Bill McKibben: Climate Change Is Scary—Not the Green New Deal

It’s very clear that conservatives have one plan for dealing with the popularity of the Green New Deal: scaring the hell out of people.

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U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey announce Green New Deal legislation in Washington on February 7, 2019. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Myron Ebell of the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, the man who led the drive to pull America out of the Paris climate accords, said the other day that the Green New Deal was a “back-to-the-dark-ages manifesto.” That’s language worth thinking about, coming from perhaps the Right’s most influential spokesman on climate change.

Ebell’s complaint (and that of the rest of the Right) is that the set of proposals to address climate change and economic inequality put forth last week by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey would do too much, and cost too much. Indeed, he describes the Green New Deal this way: “It calls for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years, ‘upgrading all existing buildings’, and replacing our vehicle fleet with electric cars and more mass transit. And turning our energy economy upside down must be accomplished while ending historic income inequities and oppression of disadvantaged groups.” All of which sounds good not just to me, but to most people: Polling for the Green New Deal is through the roof, especially among young people so ably organized by the Sunrise Movement.

But even if ending historic oppression doesn’t catch your fancy, it’s not a return to the Dark Ages. A return to the Dark Ages is what happened in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit: Survivors dying in the convention center of a modern American city, locals organizing a makeshift “navy” to try to pluck people from rooftops after levees collapsed. MORE

Nature’s Rights Put to Vote in City ‘Fed Up’ With Poisoned Water

Algal Blooms Continue to Threaten Lake Erie Ecosystem

In two weeks the citizens of Toledo, Ohio, will go to the polls and decide whether to pass a legally dubious “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” to give residents the ability to sue farmers on behalf of algal-bloom-threatened Lake Erie.

Environmentalists say the novel city charter amendment will give citizens the power to do what Ohio politicians are afraid to do: take polluters to court and fight back against algal blooms that poisoned Toledo drinking water in 2013 and 2014.

The Feb. 26 vote from America’s industrial center, which largely went for President Donald Trump (R) in 2016, comes at a time when Democrat coalitions are coalescing around a Green New Deal in Congress.

But the move to endow natural resources with special “community rights” to sue has sunk everywhere else such laws were passed in the United States, and the activists behind Toledo’s move know they have precarious legal footing. MORE

THE BATTLE LINES HAVE BEEN DRAWN ON THE GREEN NEW DEAL

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) speaks alongside Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) at a news conference about the Green New Deal, in Washington, Feb. 7, 2019. The measure, drafted by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey, calls for a sweeping environmental and economic mobilization that would make the United States carbon neutral by 2030. (Pete Marovich/The New York Times)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks alongside Sen. Ed Markey at a news conference about the Green New Deal, in Washington, Feb. 7, 2019. Photo: Pete Marovich/Redux

“I REALLY DON’T like their policies of taking away your car, taking away your airplane flights, of ‘let’s hop a train to California,’ or ‘you’re not allowed to own cows anymore!’”

So bellowed President Donald Trump in El Paso, Texas, his first campaign-style salvo against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey’s Green New Deal resolution. There will surely be many more.

It’s worth marking the moment. Because those could be the famous last words of a one-term president, having wildly underestimated the public appetite for transformative action on the triple crises of our time: imminent ecological unraveling, gaping economic inequality (including the racial and gender wealth divide), and surging white supremacy. MORE

Watch this great Green New Deal explainer video from The Leap

You’ve been hearing a lot about the Green New Deal, but you’re wondering what it’s all about? If you want a quick and chatty explainer, check out this video put together by the folks at The Leap, a climate action group.

The Leap Manifesto predates the Green New Deal, but the group has eagerly taken up the mantle. Here’s the central core of the Manifesto:

We could live in a country powered entirely by renewable energy, woven together by accessible public transit, in which the jobs and opportunities of this transition are designed to systematically eliminate racial and gender inequality. Caring for one another and caring for the planet could be the economy’s fastest growing sectors. Many more people could have higher wage jobs with fewer work hours, leaving us ample time to enjoy our loved ones and flourish in our communities.

We know that the time for this great transition is short. Climate scientists have told us that this is the decade to take decisive action to prevent catastrophic global warming. That means small steps will no longer get us where we need to go.

MORE

The Story Behind the Green New Deal’s Meteoric Rise

How twelve young activists forced a bold idea into the mainstream of the Democratic Party
Illustration by Alex Nabaum

On November 13, 2018, just days after Democrats reclaimed the House of Representatives, dozens of young activists filed silently into Representative Nancy Pelosi’s office on Capitol Hill. Some sat down along the walls of the office, unfurling banners and forming a circle. Others stood in the center and told their stories.

A teenage woman from Northern California began, “There were fires at my school. There was ash falling from the sky for a week.” She and her companions in the Cannon Office Building that day carried manila envelopes containing pictures of the people and places in their lives that climate change would destroy—or already had.

On one side of the envelopes were the words “Dear Democrats”; on the other, “What Is Your Plan?” After some time, they began to sing—the protest songs of another generation, like “Which Side Are You On?,” and new ones they’d written themselves, about waters rising up and people rising, too. Their voices echoed down the marble halls.

“The whirlwind” evokes something visceral about what it feels like to be involved in a wave of political upheaval. It disorients, defies gravity, upends things and leaves them in a new place.

Within weeks, their ambitious demand for a “Green New Deal” to decarbonize the U.S. economy by 2030 and provide a green job to anyone who wants one was on the lips of every congressional staffer, cable news reporter, and progressive candidate for president in the country. MORE

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The False Choice Between Economic Growth and Combatting Climate Change

Last year, the U.S.’s carbon-dioxide emissions increased by an estimated 3.4 per cent, the second-largest gain in the past two decades.  Photograph by Fernando Moleres / Panos Pictures / Redux
In 1974, the economist William Nordhaus described the transition from a “cowboy economy” to a “spaceship economy.” In the former, he wrote, “we could afford to use our resources profligately,” and “the environment could be used as a sink without becoming fouled.” But, in the spaceship economy, “great attention must be paid to the sources of life and to the dumps where our refuse is piled.” He added, “Things which have traditionally been treated as free goods—air, water, quiet, natural beauty—must now be treated with the same care as other scarce goods.”
 “It’s absolutely the case that emissions and growth can be decoupled,” Marshall Burke, an assistant professor in Stanford University’s Department of Earth System Science, told me.
“But the switch to nuclear and renewables needs to happen more rapidly. “It takes policy. It won’t happen through markets alone.”
As a small but growing coalition of congressional Democrats, led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have outlined as part of their Green New Deal, transforming the energy sector—and, really, the entire economy, in a just and more equitable way—will require some sort of carbon tax (preferably a “fee and dividend” approach, which distributes tax revenues as rebates directly to citizens), and also new regulations and huge investments. “We can decarbonize the electric sector at a fairly low cost….That’s where some of the cheapest emissions reductions are to be found. Extensive government subsidies could hasten the spread of renewables—specifically, solar, wind, and batteries—and offset any rise in emissions elsewhere….There are ways to reduce the use of fossil fuels in heating; utilities, for instance, can create incentive programs so that homeowners have a motivation to replace their boilers with electric heat pumps. MORE

Universal Basic Income Is Easier Than It Looks

And we wouldn’t even have to tax the rich to pay for it.

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The pros and cons of a universal basic income are hotly debated and have been discussed elsewhere. The point here is to show that it could actually be funded year after year without driving up taxes or prices. Photo by FatCamera/Getty Images

This is part two of a two-part essay. Part one can be found here.

Calls for a Universal Basic Income have been increasing, most recently as part of the Green New Deal introduced by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and supported in the last month by at least 40 members of Congress. A universal basic income is a monthly payment to all adults with no strings attached, similar to Social Security.

Critics say the Green New Deal asks too much of the rich and upper-middle-class taxpayers who will have to pay for it, but taxing the rich is not what the resolution proposes. It says funding would primarily come from the federal government, “using a combination of the Federal Reserve, a new public bank or system of regional and specialized public banks,” and other vehicles. MORE

 

Democrats Just Blocked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Push For A Green New Deal

Instead, Democrats are sticking to their original plan, and channeled Exxon Mobil in an announcement refusing to bar members who take fossil fuel money.

Democratic leaders on Thursday tapped Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) to head a revived U.S. House panel on climate change, all but ending a dramatic monthlong effort to establish a select committee on a Green New Deal.

Castor’s appointment came as a surprise to proponents of a Green New Deal. The move also kicked off a controversy as the six-term congresswoman dismissed calls to bar members who accept money from fossil fuel companies from serving on the committee, arguing it would violate free speech rights. MORE