In 1933 our country was in the middle of the Great Depression. Dozens of banks had failed. Unemployment was at almost 25% — the highest rate in our country’s history. Incredibly, almost 90 percent of the manufacturing town of Lowell, Mass., was unemployed.
Then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration enacted the New Deal, instituting a broad range of programs to control banking excesses, alleviate unemployment, and get the country back on its feet. Some point out the New Deal didn’t go far enough, leaving out women and people of color from programs designed to get America working again, and others criticize New Deal programs such as Social Security and federal banking regulation as “socialist.” But FDR’s New Deal was a bold response to one of the greatest crises ever faced in our country, and it forever changed us.
Today we face a challenge of similar, probably even greater magnitude with the twin crises of climate disruption and extreme inequality. The Green New Deal is a response to that challenge.
Recent polling shows strong support for the policy goals of the Green New Deal, with 81 percent of registered voters saying they either “strongly support” (40 percent) or “somewhat support” (41 percent) the policy goals.
Predictably, the idea is being attacked. What is the Green New Deal? And, given the increasingly strident nature of the attacks, what isn’t it?
The bill, introduced by U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is a nonbinding resolution suggesting a suite of economic policies to deliver better job opportunities, less climate pollution, cleaner air and water, and more resilient communities. “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal,” it presents a sweeping vision of potential initiatives to help us become a cleaner, safer, and more equitable nation.
It has become clear in recent years of extreme flooding, wildfires wiping out entire towns, coral-reef bleaching, glaciers melting, the climate crisis must be tackled immediately. Climate disruption is happening right now, not in some vague future.
Attacks on the Green New Deal have centered on its cost. While reputable economists refuse to put a cost on it since the policy proposals are still so broad and conceptual, that doesn’t stop others (including our president) from tossing around huge numbers.
Yet a Green New Deal is fiscally responsible because not doing anything about climate disruption would be fiscally disastrous. In November, the Fourth National Climate Assessment reported, “With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century — more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states.”
This February, NASA “released findings that climate change impacts in 2018 directly resulted in 247 deaths and $91 billion in damages.”
A Green New Deal is an investment in our future, moving us as soon as possible from a dangerous, dirty, fossil-fuel-based economy to one that would cut climate pollution while creating family-sustaining jobs. Efforts to tackle climate change and move our economy toward clean energy already are reaping economic rewards in Nevada, where a recent report prepared for the Nevada legislature found clean energy employs five times more Nevadans then fossil fuels, with more than 32,000 Nevadans across all 17 counties now working in clean energy. Last year clean energy jobs grew by “a remarkable 32 percent” in Nevada.
And this is only the beginning. A robust Green New Deal would create millions of jobs with family-sustaining wages. The equity goals of the Green New Deal are meant to assure these jobs — and job training — go to the working families whose incomes have stagnated for decades — and who are often the families most impacted by climate pollution. Moreover, boosting working-family wages would strengthen growth, reduce the income gap, and ultimately improve the nation’s economic fundamentals. Just like the original New Deal did.
But can we do it?
In his first inaugural address, FDR said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Those whose interests lie in doing nothing about climate change have moved on from denying its reality to trying to make us afraid to do anything about it. Too expensive. Too “socialist.”
Here’s former White House aide Sebastian Gorka at the Conservative Political Action Conference: “They want to take your pickup truck. They want to rebuild your home. They want to take away your hamburger.”
We’re the country that won two world wars and sent humans to the moon. And we’re supposed to be scared “they’ll take away our hamburgers?” Climate denial and political attacks divide us, and don’t help us face the challenges ahead. It’s time for an honest national conversation about climate change and the Green New Deal.
Anne Macquarie blogs about clean energy and climate change in Nevada at nevadanscleanenergy.org.