U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward Markey introduced a nonbinding resolution on Feb. 7 calling for a Green New Deal. It would be an overhaul of our energy, transportation, agricultural and infrastructural systems moving us off fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energy. It would also move us to maximum energy efficiency and sustainable agriculture and development. Not only is this proposal feasible, but by mid-century we have got to see it through if we hope to leave a habitable planet for posterity.
Not surprisingly, there is already much weeping and gnashing of teeth concerning this proposal from the political right. They say this proposal and all it entails will spend us into oblivion and destroy places like Appalachia, long reliant on extractive industries who exploit our resources and our labor. This from the same Republicans who in December 2017 passed a multi-trillion-dollar tax cut for corporations, financiers and the wealthiest households and individuals in the country; the same Republicans (and some Democrats) who happily hand out billions annually in taxpayer dollars for fossil fuels and commercial agricultural subsidies. Our entire congressional delegation in West Virginia was even supportive of using a Department of Energy emergency maneuver to bailout noncompetitive coal and nuclear plants on the backs of ratepayers and taxpayers. So much for the free market.
Speaking of the market, there are two important prerequisites to making a Green New Deal work. One is a carbon tax. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act that has been introduced in the U.S. House (H.R. 763) would place a rising cost on carbon at the source and return all revenue to the American people 100 percent in the form of a dividend. It is crucial legislation with bipartisan sponsorship and support. There is no reason, ideological or otherwise, why West Virginia’s congressional delegation should not support it. It is a market-based solution that does not grow government. If we do not account for the true social costs of carbon, we cannot move forward.
The other prerequisite to a Green New Deal is fossil fuels divestment and socially responsible investment. Coal, oil (and petroleum-based products like plastics and other petrochemicals), gas and nuclear are leaving investors with stranded assets, and this will only get worse. These are not the future and any good investor or asset manager looks at the writing on the wall. The costs of climate change to insurers and underwriters are staggering and set to get much worse. It certainly doesn’t behoove them to maintain the status quo.
But these are only cost analyses, what about jobs and economic fairness and equality? This is where the Green New Deal is so important. President Franklin Roosevelt once spoke of a Second Bill of Rights, an economic Bill of Rights. Writing for Jacobin, with republication in The Guardian recently, Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and Thea Riofancos wrote that “Freedom has to mean something more than the capitalist’s freedom to invest or the consumer’s freedom to buy.” Expanding on FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, the authors wrote of five important freedoms that a Green New Deal could guarantee: Freedom from fear (in this case freedoms such as guaranteed jobs and homes as we suffer weather extremes and relocations from climate change and reorganization of industry); Freedom from toil (in this case harmful work or useless toil); Freedom to move (in this case humane immigration policies and non-militarized borders); Freedom from domination (in this case, as one example, the letting go of fantasies of achieving freedom by the domination of nature and recognizing ecological necessities); and Freedom to live (in this case freedom from want and to want — i.e. to have all basic needs met and to live with unfettered access to knowledge, leisure and adventure).
A Green New Deal is only a threat to those seeking to maintain a status quo of massive wealth and income inequality, power and dominion concentrated in the hands of the few and wanton disregard for the overwhelming scientific consensus on anthropogenic global climate change and the urgent threats it poses. A Green New Deal is not some “green dream” of the progressive left, it is a serious proposal containing solutions to the potentially existential havoc we have wrought on our shared planet, our only home in the cosmos. Ignore the noise and let us spare ourselves calamity and salvage life for future generations. Let your congresspersons and senators know you support a Green New Deal.
Eric Engle is chairman
of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.