Why Kansas politicians of both parties should embrace the Green New Deal

Oil pump jacks like this one, on a highway between El Dorado and Newton, are still common in Kansas, though wind farms now provide more than 40% of the state’s electricity supply. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Stan Cox is a research scholar in ecosphere studies at The Land Institute in Salina and author of The Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can.

In this fall’s contest between U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall and state Sen. Barbara Bollier for the open U.S. Senate seat in Kansas, Marshall has repeatedly argued that his opponent, if elected, would join her fellow Democrats in passing a “radical” Green New Deal bill.

Bollier has responded each time by saying that although she supports action on climate change, she does not support the Green New Deal.

I’m confused. Bollier and Marshall are vying to represent the state that in 2007 denied a permit to build three huge coal-fired power plants in Finney County on grounds of climate impact.

Then Kansas went on to become No. 5 in the nation in wind power capacity. Wind farms in Kansas now provide more than 40% of the state’s electricity supply, second only to Iowa.

Marshall and Bollier both say they support wind power. Yet neither wants to be associated with the term “Green New Deal.” That seems strange, given that Kansas’ energy trajectory since 2007 looks a lot like what the Green New Dealers are aiming for.

The problem is partly one of negative branding. Because the Green New Deal exists so far not as a fully fleshed-out program but rather a broad vision (described in an unpassed 2019 joint Congressional resolution), Marshall and others on the right have felt free to use the term as a bogeyman.

They do this all the time. With polls showing heavy majority support for policies like climate action, protective measures against COVID-19 and an end to police killings of Black people, Republicans have taken words that have clear meaning and usage — “Green New Deal,” “wear a mask,” “Black Lives Matter” — and wielded them as epithets, vandalizing their opponents’ talking points.

Marshall charges that if the Green New Deal is passed into law, it will cripple the U.S. economy and “kill” Kansas agriculture. Yet in both name and aim, the Green New Deal is a textbook economic stimulus package. Its jobs provisions and aggressive renewable energy buildout would certainly benefit the Kansas economy. And it poses no threat to agriculture.

The joint resolution simply calls for greenhouse gas emissions to be eliminated from agriculture “as much as is technologically feasible,” while offering support to farmers for sequestering carbon in the soil.

Marshall is calling the Democrats “extremists” for supporting climate legislation that would not be radical at all. In fact, to get the job done, Congressional action on climate needs to be more ambitious.

Given our current climate predicament, the Green New Deal must be fortified with bold provisions for reducing emissions. The nation and world have to completely eliminate greenhouse emissions on a crash schedule if we are to avoid reaching the point at which, according to the world scientific community, the Earth could be swept into a spiral of runaway heating.

To do our fair share in cutting emissions, the United States needs to completely stop burning fossil fuels within 15 years. None of the climate plans under discussion in Washington includes a mechanism for doing that.

Building up renewable energy capacity, as the Green New Deal would do, cannot by itself force fossil fuels out of the economy. For that to happen, Congress must also create a direct mechanism for rapidly phasing out the extraction and use of fossil fuels by a strict deadline.

The phase-out should start with an impermeable national cap on the number of barrels of oil, cubic feet of gas and tons of coal that are allowed out of the ground and into the economy. Then the cap must be lowered annually in equal steps until it reaches zero within 15 years.

Such action would not “kill” Kansas agriculture or destroy the broader national economy. It would, however, require us to transform our economy in ways that ensure access to sufficient energy and essential goods and services for all Americans.

Next year, politicians of both parties in the Senate and House should pass legislation that reflects the Green New Deal vision but also includes a rapid, mandatory phase-out of fossil fuels and economic policies for adapting to the phase-out.

To tap the deep well of public support that climate action enjoys, the bill’s sponsors should give it a catchy title that can draw support from across the political spectrum; I’d suggest they use one that doesn’t rhyme with “Clean Blue Steel.”

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