On a sunny, but wet morning, activists gathered recently in San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza to demand Representative Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues endorse the Green New Deal.
“The Green New Deal supports my future,” Samantha, an 11-year-old speaker, told the crowd. “I am here for my little brother who’s at school and my future baby brother. We speak for the voices who can’t.”
While the details of the Green New Deal are still being debated, its general objective is clear: a comprehensive national approach, based on economic and racial justice, to transition the economy away from fossil fuels.
Like the Depression-era reforms from which it derives its name, the Green New Deal would provide greater national investments in clean energy jobs and infrastructure. If done right, these investments could significantly benefit the economy. In California, for example, the solar industry produced $47.9 billion in total economic activity in 2016.
Bay Area activists, organized by the youth-led “Sunrise” movement, are calling on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to create a select committee in the House of Representatives, which is mandated to create a plan for a just transition of the economy in the next 10 to 12 years.
“Obviously, Congresswoman Pelosi has a lot on her plate,” Isaac Silk, a 26-year-old organizer with the Bay Area Chapter of Sunrise, told me. “But anyone who has grandchildren or children should understand that young people are demanding real action on this issue at a speed and scale based in scientific reality.”
Unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi and many Democrats in Congress have yet to endorse the Green New Deal. They are addressing climate change more directly with special committees and bills. While these actions are both necessary and laudable, they are also likely short-lived.
The climate change committee resurrected by Speaker Pelosi is one example. Dubbed the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, it could create reports and bring more public attention to the dangerous environmental conditions facing us today and tomorrow. But if Republicans regain power of the House, they can choose not to renew it. Republican representatives killed the first iteration created by Pelosi in 2007.
A similar fate probably awaits other ambitious bills to address climate change. Last week, Reps.Jimmy Gomez and Ted Lieu from Southern California introduced the “Climate Solutions Act of 2019.” The bill boldly aims to drive the United States toward 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. It also would create an efficiency standard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
“Failing to protect the planet will endanger the lives of millions, hurt the economy and jeopardize our children’s future,” Rep. Lieu said in a statement. “Now that Democrats are in the majority, we can and will be more aggressive on curbing the impact of climate change and creating a sustainable future for generations to come.”
Even if — by some miracle — the Democrat-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate both pass the Climate Solutions Act of 2019, it won’t survive the White House. President Donald Trump wouldn’t face any pushback from his constituents if he vetoes a bill targeting climate change. He could, however, be forced to answer some questions if he strikes down the “Job Creation and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2019.”
That’s why the possibility of the Green New Deal holds such promise.
As the need to respond to climate change becomes more urgent every wildfire and hurricane season, the need for national environmental policies that can survive the pendulum swings of party politics also becomes more acute. Bipartisan legislation to address air pollution has survived for decades because it addresses Americans’ immediate concerns about health and safety. Similarly, the Green New Deal could survive because it focuses on jobs, infrastructure
and the economy.
Young people, like 11-year-old Samantha and 26-year-old Isaac, drive home the need to change the rhetoric. Speaker Pelosi won’t protect their future long-term by continuing to limit the conversation to climate change. It’s time for San Francisco’s representative to make a broader, new deal with the American people.
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Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest columnist. Check her out at robynpurchia.com