Beto O'Rourke, the former congressman and failed Senate candidate jockeying for position in the crowded "straight white male" lane of the Democratic presidential primary, has finally unveiled a policy proposal. The candidate published on his campaign website Monday an ambitious plan to combat climate change—"the greatest threat we face"—to the tune of $5 trillion over the next decade.
"We have one last chance to unleash the ingenuity and political will of hundreds of millions of Americans to meet this moment before it's too late," O'Rourke said in a statement accompanying the plan's release, echoing remarks he has made on the campaign trail comparing climate change to the threat the United States and the world faced from Nazi Germany and Japan during World War II.
The plan aims to achieve net-zero carbon emission in the United States by the year 2050, which O'Rourke's campaign claims is "in line" with the ambitious goals laid out in the Green New Deal authored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.). That is not entirely accurate. One of the first steps would involve introducing legislation in the first 100 days of O'Rourke's administration that would establish a "legally enforceable standard" to ensure the United States gets halfway to net-zero emissions by 2030. However, a Green New Deal fact sheet published by Ocasio-Cortez's office argued that the United States "must" fully achieve net-zero emissions by 2030 to ward off global catastrophe.
The plan would be financed via a "fully paid-for $1.5 trillion investment" generated by "structural changes to the tax code that ensure corporations and the wealthiest among us pay their fair share." There is no explicit mention of a carbon tax, although the plan itself isn't very explicit about anything. Nuclear energy, for example, is never mentioned. The plan simply proposes to "accelerate the scale up of nascent technologies enabling reductions in greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors, through efficiency and alternatives."
What about the remaining $3.5 trillion? That's not entirely clear. The additional funds would be "mobilized" and "directly leveraged" by the new tax revenue, and funneled through "proven existing financial institutions" such as the Rural Utility Service, as well as "a new dedicated finance authority, which will have on its board not only the brightest minds in finance but also members of the unions that would help build this infrastructure."
The plan's lack of specifics with respect to its true cost is politically expedient, given that most Americans are unwilling to spend even $10 per month to combat climate change, according to a recent poll.
Through a combination of executive action and legislation, O'Rourke pledges to achieve his ambitious goal by "unlocking technological breakthroughs," "supporting regional hubs of expertise," "catalyzing partnerships with private and philanthropic capital," "[boosting] the diversity of the leaders whose businesses form the supply chain for climate change solutions."
Indeed, the text of O'Rourke's plan is littered with the vague, snazzy jargon typically found in neoliberal think tank proposals, "woke" corporate press releases, and Silicon Valley mission statements. This paragraph, for example:
Innovation that will lead to pioneering solutions in energy, water, agriculture, industry, and mobility and to scientific discovery that makes us more safe and secure. $250 billion in direct resources that will catalyze follow-on private investment, creation of new businesses, and discovery of new science.
Apart from a bullet point pledging to "Re-enter the Paris Agreement and lead the negotiations for an even more ambitious global plan for 2030 and beyond," there is little explanation of how the plan would address the far more significant challenge of limiting carbon emissions outside the United States, which only accounts for about 15 percent of global emission (and falling).