You are here

Elizabeth Warren's Climate Policy

Elizabeth Warren has been releasing a trickle of climate change policy for what feels like 40 or 50 years now, on such hot issues as fossil fuel leasing on public lands and how much greenhouse gases our military bases emit. As much as I like Warren, I've found her approach to climate policy to be extremely irritating.

Now, at long last, she's finally released the meat and potatoes of her plan. Let's take a look at what she has to say.

"The world must limit warming to below 1.5° C to avoid the most catastrophic outcomes, cutting carbon pollution roughly in half by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050."

This is almost word for word how I describe climate change mitigation. The only difference is that I say "around 2050" rather than "by 2050". I'm still somewhat irritated at Warren, but now I'm also a little impressed.

"That’s why I’m an original supporter of the Green New Deal, which challenges us to go above and beyond — to launch a ten-year mobilization through 2030 to achieve net-zero domestic greenhouse gas emissions as fast as possible."

This is a great way of describing the Green New Deal. It's faithful to the original, it describes something that's actually possible and in keeping with science, and it doesn't admit any error in how the original GND phrased its goals. 10/10 for excellent wordsmithing, political savvy, and respect for science.

"my friend Governor Jay Inslee"

I'm no longer irritated at Warren.

"Today, I’m embracing that goal by committing to adopt and build on Governor Inslee’s ten-year action plan to achieve 100% clean energy for America by decarbonizing our electricity, our vehicles, and our buildings. And I’m challenging every other candidate for President to do the same."

Me right now:

Elizabeth Warren is a very smart person. She knows about the law, she knows about bankruptcy and financial distress, she understands the banking system. She's a very accomplished woman.

But she doesn't specialize in everything, because that's impossible. She's not a climate wonk. Jay Inslee, on the other hand, is pretty much nothing but a climate wonk. So Warren is doing the responsible thing, and delegating this important task to the person who is best suited to it.

This is what leadership looks like. The president is not a superhero. It's not hr job to save the world on her own. The president is a leader and a manager. It's her job to appoint good people and oversee the workings of government, both when it comes to crafting policy and when it comes to enacting it.

John F Kennedy never designed a rocket ship, but he still put a man on the moon. FDR never fired a shot at D Day, but he still beat the Nazis. They succeeded in these things because they did not do them alone.

As far as I'm concerned, Elizabeth Warren just won climate change.

OK, let's look at the rest of this plan.

"Today, I’m announcing I’ll commit an additional $1 trillion over 10 years — fully paid for by reversing Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals and giant corporations — to match Governor Inslee’s commitment, and to subsidize the economic transition to clean and renewable electricity, zero emission vehicles, and green products for commercial and residential buildings."

This is going to take a lot more than $1 trillion, but she can discuss that with Inslee. This also means that $3 trillion is the total amount of direct spending for all of her climate plans put together. She explicitly says that she'll leverage "additional trillions in private investment" (and presumably state and local matching funds, though she doesn't mention those).

"By 2028, 100% zero-carbon pollution for all new commercial and residential buildings;"

OK, great.

"By 2030, 100% zero emissions for all new light-duty passenger vehicles, medium-duty trucks, and all buses;"

Awesome. The fact that heavy-duty vehicles aren't included indicates that the Warren campaign has actually thought about this. (Heavy-duty vehicles are hard to get to zero emissions.)

"By 2035, 100% renewable and zero-emission energy in electricity generation, with an interim target of 100% carbon-neutral power by 2030."

This means that she's leaving room for both nuclear and (more surprisingly) carbon offsets, though the offsets would be phased out. This, in turn, suggests that she'll be using some kind of carbon pricing (which I don't think she's explicitly endorsed). There might be some other way of reading this, but I can't think of any other way to have zero-emissions be a subset of carbon-neutral.

"While technical challenges around transmission and storage remain, increasing renewable energy and investments in smart grids and advanced distribution can improve reliability, bring down costs, and open up new economic opportunities. Achieving 100% clean electricity will also help us to decarbonize our transportation and buildings."

This is great. It's accurate, honest, doesn't mince words, is informative, and is vastly better than "it will be easy and will cost one tenth of our economic output and the dying fossil fuel companies will pay for it". (*cough*)

"My administration will require utilities to achieve 100% carbon-neutral power by 2030, with strong interim targets along the way"

So more of a focus on mandates rather than carbon pricing. That's a little less wonkish, but does focus on the technique with the greatest track record.

"In my first year in office, I’ll set strict vehicle emissions standards that will become progressively tighter every year, reaching a requirement for 100% zero-emissions for all new light- and medium-duty vehicles by 2030. At the same time, I’ll establish a Clean Fuel Standard to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions by promoting lower-carbon alternative fuels."

This is what good optimization looks like. Instead of looking at improved fuel standards as a threat to the vehicle standards, the two techniques are used to complement each other, to mitigate risk, and to reduce residual emissions while the clean vehicle standards are being phased in.

And the plan goes on to say a bunch more boilerplate stuff that will all be expanded on by Almighty Climate Czar Jay Inslee.

Warren wins. No more analysis necessary. Good night.

Commenting on this Blog entry will be automatically closed on November 3, 2019.