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Why Democrats must embrace Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal” proposal


Since a Nov. 13 protest at Nancy Pelosi’s office on Capitol Hill first drew attention to it, organizing to push Democrats to commit to a New Green Deal has continued to mount. “We need a Green New Deal and we need to get to 100 percent renewables because our lives depend on it,” Rep.-elect Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez told reporters, as 51 protesters with the Sunrise Movement were arrested (and later released). Since then 13 members of Congress have signed on to support her proposal to establish a select committee tasked with developing a plan to transition to a carbon-neutral economy and beyond, with the ultimate goal of “economic and environmental justice and equality.”

But the political world still seems disastrously disconnected from the real world around it, even as smoke from California’s wildfires reached all the way to the East Coast: The Camp Fire has an official death toll of 77, with 15,850 structures destroyed, but it’s hardly alone. According a Nov. 19 Cal Fire factsheet, five of the 10 most destructive wildfires in California history occurred in the last two years, with a sixth in 2015. All but one have happened since 2003.

The result is “Making Some California Homes Uninsurable,” as the New York Timesreported:

“We’re not in a crisis yet, but all of the trends are in a bad direction,” said Dave Jones, who is completing his eighth and final year as California’s insurance commissioner. “We’re slowly marching toward a world that’s uninsurable.”


And it’s not just wildfires. A paper published Nov. 19 in Nature Climate Change found a broad threat to humanity from the cumulative impacts of global warming:

“We found traceable evidence for 467 pathways by which human health, water, food, economy, infrastructure and security have been recently impacted by climate hazards such as warming, heatwaves, precipitation, drought, floods, fires, storms, sea-level rise and changes in natural land cover and ocean chemistry.”

Popular and desperately needed

It’s not just that drastic action is needed. The basic idea of a New Green Deal is wildly popular. There was 70 percent support for “Green New Deal — Millions Of Clean-Energy Jobs” in the “Big Ideas” pollcommissioned by the Progressive Change Institute in January 2015. This year, Data for Progress advanced its own, more detailed Green New Deal Plan, with polling showing related political appeal: In Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — key to Trump’s 2016 election — voters were more, rather than less, likely to support a candidate “who supports moving the United States to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030″ by  32, 27 and 26 points, respectively.

“Green New Deal combines two things voters love: the environment and jobs,” Data for Progress co-founder Sean McElwee told Salon. “Pundits are trapped in a framework in which the environment is pitted against jobs, which is silly,” he said.


Silly, but extremely popular with the GOP business class, which has dominated the framing of most political discourse over the past half-century. Plenty of “business-friendly” Democrats have joined in as well, even as climate change has increasingly emerged as a profound threat to the business community itself. This is epitomized by the reinsurance industry, tasked with trying to manage the enormous and increasingly unpredictable unpaid, externalized costs of climate change.

“The American public is thirsty for bold climate action because the drumbeat of news just keeps getting worse,” RL Miller, founder of the Climate Hawks Vote super PAC told Salon. “And the Democrats’ plans to date — mild carbon taxes, small tax credits, rebates, etc. — don’t inspire people the way the Green New Deal does. Polls show that the Green New Deal is very politically popular, far more so than a carbon tax.”

Part of the reason is a universal one — that bold, easy-to-grasp proposals are more inspiring than convoluted wonky ones — and part is quite specific. “The Green New Deal is, by design, centered around jobs, and thus it makes a lot more sense to working-class families than other carbon plans attacked by the right as ‘increasing your utility bills,” Miller said.


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