Home > Uncategorized > A case for the Green New Deal – posted 10/14/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 10/24/2019

A case for the Green New Deal – posted 10/14/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 10/24/2019

One thing that separates the 2020 presidential race from past contests is our more dire state of climate emergency. The evidence is right in front of our eyes: the wildfires in Los Angeles, the superstorms like Hurricane Dorian and Maria, the burning of the Amazon rain forest and the melting of Greenland’s ice shelf.

Due to Greta Thunberg, the Sunrise movement, and writers like Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein, we are much more aware that our times are anything but normal.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reported that if countries want to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius this century, they have to halve global emissions by 2030, become carbon-neutral by 2050 and go carbon-negative thereafter. That is a daunting challenge by any measure.

While most Democrats agree climate change is a major concern and they also agree the United States needs to zero out its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, presidential candidates’ plans about combatting climate change vary dramatically. Most of the Democrats have modest proposals and, in my opinion, pay climate change lip service. Many say they support the concept of a Green New Deal but few address the enormous funding required.

Part of the problem is the too-moderate bent of the Democratic party establishment. For so long they have sold small change as an adequate response to a wide range of problems including climate, economic inequality, lack of universal health coverage, mass incarceration and institutional racism.

During the Clinton era, that approach was best summed up by the term “triangulation”. Be a moderate Democrat but act like a centrist Republican. Too many Democrats have remained wedded to that approach. It actually allowed Trump to run against the Democrats as a status quo party.

Problem is though, when you face an emergency like climate change, small change does not cut it. The scientific community is telling us we have less than 11 years to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels. We could be facing uninhabitability for much of the planet and a Mad Max-like dystopia.

Fortunately, not all Democrats have signed on to a minimalist platform. The progressive wing of the party led by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have endorsed a more full-bodied version of the Green New Deal.

The Green New Deal is both an outlook and a political program. It is inspired by the vision of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who in the face of the Great Depression advanced a New Deal in the 1930’s. In spite of significant opposition, especially from the business community, the New Deal launched a massive transformation that included jobs, relief programs, and infrastructure.

The Green New Deal aims for a similar transformation to avert climate catastrophe and to create millions of new jobs. Some of the component parts include:

  • reaching 100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation by no later than 2030 and complete decarbonization by 2050
  • leading the international fight to reduce emissions throughout the world by rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and working to enforce aggressive climate reduction goals
  • rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure including the nation’s water systems so that we can better deal with floods, hurricanes, and wildfires
  • preserving our public lands and reinstating the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program that conserved wilderness
  • creating 20 million good-paying jobs in steel and auto manufacturing, construction, energy efficiency retrofitting, and renewable power plants
  • holding the fossil fuel industry accountable, making them pay for their pollution and the damage they have caused
  • helping workers in the fossil fuel industry transition to new work and careers
  • Incentivizing farmers to develop ecologically regenerative farming systems that sharply reduce emissions

Obviously in a proposal of this magnitude, questions abound. How this plan will be paid for is a totally legitimate question. As is the question of how it will get passed considering present opposition.

Green New Deal sponsors acknowledge the size of the price tag but they articulate a plan for payment. The plan generates money from different sources: revenue from selling energy via power marketing authorities, income taxes from the new jobs created, and money related to reducing military spending connected to protecting oil shipping lanes.

When opponents complain about the cost, the best response is consideration of the the cost of doing nothing. You can pick your doomsday scenario.

I think the biggest obstacle to the Green New Deal is the enormous cynicism and defeatism that exists about the state of the planet. Also there is huge cynicism about whether the system here can be changed to push through needed, radical changes. Our government has operated like a paralysis machine.

We can count on Green New Deal opponents to spread fear of an austere future and a too big federal government. That is predictable.

Overcoming the legacy of inaction and passivity is still on the agenda. The scientific knowledge about climate change has been out there for 30 or 40 years and we have not responded.

Naomi Klein put it this way:

“…I have been trying to figure out what is interfering with humanity’s basic survival instinct – why so many of us aren’t acting like our house is on fire when it so clearly is.”

A great place to start in learning about the Green New Deal is to read the full text of Congress’ Green New Deal Resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in February 2019.

As we consider the Democratic presidential candidates, I think a critical distinction to consider is each candidate’s Green New Deal position, if they have one. I would ask these questions: Does the candidate put dollars behind his/her proposal? How comprehensive is the plan? How deep does it go? Is it bold enough?

The extreme weather and climate disasters we face are a national emergency. We need to start acting like it.

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