An ambitious proposal is stirring controversy and raising hopes for a more sustainable future in the United States. John Dyer reports.
Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a newly elected New York Democrat who spearheads the socialist wing of the Democratic Party, recently unveiled what’s being called the Green New Deal to spark a revolution in the US.
The Green New Deal’s proposals include reducing carbon emissions to zero in the US in 12 years, boosting mass transit and launching a massive investment program to retrofit old buildings for solar, wind and other renewable energy sources, reported National Public Radio. The Green New Deal has a social welfare component, too: it would guarantee job security, free higher education and free healthcare to every American.
Radical but moderate compared to climate action
Ocasio-Cortez said the proposal was radical to some but moderate compared to the action that scientists have said must be taken to stop climate change from triggering potentially catastrophic extreme weather events in the near future. She hoped the proposal would start a conversation.
“Even the solutions that we have considered big and bold are nowhere near the scale of the actual problem that climate change presents to us,” she told National Public Radio.
Experts’ initial responses to the plan were mixed. It might be necessary, they said, but they were pessimistic about it happening.
“In my own subjective assessment, getting to near-zero emissions over the next decade would be physically possible but sociopolitically infeasible,” said Carnegie Institution for Science atmospheric researcher Ken Caldeira told the Washington Post.
“During World War II, up to 60 per cent of national GDP was directed towards the war effort. If we were to mobilise around the climate problem the way we mobilised around the fight against Germany and Japan, then we could possibly do this.”
Addresses economic and social justice issues
Advocates welcomed the proposal, saying it addressed the broader economic and social justice issues that have long impeded transitions to sustainability. Investors could hop onto the Green New Deal if officials sold it correctly, some noted.
“Sustainability thinking has permeated financial decision making, with a strong assist from institutional investors such as pension plans, key Wall Street players, and a cottage industry of analytics groups,” wrote Ira Feldman, president and senior counsel of Greentrack Strategies, in an opinion column in the Hill.
Purpose is to empower socialists, counter conservatives
Conservatives attacked the plan as an unaffordable expansion of the federal government that would cost trillions of dollars. It’s true purpose, they said, was to empower socialists who allegedly hold anti-American values.
“How else can one explain policies that include a federal jobs guarantee, economic security for those unable to work, provision of housing, free health care, higher education for all and a family living wage?” argued Cato institute Economist Ryan Bourne in an op-ed in USA Today.
“Besides the plan’s calls for electrifying the whole transport system and undertaking a crippling federal financing of renewable energy over 10 years, it reads like a wish list for socialising the economy.”
Oil tycoons Charles Koch and David Koch provide significant funding for the Cato Institute, a Washington, DC-based think tank that advocates for free markets and laissez-faire governmental regulatory policy.
Attached by the left as not going far enough
Some environmentalists said the proposal wasn’t enough. The plan wouldn’t alter how most Americans lived and commuted, for example, wrote Mother Jones, a left-wing magazine. Rather, the Green New Deal would keep Americans in cars driving through sprawling suburbs around megacities, “glibly ‘greening’ the lives we live now, rather than contemplating the future generations who will have to live here too”.
But at least the Green New Deal got Americans talking, said Ocasio-Cortez.
“It could be part of a larger solution, but no one has actually scoped out what that larger solution would entail,” she said. “That’s really what we’re trying to accomplish with the Green New Deal.”