Understanding the Green New Deal and its impact on Southwest Florida

01-05-19 Green New Deal protesters and AOC-NYT via Common Dreams
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez addresses demonstrators sitting in at Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office on Nov. 13.

Feb. 19, 2019 by David Silverberg

In this article:

  • What constitutes the Green New Deal
  • Its origins and history
  • How it affects Southwest Florida
  • What happens next and why it’s important
  • What’s at stake

 

The Green New Deal now proposed in Congress stands to substantially benefit Southwest Florida—if the proposal can make it past the lies, hysteria and vilification being thrown at it by opponents.

What it is

The Green New Deal is a comprehensive program of environmental and social reform that aims to:

  • achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions;
  • establish millions of high-wage jobs and ensure economic security for all;
  • invest in infrastructure and industry;
  • secure clean air and water, climate and community resiliency, healthful food, access to nature, and a sustainable environment for all; and
  • promote justice and equality.

It intends to do this through a 10-year national mobilization effort that will:

  • build smart power grids (i.e., power grids that enable customers to reduce their power use during peak demand periods);
  • upgrade all existing buildings and construct new buildings to achieve maximum energy and water efficiency;
  • remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation and agricultural sectors;
  • clean up existing hazardous waste and abandoned sites;
  • ensure businesspersons are free from unfair competition; and
  • provide higher education, high-quality health care, and affordable, safe, and adequate housing to all.

Origins

The idea of a Green New Deal and the term to describe it first appeared in 2007 in the writing of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. He was describing an effort to end fossil fuel subsidies, tax carbon dioxide emissions, and create lasting incentives for wind and solar energy.

The idea and its title made it into official usage, becoming part of then-Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign platform and serving as the title of a United Nations report on renewable energy. Its essence was embodied in legislation in the 2010 American Clean Energy and Security Act (better known as cap-and-trade bill), which died that year in the US Senate.

Though the idea waxed and waned in popularity, it appeared in the campaigns of some Democrats running in last year’s midterm elections. Once Democrats won the House of Representatives, environmental activists decided to make a major push for its passage, with the goal of ending all carbon emissions in ten years. The leading Green New Deal organization was the Sunrise Movement of mainly young, grassroots activists.

On Nov. 13, those activists demonstrated in Washington, DC and about 150 sat in at the offices of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.), soon to be Speaker of the House, demanding the Deal’s immediate implementation.

Enter Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-14-NY) has become the face of the Green New Deal. She’s an insurgent Democrat who defeated 10-term Democratic congressman Joe Crowley in her district’s 2018 primary and then won the general election.

Passionate, articulate, telegenic and at 29 the youngest member ever elected to Congress, Ocasio-Cortez was a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and like him, calls herself a Democratic Socialist.

Ocasio-Cortez addressed the demonstrators at Pelosi’s office. She demanded creation of a Green New Deal select committee in the House. Pelosi didn’t support that demand, instead creating a new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, headed by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-14-Fla.), a longtime environmental activist representing the Tampa area.

Though thwarted in her initial aim, Ocasio-Cortez proceeded to pull all the ideas swirling around the Green New Deal and put them into coherent, legislative form. On Feb. 7 she introduced House Resolution (HR) 109, “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal.” (The Senate version of the bill was introduced by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) as Senate Resolution 59.)

The introduction of HR 109 takes the Green New Deal from possibility to proposal. It now has specific provisions and actions and delineates a specific path to implementation.

The Green New Deal and Southwest Florida

HR 109 does not mention Florida by name and there are no provisions specific to the state or to its southwest region. Nonetheless, it has broad implications given Southwest Florida’s environmental sensitivity and past disasters.

The Everglades

Although the Everglades are never mentioned, Everglades restoration could receive a major boost from the Green New Deal program.

The bill calls for “mitigating and managing the long-term adverse health, economic, and other effects of pollution and climate change, including by providing funding for community-defined projects and strategies” and among these are “restoring and protecting threatened, endangered, and fragile ecosystems through locally appropriate and science-based projects that enhance biodiversity and support climate resiliency.”

This precisely describes current Everglades restoration projects including the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and the “wetlaculture” concept put forward by Prof. Bill Mitsch of Florida Gulf Coast University. These ideas stand to get a major boost if the bill passes and the Florida congressional delegation aggressively pursues the resulting benefits.

Resilience

The bill calls for “building resiliency against climate change-related disasters, such as extreme weather, including by leveraging funding and providing investments for community-defined projects and strategies” and “reducing the risks posed by climate impacts.”

This could very directly benefit Southwest Florida in its efforts to fortify itself against hurricanes, wildfires and sea level rise. The region would be in line to receive extensive federal support for infrastructure and protection improvements. If Everglades restoration can be presented as a climate change mitigating initiative, Florida would have a significant claim on federal support. Federal funding might even benefit individual homeowners in the form of tax credits and incentives to strengthen their houses.

Renewable energy

The bill aims to meet 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources, including renewable energy and new capacity.

For Florida that means a big boost for solar power. The Sunshine State is already taking the initiative to increase solar capacity but passage of the Green New Deal would result in significant federal support for these efforts.

Agriculture

The bill calls for the federal government to work collaboratively with farmers and ranchers to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible. Given Southwest Florida’s extensive agricultural sector, farmers could see grants and incentives to make their operations more energy efficient.

Beyond these very specific local benefits the bill’s support for the renewable energy industry, housing, health and employment would affect every American. And, of course, protecting the environment, keeping it livable and preventing catastrophic climate change affects all life on the planet.

Analysis: What happens next

Controversy and unanswered questions are swirling around the Green New Deal and the bill that embodies it.

The biggest of these is how it will be funded. Ocasio-Cortez has dodged the question, saying that the United States found a way to fund the original New Deal, World War II and the space program and will find a way to do it this time. It’s a blithe but unsatisfying answer—there were extensive debates about paying for those initiatives at the time.

The proposal’s scope and ambition is breathtaking. As written it would really mean a reordering of society and a complete re-fit of the nation’s built environment, energy and transportation. Its practicality within a ten-year time frame is questionable, to say the least. Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has avoided endorsing it, as demonstrated by her refusal to appoint a select committee on that specific topic.

Predictably, the conservative and Republican reaction has varied from hysteria and paranoia to scorn and dismissal, starting with President Donald Trump.

“I think it is very important for the Democrats to press forward with their Green New Deal. It would be great for the so-called ‘Carbon Footprint’ to permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military – even if no other country would do the same. Brilliant!” he tweeted on Feb. 9.

Locally, on Feb. 12, the Naples Daily News reprinted whole an essay from the Cato Institute, the arch-conservative, Koch brothers-funded think tank, as its editorial on the newspaper’s position. Titled, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal Is a Radical Front for Nationalizing Our Economy,” by the Cato Institute, the Naples Daily News gave it a partisan twist with the headline “Green New Deal is a front for the Democrats.”

From a purely legislative standpoint HR 109 has a long way to go. It started out strong, with 68 cosponsors, which means there’s hefty support for it in the House. However, it has been referred to 11 different committees and making its way through all those committees will take time. While any one committee could derail it, the numerous referrals also mean it will get broad consideration throughout the House. Still, it seems unlikely to reach the floor during the two-year span of the 116th Congress.

If events take their normal course, the proposal will be steadily whittled down and delayed during the legislative process. If it even makes it to a vote by the full House and passes, it is highly unlikely to pass in the Senate. If by some miracle it passed both houses and landed on the president’s desk, it seems extremely improbable—one never wants to use the word “impossible” but this is close—that Trump would sign it into law.

But despite its radical solutions, unanswered questions and the improbability of its enactment, the Green New Deal should not be dismissed.

The political importance of the Green New Deal

Protesters seen holding placards during the Sunrise Movement

Some of the demonstrators protesting in front of Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office on Nov. 13.

The Green New Deal is important as an aspiration, a rallying cry and a set of principles that can inspire Democrats, progressives and environmentalists. It gives coherence to progressive principles and cements those principles in a foundation of environmentalism. It far outshines the weak and anemic proposals on any subject made to date by the current Democratic leadership.

Further, the Green New Deal is likely to stand as a goal and aspiration that may last for decades, rather like the abolition of slavery or pursuit of women’s suffrage. It is not merely a proposal, it is now a movement and movements have their own dynamics.

The Green New Deal could provide common principles to Democratic candidates and the party as it begins pulling together its platform for the 2020 presidential race.

Equal and opposite reaction

The Green New Deal also has to be understood as an equal and opposite reaction to Donald Trump’s brute anti-environmentalism.

The Paris Climate Agreement represents the moderate course in climate change response. It was a phased, consensus approach to combating climate change where everyone shared the pain of restraint but gained the benefit of a livable planet and pledged to take reasonable steps to pursue reasonable goals. It was painstakingly negotiated and at the time of its signing included all the nations of the world but two—Nicaragua (which felt it didn’t go far enough) and Syria (which was in the midst of a civil war).

Donald Trump didn’t just withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement and leave the US isolated and alone in the world. By his scorn and vitriol and sheer resistance to science and dismissal of environmentalism, he seems not to care about the fate of the planet or humanity—indeed, every day he proves that he truly does not care about anyone but himself. Given the powers invested in him, he truly could destroy the world.

This kind of attitude fuels the urgency of the Green New Deal’s advocates, especially the young ones. There’s a religious sense of imminent apocalypse, hence the Green New Deal’s short timelines and broad sweep.

Further fueling their urgency was the Fourth National Climate Assessment by the US Global Change Research Program, which warned of disastrous consequences if the causes of climate change weren’t addressed.

The battle to come

While the argument over the Green New Deal is intense now, it’s going to become exponentially more intense as the nation moves toward the 2020 presidential election. Already, Trump and his supporters are lumping the Green New Deal under a socialist label and starting to paint their campaign as a crusade against socialism.

On the other side, though, more extreme Green New Deal supporters see their cause as the only alternative to destruction of the planet.

Here in Southwest Florida the effects of climate change can be felt all around. Its presence should be undeniable, although the entire conservative, Republican establishment, following Trump’s line, continues to deny it—and will no doubt continue to deny it as the storms blow ashore and the water laps up to their chins.

The problem of climate change should be obvious to all. In the Green New Deal a solution has been proposed. Although imperfect it is now the only proposal on the table. Since Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, no other alternative has been offered.

Of course, there is always the option of doing nothing. In this case, that option could prove fatal.

Liberty lives in light

 

 

 

 

 

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