The Green New Deal has recently become a popular and controversial topic of conversation since New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey introduced HR 109. This is a non-binding House Resolution to transition the country to 100 percent clean energy by 2030 while providing high-wage jobs to millions of workers and addressing “systemic injustices.”
Republicans are calling the “completely outrageous” proposal a “socialist fantasy” whose goal is “ending air travel, destroying American energy and banning cow farts” while secretly rejoicing that it will seal the doom of Democratic economic policies.
Conservative and moderate Democrats, for their part, are contemptuous of the resolution, viewing it as too ambitious, “unrealistic” and downright bothersome to their generous fossil fuel corporate donors. Aside from the seven Democratic presidential candidates and 65 House members who have co-sponsored the resolution, the majority of Democrats are not backing even the idea of a Green New Deal while being publicly shamed by their progressive base.
Instead, some—for instance Sen. Dianne Feinstein and even the editorial team of the Washington Post—have independently crafted their own watered-down versions of a Green New Deal which, they claim, are far more realistic than AOC’s version and more likely to pass both houses. Given the general lack of support for the resolution among the Democratic Party and to save face, Senate Democrats now plan to introduce a loose resolution that acknowledges the importance of combating climate change but without any timeline, emission reduction targets or explicit details as to how to proceed.
What they are all missing—or conveniently ignoring—is that a Green New Deal is supposed to be a long-term, coherent plan to tackle the planetary emergency, similar in scale and scope to President Roosevelt’s 1930 “New Deal” that pulled the United States out of the Great Depression.
Such a comprehensive plan will need to be well coordinated, modified by revisions, and therefore is not intended to become legislation right away but rather serve as a solid blueprint for a bold vision. In that sense, HR 109 is neither solid nor bold enough.
The text of the resolution remains extremely vague and widely open to interpretation. Many climate and social justice groups have already criticized the resolution, including the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Green Party of the United States, Code Pink and Food and Water Watch. They share the general concern that it does not call for an immediate divestment and phase-out of fossil fuels, and investment in renewable energies only. Explicit terms such as “fossil fuels,” “coal,” “natural gas,” “fracking,” or “pipelines” are nowhere to be found in the resolution.
Likewise, federal programs such as single-payer universal healthcare, guaranteed affordable housing, tuition-free public college education and universal basic income do not appear in the document although they were part of the initial “Green New Deal” draft that AOC campaigned on. These concepts have been replaced in HR 109 by weaker terms such as “high-quality healthcare; and affordable, safe, and adequate housing” that are diluting the original social justice concepts.
If indeed one of the goals of the resolution is to counteract racial, social, and economic injustices that “frontline and vulnerable communities” face every day, then such basic human rights must be guaranteed in a “Green New Deal.”
The resolution also stops short of rejecting the for-profit, market-based approach to our economy and prioritizes private sector partnerships to implement its measures. Apart from public banking, there is no mention of any wealth redistribution or a transformation of our policies away from corporate and industry lobby rules that would be required to stop global warming, create new jobs and fight inequalities.
Climate change cannot be fought with the same profiteering tools that put us in this mess in the first place. But since members of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis who will work on the Democrats’ Green New Deal plan are all receiving donations from the fossil fuel industry, the future impact of this resolution remains unclear.
The resolution seems to exist primarily to, as writer Will Morrow wrote, “promote illusions that the Democratic Party, a party of the corporate and financial elite, no less than the Republicans, can be transformed into an agency of social progress.”
Indeed, the timing is impeccable.
If approved, the newly-formed committee would have to draft a Green New Deal plan by January 2020 and present a legislative draft by March 2020, just in time for the primary elections. The plan would reassure the progressive base of the Democratic Party without challenging its conservative members, but would go nowhere after the elections.
The concept of a “Green New Deal” is not new.
The United Kingdom Green Group published the first report on a Green New Deal Plan in 2008, coauthored by Caroline Lucas, Green Party member of the U.K. Parliament. Shortly after, the Green Party of the United States put a comprehensive, integrated Green New Deal at the heart of its platform in 2009. Howie Hawkins ran for governor of New York in 2010 with the Green New Deal as part of his campaign, as did presidential candidate Jill Stein in 2012 and 2016.
Unlike the Democrats’ version(s), the Green Party’s Green New Deal, a four-part comprehensive plan, calls for an economic bill of rights (including the right to single-payer healthcare, a guaranteed job at a living wage, affordable housing and free college education), a green and just transition, a real financial reform, a functioning democracy, and demilitarization. Cutting military spending by 50 percent would not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide (U.S. Department of Defense is the world’s worst polluter), but would help fund the massive public infrastructure works needed to transition an entire economy to 100 percent renewable energy while creating millions of jobs. A financial reform, including a 90 percent tax on bonuses for bailed out bankers, would also pay for the plan.
The Green Party of Santa Clara County welcomes this long overdue national discussion on a Green New Deal. However, only a true integrated policy approach to today’s economic, social and environmental crises can lead us to a sustainable, just and peaceful future for our nation and the world.
The different versions that have been recently introduced by Democrats are not only missing the bigger picture, they unilaterally ignore the link between corporate and industry-lobby control of our legislative policies, and omit the sweeping systemic changes critical for implementation of a meaningful Green New Deal.
Now that the idea of a Green New Deal has been introduced, it is up to us where we want to take it; by participating in discussions, raising awareness, organizing locally, and contacting our representatives to call for immediate and bold action.
Let’s raise our expectations and demand more. Let’s make the Green New Deal a transformative reality at last.
Christine Pépin and Nassim Nouri are members of the Green Party of Santa Clara County. Opinions are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].