In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that we only have until 2030 to mitigate climate change before we see catastrophic effects. At our current trajectory, we risk watching as millions of people around the world experience more extreme natural disasters and food shortages, changing the landscape of our modern world as we know it. From the deadliest wildfires in California history, to the heaviest monsoon flooding recorded in India, people across the globe are already starting to experience the devastating realities of climate change.
Since the 2018 election, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, commonly known as AOC, has frequently been in the news. She is a powerful 29-year-old congresswoman from New York City and is the youngest women ever elected to congress. In February, she, along with Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts, sponsored the Green New Deal— a combination of Roosevelt’s economic approach from the New Deal with modern ideas like renewable energy and resource efficiency to help combat what 97 percent of scientists agree is anthropogenic climate warming. Ocasio-Cortez outlines the seven goals that Green New Deal legislation would accomplish by 2030:
- 100 percent of national power generation from renewable sources
- Building a national, energy-efficient, “smart” grid so consumers know the real cost of electricity at all times of the day, allowing transparency between the utility companies and consumers
- Upgrading every residential and industrial building to be more energy efficient
- Decarbonizing the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries
- Decarbonizing, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure
- More investment in the capture of greenhouse gases
- Making green technology a major export of the United States, with the goal of becoming an international leader in helping other countries transition to completely carbon neutral economies
Overall, the Green New Deal will transition our country to 100 percent clean energy by 2030 through a “WWII-Scale Climate Mobilization” to mitigate climate change. There is an emphasis on the fact that clean air, clean water and healthy food should be considered basic human rights. Additionally, the Green New Deal would create millions of appealing, high-wage jobs and promote prosperity for all people living in the United States through the Economic Bill of Rights. This will allow all citizens the right to employment through a Full-Employment Program and could create 20 million jobs by enforcing a nationally funded direct-employment initiative. These new jobs could also be working in the renewable energy sector instead of oil and gas or coal plants. Working in the fossil fuel industry is extremely dangerous— many coal workers suffer from the fatal disease black lung, which is caused by long term exposure to coal.
Not only do these goals address climate change, but they also address environmental justice. The people who will suffer the most from climate change will be those living in impoverished communities. Indigenous peoples and communities of color often have no say in environmental policy. When the Dakota Access Pipeline was proposed, hundreds of indigenous persons, including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, came together to protest the building of the pipeline— but the Trump administration approved construction anyway. Oil and gas companies often come in and take over these communities, which causes them to be on the frontline of these issues and exposes them to many health problems like respiratory diseases and an increased risk for cancers. There is also evidence that after natural disasters— which will become more frequent with climate change— poor people have a harder time rebuilding their lives than wealthier people do. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) gives more money to the wealthier classes than to minorities and the poor after climate change-related disasters occur. With the help of the Green New Deal, there would be a fair treatment to all people with respect to the enforcement of environmental policies.
Although these goals are ambitious, we have the technology to implement them in the long run. Implementing all of the goals of the Green New Deal will cost trillions of dollars, but could also save trillions of dollars from catastrophic climate change effects. Many believe that the Green New Deal is what a realistic environmental policy will look like, and that economic policy and environmental policy are related and affect one another. Proponents of the Green New Deal say this is the only way we can combat climate change, but opponents believe it is unrealistic and an attack on the country’s liberty because there will be more policies and regulations on how we utilize our resources. They also argue that it could hurt the economy and lead to a huge tax increase; but these costs will not be nearly as unsurmountable as those required to recover from the effects of climate change. Vermont has a goal of achieving 90 percent renewable energy by 2050 with an estimated cost of $33 billion, but they are seeing more jobs in the renewable energy field and believe consumers will save more over the long term with clean energy. Additionally, transforming the electrical grid across the United States may cost over $476 billion, but there is an expected $2 trillion in other benefits from the transformation.
Climate science has been politicised for decades. On March 27, the Green New Deal was shut down after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brought the measure up for a vote. It received 57 “No’s” and 43 “Presents.” Instead of voting yes, Democrats voted present after AOC had encouraged them to do so because McConnell denied a hearing before the vote. McConnell had hoped to get Democrats to vote yes so he could claim they support a plan that is too costly, too ambitious and too socialist. By voting “Present”, the Democrats were able to avoid giving in to the Republican Agenda.
Regardless of your view on the Green New Deal, Ocasio-Cortez embodies female empowerment and should be recognized for her efforts for pushing forward a highly controversial plan. The Green New Deal will not be the end for climate initiatives as climate activists want to see more action from both House and Senate Democratic leaders on combating climate change. While the Democrats abandoned the Green New Deal, this tactic was done so they could focus on more environmental initiatives and attempt to get more bipartisan support in those future initiatives. The Green New Deal has started the conversation on what we actually need to do as a country to save our planet and combat climate change. Climate change is especially a concern for youth because they recognize that their generation will be the most affected. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, students around the world held a climate strike during a school day last March. As Cal Poly students, what actions can we take to help support climate action?