For the first time in what seems like a very long time, the left played offense this week. The rolling out of the Green New Deal has dominated political discussions in an era where President Trump and his weekly foibles and stumbles have dominated the headlines like never before.
This was a bold proposal and what I would argue is good politics, even if the specifics of the proposal at this time are dead on arrival and likely will never see the light of day.
As the New York Times put it this week, the measure drafted by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the House and Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts in the Senate “is intended to answer the demand, by the party’s restive base, for a grand strategy that combats climate change, creates jobs and offers an affirmative response to the challenge to core party values posed by President Trump.”
The Times also notes, “The resolution has more breadth than detail and is so ambitious that Republicans greeted it with derision. Its legislative prospects are bleak in the foreseeable future; Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has no plan to bring the resolution in its current form to the floor for a vote…”
But, as they put it, it is a “blueprint for liberal ambition,” with a commitment over ten years to convert “clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources,” to upgrade “all existing buildings” to meet energy efficiency requirements, and to expand high-speed rail so broadly that most air travel would be rendered obsolete.
It also talks about creating millions of new green jobs, guaranteeing health care, and “a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security” to every American.
While the right derides and the centrist recoils, this is the type of proposal we have seen from the right over the last 30 years in the sense that it is aspirational not legislative, it is agenda-setting rather than an attempt to implement policy, and it is meant to activate key constituents.
As I put it in a Facebook post earlier this week, this is about activating the future demographic alignments in this country. Already the Millennial Generation – large, vast, and diverse – is one of the more liberal in history and experts believe what they are currently calling Generation Z is more liberal yet.
For those of us in our 40s, in the middle of our lives, climate change is a threat to our future and our children’s future. To those under 30, climate change represents an existential threat. One that has not been seriously enough addressed.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez represents the first leader of the under-30 generations that will be tasked with remaking our commitment to climate change.
From an agenda-setting standpoint, this initiative represents a critical if not brilliant endeavor. Not only does it bring together key constituencies of the left – the under-30 crowd with the environmentalists and the labor and economic social justice contingent – but it also answers the key puzzle that bedevils the left on climate change. That is, how do you reconcile the need for massive technological and environmental change with the need to address acute income inequality, wage disparities, and a rich west with a poor developing world?
The answer – a bold new vision.
For years the left has not had a unifying vision between its different wings and yet – if done correctly – this movement brings together the need for economic justice with the need for environmental justice.
There are different views on this proposal. For instance, the Detroit News calls it “a bad deal for freedom,” writing, “That otherwise serious lawmakers are embracing the fantastical Green New Deal offered by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an indication of just how skittish Democrats are of their socialist wing.”
But the LA Times editorial board notes it could finally force the U.S. to get serious about climate change. They write that “we welcome the effort and endorse its sweeping calls for getting Americans out of their cars, for transforming our power sources from fossil fuels to renewables, for seeking to recalibrate the nation’s economy away from the things that may kill us, and for reorienting us toward more sustainable means of production, transportation and daily living.”
They add, “Good for Ocasio-Cortez and Markey for making a dramatic statement acknowledging honestly where we are and how far we need to go.”
The LA Times isn’t naïve: “On the other hand, we live in the real world, and if this potentially existential problem is going to be addressed, it is going to have to be addressed there. In that regard, this proposal — expressed in twin, nonbinding resolutions — suffers from overreach.”
I live in the real world too. I recognize that this is both a radical vision and a non-starter in terms of a policy proposal. But I believe we shouldn’t recognize it as a policy proposal, we should recognize it for what it is – an agenda-setting statement.
It lays the groundwork for what we aspire to become, not a proposal that will require compromise and deals to implement.
The Times gets it right: “The nonbinding nature of the Green New Deal legislation is both a weakness and a strength. On the one hand, we are too far along the path of global warming for symbolic acts. On the other, at least the proposal offers targets for binding legislation in the future that could move us closer to where we need to be.”
Here’s a point that I made on Facebook as well – you think these proposals are radical? They are. But we need radical right now, because the status quo reality is going to be just as unsettling. If we let climate change run its course, what is the cost of moving people within 20 miles of the coastline? What is the cost of having to relocate large masses of people, reinforce infrastructure, revise flood control, totally redo where we grow food, totally up-end our economics?
Are these worst case scenarios? Maybe. But on a planet expected to warm two to seven degrees over the next 50 to 80 years, the worst case scenarios are very realistic all of a sudden.
A lot of people reading this are not going be alive in 2050. Myself, if I live to 2050, will be 77. But my daughter is only going to be 41 and she has to live in that world we are creating right now. That’s why the Millennials and Generation Z figure to be much more liberal on these matters than older generations.
As a nation we have buried our heads in the sand for too long on this stuff and allowed global warming to progress too far. It can no longer be addressed with just marginal symbolic acts. Radical change is coming – the only question is whether we are initiating it or reacting to it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting