The Green New Deal: Let's Get Visionary

We need a plan to save the planet while creating great jobs. Actually, there is one.

Lately there’s been a lot of bad news about climate change and the future of humanity. In October 2018, the United Nations issued a major report warning of a climate crisis as soon as 2040. The day after Thanksgiving, the Trump administration tried to bury the release of its own report on the dire effects of climate change already occurring in the United States, which included dark predictions for the future.

In December alone, we learned that 2018’s global carbon emissions set a record high. NASA detected new glacier melts in Antarctica. There were wildfires. Coral reef bleaching. Ecosystem upheaval in Alaska as the arctic ice melts.

Meanwhile the Trump administration sent an adviser to the UN climate summit to promote coal and warn against climate “alarmism.”

So this all sucks. But here’s the thing about climate change: You can either ignore it, get depressed about doomsday scenarios, or believe that no matter how badly we’ve screwed up as a species, we’re also smart and creative enough to fix this.

If the alternatives are ignorance and despair, I’ll choose hope. Every single time.

So where can we focus our hope? What can we actually do about climate change?

I’m excited about the Green New Deal, an idea that’s been kicking around since 2007 but was popularized this fall by Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and the youth-led Sunrise Movement. At least 37 members of Congress have signed on, along with dozens of activist organizations. It’s also important to note that the Green New Deal is not only a federal project. Lots of important legislation can happen at the state and local levels. Which is good news, because it’s often easier to enact change outside of Washington.

Green New Deal protest on Capitol Hill, 12/10/18, photo courtesy of Davin Hutchins

Not only a plan to shake up environmental policies, the Green New Deal is also a massive jobs program, named after the Depression-era New Deal. The basic idea is to get us to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, by putting Americans to work building a new energy infrastructure.

It merges the immediate concerns of working Americans — jobs and the economy — with the long-term concerns of climate change. We don’t have to choose between economic sustainability and environmental sustainability.

“This is going to be the Great Society, the moonshot, the civil rights movement of our generation. That is the scale of the ambition that this movement is going to require,” said Ocasio-Cortez during a town hall meeting with Bernie Sanders.

The ambitious plan touches on a “smart” grid; energy-efficient buildings; sustainable agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, and infrastructure; and exporting green technology to make the U.S. “the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely carbon neutral economies.” Think of the scale of this program, and then think of all the jobs that would be created. This could be huge for working-class Americans, in particular. A more detailed plan has been laid out by the progressive think tank Data for Progress. Need more of an explanation about the movement in general? Check this out.

Will the Green New Deal be expensive? Probably. But that doesn’t mean it will be a drag on our economy.

A recent study by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate revealed that we could save $26 trillion, worldwide, if we shifted to sustainable development. Another new study shows wind and solar power to be the cheapest sources for electricity around the world. Last year, the Republican mayor of Georgetown, Texas switched his city to 100 percent renewable energy because of the low costs in the long-term.

On the other hand, at the UN climate summit in Poland, some of the world’s most powerful investors warned of a major financial crash if we don’t solve the climate crisis.

Protestors supporting the Green New Deal on Capitol Hill, 12/10/18, photo courtesy of Davin Hutchins

There is not one Green New Deal. There is no one bill to support. This is a big idea. a movement, a vision for a different world, in which a healthy environment, a healthy economy, and a real focus on social justice are all interdependent. This ambitious plan can’t be accomplished with one bill, with one piece of legislation. If we can make this future happen, there will be many pieces of legislation, which will work together in order to accomplish a common goal.

Recently, we’ve heard a lot about Nancy Pelosi and other leading Democrats trying to kill this movement through complex and rather silly maneuvers concerning congressional committees and House of Representatives politics. News media has focused on the Pelosi’s efforts to block Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from setting up a select committee for the Green New Deal. While that behavior is beyond annoying, Pelosi is not going to kill this movement unless we let her. Regardless of what the Democratic establishment does, we must continue to demand that our representatives support this initiative, at the federal, state, and local levels.

At the federal level, let’s encourage all members of the House Sustainable Energy and Environmental Coalition (SEEC) to pledge support, including the Virginia members: Scott, Beyer, and McEachin. (VA Representative and SEEC member Gerry Connolly is already on record supporting the movement. Let’s urge him to get his fellow members of Congress on board.)

Organizations partnering on the Green New Deal in Virginia

There’s exciting momentum in our state. VA Delegates Sam Rasoul and Elizabeth Guzman have launched a coalition for a Green New Deal in Virginia, with plans for a variety of legislation and other initiatives, partnering with the Sunrise Movement, VSC NAACP - Environmental & Climate Justice Committee, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, Virginia Organizing, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Food & Water Watch, 350 Loudoun, Virginia Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Other key VA legislators include Karen Campblin and Lee Williams. Look out for a rally in Richmond on January 22, 2019, to build support among state legislators, coinciding with the NAACP lobby day. The Sunrise Movement is also creating new hubs in Virginia: join the movement here. If you want to keep up with all the latest developments in our state’s movement, follow @GreenNewDealVA and @Sam_Rasoul.

Is the Green New Deal too ambitious? Absolutely not.

We need ambition. Our planet’s impending climate crisis is the biggest problem the human race has ever faced. We can’t think small.

So let’s get visionary. Let’s dream big. Let’s fight for our children, and let’s invest in their future.

[This blog post is adapted from an op-ed published by Norah Vawter on OtherWords.com, 12/26/18.]

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