The media is abuzz with talk of a wildly ambitious proposal to address climate change and transform the economy. A group of progressive, first-term Democrats and youth activists are behind the proposal, called the Green New Deal. Met with doubt, inaction and controversy, these political newcomers argue that this extreme legislation is not only possible but absolutely necessary given the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s recent report, which warns that the causes of climate change must be dramatically addressed within the next decade or the impacts will be catastrophic.
In support of the youth activists, Representative Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) drafted a Green New Deal proposal and demanded that a newly selected committee convene to design a viable solution within one year.
The ambitious proposal has seven goals:
1. Shift 100 percent of national power generation to renewable sources.
2. Build a national energy-efficient “smart” grid.
3. Upgrade all buildings to become energy-efficient.
4. Decarbonize manufacturing and agricultural industries.
5. Decarbonize, repair and upgrade the nation’s infrastructure, especially transportation.
6. Fund massive investment in the drawdown and capture of greenhouse gases.
7. Make “green” technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major U.S. export.
Centered around building a green economy, the plan does not stop at decarbonization solutions; instead, it incorporates economic and social justice programs aimed at drastically reducing inequality.
“The activism and enthusiasm, partly triggered by Ocasio-Cortez, seems to tie the climate problem in with a variety of other issues — including jobs for all, living wages, healthcare for all — and that coupling is a new twist in this story, and I think it’s really exciting,” Dan Schrag, professor of climate studies at Harvard, told PRI’s Carolyn Beeler.
But this ‘reach for the moon’ approach by the optimistic freshman Democrats has been met with controversy and doubt from both major parties. In a lukewarm response, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), reinstated a previous Climate Crisis Select Committee, headed by Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL).
Ocasio-Cortez and the youth activists, spearheaded by the Sunrise Movement, argue that Pelosi’s response is insufficient, pointing to inexcusable appointment of committee members who accept donations from, or have existing investments with, fossil fuel companies, including the committee Chair, Representative Castor herself.
Furthermore, critics of the response argue that the committee is ineffective without subpoena power, or the right to summon witnesses to court.
Pelosi and other seasoned Democrats, however, are concerned the plan is naively optimistic, and wary that the environmental proposal includes divisive platforms such as guaranteed employment and universal healthcare. They argue the proposal must focus more singularly in order to receive the support needed to be effective.
Opponents also question how the government will afford the aggressive budget. Since the proposal is more of what the Intercept called a “plan to make a plan,” no exact cost-analysis exists, but the green economy overhaul is expected to cost the government trillions of dollars.
Watch Rep. Ocasio-Cortez answer the funding question with CNN’s Chris Cuomo:
Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, is similarly unapologetic about the price tag. He confirmed to The Intercept that the Green New Deal deliberately “touches on everything — it’s basically a massive system upgrade for the economy.”
Supporters are determined that green energy-related policy and jobs can be the vehicle on which they transform pervasive inequality and unchecked capitalism and respond to catastrophically urgent climate issues. In fact, IPCC’s report states that adequately addressing climate change will require “unprecedented transitions in all aspects of society.”
Despite the spike in tweets and Google searches over the past few months, media attention and controversy alone will not save the planet. So when the media’s attention shifts, will the committee be able to make any traction toward the proposed goals?
Given the Trump administration’s disregard for climate science and refusal to hinder the fossil fuel industry, many believe it is unlikely there will be any legislative impact until 2021 at the earliest.
This month, however, Governor Cuomo of New York announced his own state-level proposal, explicitly calling it a Green New Deal and including a statewide goal to become 100 percent renewable by 2040.
A recent poll by the Yale Program on Climate Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication revealed that a majority of respondents from left, right and center political-affiliations support the general goals of the Green New Deal. Among millennials, a group that will soon become the largest voting group in the country, 51 percent of all respondents support the Deal.
While the specific legislative promises are uncertain and likely impossible without more controversy and political disobedience, the proposed Green New Deal has politicians and the American public thinking about the need for drastic actions toward climate change and may succeed in turning the tide on inaction just moments before our last chance.