Why we need a Green New Deal

Sit-ins at congressional offices were just the beginning.

No doubt you’ve heard about the climate action plan called the Green New Deal, a proposal that has a catchy name but has been short on specifics. No matter: You’re going to be hearing a lot more about it in the months to come. And it’s not a moment too soon.

The Sunrise Movement , which led simultaneous sit-ins in Congress in November, including one at the office of incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is leading the way to establish a radical, forward-thinking action plan to save the world from the growing threat of climate change. More than anything else, the group is demanding that lawmakers take action.

The exact details of a Green New Deal are still in development. A lot of ideas, written in legislative language, are available as a draft proposal at the website of incoming New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has become a driving force behind the plan. Generally, the evolving plan could very well include these still-speculative details as described in an article from the Sierra Club magazine:

  • A rapid break from fossil fuels.
  • A country fully powered by renewable energy in 10 years’ time.
  • A nationwide energy-efficient smart grid, powered by clean energy start-ups that will provide good-paying jobs.
  • Massive investment in the drawdown and capture of greenhouse gases.
  • Diversification of local and regional economies, with a particular focus on communities such as coal mining areas where fossil fuel industries control the labor market.

Even more encompassing are these ideas that make the Green New Deal a jobs bill: “Ocasio-Cortez also proposes providing all Americans with the opportunity, training, and education to be a full and equal participant in the country’s clean energy transition; universal health care programs that would help green energy start-ups get off the ground; and a jobs guarantee program that would assure a living-wage job to every person who wants one,” says the Sierra Club story.

All of these are ambitious, far-reaching goals. They are being called unrealistic and overreaching, and there’s nothing saying these ideas will turn into actual legislation, much less be signed into law. There are the usual Republican skeptics demanding, “Who’s going to pay for this?”

But if you don’t try, nothing happens. You’ve got to start somewhere. The planet isn’t giving us any choice.

In the House, Ocasio-Cortez is leading the movement to turn a plan that is still in its infancy into a reality. Already, 40 Democratic lawmakers are on board with the idea of establishing a special 15-member Select Committee for a Green New Deal, and the number keeps growing. More than 200 local and national organizations are adding their voices, their support, and their funding to the Sunrise Movement. The idea is for the Select Committee, which would have Republican as well as Democratic members, to write specific legislation, a process that could take a few years but could serve as a major influence as the country nears the 2020 presidential election.

“A Green New Deal is both smart politics and smart policy, not to mention the only practical way at this late date to preserve a livable planet for our children,” wrote Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, in a column in The Washington Post. And she identifies another message, too.

How refreshing it is to hear environmental champions saying “yes!” to ideas. Too often, the green message has been negative — don’t build that pipeline, don’t hurt that critter — without offering a corresponding positive vision, thus feeding the perception that environmentalism is for elites who can afford to sacrifice. By contrast, a Green New Deal is shrewdly packaged, leaves little doubt about its purpose.

Many of the nation’s scientific leaders also are on board with the Green New Deal. “Many scientists are willing and ready to advise lawmakers on the science behind climate change. But it’s up to policymakers to pass laws that could help to avert catastrophic global climate change,” said a story on Think Progress. Scientists may not be leading the charge for a Green New Deal, the story added, but they’re not far behind the “cohort of young people on the front lines of the climate action movement.”

The timing couldn’t be better, with a new Democratic House ready to start work in January. The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the world has 12 years to get its act together to cut greenhouse gas emissions and limit climate catastrophe. A U.S. government report released in November from the Trump administration, the Fourth National Climate Assessment, spells out the dire predictions about how climate change is affecting weather, the economy, water supply, and health. (No one cares about Donald Trump’s claim that he doesn’t believe it.)

The U.N. climate conference that just wrapped up in Poland to work out details to implement the Paris climate agreement made progress, but not enough. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres warned that failing to agree on climate action would “not only be immoral” but “suicidal.”

Is there public appetite in the United States for a plan as radical as a Green New Deal? Actually, yes, there is.

Legislation of this magnitude won’t happen overnight, given who’s in the White House and given a GOP-led Senate, but it needs to happen, sooner rather than later. As Jesse Meisenhelter, an organizer with the Sunrise Movement, wrote in The Nation:

We understand that Democrats can’t pass legislation with a climate-denying White House and GOP-controlled Senate. But they can lay the groundwork now, by developing a plan for a Green New Deal and taking the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge.

The 2020 “ideas primary” has begun, and presidential hopefuls are racing to lay the planks of their platforms. The Green New Deal is an opportunity to define a bold and clear future under Democratic leadership. …

Since our sit-in at Pelosi’s office, over 13,000 young people have joined the Sunrise Movement. …

The same young people that mobilized a historic midterm turnout are now looking ahead to 2020. We will knock on doors, pressure representatives, and primary Democrats who take fossil-fuel money. We will protest and risk arrest if we must, and as we already have, to ensure this economic transformation occurs within the next 12 years.

Our generation has a right to good jobs and a livable future. The Green New Deal is a winning plan for both. Now the only question is: will the Democrats embrace it?

Local chapters, or hubs, of the Sunrise Movement are starting all over the country. At this point, while many hubs (not all) are on the East and West Coasts, they are slowly making their way inward. Interested parties can search for a group nearest to where they live.

It’s not just the House—some likely 2020 presidential candidates from the Senate, such as Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker, also support the aims of the Green New Deal. As the 2020 Democratic presidential field takes shape, I’ll be looking for candidates who aren’t afraid to call for serious climate action and are willing to place it front and center, with specific proposals.

There are myriad issues that deserve attention in the next election: health care, gun violence, and voting rights, just to name a few. But cutting greenhouse gas emissions and taking significant climate action are the solutions that will mean a livable future for all of us.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Dec. 23, 2018.

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