For decades, Democrats have aspired to emulate Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal with a modern equivalent.

Hawaii’s congressional delegation has helped propel the latest iteration — a Green New Deal — with Sen. Mazie Hirono’s co-sponsorship of Senate Resolution 59, the Senate equivalent to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s sweeping environmental stimulus proposal. Sen. Brian Schatz, who endorsed the idea in December, has also pushed aggressively for a GND.

The GND calls for a “10-year national mobilization” which includes upgrading all existing buildings in the United States to efficiency standards, a job stimulus program centered around clean or renewable technologies, food sustainability, and zero-emissions transportation, including high-speed rail.

Rainbow in Maunaloa, Molokai
Hawaii is already a trendsetter in protecting the environment. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

While the resolutions advancing a GND are largely generic, nonbinding goals, some observers worried after a launch Q&A was circulated by Ocasio-Cortez’s office, which has since been taken offline, that made drastic calls for carbon taxes and Federal Reserve intervention, and touched upon everything from climate to health care.

President Trump attacked Hirono over her co-sponsorship of the Senate resolution last week at a rally in El Paso, Texas.

“Folks freaking out about Green New Deal sound like naysayers who said we would crash the economy in Hawaii with clean energy,” Schatz tweeted in defense. “We addressed all legit concerns, ignored trolls, and moved forward. We quintupled clean energy and lowered electricity rates, and created tons of jobs.”

Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, agreed.

“Our experience in Hawaii shows that adopting ambitious clean energy laws can unleash innovation, foster collaboration, create jobs, and drive price reductions in clean energy technologies that exceed predictions,” Mikulina said. “After Hawaii’s 100 percent law passed, Hawaiian Electric found that not only could they achieve the new target, they could get there five years earlier – by 2040 – and at a cost that is billions less than the ‘business as usual’ case.”

Mikulina said the two GND resolutions are a welcome development in “both policy direction and in starting the conversation around critical climate, clean energy, economic equality issues.”

“The Green New Deal suggests that we can address the planet’s biggest challenge in a way that realigns our priorities and positively benefits everyone,” he said. “We are learning the hard way that humans are a force of nature. We can harness that force for good. The Green New Deal proposes a pathway to do just that.”

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Peter Schiff, chief economist and global strategist at Euro Pacific Capital, an investment firm, is skeptical about the GND and cautions Hawaii residents about the proposal.

“Hawaii already suffers from the Jones Act, which screws up things and drives up the cost of everything, and you have high taxes, so that’s a problem too,” Schiff said, noting that fighting climate change comes with a big cost.

“Resources are scarce, labor is scarce, and if you’re going to deploy your resources and labor to do one thing, then you’re going to have to pull it out of something else,” he said. “If it’s really true that we face this catastrophe of global warming and we have to mobilize all of our efforts and resources to fight this, that’s a great sacrifice. We’re not going to have extra prosperity.”

“People would have to drop out of school, people would have to work, but nobody would get paid very much, they’d have to stop buying stuff,” Schiff said. “People’s standard of living would implode, we would be working constantly just to replace what we have.”

Hawaii residents do not need to wait for future climate change effects to experience a crisis of existence, as many are already living day-to-day, paycheck to paycheck.

As a case in point, newly elected California Gov. Gavin Newsom turned heads last week when he admitted that his state’s high-speed rail, which was originally set for completion in 2020 but later pushed to 2033, couldn’t continue as planned due to rising costs.

Hawaii, which already struggles with the Honolulu rail project, might be hard-pressed juggling the costs of mass transit, thousands of building upgrades, Gov. David Ige’s affordable housing project, and the other complex aspects of an aggressive 10-year GND plan.

State Rep. John Mizuno, chair of the House Health Committee, is intrigued by the GND, but acknowledges it might present challenges for Hawaii. Mizuno’s district, which includes numerous middle to low-income working families, would strongly feel the effects of any sudden paradigm shift in the economy.

“As we prepare for our future, it’s also a balancing task, and if it’s going to hit my district in the gut regarding our generational homes that we have, we need to move smartly on this. Nonetheless, I’m hopeful our people will ask, ‘Why isn’t this possible?’” said Mizuno.

Hawaii residents do not need to wait for future climate change effects to experience a crisis of existence, as many are already living day-to-day, paycheck to paycheck. Sixty-six percent of locals have less than $1,000 in the bank, and 47 percent have no savings at all, due in no small part to high costs of food, energy and housing.

To have a green future in Hawaii, locals are going to need a lot more green in their pockets. Any world worth living in must be one where Hawaii residents can afford to own land, and perhaps that should be the real goal of our policymakers.

When more locals can own land, they will surely take pride in taking care of the environment, building the right kind of buildings, and using the right kinds of transportation.

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