It took less time for the so-called Green New Deal to draw criticism as “impossible” than it did for the change in water sources for Flint, Mich., to turn drinking water into a toxic, lead soup.
There is no single Green New Deal, but this week there was a whole lot of attention on the proposal supported by newly elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y,) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). It is a vehicle that calls for a magnificent, wide-spread national effort to turn around the effects of climate change.
For openers, the proposal is a resolution, not a bill assigning duties and tax monies. It is a statement of intent and recommitment rather than a practical plan, like calling for a moon shot or a campaign to target cancer elimination over the next 10 years. The proposal was launched with at least 60 co-sponsors, which is a pretty astounding achievement for a newly arrived freshman in Congress.
But by this weekend you saw official Republican leadership starting to target the effort as they do “socialism,” an emotional campaign about the excesses of government. Even Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was being quoted as sounding tepid about wanting to proceed with the program.
As critics, all these attacks miss the point. The real meaning of the Green New Deal is that, as a society, we need to take on the ultimate environmental challenge as a social mission—a commitment to making substantial change.
Most bills are hammered and shaped until they can be successfully narrowed as to gain the minimum number of votes required for passage. By contrast, what felt so great about this resolution—whether you are for it or against it—is that its breadth and aspiration is so great as to not get confused with actual, practical solutions. Rather, it is, in effect, asking the Congress to commit to an operational goal.
In launching the proposal, Ocasio-Cortez cited the New Deal and the Great Society as huge ideas that everyone scoffed at before refining them into hundreds of specific ideas that, taken together, have defined the last decades seem orderly marches to a better life.
This time, however, we’re talking about climate change, something that seems to tax our American sensibilities to want to embrace even as a problem—regardless of the subsequent solutions needed. Ocasio-Cortez is asking us to suspend our usual tsk-tsking about whether X or Y policy will be fully workable and agree that we are better served right now by just saying we will commit to a fight against the status quo.
Over the next year or so, we will argue about the possibilities of change as much as we do the nature of those changes.
When it comes to gun safety, for example, where American voters fall down is not about butt stocks or how many days of backgrounding are necessary, but on the whole idea of moving to limit guns in any manner. In the question of expanding gay or transgender rights, it is not about whether we need to exempt cake bakers from offering their services as it is the general question of how we want to recognize same-sex relationships.
In other words, it is exactly on those big, overarching aspirations that our society is having its biggest rifts.
Most of the time, I advocate for the more narrow, exact view of legislation. We’re watching especially this week for how a group of dedicated legislators of different points of view can focus on the actual facts-on-the-ground information about the border to be able to hammer out a compromise agreement.
There is no question that the seas are rising, that weather patterns are changing, that global heat is rising by those tiny amounts that add up to very practical and very adverse results. Even climate change deniers are altering their arguments to say the question at hand is what we’re supposed to do about such climate patterns, regardless of whether there is agreement on whether the causes are man-made.
It feels like a generally healthy statement to set out some forthright aspirations for a coordinated policy to address what will be ailing us.
There will be plenty of time to argue out specifics. This one is not being presented as the ultimate legislative answer but as a thought-inducing general aspiration. Let’s receive it that way.