Climate plan sets Sanders apart from the rest of the pack

Climate plan sets Sanders apart from the rest of the pack
© Aaron Schwartz

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes Krystal Ball calls on Sanders to follow Yang's lead on war on drugs Buttigieg calls Warren 'evasive' on Medicare for all MORE (I-Vt.) recently released his vision for a Green New Deal plan in Northern California, alongside communities scarred by the record wildfires last fall.

While fires in the Amazon forest and the Arctic catch headlines, the policy itself has also gotten significant attention — and for good reason: It is the boldest and most ambitious plan out there to stop our climate from breaking down and address the inequities caused by our fossil fuel economy.

With this plan, Sanders has not only raised the bar for presidential candidates, but he lays out a real political strategy to make his Green New Deal happen.

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The scale and scope of Sanders’ Green New Deal set his plan apart from the rest. A $16-trillion federal investment over 10 years to transition to publicly-owned clean electricity, create 20 million new jobs, and address the historical harm from pollution on poor communities and communities of color show that Sanders takes the climate emergency seriously.  

Although he’s not the only candidate to advance the conversation, Sanders’ Green New Deal stands out in making it clear from the beginning that he is preparing to be an “Organizer-in-Chief.” He pledges to “generate the political will necessary for a wholesale transformation of our society” and take on the “fossil fuel billionaires whose greed lies at the very heart of the climate crisis.”

Building a massive and active social movement that can overcome the powerful and entrenched opposition will be essential to pass policies as ambitious and comprehensive as Sanders’ Green New Deal. It’s clear that Sanders knows that. “We must build an unprecedented grassroots movement that is powerful enough to take them on, and win,” Sanders’ plan states.

The president plays an essential role in mobilizing the public. Every landmark policy achievement in modern history has involved the president using his platform to champion it — from FDR’s decade-long fight to enact the New Deal to JFK’s push to land a man on the moon to George W. Bush’s “War on Terror.” Presidents have an incredible capacity to set the vision for our country and to move public opinion to achieve those goals. We need a president who will go on offense, fight propaganda from powerful special interests and inspire millions of people to join the movement.

Today’s political, economic and ecological realities make the task facing the next president even more challenging. Partisan gerrymandering, unlimited campaign contributions paired with a rogue and powerful billionaire class, and an ever-shortening timeline to stop ecological breakdown make for a steep mountain to climb.

One undeniable obstacle will be intense resistance from the fossil fuel lobby. Enacting the Green New Deal would mean fossil fuel CEOs and their investors would be forced to leave trillions of dollars of assets in the ground. That’s something they are already fighting tooth and nail to stop. 

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Sanders’ plan makes the enemy in this fight crystal clear: Fossil fuel billionaires are responsible for this crisis and he plans to make them “pay for their pollution, through litigation, fees, and taxes, and eliminating federal fossil fuel subsidies.”

Overcoming this will require powerful organizing — something Sanders’ plan centers — but his campaign misses a critical part of the equation: democratic reforms to ensure that the huge majorities of Americans who support the Green New Deal can actually have their voices heard in Washington. 

We need a president who is willing to do anything it takes to pass a Green New Deal, which includes being willing to take on the Senate and eliminate the filibuster, which allows a minority of Senators to block a vote on legislation until 60 senators vote to end debate.

While Former Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBarr fails to persuade Cruz on expanded background checks Harry Reid warns Trump 'can be reelected' Homeland Security Republican accuses Navy of withholding UFO info MORE (D-Nev.) and several of his opponents have been vocal in their support for abolishing the filibuster, Sanders currently has opposed such a change. There is no way to pass the full scope of the Green New Deal on the timeline necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change without ending the filibuster. Some issues are more important than tradition, and the climate crisis is certainly one of them.

It’s also unclear where the Green New Deal stands on Sanders’s list of priorities. Governor Inslee made climate change the focus of his campaign for president, he said, because “if it’s not job number one, it’s not going to get done. We agree. ” Inslee is no longer running. Now Sanders should set his Green New Deal as a Day One priority.

Regardless, in order to pass legislation for a Green New Deal, millions of people will need to join the movement. That’s why Sunrise Movement is joining Greta Thunberg and the Global Climate Strikes on September 20th, days before the United Nations special Climate Summit in NYC. This global movement has empowered millions of young people to take this crisis into our own hands and show politicians that we have power. We won’t stop growing in numbers until we stop this crisis.

For young people, the 2020 election isn’t a horse race. It’s quite possibly our last and best chance at survival. Scientists tell us we have just 11 years to transform our economy before it’s too late to protect human civilization as we know it. They’re crystal clear that the only way to avoid catastrophe is with “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” 

Sanders has put forward a bold vision and seems committed to building a movement to fight for it that shows he understands the scale of this crisis. But this is an emergency, and we need every candidate to treat it like one.

Varshini Prakash is the executive director and a co-founder of Sunrise, a movement of young people stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. The movement is best known for a November 2018 sit-in at Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, which helped put the Green New Deal in the national spotlight. Prakash recently was Sen. Ed Markey’s (D-Mass.) guest to the State of the 2019 Union address and was named one of Grist’s 2018 50 “Fixers.”