When President Roosevelt came into office in 1933, the Great Depression had reached its lowest point. Roosevelt inherited an America with a quarter of the workforce unemployed, two million homeless, and a sizeable mandate from the American people to enact much-needed economic change. He responded with the New Deal, an unprecedented series of domestic programs to defeat and prevent another depression. The New Deal was (and, alas, is) subjected to criticism from conservative figures critical of governmental regulation, who held tight to the belief that the economy would work itself out in the long run. Harry Hopkins, a Roosevelt adviser, famously responded to this criticism with, “people don’t eat in the long run, they eat every day.” The success of the New Deal lies not only in its quick response to the economic woes that permeated the lives of American people but also in its remarkable foresight. The programs implemented, such as Social Security and the Federal Housing Administration, sought to ensure that the American people could not only receive the immediate relief they needed but could depend on that same security in the future. Today we face a new looming threat to the future of our economic and physical security: environmental degradation and climate change.
While scientists and politicians dispute the impact of climate change, the last 100 years of increased consumption of fossil fuels and industrialization have clearly contributed to the degradation of the environment and atmosphere. This has serious tangible and (at least for now) intangible consequences to the global quality of living. Even though U.S. legislators are well aware of the consequences of exploitative industrial activity, they certainly don’t act like they’re in any hurry. Instead of focusing on systemic change to address global warming, politicians push individual action: change your lightbulbs, recycle, buy a hybrid. But these solutions render negligible results. In short, global warming demands fundamental change, not market “solutions” or individual action.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Senator Edward Markey’s call for the Green New Deal, a ten-year blueprint for creating a more environmentally and socially just society, has gained serious media attention. The plan is admittedly controversial. On the environmental side, the ambitious plan aims to expand renewable power sources, update infrastructure, and transform the agricultural and transportation industries to ideally eliminate all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The Green New Deal also aims to address economic inequality by implementing Medicare For All, ensuring living-wage jobs to all Americans, and subsidizing the cost of vocational schools and colleges. On the surface, the Green New Deal is controversial for fairly obvious reasons: “Who’s gonna pay for it?” It’s a fair question, but I believe that the real cause of aversion to the Green New Deal is that it reifies corporate and collective responsibility in both global warming and economic inequality.
The beauty of the Green New Deal is that it connects the two most pressing issues of the 21st century: exploitation of everyday Americans and exploitation of the environment. The U.S. economy feeds into the wealth of billionaires while millions of households go without any sort of financial cushion. At the same time, the fossil fuel lobby fuels legislative complacency towards environmental policy by promoting the use of fuels that contribute to climate change. The Green New Deal’s call to mobilize the federal government to act against fossil fuel lobby interests and work for Americans shouldn’t be controversial, but it is. In June 2018, the Democratic National Committee unanimously voted to prohibit donations from fossil fuel companies, which would have been an excellent step in the right direction. However, just two months later in August (with elections quickly approaching), the Democrats voted nearly unanimously again to reverse that ban.
The Green New Deal also solves some of the Democratic party’s biggest problems. While the Republicans have a coherent, focused narrative to keep government small, the Democrats often have trouble articulating a cohesive alternative. The Green New Deal’s reference to Roosevelt-era policies that reinvigorated a dying U.S. economy helps point the Democrats toward bold action. The Green New Deal also allows the Democrats to completely shift foreign policy discussions. Among the resolution’s intents is to “promote the international exchange of technology, expertise, products, funding, and services with the aim to reclaim U.S. leadership on climate change to help other countries achieve a Green New Deal” . Environmental initiatives offer a counter-argument to President Trump’s stance that global efforts to deal with climate change hurt rather than help the United States. To think of the Green New Deal as not just domestic policy, but as a pillar of foreign policy is a revolutionary idea.
If the Democrats embrace and support the Green New Deal, it would show Americans that they should vote for Democrats not only because they’re better than the alternative, but because they would be offering a legitimate alternative to the Trump policy platform, and would reaffirm their position as the party of the people.
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