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AOC and Ed Markey Introduce Green New Deal Resolution (and Let’s Remember It’s a DEAL)

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De l’audace, encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace! –General George Patton, quoting Georges Danton By Lambert Strether of Corrente From the Boston Herald: “Ed Markey pairs with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Green New Deal,” as they introduce “H. RES. 109: Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal,” together. This is remarkable in several ways, first because Markey is a Senator (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) is a Represenative), Markey is “the dean of the Massachusetts delegation” (AOC is a freshman), Markey is 73 (AOC is 29), and Markey introduced Waxman-Markey (cap-and-trade) in 2009, back when the greatest orator of our time was President, which narrowly passed the House and was never taken up in the Senate; the previous high-water mark of Democrat

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De l’audace, encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace! –General George Patton, quoting Georges Danton

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

From the Boston Herald: “Ed Markey pairs with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Green New Deal,” as they introduce “H. RES. 109: Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal,” together. This is remarkable in several ways, first because Markey is a Senator (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) is a Represenative), Markey is “the dean of the Massachusetts delegation” (AOC is a freshman), Markey is 73 (AOC is 29), and Markey introduced Waxman-Markey (cap-and-trade) in 2009, back when the greatest orator of our time was President, which narrowly passed the House and was never taken up in the Senate; the previous high-water mark of Democrat efforts on climate change[1]. Markey’s endorsement of the Green New Deal, in other words. is not only an acknowledgement, however implicit, that cap-and-trade isn’t the solution we (and the biosphere) need, but that the other climate policy he endorsed, Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy, was directionally incorrect as well. I point this out not to trash Markey, but to point out that the, er, climate on climate change has changed, dramatically so.

Before delving into the resolution itself, the sausage-making that went into it, and the nature of the Green New Deal as a deal, and the politics of it all, let me make this important caveat: The Green New Deal (GND) is not enough. As David Wallace Wells wrote in New York Magazine:

As a strategy of avoiding that same threshold of two degrees of warming, the investments of a Green New Deal are what logicians call “necessary but insufficient.”

This is not a reflection of the modesty of the legislation, which is not at all modest — in fact, it is perhaps the most ambitious bill put forward in congress in three quarters of a century. It is simply a reflection of the scale of the challenge. In its report, the IPCC compared the transformation required to stay safely below two degrees to the mobilization of World War II. That mobilization was unprecedented in human history and has never been matched since. That time, there was a draft, a nationalization of industry, widespread rationing: The entire American nation turned single-mindedly toward the relevant threat, as did the entire Russian nation — and the two of them, almost inconceivably, in retrospect, allied. That is the kind of mobilization the sober-minded scientists of the world believe is necessary today — to get to half of our current emissions by 2030.

AOC agrees:

Even the solutions that we have considered big and bold are nowhere near the scale of the actual problem that climate change presents to us to our country, to the world. And so while carbon taxes are nice while things like cap and trade are nice, it’s not what’s going to save the planet. It could be part of a larger solution but no one has actually scoped out what that larger solution would entail.

As a meliorist, I think even the GND has a change to make what is to come marginally less bad. If we succeed in mobilizing as the GND contemplates, we may end up doing much better. In any case, I’d rather go down fighting!

Caveats made, I’ll first link to the Resolution (and its accompanying FAQ), then at the sausage-making that went into the bill, and then at the seeming contradiction between justice and climate in media discussion of the bill. So to the Resolution.

H. RES. 109: Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal

David Roberts from Vox has a fair-minded summary of the Resolution (which, again remarkably, has 67 cosponsors)[2]:

The resolution consists of a preamble, five goals, 14 projects, and 15 requirements. The preamble establishes that there are two crises, a climate crisis and an economic crisis of wage stagnation and growing inequality, and that the GND can address both.

(So when they ask “What are your demands?” we can tell them.) Robert’s perception that there are “two crises,” and that the GND can “address both” is important, and we’ll get to it after we consider sausage making. Here, quoting from the Resolution, is the scale of the climate crisis:

(3) global warming at or above 2 degrees Celsius beyond preindustrialized levels will cause—

(A) mass migration from the regions most affected by climate change;

(B) more than $500,000,000,000 in lost annual economic output in the United States by the year 2100;

(C) wildfires that, by 2050, will annually burn at least twice as much forest area in the western United States than was typically burned by wildfires in the years preceding 2019;

(D) a loss of more than 99 percent of all coral reefs on Earth;

(E) more than 350,000,000 more people to be exposed globally to deadly heat stress by 2050; and

(F) a risk of damage to $1,000,000,000,000 of public infrastructure and coastal real estate in the United States; and

(4) global temperatures must be kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrialized levels to avoid the most severe impacts of a changing climate, which will require—

(A) global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from human sources of 40 to 60 percent from 2010 levels by 2030; and

(B) net-zero global emissions by 2050;

(I quote at such length because it’s very satisfying to see these points embodied in legislation). And the chance to addess the economic crisis:

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—

(1) to create millions of good, high-wage jobs in the United States;

(2) to provide unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States; and

(3) to counteract systemic injustices:

Plus:

(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”)[2]

And from the FAQ (I’ll skip the requirements) the 14 projects:

National mobilization our economy through 14 infrastructure and industrial projects. Every project strives to remove greenhouse gas emissions and pollution from every sector of our economy:

  • Build infrastructure to create resiliency against climate change-related disasters
  • Repair and upgrade U.S. infrastructure. ASCE estimates this is $4.6 trillion at minimum.
  • Meet 100% of power demand through clean and renewable energy sources
  • Build energy-efficient, distributed smart grids and ensure affordable access to electricity
  • Upgrade or replace every building in US for state-of-the-art energy efficiency
  • Massively expand clean manufacturing (like solar panel factories, wind turbine factories, battery and storage manufacturing, energy efficient manufacturing components) and remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing
  • Work with farmers and ranchers to create a sustainable, pollution and greenhouse gas free, food system that ensures universal access to healthy food and expands independent family farming
  • Totally overhaul transportation by massively expanding electric vehicle manufacturing, build charging stations everywhere, build out highspeed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary, create affordable public transit available to all, with goal to replace every combustion-engine vehicle
  • Mitigate long-term health effects of climate change and pollution
  • Remove greenhouse gases from our atmosphere and pollution through afforestation, preservation, and other methods of restoring our natural ecosystems
  • Restore all our damaged and threatened ecosystems
  • Clean up all the existing hazardous waste sites and abandoned sites
  • Identify new emission sources and create solutions to eliminate those emissions
  • Make the US the leader in addressing climate change and share our technology, expertise and products with the rest of the world to bring about a global Green New Deal

Granted, this seems like, well, a lot. And I’d like to see everything costed out, and I’d like to see the greenhouse gas tranches estimated, too. But really. The world’s largest and richest economy in the world, properly mobilized, ought to be able to do quite a lot, too.

Sausage-Making and the GND

Roberts points out that the fights the GND does not pick are important[4]:

1) Paying for it…. There are centrist Democrats who still believe in the old PAYGO rules, keeping a “balanced budget” within a 10-year window. There are Democrats who think deficit fears have been exaggerated and there’s nothing wrong with running a deficit to drive an economic transition. And there are Democrats who have gone full Modern Monetary Theory…. Leave it for later.

2) Clean versus renewable energy Many, probably most energy analysts believe that renewables will need to be supplemented with nuclear power or fossil fuels with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), but some lefty environmental groups pushed for the GND to explicitly prohibit them…. The resolution wisely avoids taking that route.

Instead, it calls for the US to “meet 100 percent of our power demand through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.”…. But their fight doesn’t need to muck up the GND. The GND targets carbon emissions, which is the right target for a broad programmatic outline.

3) Carbon pricing… The need to price carbon has practically been climate orthodoxy for the past few decades, but lately there’s been something of a lefty backlash…. The resolution doesn’t take a position. It merely says that the GND must involve “accounting for the true cost of emissions.” If you’re a carbon pricing fan (as I am), you can read pricing into that. But there are other ways to read it too.

4) Supply-side policy “Keep it in the ground,” as the slogan goes…. The resolution simply slates that fight as something to take place within the broad GND coalition, rather than making it part of the price of membership.

All four of these omissions or elisions — these fights postponed — signal, to me, a movement that is capable of reining in its more vigorous ideological impulses in the name of building the broadest possible left coalition behind an ambitious climate solution. That bodes well.

Although the building trades (partly allied with the nuclear industry) were important in the sausage-making process, I want to focus on the dense thicket of NGOs that undergirds (some might say chokes) the left. From Grist, back in January:

To understand the debate surrounding the Green New Deal, you need to look beyond its recent prominence in Beltway political circles to the on-the-ground organizations that make up the environmental justice movement. Newcomers like Ocasio-Cortez may be leading the charge, but grassroots leaders who have spent years advocating for low-income families and neighborhoods of color most impacted by fossil fuels say their communities weren’t consulted when the idea first took shape.

For all the fanfare, there isn’t a package of policies that make up a Green New Deal just yet. And that’s why community-level activists are clamoring to get involved, help shape the effort, and ensure the deal leaves no one behind.

The fuss over who gets a say in the formation of the Green New Deal goes back further than Ocasio-Cortez’s or Sunrise’s friendly-ish feud with establishment Democrats. The Climate Justice Alliance, a network of groups representing indigenous peoples, workers, and frontline communities, says its gut reaction to the Green New Deal was that it had been crafted at the “grasstops” (as opposed to the grassroots).

Leaders at the alliance surveyed its member organizations — there are more than 60 across the U.S. — and put together a list of their concerns. Unless the Green New Deal addresses those key points, the alliance says, the plan won’t meet its proponents’ lofty goal of tackling poverty and injustice. Nor will the deal gain the grassroots support it will likely need to become a reality.

(For some definition of “grassroots support”.) Somebody of a cynical turn of mind might think that those crafting the GND decided that they’d rather have those 60 organizations inside the tent pissing out, rather than outside the tent pissing in. And so the “list of their concerns” was added to all the other bullet points in the bill. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Climate, Justice, and Putting the “Deal” in the GND

Nevertheless, if the sausage-making process — in a fine example of Conway’s Law — occurred as that cynic might think it did, that would give an account of a GND whose text is divided into a “climate” part, and a “justice” part, and never the twain shall meet. Thus Vox, in good faith, can write:

The resolution makes clear that justice is a top progressive priority. It is fashionable for centrists and some climate wonks to dismiss things like wage standards as tertiary, a way of piggybacking liberal goals onto the climate fight. But progressives don’t see it that way. In a period of massive, rapid disruption, the welfare of the people involved is not tertiary.

That means that justice — or as it’s often called, “environmental justice,” as though it’s some boutique subgenre — must be at the heart of any plan to address climate change.

Politico has the same perception:

The most glaring problem with the Green New Deal is that it doesn’t just make that case for all-out emergency climate action; it calls for a whole basket of new progressive policies. It treats all of America’s problems—wage stagnation, unaffordable housing, anti-competitive business practices, the decline of labor unions—as if they were just as urgent as the climate crisis. And its proposed solutions are just as expansive. Like a federal job guarantee assuring “a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security.” Or a pledge to “provide all people of the United States with—(i) high-quality health care; (ii) affordable, safe and adequate housing

Which indeed makes progressives seem like fools, because what justice can there be if the planet is cooked? Unfortunately, Vox, Politico, GND proponents, and even the extraordinarily focused and articulate AOC are all ignoring [5] the glaringly obvious: The Green New Deal is a DEAL. All agree that the entire society most be mobilized for the GND to succeed (and though few say it, the dreaded lifestyle and consumption changes will have to be part of that). The deal for the working class is if they participate in GND mobilization, they are restored to a life of dignity: Real work for real money, the chance to take care of their families (even for those whose family numbers one), medical care, the rentiers boot off their neck, and clean air and water. In other words, universal concrete material benefits. That is the deal. That is a new deal, a deal that hasn’t been offered for most of my lifetime, and never for young people. That is the green new deal. And it’s a GND for the 90%, not 60 [familiy blogging] siloed NGOs. And all deals have (at least) two sides: This one has the “climate” side, and it has the “justice” side. One for the other. That’s how and why the Green New Deal will work as a deal. You might even call it a covenant, if you’re religiously inclined.

NOTES

[1] Some would claim that title for Obama’s stimulus package: “‘People don’t understand how forward-leaning the stimulus was on climate issues,’ says Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), who chairs the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis (the one Pelosi created without any subpoena power and no mandate to create a plan). ‘It’s a road map for a Green New Deal.'” Come on. $90 billion? Get real. And besides, the stimulus package wasn’t a deal.

[2] From WaPo:

As of this morning, the Green New Deal has the backing of three Democrats running for president — Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) — as well as of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

However, I’m not sure whether they’re backing the GND as a concept, or this resolution, and WaPo doesn’t really say.

[3] I would be the last person to downplay the strategic importance of marginalized communities, because the Penobscots were absolutely essential to fighting the landfill; and those on the front lines are often the ones with the incentives to pay “the cost of citizenship” by becoming subject matter experts in whatever field affects them; water, soil, and so on.

[4] He also doesn’t see the point of a Jobs Guarantee. But, given the scale of the crisis, do we really want to put the GND at the mercy of the business cycle? (Not to mention that managing the business cycle by throwing people out of work is immoral.)

[5] The GND advocates possibly because social justice vocabulary and styles of thought come most easily to them; the defense of “the marginalized,” for example. But in a neoliberal hellscape with falling life expectancy, falling birth rates, real wages stagnant for decades, a Kafka-esque health care system, and (especially for the young) crippling debt, doesn’t it make sense to consider the 90% as marginalized?

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