The Climate Change Conversation Must Also Include Action

PERSPECTIVES

Op-Ed by NATHAN INKS

It has been over 85 years since then-presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt pledged “a new deal for the American people.” Roosevelt’s New Deal has had lasting impacts on the nation and marked a stark shift in government philosophy—cementing the idea that the federal government should bear some burden of ensuring the welfare of the people.

Recently, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) proposed a Green New Deal, aimed at combatting climate change and bringing a progressive overhaul to the nation’s economic policies. Freshman Rep. Ocasio Cortez, a self-described democratic socialist who has already had quite an impact on the direction of the Democratic Party despite her limited time in politics, is spearheading the resolution, which is her first major policy proposal.

The broad goal of the resolution is to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. In order to reach these goals, the resolution calls for accomplishing a number of lofty projects within 10 years, including transitioning to 100% clean and renewable power sources, overhauling the nation’s transportation systems to rely more heavily on zero-emission vehicles and high-speed rail, cleaning up hazardous waste sites, and working with farmers to make the agricultural industry greener and more sustainable.

But the resolution goes beyond just focusing on climate change—pushing for investments in infrastructure and advocating for expanded government social guarantees. The deal calls for guarantees for a job with a family-sustaining wage and benefits, increased rights to unionize, high-quality health care, affordable housing, economic security, and clean air and water.

The official resolution is light on details, but proponents of the resolution have published guidelines on what a final Green New Deal could include. Whether nuclear power has a place in the Green New Deal is an item that some supporters have addressed, while others have not; additionally, an eventual divorce from reliance on air travel was proposed in some initial documents but was not expressly mentioned in the final resolution.

Reaction to the resolution has been mixed, with many Republicans criticizing it as too radical and Democrats divided over whether to embrace it or advocate for a more moderate approach.

The resolution certainly has its flaws.

The 10-year timeframe is unreasonable to transition the entire nation to being reliant on clean and renewable power sources, especially if nuclear is off the table. Additionally, strictly following the resolution’s timetable regarding vehicles could cripple the nation’s automotive industry – the effects of which would be felt especially harshly in Michigan, as the Big Three have yet to wholeheartedly embrace a transition to electric vehicles. The resolution’s calls for significant government expansion and endorsement of progressive social and welfare platforms will certainly alienate moderate Democrats and Republicans who are genuinely concerned about climate change but find the idea of a federally guaranteed family-sustaining job to be a non-starter. Alas, this is perhaps the resolution’s biggest flaw—trying to accomplish sweeping social justice reform through the mechanism of environmental protection.

That being said, Rep. Ocasio Cortez deserves credit for getting the conversation started. The Green New Deal marks the first major environmental reform to gain traction since the death of the cap and trade proposal in 2010. With progressive Democratic presidential candidates lining up to support the resolution, it may force moderates in both parties to come forward with a meaningful climate change plan instead of continuing to kick the can down the road.

There is no doubt among climate experts that the status quo is unacceptable, and it is clear that meaningful climate change legislation will not pass without some significant prodding. Despite all its flaws, the Green New Deal may be what the nation’s lawmakers needed to at least start the conversation.