Excitement is building among environmentalists as Washington prepares for the arrival of new lawmakers elected by the #PeoplesWave. Led by New York Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, these insurgents promise to infuse new energy into the movement for climate justice.
Ocasio-Cortez, through a series of high-profile public protests and statements, has focused the minds and hearts of activists, and laid down a gauntlet for the Democratic Party.
Now is the time, she says, for a Green New Deal that confronts climate change head-on with bold solutions that can fundamentally alter our nation’s course on both the environment and rising income inequality through a real commitment to renewable energy.
Last month, she joined a protest organized by the Sunrise Movement with over a thousand young people in three simultaneous sit-ins at Democratic leadership offices on Capitol Hill to demand action on climate change.
“This is going to be the New Deal, the Great Society, the moon shot, the civil-rights movement of our generation,” she said.
36 members of Congress have already joined her call to action. On Friday, more than 300 local officials signed an open letter of support, adding to the thousands of young people from the Sunrise Movement who helped coordinate the Capitol Hill protests.
But what exactly is a Green New Deal? More importantly, what should it be?
At People’s Action, we often find ourselves at the front lines with those most affected by environmental injustice. We know that a new energy economy must go far beyond simply replacing fossil fuels.
We welcome this new influx of excitement and resources to the fight for environmental justice. We invite new lawmakers to join us in working to pass and implement policies that address our needs for a just and equitable energy transition – to an economy that is not only 100 percent renewable, but also 100 percent just: an economy that puts those most affected by our climate crisis, people of color and the working class, at the center of our new economy.
At present, the Green New Deal is a proposal – a statement of intent, really - to create a Select House Committee with House members who have never taken money from the fossil-fuels industry. This committee will draft legislative language for the Green New Deal by March 1, 2020.
Goals include a dramatic expansion of renewable power to meet 100 percent of national power demand through renewable sources, upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacturing, agricultural transportation and other industries, and making the U.S. a global leader in the creation and export of “green” technology, industry, expertise, products and services.
In order to be 100 Percent Just, any Green New Deal must include truly renewable fuels, democratizing the grid, and an end to “sacrifice zones” where Black and Brown communities disproportionately bear the human costs of dirty energy extraction.
Good green jobs must be created both for communities that have survived decades of disinvestment, as well as those communities that now depend on extraction.
We have an opportunity – indeed, an obligation – to transform our energy economy so we can not just meet the challenges of climate change, but also transform our economy overall to put people and planet before profits.
A 100 Percent Just Green New Deal goes far beyond good intentions: it frames justice and equity as necessary components that make this project strategically possible. It mandates that dirty energy pollution end by the earliest date, spelling out clearly and intentionally how this happens.
It must include a plan for investment and reparations for communities that have been sacrificed on the altar of polluter profits. And this commitment to equity must be part of the structure of the plan - from the very first resolution, establishing the first House Select Committee, all the way through to final bill language and commitment to follow through with jobs, training, accessibility and investment for working class people and communities of color.
This means a 100% Just Green New Deal not only mandates that we stop burning fossil fuel for energy by 2030, but that we fully end the extraction fossil fuels and other forms of dirty energy by 2025, and do so in a way that doesn’t leave extraction workers or their communities in the lurch.
A 100% Just Green New Deal will mandate that we phase out fossil fuel energy, but will also require that that this starts with the closure and reclamation of the dirtiest power plants, located in the communities most overburdened by pollution.
We must commit to and adopt the principle that the residents of sacrifice zones that have most borne and bear the burdens of dirty energy now become the first to receive benefits of the new, democratic and non-extractive economy.
A 100% Just Green New Deal doesn’t just offer a blanket promise of good green jobs and training for everyone, it will ensure that jobs training programs and investments in job creation are targeted and available first to the communities that need them most.
The Green New Deal, in its current form, aspires to some of these things, but not all of them. We know this is a work in progress, and welcome this influx of new energy, but we know there is much more work to be done.
For the United States is to position itself globally as a green technology leader, we must push for the kinds of broader restructuring of international trade and global economic structures that will lay the ground for a truly equitable, just and transformative global economy.
Finally, any 100% Just Green New Deal must include the voices of those who are directly impacted. The people who are closest to the problems of sacrifice zones, the consequences of extractive industries and the private monopoly control of energy, must be invited into the process of drafting and proposing solutions that flesh out this bold new framework.
Their voices must be heard, and it is up to our new lawmakers to put their vision, needs and priorities at the heart of this exciting new process from its beginning through to the end.