For my money, this is the single most exciting potential outcome of the Blue Wave that just swept Congress: It was a giant step forward for the Green New Deal.
If you haven't heard about this, a detailed description follows, but here's my short, simple favorite: We found a way to take on climate change in a manner that encompasses protection of the environment and the creation of a just economy. For decades, advocates for the environment, social justice, fair trade, etc., have worked on these issues separately. But climate change, the existential crisis of our time, the problem that's too big to deal with, is changing that.
The Sierra Club's Living Economy Team puts it this way: "A Green New Deal is a big, bold transformation of the economy to tackle the twin crises of inequality and climate change. The status quo economy leaves millions behind. It exposes working-class families, communities of color, and others to stagnant wages, toxic pollution, dead-end jobs, and climate disasters. We need a massive public investment to transition from an economy built on exploitation and fossil fuels to one driven by dignified work and clean energy. We need to upgrade our infrastructure, overhaul our energy system, retrofit our buildings, and restore our ecosystems. We need to create family-sustaining jobs, guarantee clean air and water, raise wages, and build climate resilience—with priority access for frontline communities. We need a Green New Deal."
On Nov. 20, youth activists with the Sunrise Movement, accompanied by Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, filled the D.C. office of U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and urged Congress members nationwide to back a Green New Deal.
Like all movements for change, this did not suddenly appear out of nowhere and spring to life under the Capitol dome. The Sierra Club has been working on the shape and content of a Green New Deal with civil society partners for the past year. We want the incoming Congress to focus on two general policy priorities when constructing this framework.
One: infrastructure renewal—including light rail, public transit, a smart grid for increased wind and solar power, replacing stormwater systems and crumbling bridges.
Two: establishing national energy efficiency standards for public and private buildings, appliances, and industrial processes, giving the hardest-hit communities priority access to new job opportunities, cleanup projects, and climate resilience initiatives, and using materials produced via clean manufacturing.
A "Buy Clean" law would ensure that the billions of tax dollars that the government spends on purchasing everything from office supplies to overhead cranes goes to goods manufactured with practices that protect our air, water, and climate.
Does that sound unlikely? California did it last year, after a statewide coalition of labor and environmental allies got a bill passed to ensure that procurements for infrastructure projects prioritize companies that limit climate pollution throughout their supply chain. In Illinois, a month after Trump's election, thanks to a Clean Jobs Coalition of unions, green groups, consumer associations, and environmental justice organizations, the Future Energy Jobs Act was signed into law, setting standards for energy efficiency and investment in weatherizing buildings, creating more than 7,000 new jobs a year, reducing air and climate pollution, and resulting in $4 billion in energy savings for Illinois families.
A Green New Deal means slashed energy bills from more energy-efficient homes and access to affordable wind and solar power; more reliable options for affordable public transportation; helping climate-exposed communities withstand floods and restore wetlands that buffer hurricanes and shield coastlines from sea level rise. It means replacing lead pipes; cleaning up hazardous waste sites; and reducing toxic levels of oil, gas, and coal pollution in our air and water. It means tax dollars supporting communities, not corporate profit margins.
Naomi Klein, perhaps our most trenchant critic of alleged solutions to the climate crisis that would leave our system of fundamental economic inequality essentially unchanged, is impressed. After the Sunrise Movement activists sat down in Pelosi's office, she wrote: "For the first time, I see a clear and credible political pathway that could get us to safety, a place in which the worst climate outcomes are avoided and a new social compact is forged that is radically more humane than anything currently on offer ... . We now have something that has been sorely missing: a concrete plan on the table, complete with a science-based timeline, that is not only coming from social movements on the outside of government, but which also has a sizable (and growing) bloc of committed champions inside the House of Representatives."
She was referring to Ocasio-Cortez and 15 other representatives (at last count), who are calling on the Democratic Party to use its majority in the House to create a Select Committee for a Green New Deal.
Get in on the action at tinyurl.com/agreennewdeal. Δ
Andrew Christie is the director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments through the editor firstname.lastname@example.org.