In running for the Democratic nomination for president, former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke wants voters to believe two things—that he’s a champion of the poor and working Americans, and that he’ll prioritize climate change in his administration.
But his climate change framework, recently announced, shows that he’ll achieve neither. His personal rewrite of the Green New Deal—vague though it is—will disproportionately impact the poor while benefiting the wealthy and will have little to no measurable effect on global temperatures.
“Climate change is the greatest threat we face—one which will test our country, our democracy, and every single one of us,” his plan claims. “The stakes are clear.”
He’s narrowing our timeframe, by the way. Whereas Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez claims we have 12 years to stave off the apocalypse, O’Rourke says we have only 10.
His fix is to “guarantee” net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 (20 years later than the Green New Deal) and spend $5 trillion over 10 years on “infrastructure, innovation and our people and communities.”
Though there are few specifics, such a course would require the usual carbon taxes, plus fuel taxes to discourage driving, subsidies for electric vehicles, and new building codes for energy efficiency.
These policies would be a tough pill for O’Rourke’s home state to swallow — but nothing new for Californians, so let’s look at how they have affected the poor in that state.
According to a civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of the poor in California, particularly Latinos and African Americans, the California Air Resources Board hurts the poor with its climate rules, and even contributes to resegregation.
“The simple fact is that vast areas of California, and disproportionately high numbers of Latino and African American Californians, have fallen into poverty or out of homeownership, and California’s climate policies guarantee that housing, transportation and electricity prices will continue to rise while ‘gateway’ jobs to the middle class for those without college degrees, such as manufacturing and logistics, will continue to locate in other states,” the lawsuit says.
Higher gas prices and vehicle-miles-traveled taxes hit minority families harder because they typically live farther from where they work. Building codes such as a “net zero” emissions and solar energy requirement add as much as $40,000 to home construction costs, the lawsuit’s attorneys estimate.
As attorney Jennifer Hernandez explains “Time after time, California imposes new costs and restrictions on home-building which make housing even more expensive, which harms working families and minority communities the most. It’s unconscionable.”
According to the National Association of Home Builders, for every $1,000 increase in the median home price, 9,897 Californians are priced out of the market — meaning they lose out on the benefits of homeownership, such as family stability, higher educational achievement, lower neighborhood crime rates, and better health outcomes.
The real beneficiaries of California’s climate programs are the wealthy, Hernandez adds, with most of the money “going to higher income households for things like electric car and rooftop solar subsidies.”
Yet for all the economic pain, California’s emissions actually increased in 2018.
Will O’Rourke’s plan save the world? Not hardly.
According to models used by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is traditionally the final say on climate matters, if U.S. emissions were completely eliminated by 2020, global temperatures would only be 0.077°C lower in 2050. If we’re trying to fend off a climate apocalypse, even O’Rourke’s “net zero” proposal would achieve very little.
What would a workable climate plan look like? More freedom—more freedom for energy markets, more freedom to innovate and more freedom for American families to pursue their own goals, without crushing taxes and mandates.
That freedom works. America, even without a Beto New Deal, is already the world’s leader in clean air.
O’Rourke’s climate change framework is nothing new; it’s simply a rehash and expansion of the heavy-handed policies California has in place. And it doesn’t even achieve its goal—to make the candidate stand out in a crowded field. Instead, it’s just more of the same unachievable leftist dreams.
Jason Isaac, a former state representative, is the senior manager and distinguished fellow of the Life:Powered initiative at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Follow Jason on Twitter at @ISAACforTexas