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Democrats’ Green New Deal leaves lots of room for improvement

Stefani Reynolds

Much fanfare and criticism have accompanied the announcement of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey’s (D-Mass.) Green New Deal. Both are necessary. It is positive that the idea of a Green New Deal is receiving attention, but the actual resolution falls far short of what is needed to address the climate crisis. As Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank, said, “At the moment, the Green New Deal is a mirror that allows anyone to see their own interest.”

The Green New Deal is described as a framework for a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Its intentional vagueness means any Democrat can campaign on it without offending their corporate campaign donors while simultaneously playing to their environmentalist base. In other words, Democrats can continue business as usual by recognizing the crisis and appearing to act but failing to deliver solutions that would resolve it. This is what happens when Democrats co-opt the symbolism but not the substance of a good idea.

{mosads}The problem is the climate crisis has a deadline for action and political theater such as this won’t do. The United States, as one of the highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, must rapidly begin a large-scale mobilization to reduce that to below zero within the next decade. So far, signs indicate Democrats are unlikely to accomplish this.

The Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), has neither the power to subpoena witnesses nor to draft legislation. In fact, it seems Pelosi and the Democratic leadership are already poised to water down the vague Ocasio-Cortez/Markey Green New Deal by appointing Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) as the chair of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, who was quoted as saying, “They have some terrific ideas, but it is not going to be our sole focus.” 

Despite that, an opportunity exists to define what the Green New Deal must be and to challenge lawmakers and candidates to clarify their stances. That is what Green Party candidates have been doing over the past decade. People often ask what the difference is between Green Party candidates and progressive Democrats. For one thing, Green Party candidates do not accept corporate campaign contributions. For another, the Green Party platform, including its Green New Deal, has been shaped over decades through a highly-participatory process.

The Green Party Green New Deal is explicit about what changes need to be made and when. Where the Democrats’ plan calls for a global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 40 to 60 percent by 2030 and net zero global emissions by 2050, there is no timeline for the United States. The Green Party plan calls for the United States to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and is specific that renewable sources are wind, solar, tidal and geothermal, not gas, biomass or nuclear power. The Democrats’ plan fails to define what specific energy sources would qualify, simply referring to “clean, renewable and zero-emission,” which can mean all of the above.

The Green Party plan calls for an immediate halt to new fossil fuel infrastructure with a just transition for workers and the guarantee of a job for all who are willing and able to work. There is no mention of fossil fuels at all in the Democrats’ plan. And the Greens’ plan would create a Renewable Energy Administration to treat energy as a public good by democratizing the ownership of it. In fact, economic justice is a high priority in the Greens’ plan, which includes national improved Medicare for all, free higher education, affordable housing and utilities, ending evictions, and fair taxation.

Finally, the Green Party plan mentions the elephant in the room, the United States military, which as an institution has the greatest consumption of oil in the world. The Green plan would reduce military spending, which comprises more than half of federal discretionary spending, in half by closing United States foreign military bases and re-employing members of the military in their communities in positive programs.

The time for meaningful action is now. Science proves the devastating impacts of the climate crisis are here now and are accelerating in a domino effect that threatens our future existence. In 2018 alone, 247 people were killed, and 14 weather and climate-related events cost $91 billion in the United States. Every moment we delay means greater costs in terms of dollars and lives.

Flowers and Mattera are national co-chairs of the Green Party.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Ed Markey Green New Deal Kathy Castor Nancy Pelosi

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