Why not an 'Organic' Green New Deal?

The Green New Deal will fail. At the same time, Sen Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerTrump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Wisconsin: poll Booker says he will not make December debate stage White House makes push for paid family leave and child care reform MORE (D-N.J.) has advocated a vegan diet for Americans and, though widely lampooned, that represents a far more practical way to address the climate crisis.

The Green New Deal will go nowhere because, for the past 40 years, America has tried it and invested hundreds of billions in government funding, regulatory mandates and private investment to lower the cost, store and expand "renewable" energy (solar and wind). It hasn't worked, is unreliable, and the costs remain several times higher than fossil fuels, nuclear and hydro.

ADVERTISEMENT

Americans are not going to throw away their cars and buy more expensive electric ones, tear up their homes, give up air travel, bet on trains that are slower and much more expensive, pay two to three times more for food and all other consumer goods, and live in homes that are colder in the winter and hotter in the summer.

On the other hand, if Americans really believe that climate change represents an existential threat, there are better answers.

First, Green New Deal fanatics need to provide some wiggle room for cheaper, more reliable, and more environmentally friendly natural gas and nuclear energy, allow petroleum for air travel and shipping, and, please, ditch the high-speed train. Natural gas and nuclear will give America a 100-year cushion to develop practical, "sustainable" solutions.

More importantly, New Dealers should fully rebrand an "Organic" Green New Deal as the medium-term answer to the problem. Booker is right. We should begin to move America toward a vegan diet. And get President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE off the cheeseburgers.

Today, 300,000 Americans die annually from being overweight or obese, and that number is growing. A million more Americans die each year from related illnesses —heart disease, stroke and diabetes — and tens of millions more are affected. An estimated 40 million Americans suffer from arthritis, and diet can help calm inflammation that contributes to arthritic pain. This is a bigger plague than worst-case climate-change predictions. These problems cost the American health care system close to a quarter-trillion dollars a year, and could be vastly reduced by better food choices.

The conventional American grocery store tells the story. Over 80 percent of floor space is covered with processed foods, packaged in paper or plastic (read: energy, water and environmental waste). Food manufacturers push addictive sugar, salt, gluten, fat, genetically modified ingredients, and chemical additives that help sell the product but in no way are healthy. The meat counter has products that are hard to digest and drive up cholesterol. The bakery is filled with products that convert to sugar. The dairy counter has products that are genetically modified and also hard to digest. None of it will kill you outright, but most of it can lead to serious health consequences. Americans are starting to demand healthier foods.

But I digress. The topic is climate change, and the end of the world.

To summarize the science, cows emit gas and it's no joke. They are responsible for 18 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, equaling more than all coal burning and a full third of all transportation emissions. When a family goes out for burgers, the meat represents more emissions than the car ride. The net carbon footprint of 8 ounces of lamb or beef is 40 times greater than an equivalent meal of fruit and vegetables. The same is true for water usage. While an 8-ounce steak has a water footprint of 900 gallons, a salad of tomato, cucumber and lettuce is 21 gallons. And feedlots are no rose gardens.

The bottom line is that an Organic Green New Deal would buy America several more decades to find solutions for climate change, water shortages and pollution.

Of course, it's hardball and “crazy.” It would require a serious regulatory push against processed foods. It would require serious nutritional education. It would require support to accelerate the conversion of the food sector to plant-based and organic. It would turn the focus from energy to Big Ag and the processed food industry.

But politics is all about tradeoffs and compromise. Americans would need to change, but if they had to make choices in order to prevent Armageddon, they'd probably go for better food and health over no cars or air travel. The Organic Green New Deal would not destroy the U.S. economy or weaken our international security, and it would dramatically improve American health.

The Organic Green New Deal is radical, but protecting the environment is serious. I'll dine with the big guys, Booker and Tom Brady, and we'll have salads.

Grady Means is a writer and retired corporate consultant. He served as an assistant to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller in the Ford White House, and as an economist in the former U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. While in the White House, he oversaw the Food and Nutrition Task Force and helped launch the Food Stamp Cost Estimation Model.