Marilyn Brown

Posted February 7, 2019

The proposal for a “Green New Deal” to achieve a net of zero greenhouse gas emissions in the United States within a decade is a laudable example of climate change leadership, recognizing that the cost of inaction on climate is great and that rapid change is needed. But it overlooks the role that U.S. energy exports would have in keeping greenhouse gas emissions above sustainable levels, according to leading energy expert Marilyn Brown of the Georgia Institute of Technology.

 “It’s not good enough for us to reduce our own use if we’re continuing to send these fuels to Asia and other global markets,” said Brown, Regents’ Professor in the School of Public Policy and director of the Climate and Energy Policy Laboratory. Other countries also need to overhaul their energy systems and drastically curb their greenhouse gas emissions, as well, she said.

“This doesn’t mean we should wait to act, but we need to worry about our role as an enabler of pollution through our fossil fuel exports,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unveiled her proposal for the Manhattan Project-style effort to thwart climate change on February 7, 2019. In it, she calls for a “national mobilization” to reshape the U.S. economy within a decade so that greenhouse gas emissions are largely eliminated.

Brown, the author of a forthcoming book on empowering the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, said it would be possible to move the economy away from fossil fuels that rapidly, but it would come at enormous cost to businesses and consumers, who would have to idle fossil-fuel based power plants, machinery, and even cars well before the end of their useful lifespans.

“We do need to move more rapidly in this direction, but such a precipitous shift would be more costly than a somewhat more gradual approach.”

Moreover, Brown said, such an enormous investment over such a short span of time could divert capital from other critical needs, such as healthcare, education, basic science, and national security.

It would be “politically infeasible” to prevent U.S. energy producers from tapping existing fossil fuel reserves and exporting those fuels to countries around the world. The result? Other countries would burn the fuel instead of the United States.

“We need to be sure that other countries have green alternatives that are equally appealing to them and policies that promote them,” she said.

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Michael Pearson