It gets better the longer you look at it
Illustration: Jason Torchinsky

Let’s establish some ground rules before we get into this: Climate change is real. The past four years have been the four warmest on record. Cars are not an insignificant part of the problem. Now that we all have acknowledged reality (whether or not you “agree” is irrelevant), let’s dive into the Green New Deal, and the claims that it means your precious gasoline-burning car will be taken from you.

It won’t be—and it probably can’t be.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) released yesterday the outline of her Green New Deal plan, which seeks to not only ameliorate the destruction we have already wrought, but to increase the number of high-paying jobs, end society-wide salary stagnation, stop the ongoing de-population and death of rural communities, and make sure we all don’t fucking die because we’re stupid. It outlines a 10-year plan to phase out fossil fuel use, boost renewable energy, implement zero-emission vehicles and charging stations, boost high-speed rail and advocate for sustainable energy and farming, among other things.

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It’s ambitious, for sure, but much like an intervention on a particularly desperate episode of Hoarders, it’s necessary. And like an episode of Hoarders, it’s being met with terror by all the sorts of people who hate any kind of change. Specifically, they’ve turned to Victorian hysterics over our cars:

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All the hysterics are, in case it’s not obvious, bullshit. Here’s what the Green New Deal outline actually says about planes, trains and automobiles, from Section II, subparagraph (H):

(H) overhauling transportation systems in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible, including through investment in—

(i) zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing;

(ii) clean, affordable, and accessible public transit; and

(iii) high-speed rail;

And that’s it. Really. It doesn’t get any more specific about transportation than that.

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The rest of it is a lot about creating high-wage union jobs, making sure the United States is generating all of its electricity from renewable sources, investments upgrading our existing buildings and infrastructure to make sure they are energy efficient, working with farmers on sustainable practices that work for them, investing in education, making sure no one will die of thirst, protecting vulnerable communities, cleaning up hazardous waste, and the like.

Nothing about anyone coming to take your cars away. Nothing about making internal combustion engines “illegal.” Nothing about nostalgia for the sweet, sweet smell of gasoline getting you thrown in prison forever.

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Just a little bit of “hey, we should invest in manufacturing and infrastructure, and trains, too, while we’re at it.”

Indeed, that’s one of the very valid criticisms of this plan—that it’s heavy on dreams and light on specifics, especially when it comes to financing all of this. However well-intentioned it may be, it falls down greatly for lack of detail.

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HOWEVER.

Yes, there’s always a “however.” Ocasio-Cortez’s office provided an FAQ sheet to NPR, which expands upon the scope and ambition not included in the general outline. Yes, it’ll take years, and yes, it’ll cost a lot of money, and yes, that money has to come from somewhere, and yes, that “money from somewhere” also includes a carbon tax and cap-and-trade, and yes, if you want to go around screeching “BUT THERE’S NO WAY WE CAN AFFORD THIS” but don’t mind massive oil company subsidies and quantitative easing and bank bailouts and endless forever wars that cost literally trillions and trillions of dollars you are a completely disingenuous bad-faith hack.

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But! It also includes this bit here (emphasis mine):

Totally overhaul transportation by massively expanding electric vehicle manufacturing, build charging stations everywhere, build out highspeed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary, create affordable public transit available to all, with goal to replace every combustion-engine vehicle

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A lot of that is just plain pragmatism. If we want humanity to survive into the next century, we’re going to need to massively expand zero emissions vehicle manufacturing. And if electric cars are a large chunk of that, we need to build fast-charging stations everywhere, just like how we have gas stations everywhere now. No one, except most car companies, denies this.

High-speed rail is great, too, and no, don’t tell me “air travel is faster.” Getting to an airport, going through security, and sitting at a gate because you got there too early lest you miss the jet entirely, is plain miserable. It is also included in air travel, unless you are flying in a private jet, in which case, the mob will deal with you later.

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That bolded bit, though. That’s the stuff that’s scaring the easily excited. But that’s also very vague.

The goal is to replace every combustion-engine vehicle? How? Would it involve the gradual restriction of emissions until we get to net zero for new car sales? Subsidies for new car sales? Or actually making the operation of internal combustion engines illegal? And how would this essentially not be implemented as a regressive policy that hurts those living in poverty, who can’t afford new vehicles or different methods of transportation for their livelihoods?

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Take something we wrote in 2017 about a similar topic—autonomous cars. If somehow the technology became ready tomorrow, as if by magic, and then somehow the government mandated all cars on the road become autonomous, how would you implement that? You’d have to either make everyone buy all-new cars, a move that would completely fuck over poor and even middle class people, or you subsidize such sales, which probably no one would be happy with.

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On the topic of EVs, it’s more likely we’ll see governments phase out new internal combustion engine cars over time, like ending such sales by a certain date—2030, 2050, whatever it is. And this very likely will happen. After all, companies like Volkswagen are already on their last generation of internal combustion vehicles. With the world’s biggest market, China, going heavy on EVs, the automakers will follow and so will America.

It’s possible one day that may come with a total ban on driving ICE vehicles, but again, that would have to be years—decades, even—away from happening to be feasible. And it’s hard to imagine much political will around a total ban, now or in the future.

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In other words: You have bigger things to worry about than AOC taking your sweet resto-mod Hemi ’Cuda and driving it into the Newtown Creek, where it will dissolve into nothingness, and then giving you a Chevrolet Spark EV in return.

We reached out to Ocasio-Cortez’s office for clarification on the details of this plan and have not heard back yet.