Last Tuesday, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Massachusetts’ own U.S. Senator Ed Markey took the ambitious steps to formally reintroduce their signature bill, the Green New Deal. With new Democratic control of both houses of Congress and the White House, it appears as though the most sweeping piece of climate legislation in history may have another chance at being passed. If so, it will transform the national economic and environmental landscape. It is well past time for the Democratic Party to uniformly rally around the Green New Deal and work to change the course of climate injustice in America.
As it stands today, climate change is undoubtedly one of the most pressing issues facing the world. There are concerning signs surrounding the prospects for maintaining an inhabitable world—storms and major weather events are worsening, the sea level is rising, and humans have already warmed the globe by about one degree Celsius.
It is also important to note that the effects of the climate and environmental crises are not uniformly felt across all social groups. Declining air and water quality is far more likely to impact racial minorities, especially those who live in urban areas. In the United States, one out of every six Black children suffer from asthma due to poor air quality, and they are five times more likely than white children to contract lead poisoning because they live in close proximity to toxic waste. On a more global scale, the majority of those who will be displaced by rising sea levels, unstable weather events, and plummeting food supplies will be those who live in developing nations, mostly in the global south. It is evident that this situation is fundamentally unfair and unsustainable. The question is, what can we do about this moral and environmental crisis?
The Green New Deal is a piece of public policy that is carefully crafted to address the interrelated crises of environmental degradation and social inequality. Scientists agree that in order to achieve a best-case scenario surrounding the changing climate, the world needs to achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2050. The Green New Deal aims to push the U.S. to take on a leading role in working toward this goal by implementing a 10-year plan that includes investing in the move to 100 percent renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure. All of these goals would be achieved through creating high-paying, green jobs in order to reduce economic inequality and retrain those who work in the dying fossil fuel industry. Although the bill would function as a non-binding resolution, its passage would signal national cohesion on climate-friendly initiatives that are already being implemented at state and local levels.
In addition to being a comprehensive and innovative piece of public policy, the Green New Deal makes economic sense. Climate change is both a threat to our existence and a fantastic opportunity to rebuild our economy in an equitable and sustainable manner. It is helpful to view the Green New Deal as more of an investment than anything else—if Congress is bold in its climate action, it could create an estimated 10.6 million new green jobs, expand job training for skilled laborers, and revitalize the role of unions in protecting American workers. By investing in sustainable infrastructure and labor, sweeping legislation could put millions of people to work with fair wages and jumpstart a post-pandemic economy, functioning to lift people out of poverty and rebuild the middle class. By shrinking income inequality and the influence of environmental racism, we could make our new green economy open to everyone.
Despite the benefits that would be achieved by addressing economic inequality and climate change, the Green New Deal has become a polarizing force in American politics. The objections to the Green New Deal are largely predictable. Republicans in government decry the so-called presence of socialism, relying on straw man arguments that incite fear around absurdities like the possibility of Democrats banning hamburgers and milkshakes. Moderate Democrats also exhibit reticence towards taking such bold action out of fear of shutting down the possibility of bipartisanship, but these legislators desperately need a reality check. Bipartisan cooperation on climate is a non-starter, and one needs to look no further for evidence than the bad-faith claims by Republicans that “airplanes will be banned” under Democratic climate leadership. Compromise is not likely on this issue, no matter how many concessions Democratic lawmakers make. That is simply a reality that Democrats need to accept, and they should not let this fear of acting in a partisan manner stop them from implementing an economically and environmentally sound piece of legislation.
Incrementalism will inevitably fail to adequately tackle the monumental task of moving the country toward carbon neutrality, and the communities affected by environmental injustice deserve better than baby steps in the right direction. It’s time for the Democratic Party to muster its political courage and continue to shift the way we talk about climate change, inequality, and environmental racism, and the best way to do this is by passing the Green New Deal.
Featured Graphic by Meegan Minahan/ Heights Editor