for the train, canceling a $929 million grant and demanding that California return $2.5 billion that it has already spent. The Trump Department of Transportation seems well within its legal rights: The disputed money is part of an Obama-era stimulus package dating from 2009 that, among other things, required California to put up matching funds on a dollar-for-dollar basis by 2017 in order to qualify for the federal outlays. By doing some regulatory jiggery-pokery in 2016, a train-loving Obama administration extended the deadline and essentially absolved the state from the matching-funds requirement, turning its stimulus grants into an open-ended—and unmonitored—cash advance. Pointing out that California is not expected to meet even a generously extended 2022 construction deadline for the segment of the train that it still plans to build, Trump’s DoT decided to undo the Obama dispensation.

There is now a standoff: Governor Newsom is refusing to return the money, and President Trump is mocking the train project on Twitter, calling it a “disaster” and “out of control.”

The bullet-train debacle in California—an overwhelmingly Democratic state whose elected officials are moving it even farther to the Left than it was in 2008, when then-Governor Jerry Brown started dangling high-speed rail in front of the populace—ought to operate as a metonymic example of what the Green New Deal as a whole is likely to be if anyone tries to implement it. Any program that would scale up an already-failed, and frighteningly expensive, transportation mode to replace the airplane and the motor vehicle as the principal way to get Americans around merits a jaundiced look.

What about China as a model? True, China has something like 15,000 miles of bullet-train track that it was able to build in short order because a totalitarian government can simply bulldoze objectors out of the way. But as of 2017, the state-owned railway company reported a high-speed debt load of more than $700 billion (not even counting some construction costs) since China’s trains, like high-speed trains nearly everywhere else in the world, cannot pay for themselves without government subsidies. An analysis of the Green New Deal’s high-speed rail provisions by the American Action Forum, a center-Right economic policy think tank headed by Douglas  Holtz-Eakin, used California extrapolations to estimate that the cost of building 19,500 miles of rail across the United States—enough possibly to supplant at least some air travel—would amount to $2.5 trillion plus another $167 billion for rolling stock.

And that is just a rounding error for the Green New Deal, which the Holtz-Eakin team estimates could cost from $51 trillion to $93 trillion over its 10-year lifespan. (Annual U.S. gross domestic product is about $20 trillion.) The total cost of eliminating carbon dioxide from the power and transportation sectors would run between $8.3 trillion and $12.3 trillion. This is not even to take into account the bulk of the Green New Deal’s costs, which would come from its non-climate-change economic and social programs: between $42.8 trillion and $80.6 trillion for providing jobs and healthcare for all, according to Holtz-Eakin and company.

Bossing Us in a Socialistic Direction

But of course the Green New Deal isn’t really about building bullet trains, or achieving net-zero carbon emissions, or free healthcare, or government-subsidized college. It’s about a monumental political transformation. And here, the congresswoman is in tune with her generation. An August 2018 Gallup poll revealed that 51 percent of U.S. millennials have a positive view of socialism, which is by its very nature devoted to top-down transformation, with government owning or controlling the means of economic production and making sure those who live under it abide by its rules. It’s no accident that Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal seeks to control private life—hamburger consumption—as well as public structures. Speaking at a recent event, she played to her youthful political base and excoriated critics who deem the Green New Deal vague or unrealistic. They ought to come up with their own climate-change proposals if they don’t like hers, she smirked. “Until you do it, I’m the boss.” That’s quite a message.

Right now, with her social media appeal and knack for putting herself at the center of public attention, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is the boss. She owns the Democratic Party and its liberal-media camp followers, who hang on her every tweet. Announced and expected Democratic presidential contenders for 2020—Cory Booker, Greg Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren—have scrambled to sign on to a measure that all of them must know stands little chance of ever working its way into law, if only because of its staggering price tag. Even so, the Green New Deal has its practical side. It has very effectively demonstrated, and may help accelerate, a radical leftward lurch by a Democratic Party that now seems determined to exercise total social and economic control over the rest of America if it attains the power it desires.