Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, and Rep. Ed Markey, 72, rolled out the much-awaited Green New Deal Thursday. Steeped in environmental justice, the goal-filled resolution calls for a vigorous mobilization to address the climate crisis, one that leaves nobody behind, that recognizes just what a perilous predicament we humans have created for ourselves and so many other species on this planet, and that offers a reason for optimism after decades of pretending that there’s plenty of time to deal with the situation assuming, as some people do not, that big trouble is truly coming.
Now comes the hard part: Turning this aspirational outline into legislation that a Democratic president, a Democratic House, and a Democratic Senate—together with whatever Republican allies are willing to come aboard—can adopt around this time in 2021.
David Roberts at Vox is a climate owl. He has followed the energy and climate debate in detail for years and had a lot to say about the Green New Deal Thursday. Like most of his analyses, it’s a long, thoughtful read that everyone who has something to say about the Green New Deal ought to familiarize themselves with first. His paragraphs on the GND’s emphasis on environmental justice and investment are essential reading. The bottom line on Roberts’ take? “Overall, this is about as strong an opening bid as anyone could have asked for.”
I’ll come back to his analysis momentarily.
Anybody who says there are holes in the Green New Deal document, that frustrating compromises will have to be made, that massive political opposition will be thrown in the way is, of course, absolutely right. Among the critics are people who say the Green New Deal now unveiled doesn’t go nearly far enough and people who say it goes way too far and people, like fossil fuel puppet Rep. David McKinley, who say it’s “delusional.” Some claim the 10-year timetable is ridiculous and most of the goals are pie in the sky. There are pundits, like Jonathan Chait, who fume that the drafters should have stayed in their lane and not brought in issues like a living wage. Sort of like the critics who said Martin Luther King Jr. should have stuck to civil rights instead of dragging workers’ rights and the Vietnam War into the equation.
Obviously, the Green New Deal will be devilishly hard to pass. But to those on the left who argue it will be impossible to pass and impossible to implement if it does pass, let me just say that No Can Do is not a progressive value. Nor is the idea that we dare not move too fast in addressing climate change. That option is long gone. The question now is “How can we move fast enough?” Every day we waste in delay makes the answer to that question iffier.
Obviously, not all the details are worked out. If they had been, the complainers and naysayers would be howling over the the Green New Deal’s inflexibility. Obviously, all the elements needed to accomplish it we don’t yet have. Obviously, it’s going to take a herculean effort.
But starting out with the idea that this can’t be done is a sure prescription for making certain it doesn’t get done. We need to treat the climate crisis like the most serious issue for our species (and others) since modern humans left Africa. Because it is.
We need to treat it as we did World War II as the Climate Mobilization people and the Green New Deal drafters have noted and pushed for. Even most American isolationists of 1940 didn’t say in 1942 that beating the Axis was an impossible dream, that it was too hard, too disruptive. Instead, our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents transformed the economy and the military to meet that crisis and beat back fascism.
When asked over the next few months how we can afford possibly to spend all the money that a Green New Deal will require, we need to interrupt and point out that this is not spending, it’s an investment in our future. And then remind them of the vast spending that will incur over the next century if we fail to do this investing now. Repairing inevitable damage that could have been prevented is the worst kind of wastefulness.
Here’s David Roberts again:
It’s worth noting just what a high-wire act the authors of this resolution are attempting. It has to offer enough specifics to give it real shape and ambition, without overprescribing solutions or prejudging differences over secondary questions. It has to please a diverse range of interest groups, from environmental justice to labor to climate, without alienating any of them. It has to stand up to intense scrutiny (much of it sure to be bad faith), with lots of people gunning for it from both the right and center.
And, of course, it eventually has to give birth to real legislation.
Given all those demands, the resolution does a remarkably good job of threading the needle. It is bold and unmistakably progressive, matched to the problem as defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, while avoiding a few needless fights and leaving room for plenty of debate over priorities and policy tools. […]
The goals — achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, creating jobs, providing for a just transition, securing clean air and water — are broadly popular. The projects — things like decarbonizing electricity, transportation, and industry, restoring ecosystems, upgrading buildings and electricity grids — are necessary and sensible (if also extremely ambitious).
One of the barriers to fulfilling this ambition, obviously, are climate science deniers, which includes Republicans on the Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change who said in a hearing Wednesday that they aren’t really deniers despite their past statements and pitiful environmental voting records. While some give a teensy nod in support of expanding renewable energy, they still want a key role for oil and coal and natural gas far into the future, they reject federal regulations to cut carbon emissions, and they have no truck with anything that smacks of environmental justice though you’ll hear these opportunists (who never otherwise say or do anything for poor people) argue that low-income Americans will be hurt by higher costs of electricity from wind and solar. It’s a profound waste of time to continue arguing anymore with these jokers or with the jackals who for decades have donated to their election campaigns while paying supposed “experts” to slather us with sneers about climate science and smears of climate scientists.
Progressive energy needs instead to be focused on putting flesh on the Green New Deal bones and persuading hesitant Democratic foot-draggers to get with the program. Many of them couch their criticism in assertions that we must be “realistic.” In other words, don’t ask for too much. This is bogus. Realism can be found in the ever-more alarming reports from the International Panel on Climate Change and other studies that inform us we have little time to get ourselves on a track that leads us to a carbon neutral status if we are to have any hope of ameliorating the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Realism means we’ll literally be in hotter water if we accept the conventional “wisdom” that we risk overreaching.
Some critics, billionaire Michael Bloomberg for one, say that nothing big like a Green New Deal can happen nationally, so we must support and spread the innovative climate policies that some states and cities have adopted. And also, his pet, fracking. It’s certainly true that some state and local governments have taken fairly bold steps in the right direction. Twenty states—Michigan being the latest—have committed to working to meet the goals of the Paris Accord even though the Trump regime is withdrawing from it. But this local and state effort won’t be nearly enough. Other critics say that it’s a matter of personal behavior, that people must adopt a less consumptive lifestyle. That, too, is essential. But this won’t be enough either. A national plan networked with a binding international agreement is needed. A Green New Deal also won’t be enough by itself, but can contribute mightily to ameliorate the climate crisis.
Don’t get me wrong. Compromise will be needed to pass and implement the Green New Deal. But progressives should reject pre-compromising the deal before even getting started. Because it’s always downward from the starting point wherever that is.
Every elected Democrat should by now by a climate hawk. Every one who isn’t should damn well become one. Delay is a form of denial. Delay is a reckless throw of the dice in hopes we humans will finally get it together to act seriously in this existential matter. It’s a prescription for catastrophe. The Green New Deal is a partial but essential part of the antidote.