Issue 6 staff stance: What’s the deal with the Green New Deal?

Eva Strelitz-Block, Commentary Editor

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Climate change was missing from the national conversation as we elected our 45th president. Not a single question was posed to then-presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump regarding climate change and global warming throughout the entirety of the debates in the run-up to the 2016 election.

This Feb. 22, a group of students advocating for an aggressive response to climate change confronted Sen. Dianne Feinstein regarding her tepid support of the Green New Deal. The resolution, introduced on Feb. 7 and sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, seeks to address the interrelated policy challenges of inequality and climate change.

A core goal of the Green New Deal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is widely understood as a critical priority if we are to succeed in slowing and mitigating the consequences of climate change. The resolution holds that the United States should lead the global effort to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and that the federal government ought to play a more substantive role in protecting the environment. It calls for the United States to commit to clean energy and ensure all of its energy is derived from renewable and zero-emissions power sources within ten years. Moreover, it holds that access to clean air, water and food is a fundamental human right, establishing opposition to climate change as a foundation of social justice. Its robust, intentionally inclusive response to climate change connects the dots between climate change, equity and healthcare reform.

Feinstein’s Feb. 22 interaction with students in her Senate office, and her response to their demand that she take their insistent call for political leadership on these issues seriously, has been roundly critiqued as patronizing and cavalier. The moment was captured by Sunrise Movement, a youth-led political advocacy organization, quickly went viral. In the video, Feinstein responds to students’ emotional calls to action saying, “I know what I’m doing. So, you know, maybe people should listen a little bit.” The progressive political advocacy organization MoveOn.org tweeted on Feb. 22: “Instead of talking down to her constituents who’ll deal with consequences of climate change their whole lives, [Feinstein] should start supporting real climate solutions in line with what’s needed to address the crisis.”

The video captured both the growing urgency driving advocacy for legislative action on climate change and the generational disconnect that characterizes conflict on this subject. There is a wellspring of concern around climate change among young people, which political leaders seem apt to undervalue, miscalculate and disparage. A May 2018 Gallup report confirms that there is a “global warming age gap” with 70 percent of Americans aged 18 to 34 are concerned about global warming compared with 62 percent of those aged 35 to 54, and 56 percent who are aged 55 or older.

Perhaps this gap is a product of the reality that young people will inevitably be more significantly impacted by climate change. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy organization, rising seas, longer and more damaging wildfire seasons, and more destructive hurricane seasons will disrupt food, water, and energy supplies.

This is where the Green New Deal resolution comes in. The initiative immediately sparked controversy, debate and criticism. At a rally in El Paso on Feb. 11, Trump boiled down the Green New Deal this way: “They want to take away your car, reduce the value of your home and put millions of Americans out of work.” In fact, the Green New Deal resolution does not call for getting rid of cars – or planes – or even the end of fossil fuel development. On the other hand, former Vice President Al Gore tweeted Feb. 7: “The goals [of the Green New Deal] are ambitious and comprehensive – now the work begins to decide the best ways to achieve them, with specific policy solutions tied to timelines.”

While the outcome of the debate on the Green New Deal’s value, effectiveness and impact remains uncertain, what is clear is that its introduction has initiated a long-needed discussion on both climate policy and “climate privilege.” In the current political moment, succeeding in making climate change relevant is an admirable feat.

Trump has stacked his administration with climate change deniers and individuals who explicitly prioritize corporate interests over the environment and champion the dismantling of regulations designed to ensure the effectiveness of environmental protections. Former oil and gas lobbyist David Bernhardt is President Trump’s nominee to replace ousted oilman Ryan Zinke as the head of the Department of Interior, and former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler replaced long-time EPA critic Scott Pruitt as Head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Wheeler has proposed lowering fuel economy standards for automobiles and rolling back Obama-era regulations of power plant emissions. Most recently, as the Washington Post reported on Feb. 20, Trump has appointed William Happer, a climate science denier, to lead the White House panel charged with assessing risks associated with climate change.

The Green New Deal resolution’s starting point is that climate change is real. The resolution contextualizes the climate crisis, and its proposed policy remedies, in our dependence on environmentally-unfriendly patterns of consumption. Budget experts estimate that fulfilling its objectives will cost trillions of dollars. Critics, including democratic and republican policymakers, declare that this hefty price tag is disqualifying.

A trillion dollars is a lot of money, but proponents of the Green New Deal argue that the cost of preventing the catastrophic consequences of climate change is significantly less than the price tag associated with the clean-ups that inevitably follow the disasters that are exacerbated by unmanaged climate change. Prevention is always more resource-efficient.

The Green New Deal is not perfect, but it does appear to have legs: the legislation has numerous co-sponsors, including 60 House members, 9 senators and Democratic presidential candidates Corey Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren. Climate change policy might finally have its moment.