There’s been lots of doom and gloom in this series, so let’s change gears and talk about something that makes me feel a little more optimistic: the Democrats’ Green New Deal. Introduced in Congress by Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (whom I love, if for no other reason than that she sends conservatives into frothing fits of rage) and Sen. Ed Markey from Massachusetts, it’s a blueprint for sweeping societal transformation.
To start with, the GND calls for meeting 100 percent of U.S. power consumption from renewable, zero-emissions energy sources within ten years. That’s a hugely ambitious goal by itself, but it doesn’t stop there. It goes on to call for environmental and economic justice for the frontline communities most vulnerable to climate change, plus a massive federal investment and public-works program to rebuild the country’s crumbling infrastructure, plus protection for the right of workers to unionize and earn a living wage, plus universal higher education, housing and health care. Whew, I’m breathless – but in a good way!
Is it likely that every single one of these goals will be achieved in the next decade, even if a Democrat wins the presidency in 2020? Probably not. But accomplishing even a small percentage of them would be a major triumph. And I say it’s about damn time that progressives went on the offensive.
The last few decades of American politics have been an infuriating cycle where Republicans get into office, squander staggering amounts of money on war and tax cuts for the rich, then reap the unpopularity of their policies and get voted out, forcing Democrats to be the responsible ones and clean up their mess. This means that progressives are constantly on the defensive, hampered from passing major programs of our own because we’re busy repairing the damage done by the previous administration. Yet, somehow, it’s only ever Democrats who are chastised for being unserious or spendthrifts, rather than the nihilist party that’s willing to trample every established norm and light the planet on fire for a capital-gains tax cut. If all the money that Republicans have wasted had been spent on things that actually benefit Americans, we could have had everything in the GND plus more years ago.
It’s time to break this cycle. We need to plant our flag and defend it, and the GND is an excellent starting point. It strikes a refreshingly bold and unapologetic tone, with none of the centrist cringing, none of the half-measures or negotiating-with-yourself that were so common in the Obama era. Best of all, it shows no concern for what’s “realistic” given the prevailing political climate. That’s the correct course of action, because if conservatives had their way, no progressive change would ever happen at all. They’re the definition of bad faith and will never agree to anything we want, so it’s better to act as if they didn’t exist, decide what we’d like to do, and then figure out how to go around them.
Is the GND ambitious? Yes, but America has done ambitious things before. We built a space program from scratch to send the first crewed mission to the moon. We retooled the country for mass mobilization and won two world wars. There’s nothing in this proposal that can’t be done, nothing that’s impossible with current technology. The only question is whether there’s political will.Is the GND radical? Yes, because we’re at a point where only radicalism will suffice. Humanity has stalled and dithered while climate change gained momentum, and now the avalanche is poised to come crashing down on us. If we don’t take drastic action, we’ll be suffering the worst ravages by the end of this century: coastal cities facing apocalyptic flooding; desert cities running out of water; heat waves incompatible with human life; forests going up in flames, coral reefs withering, keystone species going extinct, and the forced migration of tens of millions of people, with the famines and wars that will necessarily entail. It’s far too late for an incremental approach. If we’re to have any hope of escaping disaster, we need to make massive changes very soon.
Now here’s the less optimistic part: to have any chance of success, the GND will have to overcome not just death-grip conservative opposition, but also old-school Democrats who won’t lead, won’t follow and won’t get out of the way. This snide comment Sen. Dianne Feinstein made to young climate-justice protesters is a case in point:
“The reasons why I can’t is there’s no way to pay for it,” Feinstein told the group of students.
As soon as the words came from her mouth, a parent could be heard in the background saying, “Yes there is.”
Then a little girl is shown saying to Feinstein, “the government is supposed to be for the people by the people and all for the people.”
The senator butted in and told them of her longevity and said no one can tell her it’s “my way or the highway.”
In other words: Yes, human civilization is hurtling toward catastrophe, but there’s nothing we can do about it. It would cost too much money to save the world!
Let’s be blunt: at 85 years old, Feinstein won’t have to face the consequences of inaction. She’s stuck firmly in the past, along with all the other members of older generations that wrecked the planet and want to stick Millennials and Gen-Zers with the bill. Those of us who’ll actually be living on this world for the next fifty, sixty, seventy years have a right to determine our own destiny, free of interference from the dead hand of the past.
Still, a surprising number of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls have endorsed the Green New Deal. This may be a sign that a real shift in priorities is happening and that hostile attitudes like Feinstein’s are the exception.
Of course, any real political program involves tradeoffs. How we’ll pay for all this, which priorities will come before others and whose interests will have to give way, are real questions – but there’s no point debating them with someone who doesn’t agree that this plan is worth fighting for. We have to decide where we’re going before we decide how to get there. And as destinations go, I can’t think of a better one than what the Green New Deal offers.