AOC’S GREEN NEW DEAL IS AN ACCURATE VISION OF WHAT IS NEEDED TO MITIGATE CLIMATE DISASTER
There are two things I like about the ascendant young Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The first is a visceral admiration. The second is more reasoned.
The first thing I like, I almost hate to admit, is just how batshit crazy AOC makes the Republican Party. In fact, a good rule of thumb for judging how effective and important a progressive representative may be is to look at how the right responds to her. If the right yawns, or simply reacts to some of the things the politician says, then conservatives really don’t see them as a threat to the status quo. So, for instance, Corey Booker. He’s nothing much of a much. Sometimes the right will respond to the things he says, but overall, their reaction to Booker is theater. They do not recognize him as a serious threat.
But AOC? She is something different. The right is sustaining an unrelenting trolling war against her. The mere mention of her name sends conservatives into a frothing hyper-frenzy. In the right-wing blathersphere AOC is constructed as inexperienced and stupid (she has degrees in International Relations and Economics from Boston University and worked for Senator Ted Kennedy on immigration issues), but also, somehow, a Stalinist threat to everything we hold dear. Every move she makes is attacked. Every video scoured for still shots that can be turned into ridiculous memes to be ingested by the unthinking. One right-wing commentator even suggested boycotting Girl Scout Cookies because the congresswoman had been in the scouts. Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.
Clearly, the right sees AOC as a threat. And that makes me feel all warm and toasty inside.
Secondly, she’s largely right on the issues¹ and does a fantastic job communicating what are often complicated topics to those who will listen. Her Twitter Feed and Instagram, offered a master class in congressional induction processes before the session. She has the ability, both in her presentation and in the fact that she has become a central figure in politics, to take complex issues and drill them into the public consciousness in ways that the left hasn’t seen in a long time.
First, the right-wing response. It was, to say the least, unhinged. AOC was coming after your car! No more airplane flights to see your relatives during Christmas. Gasp! She’s coming for your hamburgers! Your hamburgers! The Green New Deal is nothing more than a socialist attempt to hoist the hammer and sickle over the White House!
The greatest, most reasonable sounding criticism, however, was an analysis of the cost. After all, everyone wants to save the world. We just don’t want to, you know, pay for it.
Regardless, the Right-wing Republicans, following Senator Mitch McConnell’s lead, claim that the Green New Deal will cost over $90 trillion. McConnell pointed out that sum is more than the total GDP for the entire world. Where did Republicans get this absurd number? Well, it appears they mostly made it up. The number is cited as coming from a report published by American Action Forum, a conservative think tank. The report itself, however, does not actually give that number. According to Politico:
The number originated with a report by a conservative think tank, American Action Forum, that made huge assumptions about how exactly Democrats would go about implementing their plan. But the $93 trillion figure does not appear anywhere in the think tank’s report — and AAF President Douglas Holtz-Eakin confessed he has no idea how much exactly the Green New Deal would cost.
In essence, Republican claims that the Green New Deal would cost more than the entire world could pay is the rhetorical equivalent of saying AOC’s plan will cost a “zillion gazillion dollars!” It’s meaningless garbleflurk.
In fact, how much will AOC’s proposed legislation cost?
Not one thin dime.
The proposed legislation is a non-binding resolution. In essence, it is a vision statement outlining what it will take to address climate change within the time constraints reported by the IPCC. The report suggests that we have as little as twelve years to make significant progress against our carbon footprint if we are to avoid environmental disaster². AOC’s legislation outlines the issues that must be addressed and resolves that the government should actively address these issues by bringing back a variation of the New Deal. There’s nothing more to it than that. Anyone who bothered to actually read the legislation should be able to figure that out.
This is where the second factor comes into play.
First, she’s right on the details. The legislation starts by citing the latest IPCC report. It then goes on to point out other crises the United States is facing, including declining life expectancy³, stagnant wages, income inequality, and the changing marketplace. At face value, these variables seem to be unrelated. But they are not. Poverty, environmental degradation, economic instability. These are related features in a social, economic, and biospheric matrix. According to the text:
Whereas climate change, pollution, and environmental destruction have exacerbated systemic racial, regional, social, environmental, and economic injustices (referred to in this preamble as “systemic injustices”) by disproportionately affecting indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth (referred to in this preamble as “frontline and vulnerable communities”);
It should also be noted that poverty and racism and economic injustice also negatively impact the environment. Marginalized communities further degrade the environment just to survive. They do not have the luxury of, for instance, eating organic, or participating in sustainable farming when the wealthiest among us are wantonly exploiting the world’s resources.
Ocasio-Cortez then points out that the last time the world faced a crisis of comparable scale, namely the Great Depression and the rise of Fascism, the United States responded with bold, far-sighted and audacious public investments. This was called the New Deal.
Whereas the Federal Government-led mobilizations during World War II and the New Deal created the greatest middle class that the United States has ever seen, but many members of frontline and vulnerable communities were excluded from many of the economic and societal benefits of those mobilizations; and
Whereas the House of Representatives recognizes that a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal era is a historic opportunity—
The New Deal didn’t just get the United States through the Great Depression and World War II. It sustained the United States through what many consider its golden age, growing the economy, growing the middle class, creating the most advanced technological society in the world at that time. She could have added that the inequities of the New Deal were being addressed by the Great Society until both visions were stymied by the rise of the New Right in the late seventies and early eighties. This is, however, a piece of legislation and not a history lesson.
She then highlights the goals of this Green New Deal:
(A) to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers;
(B) to create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States;
(C) to invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century;
(i) clean air and water;
(ii) climate and community resiliency;
(iii) healthy food;
(iv) access to nature; and
(v) a sustainable environment; and
(E) to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth (referred to in this resolution as “frontline and vulnerable communities”);
She then goes on to list what will be required to achieve these goals. The legislation recognizes that the challenge requires more than technological innovations, investments in infrastructure and promotion of sustainable lifestyles. A Green New Deal recognizes the challenges of poverty and economic justice. Furthermore, it recognizes that the challenges posed by global climate change also offer a historic opportunity to address systemic and societal inequities. We can provide jobs, education, training. She could have expanded this to include a sense of purpose and identity for populations, including working-class white men, that so sorely need it.
(E) directing investments to spur economic development, deepen and diversify industry and business in local and regional economies, and build wealth and community ownership, while prioritizing high-quality job creation and economic, social, and environmental benefits in frontline and vulnerable communities, and deindustrialized communities, that may otherwise struggle with the transition away from greenhouse gas intensive industries;
Indeed, what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is proposing here is audacious. It’s also going to be expensive. It’s also going to be transformative.
Furthermore, it’s popular. Everybody who is not actively burying their head in the sand on this issue knows that we must address climate change and, we must address the changes taking place in our society and our economy. The industrial golden age of the New Deal is gone. With it are the decent paying, working-class jobs that sustained at least part of our culture for at least two generations. We have entered into a new economy with new challenges, and a Green New Deal can be a part of meeting them.
Which brings us to the most important feature of the AOC’s Green New Deal.
The Green New Deal is now a household name.
And there’s nothing the Right can do about it.
The Green New Deal is not a new concept. It’s been floating around in activist circles for a long time. The Mad Sociologist published a variation of the Green New Deal as a proposal called the New DEEL, or The New Deal for Economic and Environmental Liberalism. The Green New Deal hits upon many of the same features in that proposal. It was one of my longer pieces and involved quite a bit of complexity.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her co-sponsors have done what environmental activists and justice workers have been trying to do for at least the twenty years that I’ve been involved in such issues. They have taken this audacious dream and turned it into a mainstream discussion.
In the end, conservatives are right to believe that AOC is dangerous to the status quo that they so desperately want to preserve. The status quo is unsustainable. We all know it. But we don’t talk about it. Worse, since we do not talk about it, we cannot develop a collective vision for an alternative. This satisfies the desires of the corporate elite who benefit from the status quo. The thing they fear the most is for the Demos to start talking to each other, to start dreaming together, to start acting upon a democratic vision of a better future for everyone. It looks like AOC may be that bridge between communities, between ideological groupings, that promulgates the possibilities, the conversation, the connections by which we can create a better future for our children.
- She’s not always right. But nobody is. Unfortunately, when she is wrong, as she was with the Pentagon Gaff, the right wing pounces and will not let up. If only they held themselves to the same standards!
- No. Nobody is claiming that the world is going to end in twelve years, as I heard Hannity suggest. That’s a stupid statement. Just as stupid as the whole $93 trillion gazillion billion dollar thing.
- Decreased life expectancy is largely due to drug overdoses and suicide, disproportionately impacting the working-class.