When Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined members of the Sunrise Movement and the Justice Democrats at a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office pushing a Green New Deal in November, she framed the proposal, which few had then heard of, as the only way for the Party and the country to seriously address climate change. “We do not have a choice,” she told them. “We have to get to one hundred per cent renewable energy in ten years. There is no other option.”
Now, less than three months later, sixty house Democrats and nine Senate Democrats, including five announced or expected Presidential contenders—Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Bernie Sanders—have backed a resolution outlining the principles and goals of a Green New Deal. Once drafted, the legislation will be the most ambitious climate effort that Congress has ever considered. On Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, the resolution’s lead sponsors, marked its introduction with a press conference outside the Senate.
“Five decades ago, President Kennedy announced the ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the moon,” Markey said. “He didn’t say how it would be done but that we would do it. We would need a giant rocket made of new metal alloys that had not been invented yet, and it would have to be returned safely to Earth within ten years. He urged us to be bold. I say today that it is time for us to be bold once again.”
“This is a big day for activists all over the country and for frontline communities all over the country,” Ocasio-Cortez said during her turn at the podium. “Today is a big day for people who have been left behind. Today is a big day for workers in Appalachia. Today is a big day for children that have been breathing dirty air in the South Bronx.”
The resolution puts forward the broad goals talked up by Ocasio-Cortez, Markey, and others but avoids some of the fault lines that have emerged between climate activists and moderate Democrats over the past few weeks. Most notably, the resolution does not explicitly call for a ban on fossil fuels, one of the ideas initially put forward by some climate activists. It instead says that the Green New Deal will work toward “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources”—language that leaves open the possibility of sustaining or expanding nuclear energy, which had been rejected in an open letter last month from over six hundred environmental groups, including the Sunrise Movement. The resolution also does not rule out the possibility of a carbon tax—an idea favored by centrists but viewed as inadequate by many climate activists.
At the press conference, Ocasio-Cortez referred obliquely to debates over particular provisions. “When people say, what about this or what about that, the answer isn’t, ‘This is why it isn’t in here,’ the answer is, ‘That is part of the solution, too,’ and so I hope you all see that.”
For Greg Carlock, of the progressive group Data for Progress, which has offered its own Green New Deal outline and has been privy to the talks over the resolution, those debates are secondary to the task of getting members of Congress to take the Green New Deal’s overarching goals seriously. “I think some people will look at this and then tell you all the reasons why, as a legislative agenda, it’s too ambitious or controversial,” he says. “They’ll kind of say, ‘Look at the fossil-fuel ban,’ or look at renewable versus clean and all that kind of stuff. And I see this as a commitment to an effort to meet the scale and urgency of the challenges and define a vision for where we want to drive the country and society. It’s kind of asking Congress to go down on the record.” [Continue reading…]