Updated: Dec 31, 2020
Partisan Politics Meets a Necessary and Time Sensitive Politics
Recent surges in this issue’s popularity encouraged the unveiling of a new climate plan this past June. The plan embraced many elements from last year’s controversial “Green New Deal” proposal from Senators Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA). The new climate plan is even more ambitious than the already gargantuan proposal from last year’s New Deal (Colman, 2020). Climate change is an urgent problem which grips the conscience of many Americans, particularly younger progressives. Recognizing the climate crisis’s potential global impacts, supporters of the Green New Deal and the recent update believe that these supposedly radical plans are necessary if the United States is going to take a leading role in the battle against an existential threat. Shortly following the release of last year’s proposal, media organizations with US audiences erupted in flurries of misinformation and misdirection — but this year, publicity has been almost nonexistent considering the ever-looming pandemic.
The more recent climate plan is rather lengthy and complicated: the report from House Democrats is 547 pages of research on all 120 pieces of legislation which are bundled within the Deal. Instead of addressing this very nuanced proposal, a more fruitful analysis may stem from a review of last year’s more general proposal, one that shares many goals and policy similarities, minus the specificity. Now that the dust has settled around this controversial policy, it is easier to analyze it and fairly criticize it. During the proposal’s initial release, everyone had conflicting ideas about what either version of the Green New Deal means in terms of actual policy, but conservatives knew they hated it, socialists knew they loved it, and moderates knew to keep their mouths shut while the conservatives and socialists battled it out. Instead of throwing up hands at the smallest of references to “farting cows,” unpacking the resolution for what it sets out to do,and how, can help inspire future efforts for policy change.
The Green New Deal promised Americans the following: millions of high-wage jobs, net-zero greenhouse gas emissions with fair transitions for impacted communities and workers, investments in infrastructure to retrofit them with environmental protections, secure clean air and water for all people, improved community resilience to natural disasters, improved access to healthy food, more access to nature, protections for frontline communities, 100% renewable and clean power supply, energy efficient grids, clean manufacturing, the removal of pollution from agricultural processes, investments in family farming operations, an overhaul of transportation systems, a high speed rail, clean vehicle manufacturing, more access to public transit, removal of greenhouse gases using low tech solutions like land preservation and afforestation, restoration of endangered ecosystems, promotion of international exchanges of information to increase climate action abroad, inclusion of frontline communities, job retraining, a federal job guarantee with a living wage, and universal healthcare (H. Resolution 109, 2019). Considering how long the list of promises is, it is not hard to understand why the plan upset conservatives and confused moderates. Some of the proposals are relatively vague, like “more access to nature,” while others are clear but frightening in terms of their implications. A federal jobs guarantee is no small matter to be stuck to the end of a climate change bill; what makes it even more radical is the living wage which accompanies it. Throughout the proposal, a lot of care is taken to stress the correction of systemic injustices that will take place under this plan. Frontline communities include all communities that have their land rights frequently violated either by natural disasters or eminent domain when the government attempts to expand public services. Indigenous groups and racial minorities frequently pick up the government’s tabs when energy interests come into play. One only needs to look at the political battleground that once was the Atlantic Coast pipeline to see the war between big energy and Native American populations. Investments made to combat climate change would prioritize minority communities with disproportionate levels of pollution, ultimately improving economic support for these struggling groups; the economic investment will spark job growth and improve racial equity in a country that struggles with racial equity.
All of this sounds fantastic in theory, but on some level, we ought to consider the political dimension of this. I applaud the noble ambitions of Senators Ocasio-Cortez and Markey, but the aftermath of their proposal could only be expected. Conservatives would never support such an aggressive plan — that tries controversial solutions to nearly every American economic ailment — and frankly, if liberals refuse to acknowledge that fact, then they will sacrifice their original purpose for creating the Green New Deal. Combating climate change should be the primary goal of a Green New Deal. By piling on the redress of racial issues, a federal jobs guarantee, universal healthcare, and living wages, Democrats have sacrificed the plan’s feasibility and endangered our planet’s health. Our nation was built on compromise, and for better or for worse, the tradition of compromise carries on today. Republicans can get behind a climate proposal, just not one which unnecessarily promises each American a federal job with a living wage. Instead of addressing the economic drawbacks of these policies, like the absolute destruction of the private sector which would inevitably follow, I will leave it at a call for the maintenance of political priorities. We must isolate the issue of our crumbling environment if we hope to expedite the passage of these policies.
On March 25, 2019, the US Senate failed to pass the first, nonbinding (in other words, completely inconsequential) Green New Deal resolution by a margin of 0-57. The remaining 43 votes were from Democrats who marked “present” but protested the early vote forced by Republicans who refused to engender a serious conversation on the resolution.
Republicans have fared no better at respecting the necessity of climate action. There has been improvement in Republican rhetoric regarding the existence of climate change, and the party does deserve some modest applause for this late, but nevertheless appreciated, arrival to the 21st century. Rather than continue to deny that climate change is influenced by humans or ignore the impending doom altogether, Republicans have put forth their own proposal to combat climate change. Many interpret this change in policy as a concession from Republicans that the growing voting demographic of young people are seriously concerned about climate change. Top House Republicans have shown support for policies like the American Climate Contract, which promotes innovation and conservation, but many climate change activists have criticized these proposed bills which attempt to protect the free market for not going far enough to create meaningful change (Natter, 2020). Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has put forth other proposals which writers from Politico describe as “narrow” in their ability to elicit actual change. Unfortunately, even these inconsequential innovation bills, many of which would not actually solve climate change issues for the United States, are met with resistance from older members of the Republican party who refuse to go along with any shift in climate policy. Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY), for example, demanded the immediate failure of the bill because of his laughable belief that more carbon dioxide is good for the environment because it encourages plant growth.
Thus, our politics are characteristically divided. The Democrats have tacked on too many initiatives with their climate change bills to the extent that compromise seems impossible. The Republicans, in attempting to balance a younger voting demographic with valuable corporate fossil-fuel interests, have thrown only haphazard plans that cannot begin to address the plan in any meaningful way . Neither group has acknowledged the primacy that climate change should take in the formation of a meaningful policy agenda. While we wait for one or both to adapt, our world withers away with our nation in it.
Varun Mandgi is a staff writer at The Incandescent Review and a senior at Maggie L. Walker Governor's School in Richmond, Virginia. The editor of his school's newspaper and political magazine, he also loves to compete in Lincoln Douglas debate, and spends his free time reading up on some of his favorite philosophers, including Rawls and Rousseau.
Kate Ma is a high school junior from North Carolina who is passionate about music and art. In her free time, she enjoys drawing, playing clarinet and piano, as well as singing (very poorly). She also loves to read and write her own stories, and she had a very severe Wattpad phase during which she published multiple stories that she has now taken down out of embarrassment.