In recovering from the COVID-19 devastation, we are at a fork in the road. The economic need for heavy government investment is more stark than ever; and the choices that we make for rebuilding — green or “brown” – will determine whether we deliver a relatively safe climate for countless generations to come. From a paper recently published in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy, featuring Joseph Stiglitz and other all-stars [my emphasis]:
The COVID-19 crisis could mark a turning point in progress on climate change. This year, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will fall by more than in any other year on record. The percentage declines likely in 2020, however, would need to be repeated, year after year, to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Instead, emissions will rebound once mobility restrictions are lifted and economies recover, unless governments intervene. There are reasons to fear that we will leap from the COVID frying pan into the climate fire.Cameron Hepburn, Brian O’Callaghan, Nicholas Stern, Joseph Stiglitz, Dimitri Zenghelis: “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?” Oxford Review of Economic Policy, May 8, 2020
You might think that I’m a single-issue voter for climate change. And in a way, you’d be right: I insist that my children — who are actual people, not some disembodied “won’t someone think of the children” — have a livable place to live and flourish on. I think they should be able to be physically safe; to have enough to eat; and to live in peace as far as possible.
But “climate” encompasses everything else that happens within it, here on this lowly ground. That means energy; trade; health; food; jobs; racial justice (as in equitable access to all of the foregoing); etc. Everything affects climate; everything is affected by climate.
Since we’ve got a Senate race where the Green New Deal is a centerpiece, it’s good to re-familiarize ourselves with what it is — i.e. a lot — and what it isn’t. About a year ago, Vox very helpfully made this video explainer:
It is a 14-page framework of policy, not a bill itself. It calls for:
- extreme weather resiliency projects
- Infrastructure projects with an eye to climate, clean water, etc.
- 100% renewable electricity
- building upgrades
- clean manufacturing upgrades
- moving agriculture to sustainable methods
- sustainable transportation, including public transit and rail
- job guarantee, and a “just transition” ie. a smooth landing, for employees affected by the GND
- guaranteed access to health care, housing; and access to clean water, air, food, and nature.
That is a lot! It has to be a lot.
It recognizes the scale of ambition that we need, in order to preserve any kind of ecosystem that we’d consider “livable”. It’s not livable if people starve to death en masse; where there is endless war over water resources and food; where unfathomably powerful storms, floods, fires, and sea-level rise are everyday events; where new pandemics are unleashed.
And it would make a mockery of decency if we did not allocate the benefits of such a plan in an equitable way. If we’re just handing out lifeboats to the richest and well-placed, then there’s no sense to any of it. Therefore climate adaptation and mitigation simply must equate to climate justice, targeting the structure of racism with intent.
Mary Heglar writes:
Climate change takes any problem you already had, any threat you were already under, and multiplies it. When you take a population that has lived in chronic crisis, under constant threat, for generations — from police violence to housing discrimination to general disenfranchisement — and add yet another threat? That’s not just a recipe for catastrophe. With the climate crisis itself — the storms and the temperatures — it’s not so much that the game is rigged, it’s the playing field. Climate change is not the Great Equalizer. It is the Great Multiplier.Mary Heglar, “We Don’t Have to Halt Climate Action to Fight Racism; It’s time to stop #AllLivesMattering the climate crisis”, Huffington Post, 6/12/2020
The Green New Deal is, at its core, an agenda of fairness. As its name would indicate, it springs from a noble heritage. Ed Markey speaks of FDR’s Four Freedoms:
When we were drafting the resolution, we looked to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union address, which he delivered in the form of one of his fireside chats. He laid out his plan to guarantee the third unalienable right: the pursuit of happiness. He said that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security.
So, because of the millions of veterans who were going to be returning after we finished winning World War II, he proposed the Second Bill of Rights, under which a new basis for security and prosperity can be established for all, regardless of station, race, or creed.
And he went through [the rights]. If they sound familiar, it’s because they’re in the Green New Deal: the right to a work in a job that pays enough to support a family, the right to earn enough to provide food and clothing and recreation, the right to a decent home, the right to medical care, the right to a good education, the right to do business in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition. He concluded by saying that all these rights spell security.
But to be sure, it is the open-ended nature of the Green New Deal that needs a lot of filling in. That belies the notion that Ed Markey and Joe Kennedy III are equivalent because “they’ll vote the same anyway.” That is absolutely the wrong measure of effectiveness, and it betrays Kennedy’s shallow understanding of both the issues and the job itself. I don’t care that Kennedy “supports the Green New Deal”; I want to know if he can write it. Markey and Kennedy don’t have the same depth of knowledge, experience, or intellectual curiosity; they won’t write the same; they won’t make coalitions the same. We are talking about nothing less than remaking the economy, and the details matter. We’re going to need someone who knows climate science; energy policy; environmental protections; efficiency regulations and market design in the auto, appliance, power generation, and building sectors; labor protections; etc. This is no joke.
And if your lawmakers (or critically, their staff) don’t possess these qualities, you won’t get good results: They’ll get rolled by lobbyists, hostage-taking- and cold-feet colleagues; and end up making policy that doesn’t give you greatest bang for the buck. In the legislative process, the legislator’s own knowledge and professionalism — and that of their staff — are bulwarks against corruption.
God willing and the creek don’t rise: If we take control of the Presidency, the House, and the Senate next year, it will be a first 100 days of literally unprecedented significance. It will require from our legislators a depth of understanding of these epoch-defining issues of fairness, mercy and justice — to know the hole we’re in, and how to begin to climb out, right now. The way we rebuild our economy determines the fate of life on earth.
We absolutely do not have time for Joe Kennedy III to get up to snuff on this raft of issues — for which he’s heretofore shown precious little curiosity or commitment. He didn’t even show up to the climate debate. He didn’t even mention climate in his State of the Union response. He dismisses the Green New Deal. It’s too bad, because if he genuinely took on Markey on Markey’s own turf, he’d force both of them to sharpen their ideas.
Ed Markey is not just a vote in the Senate; another Markey term is not a continuation of the past. We’re down 28-3 in the second half; and he is the starting quarterback when we need a big championship drive to a new era. Just give him the ball.