YouTube video

At CNN’s marathon climate town hall, candidates detailed environmental plans that range from $1.3 to $16.3 trillion, but moderators failed to address the cost of inaction

Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network.  I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us.

I know most of you did not watch seven hours of that climate discussion last night on CNN, but our intrepid reporters in the Climate Bureau, Dharna Noor and Steve Horn, did. And they join us here in the studio to talk about this again in our next segment. In this segment we’re going to talk about how we’re going to pay for this. What’s the money? We had Joe Biden talking about $1.7 billion. We had, on the other end, we had $13 trillion being spent, says Bernie Sanders, and everything in between that we’ll talk about. How do you get there? How much money do we spend? How many jobs will it create? How do you pay for it, is the question we are going to see how they raised. And what are these jobs? We hear people all the time talking about jobs that this will create. Are we talking about jobs that are minimum wage, or are they jobs that pay like fossil fuel pays, which are $20, $30, $40, $50 an hour? So how are we going to get there? What do they say, Dharna?

DHARNA NOOR: It’s a lot to take on.


DHARNA NOOR: First, I will say that I was excited to hear a number of candidates say that they would make sure that these are unionized jobs and jobs that pay really well. We’ll see how many of them actually intend to stick to any of that. But before we get into the actual figures that the candidates say—


DHARNA NOOR: You know, how much they say that they will spend, I think it’s important to note that many people have written about this. The cost of something like a Green New Deal is actually less than what it would cost just to do nothing. I mean, I think it was in the New Republic that I originally read this, but in May

MARC STEINER: Yeah. The Nation just put a piece as well about this.

DHARNA NOOR: Yeah. And I think a lot of people are citing this piece from Nature Communications from May where, okay, so they did some updated models on the cost of climate change, and they found that the cost of climate change could be almost $70 trillion higher than previously estimated. Previously estimates said that it would still put it in the tens of thousands or tens of trillions of dollars rather. I mean, a lot of people are balking at this $13 trillion or $16 trillion dollar rather—

MARC STEINER: I said 13, but it was 16.

DHARNA NOOR: 13.6, 16.3— that Sanders is proposing, but I think it’s important to note that we need to spend some amount of money if we’re really going to survive.

MARC STEINER: So let’s take this down. I don’t want to press on this too deeply, but let’s talk about what you just said and what that means, when you call it the actual cost of not doing it. What does that mean, the actual cost of not doing it?

DHARNA NOOR: I mean, so there’s billions of dollars that are going to have to be spent to small things like making sure that we can adapt to new kinds of mosquito-borne illnesses or things like that. There’s money that we’re going to have to spend to fix things like rail systems and other kinds of infrastructures. Sewage systems, with increased rainfall, are experiencing a lot of pressure. There’s so many different aspects of something like a Green New Deal that are going to cost money. I think if we don’t spend the money now, we’re just going to end up spending more later. Or, quite frankly, a lot of us just aren’t going to survive.

MARC STEINER: Steve, you want to jump in on this quickly?

STEVE HORN: Yeah. The other thing about how much does it cost, the cost of implementing these climate mitigations or these climate solutions versus the cost of actual, how much is it going to cost from the climate damages, just looking at the damages side, just speaking from the point of view of someone who lives in California, talking about the damages of entirely destroyed cities like Paradise, California— which was basically destroyed from a wild fire last year— or we’re talking about the cost of building sea walls, which that would be like the contrary. It’s like preparing for climate change or mitigating climate impacts, so there are a lot of different types of expenses within there. And if you didn’t build those sea walls, you’re talking about way more money spent on destroyed infrastructure from rising sea levels, so those are some few examples.

MARC STEINER: How do we describe the huge gap in term of what people are saying this is going to cost us, and how we intend to pay for it, and where that money comes from? When Sanders asked how do you pay for your – almost what comes to about a trillion dollars a year to transition this economy, he certainly gave I think, Dharna, the usual answer, right?

DHARNA NOOR: Yeah. We talked a little about this in the first part of this discussion as well. But in addition to things like defunding the military, or not completely defunding, but removing some funds from the military, he also talked about harnessing the power of the public sector and expanding wind and solar that way. He talked in addition about obviously ending massive subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. Again, I think there’s been some discussion about who this would actually impact. When he was asked point-blank yesterday if this would increase taxes on the middle class, he said as he usually does, “No.”

A lot of people, again, even on the left, disagree with that. Some people have said that you would have to increase taxes on the middle class to institute a program like this, rather. But we’re not talking about the things that we’re going to gain. Maybe you have to spend a little bit more on your taxes, but if you have way better public transit and Medicare for all, how much are you really spending?

MARC STEINER: So when you look at the money that Biden, excuse me, that Sanders wants to spend as compared to only $3 trillion, only $3 trillion from Senator Warren, to $1.7 from Joe Biden to $10 trillion from Julian Castro, so everybody has this different number. So when people hear this stuff, they go—It’s very difficult for everyday people, including myself, to put your hands around this. What does that mean? How can one person say 1.7 and another person says 16.3 trillion? What does that tell us? What do we know about what the cost will be to transition to this new economy? What did we learn from that last night?

STEVE HORN: Well, I think that there’s kind of like a parallel playing out. If you’re talking about last night or talking about the Green New Deal, and there’s been different numbers thrown around about how much that might cost. I know that – I think that one of the numbers is $93 trillion, but then some people say it will cost less. And so—

MARC STEINER: Did you just say 93 trillion?

STEVE HORN: I believe that was the number that some right-wing groups are saying.

DHARNA NOOR: Yeah, I was just going to say, I think that was a—

MARC STEINER: Okay. Right, right.

STEVE HORN: Yeah, so I think that— [crosstalk]

MARC STEINER: Let’s not dismiss it just because they are right-wing. You never know. They might have some— [crosstalk]

STEVE HORN: No. I’m not even – I’m just – because [crosstalk] conservative groups. I wasn’t saying that as a pejorative. I’m saying that I think realistically, there are other studies that aren’t from right-wing groups that say it will cost a lot. I think realistically, it’s going to cost a lot of money to transition away from the current system that we have to a new system. I think that those lowball numbers almost seem like playing it politically safe, sort of like, okay, we can do it for—Not that those are small numbers, but from what I’ve seen, it’s always at least in the double digits of ten trillion or more that it would cost to make this massive societal transition. Maybe Dharna has seen differently than me, but I think that someone like Elizabeth Warren, I think that she’s just playing it a little bit safe when she says three trillion. It doesn’t seem to be in line with what either the conservative groups say, or even liberal or moderate groups say for the cost of this type of transition.

DHARNA NOOR: Yeah. I think we’re well above ten trillion, even if you’re just talking about the transition to sustainable energy. I mean, that has nothing to do with things like the complete federal jobs guarantee that the Sunrise Movement, AOC, Green New Deal platform includes. So if we’re not willing, again, to spend this kind of money on that kind of transition, I’m not sure what we’re going to be willing to spend money on.

MARC STEINER: Did anybody last night talk about jobs? And what this really means, what the jobs mean, how many jobs, and what are they going to pay? I mean, that seems to be one of the factors that can affect a lot of people’s vote come whether it’s the primaries, but especially in the general election coming up next year. It would be jobs. I mean, that’s been one of the problems with the Green New Deal and the Green movement, that jobs we’re talking about are paying so much less than the jobs in filthy industries.

DHARNA NOOR: Yeah, actually a number of people did talk about the need to create jobs, well-paying jobs. Amy Klobuchar talked a bit about increasing the minimum wage. As you and I often talk about, the minimum wage isn’t really going to do much for somebody who’s making $60,000 a year in the fossil fuel industry. Biden says that he’s going to create ten million jobs, and he talked about the jobs paying $25 an hour, which I guess that’s not terrible. It’s obviously better than the minimum wage right now by a lot, but there are people in the fossil fuel sector making more than $25 an hour.

Something I, again, was happy to see was some talk about the just transition. A number of people— notably, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren— talked about the need to include workers in this transition. There was a lot of talk about how it wasn’t the workers who are at fault for the evils of the fossil fuel industry and the climate crisis. We need to bring folks on board and ensure that folks are protected in this transition too.

MARC STEINER: Steve, you want to add to that at all?

STEVE HORN: I think Dharna summed it up pretty well. But yeah, I think that there are ranges of estimates in this too for how many jobs, am I correct? I believe that Bernie Sanders may – I could be wrong. I think it was like – I think he said twenty million jobs, was the number that he had? So there’s a, along with how much it would cost, there’s a range of estimates for how many jobs it would create. Even within the climate advocacy movement, if you will, there are sort of debates about that. Like, will it really create that many or will it create less? What is it? Are they new jobs or people transitioning jobs? So there’s kind of nuances within it in the circles that follow these things, but yeah, it’s kind of—For both these things, I think the theme is – I’d be really interested just to have all these campaigns really show their work a little bit more.


STEVE HORN: Like, how are you getting to these final numbers, right? Where are your citations? That kind of thing, but—

DHARNA NOOR: And what kind of jobs are we talking about? I spoke with Kim Kelly, Teen Vogue’s labor reporter, just last week about this a little bit.

MARC STEINER: That was a good interview, by the way.

DHARNA NOOR: Why, thank you. Yeah, Kim’s great. I think a lot of people are sometimes kind of surprised to hear that people in the fossil fuel industry are so skeptical of even something like the term ‘just transition’. And as we talked about, it doesn’t really count as a just transition if what you’re doing is bringing in a few people, and teaching some people who used to work at a coal mine making a lot of money, to code. This kind of just transition needs to be a lot more in-depth and needs to include a lot more people than that. And also, they need to be jobs that don’t go away. There’s a lot more jobs, for instance, when you’re building a solar farm or constructing wind turbines than there will be moving forward when that infrastructure is actually in operation, so we’ve got to make sure that these jobs stick around too.

MARC STEINER: Right. Andrew Yang, that’s why he wants us to all have money in our pockets. Anyway, not endorsing that. Just wanted to throw that out for a minute. But I think at some point, we do have to kind of parse out and talk about where this money is coming from. Politicians throw out lots of numbers, which can be confusing, and ears and eyes glaze over, but we’ll deal with that another day. And we also have to look at the question of environmental and individual responsibility, and holding the fossil fuel industry accountable. What do they say about that?

Well, in our next segment, to close out this conversation, we’re going to look at that and talk about what they actually said, and the differences between those candidates. You don’t want to miss that, so tune into that one as well, as we continue our conversation there with Steve Horn and Dharna Noor and you. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Check out the next segment.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Dharna Noor is a staff writer at Earther, Gizmodo's climate vertical.

Steve Horn is a San Diego-based climate reporter and producer. He was also a reporter on a part-time basis for The Coast News—covering Escondido, San Marcos, and the San Diego North County region—from mid-2018 until early 2020.

Also a freelance investigative reporter, his work has appeared in The Guardian, Al Jazeera America, The Intercept, Vice News, Wisconsin Watch, and other publications. He worked from 2011-2018 for the climate news website, a publication which investigates climate change disinformation and the fossil fuel industry influence campaigns.

His stories and research have received citation in a U.S. Senate report and mention in outlets such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, Bloomberg Businessweek, Mexico’s La Jornada, and The Colbert Report.

In his free time, Steve is a competitive distance runner, with a personal best time in the marathon of 2:43:04 and a 4:43 mile. He also has served on the film screening committee for the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis and serves on the screening committee for the San Diego International Film Festival.