Climate change is not some unavoidable natural disaster, it's time for Green New Deal

Climate change is not some unavoidable natural disaster, it's time for Green New Deal
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As one of their first acts upon taking the gavel in January, House Democrats are planning to revive the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming so that we can once again begin to have a public policy conversation about this critical issue.
It’s no surprise Democratic politicians are putting clean energy back on the agenda. The fundamental key to their resurgence in the House this election was a historic uptick in voting by younger people, who have traditionally been among the lowest turnout demographic — particularly in midterms. This year they showed up, likely in record numbers once all the votes are counted, and they voiced again and again that among their very top priorities was returning the United States to a leadership role in the fight to stop the global warming catastrophe they see unfolding in their lifetimes.
Young people have already forcefully pushed to make their voices heard by rallying on the Hill this week to push for a “Green New Deal” in the next Congress. Beyond a good turn of phrase, this echoing of FDR’s commitment to pull the country out of the depths of the Great Depression reflects a real evolution, and new sophistication, in approach to this multifaceted problem.
As FDR made clear, his pledge of a new deal for the American people, wasn’t any single legislative package or set of reforms. What FDR promised was to put the American government on an emergency footing, where all aspects of the government and every piece of legislation would be directed towards ending the crisis of the Great Depression.
What he promised was an end to the half measures and defeatism that had characterized the Hoover administration and his allies in Congress. He proposed an aggressive new course: “Let it be from now on the task of our Party to break foolish traditions. We will break foolish traditions and leave it to the Republican leadership, far more skilled in that art, to break promises.”
The result was an eight-year effort that comprised dozens of pieces of legislation and administrative acts, including many failed experiments, that above all else restored confidence in the American people that their government was indeed doing everything it could. The New Deal wasn’t a legislative proposal or even a package of bills. It was a fundamental shift in approach that was relentless and comprehensive.
After the dire warnings we recently received from the IPCC Report and National Climate Assessment, it certainly makes sense to treat our current course towards climate calamity as a crisis. But it’s also important to recognize that this is not some unavoidable natural disaster. It is a calculated and relentless wealth transfer from future generations to wealthy fossil fuel interests today.
Recognizing this reality, particularly how much of this is “baked in” to our economy and policy framework, and reversing course will require concerted effort across many local, state, and federal actors over a sustained period — just as it did in 1932.
This shift of activist energy away from a single policy, whether it be a carbon tax or an economy-wide cap and trade system, toward a comprehensive, inclusive, re-orientation of the economy through a Green New Deal certainly doesn’t solve all of the political problems around climate change, but it does address some key failures of the past.
Most importantly, a shift holds politicians accountable for outcomes rather than rhetoric. Cosponsoring a bill that fails or never gets heard won’t be enough to meet these activists demands, forcing them to account for how their votes on tax policy, fuel economy standards, renewable fuels policy, transportation, housing, and budget all fit within their commitment to delivering a Green New Deal.

Perhaps more subtly, but no less importantly, recognizing that the problem extends beyond one particular solution gives the proper scope to what needs to be done. If we are truly going to reorient our economy to deliver better results to the next generation, it must be all of that generation, and it must find a place for everyone today in the transition.

As FDR famously said in his inauguration outlining the promise of the New Deal, “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance,” — no nameless threat is greater than climate change. There are plenty of jobs to go around in the new energy economy and thoughtful policy can make sure everyone, whether rural or urban, in services or manufacturing, in farming or mining, can see a prosperous future for themselves as we make this transition, and follow in the footsteps of FDR. 

Mike Carr is executive director of New Energy America. He previously served as principal deputy assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and as senior counsel on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.