Whatever Congress may do in the weeks and months to come, the introduction of the "Green New Deal" resolution is a major victory for climate advocates and its principal sponsors, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass. For the first time in years — perhaps for the first time ever — millions of Americans are not only fretting about the planet's imperiled future but also organizing behind a visionary approach to its salvation.
Lacking in legislative details, this bill wasn't drawn to address every aspect of climate policy or all of the economic changes required to reduce carbon emissions to zero within 10 years, its ambitious goal. The Green New Deal is an idea, designed to explode the myth that environmental progress must reduce economic growth and destroy jobs — as corporate propaganda has insisted for decades. Instead, this clean-energy transition promises full employment at living wages, universal health care and improved educational opportunity.
Propelling this promise with the force of her newfound celebrity, Ocasio-Cortez has transformed the climate debate almost overnight. Although many of the proposals in the Green New Deal resolution aren't new, they have never attracted such intense and sustained public attention.
Indeed, media outlets rarely pay much attention to climate change at all, despite the catastrophic threat that even a two-degree increase in average temperatures will inflict on the nation and the world. As the resolution explains, that threat includes the destruction of a trillion dollars in American real estate and infrastructure; massive loss of coral reefs and forests; and enormous waves of disease and migration. Those impacts fully justify the resolution's very ambitious goal: achieving net-zero global emissions by 2050.
To cope with the climate emergency, the bill urges the level of commitment last seen during the Depression and World War II. Defeating fascism required a mobilization of national resources — including unprecedented federal spending — and an increase in industrial production that almost nobody believed possible.
The naysayers, of whom there were many, proved to be wrong, and among the results was the creation of a new American middle class. But far too many Americans were left out of that great expansion, an injustice that the authors of the Green New Deal aim to not repeat. And far too many Americans are still left out of today's economy.
For a Washington newcomer, Ocasio-Cortez displays increasing savvy and poise every day, which is why (along with her huge social media presence) the priorities she is trying to advance are taken seriously. Her choice of a Senate co-sponsor was particularly astute: Markey is a respected legislator who has spent more than four decades in Congress and boasts a long record of progressive activism on environmental and energy issues. While he may now appear to be a pillar of the Democratic establishment, Markey wasn't so different from his new partner in his early days. He was the little-known son of a milkman, a primary challenger who upset the succession ordained by the local bosses with his sophisticated media campaign.
Markey has certainly endured the frustration of trying to draw attention to an issue that made most avert their eyes. He was in the capital on the dark day, more than 20 years ago, when then-President Bill Clinton sent the Kyoto climate accord to the Senate — and the Senate essentially rejected it by a vote of 95 to zero. Clinton and his vice president, Al Gore, who would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his climate advocacy, argued to no avail that the creation of a new green infrastructure could spur an economic boom. Stung by that failure, both have spent years telling the country that the many and varied investments needed to build a low-carbon economy could benefit all.
Suddenly, thanks to a young woman from the Bronx, the entire country is listening.
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