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The Green New Deal is Not a Choice

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks as she and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) unveil the Green New Deal resolution. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Originally published on Common Dreams, March 12, 2019

Here’s my question for you. If your child were dying of a disease that only a costly drug could cure, would you not go to any lengths to get it? Of course, you would. And that’s exactly what we face today, as our children’s future is dying, not to mention a habitable planet for all.

Inaction is not a choice.

This realization changes everything: With a do-or-die mindset, suddenly we begin to see possibilities that before we’d totally missed. It’s a shift that now seems to be galvanizing – with remarkable speed – diverse forces behind Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s and Senator Ed Markey’s ambitious Green New Deal. With Justice Democrats and the youthful Sunrise Movement, they’ve tailored a bill (H.R. 109) to address a crisis that almost 60 percent of Americans consider a “significant threat to our country.”

Though nonbinding, the Green New Deal calls us to a ten-year mobilization to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, generating millions of new jobs in clean energy and putting us on the road to 100 percent renewable power.

Unfortunately, this existential threat isn’t opening everyone’s eyes. Despite 89 House and 11 Senate co-sponsors and over 80 percent support among registered voters, Republicans mock the Green New Deal as “radical” and “socialist”. Some key Democrats dismiss it as well. Senator Dianne Feinstein admonished child environmental activists that “there’s no way to pay for the [Green New Deal].” (My granddaughters watched that scold five times!) West Virginia’s Senator Joseph Manchin also derided the bill as the “Green New Deal is a dream. I have to work with reality.”

But what’s seen unrealistic is shifting fast for many Americans.

Instead of being turned off by the resolution because it is multi-faceted and ambitious, many embrace it for precisely these reasons. Our entire economy and its infrastructure are implicated in the climate crisis; so, of course, the challenge can only be addressed holistically and in ways that engage us all. Thus, the Green New Deal would create good jobs for those most excluded; and with infrastructure investment would meet the basic human right to clean air and water. On this, note that nearly in 4,000 neighborhoods nationwide, childhood lead-poisoning rates have been found to be at least double those in Flint, Michigan, during the peak of its contamination.

Holistic economic transformation is not only essential but well underway, both abroad and here at home.

The E.U.’s record is proof of what’s possible. Its per capita greenhouse gas emissions are approximately half of ours, and a handful of E.U. countries, including France and Italy, are only about one-third.

Here at home, too, we’ve seen striking evidence of possibility.

Take oil-rich Texas. If it were a country, Texas would rank as the world’s sixth largest wind-energy producer, and ten states already get a fifth of their electricity from solar and wind. In Iowa, make that 37 percent; and in Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota, the share is 30 percent.

A premise of the Green New Deal is that economic equity is essential to environmental health, so what do we know about the jobs’ potential for good jobs as we leave carbon behind?

With little national leadership or mobilization, already roughly 3.2 million Americans work in the clean energy sector, outnumbering fossil fuel jobs about 3-to 1. These jobs typically pay very well, too—with energy-efficiency workers earning about $5,000 more than the national medium, and solar workers averaging above our $17 national hourly median. Another positive? These jobs are being created across the whole country, from the coasts to rural communities, and in the Rust Belt, too.

Note also that in some states, energized (and worried) citizens have already pushed legislators to act boldly, showing the way.

Take Illinois. After two years of citizen advocacy, that state passed Solar for All just a month after Trump’s election. It aims to massively expand solar installations, prioritizing low-cost energy for low-income families. The legislation also includes funds for solar-installation job training, particularly for formerly incarcerated people and foster care alumni.

Doubling down on efficiency investments in Illinois could create more than 7,000 jobs per year, reports the Natural Resources Defense Council. In fact, the state’s existing energy-efficiency programs are the foremost reason why Illinois has the lowest electricity bills in the Midwest. This bill will redouble those investments, yielding billions in energy-cost savings by 2030

New York is also moving forward to show the country what’s possible. Its Climate and Community Protection Act is backed by NYRENEWS – a coalition of 150-organizations. Not only does the bill mandate a fossil-free New York state by 2050, but it ensures that resources for the state’s green transition are invested in historically disadvantaged communities, potentially producing thousands of new, high-paying jobs for New Yorkers who need them most.

Across the country “Buy Clean California” is taking the offensive against climate change. In 2017, California became the first state (although the Army was already there) to mandate a simple rule: Materials, such as glass and steel, used in the state’s billions infrastructure projects, like bridges, must be purchased from sources using low-carbon-impact production processes; and organized labor is behind the scheme.

Overall, the US achieved a 14 percent drop in carbon emissions over the eleven years after 2005, taking us halfway to our 2025 emissions goals set in the Paris Agreement. My point is simple. Even without national leadership focusing us on the crisis, we’re making strides, and now we’re getting serious: Youth are jumping in via the Sunrise Movement and twenty-one young people have brought a lawsuit to force the federal government to act.

So the Green New Deal and the Sunrise Movement deserve our gratitude not our gripes. We know that throughout human history it is not the magnitude of a challenge that has crushed the human spirit, it’s feeling futile that does us in. Please don’t let the naysayers dim our confidence in our power to step up in this do-or-die moment.

UPDATE April 17, 2019: Check out this inspiring video launched by The Intercept “A Message From the Future With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” a seven-minute film narrated by the Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and illustrated by Molly Crabapple.

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