I hate it when this happens — I find myself mostly in agreement with the Colorado Springs Gazette’s March 28 editorial, though not entirely. The Gazette’s op/ed page tends to run to the, well, can we just say “conservative” and leave it at that? Over the years, I’ve often been offended and/or outraged by the views expressed there. But the March 28 editorial praises John Hickenlooper for being the only Democrat currently running for president who has opposed the Green New Deal legislation offered up in the U.S. House. And so, it appears that I agree with Mr. Hickenlooper, and I guess the Editorial Board at the Gazette (though likely not for the same reasons).
When I ran for Congress way back in 2008, I found myself with a wonderful campaign staff that I liked very much. I also found that I was likely the most conservative person on my own team. That doesn’t mean that I wanted tax cuts for the rich and such, but rather that as a career military officer, I believe I saw things, especially internationally, with a bit more caution and suspicion than did many of my friends. I’m a proud capitalist, but I am not blind to the many, many shortcomings of that economic system. I’ll borrow from Winston Churchill and say that capitalism is the worst possible economic system, except for all the others. Churchill said that about democracy, not capitalism, but I think the spirit of the comment is pretty spot on. There are deep flaws that result in profound inequities and wide-spread unfairness in our economic system, but I don’t think there is any good replacement for capitalism (and before my conservative or liberal friends cry out “socialism,” please read my earlier column about how we all are socialists to a degree, and that’s not a bad thing.
My Ph.D. work was on environmental security, which could be broadly defined as looking at the impact of environmental factors on U.S. national security. And let me be very clear — there are many significant environmental challenges (especially climate change) that directly and indirectly impact the military’s ability to defend our national interests. I’m a greenie from way back, and I make no apologies for that. The issue, it seems to me, is should there be a major new governmental effort on environment, and if so, should it be the Green Manhattan Project (GMP) and not the Green New Deal (GND)?
There is much to admire about the GND, and I agree with most of it. And I enjoy the name as a throwback to FDR’s New Deal. But I would respectfully argue that we need a new “Green Manhattan Project” rather than a GND.
Simply put, we do not have the affordable technologies we need to advance our state, let alone our nation, to the zero emissions level in the very near future. And that is the point that Mr. Hickenlooper was making in the Gazette’s op/ed. This is the point where I pull away from the Gazette’s “market forces” view.
It is undeniably true that in a capitalist system, economic self-interest can be monetized in environmentally helpful ways. Many Colorado ranchers don’t object to the windmills they lease to power companies, and when then-Vice President Al Gore (full disclosure — I worked for him) made it a governmental policy to prefer recycled paper to “virgin” paper, an entire industry was born, creating jobs and a better world. Capitalism — properly regulated by an elected government — can be very helpful in matters environmental.
That said, I would prefer my fellow Dems create a “Green Manhattan Project.” This GMP would like very much, but not entirely like, the GND. Much of the GMP would overlap with the goals and methods of the GND. The key difference, I posit, is that a Green Manhattan Project would focus, at least in part, on working with industry to invent new and needed technologies. The military can be a useful role model, in that the Services have dedicated significant resources toward environmental mitigation and could help lead a GMP.
Mr. Hickenlooper is taking a chance, being the only Dem candidate to not back the Green New Deal, and I admire him for it. Leading is not about following what’s most popular. I wrote in my doctoral dissertation that environmental issues are a war without an enemy. No industry seeks to create as much pollution as possible. Rather, dangerous environmental impacts are a corollary to many industrial processes. Working with industry on a Green Manhattan Project would couple the best parts of capitalism — innovation and creativity — with the needed regulation by the government. We really can’t afford to wait on climate change issues, and I suggest that a Green Manhattan Project is the best option at present.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.