Beto O’Rourke Gets an F for His Climate Plan

Brent Soule/ZUMA

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Beto O’Rourke’s climate plan presents a problem: it’s so full of jargon and voodoo accounting that it’s genuinely hard to figure out what he’s saying. For starters, he calls it a $5 trillion plan, but it turns out that he plans only to “mobilize” $5 trillion by “leveraging” a $1.5 trillion direct investment. Of that dubious $5 trillion, he targets $4 trillion on infrastructure buildout, including this:

More than $1 trillion through limited-duration, performance-focused climate change tax incentives that accelerate the scale up of nascent technologies enabling reductions in greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors, through efficiency and alternatives.

What does that mean? It reads like a parody of corporatese, not a real attempt to say something. In any case, what O’Rourke is actually proposing is $600 billion in spending on infrastructure buildout that, in some unstated way, will spur a total of $4 trillion in infrastructure buildout.

On the R&D front, O’Rourke proposes spending $200 billion. This will “catalyze follow-on private investment,” but he doesn’t pretend to put a number on that. There’s no detail about what this money will be spent on, which is OK since that decision should be left to experts, but it would be nice to include at least enough to show that he’s given it some thought instead of just repeating platitudes.

Beyond this, he proposes a “legally enforceable standard” to meet the goal of net zero emissions by 2050:

This standard will send a clear price signal to the market to change the incentives for how we produce, consume, and invest in energy, while putting in place a mechanism that will ensure the environmental and socio-economic integrity of this endeavor — providing us with the confidence that we are moving at least as quickly as we need in order to meet a 2050 deadline.

I guess this means a carbon tax? Or cap-and-trade? Once again, the jargon quotient is so high that it’s hardly possible to say what O’Rourke really means here.

Taken as a whole, O’Rourke’s plan is the smallest one out there; it targets only $200 billion for R&D; it doesn’t even acknowledge that the rest of the world exists; and it’s so full of buzzwords and funny money that it’s genuinely hard to figure out what he really means. He gets an F.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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