What's not to like
The small but noisy cohort of climate reactionaries responding to the Green New Deal has reached new heights of apocalyptic fear-mongering. But, while the “usual suspects” have annoyed me with their bogus claims that the resolution will outlaw hamburgers, air travel and life as we know it, it’s the reaction of “climate moderates” that I have found most disappointing.
These are the folks who accept climate science and the need for action, but want to focus narrowly on carbon reduction. They’re afraid that the more comprehensive approach advocated in the Green New Deal is fatally over-reaching. Whether they honestly don’t see the connections, or they’ve simply lost their political nerve, I think they’re wrong. We need a bold, holistic approach because the impacts of climate change are so far-reaching and the required remedies are so transformative. Energy is deeply embedded in our economy and our lives; by stating the climate problem honestly and fully, the Green New Deal resolution makes the case that a successful effort to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must move forward on many fronts, multiplying the resulting benefits for the public good.
“A problem adequately stated is a problem solved theoretically and immediately, and therefore subsequently to be solved, realistically.”
—R. Buckminster Fuller
So what does the resolution actually say? First, it acknowledges the seriousness of the threat and the role that human activity plays in causing climate change. It lists the most damaging impacts, including drought, extreme weather events, sea level rise, disruptive mass migration, lost annual economic output, health impacts, destruction of public infrastructure and loss of coastal real estate. It asserts that since the U.S. has been historically responsible for a disproportionate share of global GHG emissions, we have a clear responsibility to provide leadership in reducing them. It proposes two GHG reduction goals: a global reduction in GHG emissions from human source of 40% to 60% by 2030, and net zero global emissions by 2050.
The resolution notes that while our nation possesses the technological skill needed to provide leadership, we are also weakened by huge disparities in income and opportunity—from wage stagnation, poverty and inadequate housing, to unequal access to health care, nutrition and educational opportunities. The resolution points out that poorer communities in the U.S. and around the world are the most dramatically affected by the impacts of climate change and the least equipped economically to be able to recover from a weather disaster. Poor people are also more likely to live in areas disproportionately affected by industrial pollution and in substandard housing that makes them more vulnerable. These conditions make us less resilient, but our investments in climate action can address the underlying injustices, and we can empower all of our communities to be climate resilient and economically vibrant.
This investment strategy is not new. New York is one among a number of states with robust programs designed to boost the economy while speeding the transition to renewable energy and electric vehicles, helping small businesses and low- and moderate-income residents save on energy bills through improved energy efficiency, and helping municipalities plan for climate change and upgrade infrastructure. These programs generate economic benefits through job creation, energy cost savings and by averting costlier remedies down the road.
What’s new is the sense of urgency and shared purpose the Green New Deal inspires. In proposing a national mobilization comparable to America’s response to World War II and the Great Depression, the Green New Deal challenges us to stop the political in-fighting, commit to the scale of the task and bring all of our ingenuity and good will to the effort. It doesn’t dictate the specific measures to be taken; it only makes the eloquent point that we are in this together and, if we have the courage, we can create a safer and more equitable society while accelerating the energy revolution that is already underway. This is a “lead or get out of the way” moment. Will Rogers said it: “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”