Friends of the Earth Analysis on the Green New Deal Resolution from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey
What is the initiative from Ocasio-Cortez and Markey?
On Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a nonbinding resolution calling for a Green New Deal. The resolution outlines a very positive first step toward a Green New Deal, and it contains many exciting ideas. However, while this Green New Deal is a strong vision for the future, it is still stuck in the politics of today. It is up to future legislation and initiatives at the federal, state and local levels to expand upon the ideas in the resolution and put them into practice.
Does Friends of the Earth support Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal resolution?
We are encouraged by many pieces of the resolution, including the embrace of a federal jobs guarantee, the commitment to worker rights and collective bargaining and recognition that the Green New Deal must be developed from the ground up in collaboration with frontline communities. But by failing to expressly call for an end to the fossil fuel era, the resolution misses an opportunity to define the scope of the challenge and respond to the needs of frontline, vulnerable and indigenous communities facing disproportionate pollution of their air, water and soil. While incomplete, the resolution is a good first step toward a Green New Deal.
What is there to celebrate in the resolution?
There is a lot to celebrate. Friends of the Earth welcomes many new, progressive elements of this proposal, including the explicit mention of indigenous rights, the reference to preventing corporate consolidation, the inclusion of food and agriculture and the strengthening of democratic processes.
- Centering of racial and economic justice: The resolution is framed around the recognition that the Green New Deal must be developed from the ground up in collaboration with frontline communities. The resolution strives to prioritize the health and survival of communities whose air, water and environment have been polluted.
- Social protections and worker rights: This resolution takes care to emphasize our responsibility to workers, particularly as we transition our economy to renewable energy. It explicitly calls for a federal jobs guarantee and good-paying green jobs with the right to organize — a critical protection given how contemporary employment markets are characterized by low-paying, temporary and precarious work. Past federal climate proposals have made inadequate attempts to ameliorate the social impacts of “climate solutions.” For example, previous green jobs bills, such as the Green Jobs Acts of 2007 and 2013, made no mention of union jobs. Only in recent years have Just Transition measures been integrated as a central part of proposed climate legislation.
- Public investment: Climate change is a monumental problem that demands collective action. Previous climate proposals, steeped in market fundamentalism, relied on a carbon price to trigger all the emissions-saving choices necessary among individuals and profit-driven corporations to save the planet. Carbon trading programs — even California’s, which tried to minimize negative health impacts on local communities — have perpetuated pollution hotspots in minority communities. By repudiating carbon pricing as a central mechanism for achieving greenhouse gas emissions, the resolution makes strides to avoid perpetuating localized pollution. But only public investment can muster the upfront investments needed at mass scale to drive the emissions reductions in ways that are accessible to everyone, particularly long-lived infrastructure, regardless of profitability.
- Healthy environment and healthy food: Recognizing that we must guarantee the right to clean air and water, climate and community resiliency, healthy food, access to nature and a sustainable environment to all people of the United States for generations to come is laudable. It is a rights-based framework that recognizes the need to ensure intergenerational environmental and food justice.
- Eliminating pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture: Supporting family farmers in adopting more sustainable practices and improving soil health while ensuring universal access to healthy food are all good starting points.
What is missing or needs to be strengthened?
Science tells us we have 12 years to avert the climate crisis. Omissions, lack of specificity and concerning language mean that the resolution falls short of what is needed to meet the challenge in an equitable and just manner.
- No Mention of Fossil Fuels: This is the most obvious and glaring omission from the resolution. Any effective plan to avert the climate crisis must end our addiction to fossil fuels, which disproportionately burden frontline, vulnerable and Indigenous communities. We can no longer allow the vast political power of the fossil fuel lobbies to advance policies with loopholes to keep us reliant on dirty energy. To succeed in building a just transition that transforms our economy to one that works for people, not corporations, we must begin the difficult conversation about a planned phase-out of fossil fuels. We must stop all new extraction, infrastructure and subsidies. Moreover, we must recognize the democratic leadership of the communities most burdened by fossil fuels, which are also often leading the nation in developing local, place-based strategies for a just transition and innovative solutions to the crisis.
- The Fallacy of “Net-Zero Emissions”: This language could allow for the use of offsets and opens the door for false solutions like carbon capture and storage and biomass energy. These false solutions can worsen existing pollution in frontline communities and lead to land grabs. Moreover, by not requiring real emission reductions, “Net-Zero Emissions” can allow greenhouse gas emitters to continue releasing dangerous climate pollution into our atmosphere.
- The Technologically Feasible Loophole: “Technologically feasible” implies there is a question of whether or not we have the technology to replace polluters producing GHG emissions. That technology exists, and it is available. We should be further developing and scaling technology to replace polluters, not limiting our options. When we decided to go to the moon, we did not ask if it was technologically feasible.
- Nuclear Power: The resolution does not directly address/mention nuclear power. The resolution does call for “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” By definition, this should exclude nuclear power (both old and new reactors), and could appear to amount to a call for the phase-out of pre-existing nuclear power reactors and their replacement with renewable energy. Friends of the Earth strongly supports such a nuclear phase-out and believes that all nuclear power can and should be replaced by a suite of greenhouse gas-free resources, including renewable energy, energy storage and energy efficiency technologies.
- Supporting farmers and farmworkers: To foster just solutions, a Green New Deal must address the unique challenges facing our agriculture and food systems, such as the exemption of most agricultural workers from federal labor laws. A Green New Deal must ensure that worker protections are extended to agricultural workers, particularly women. These include living wages, strengthened labor laws, the right to organize and overtime protections. Furthermore, it should include support for resilient, local and regional agriculture and small to mid-sized organic, new and beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers as well as those transitioning to organic and regenerative farming systems. This includes increasing access to land, credit, fair markets, conservation programs, research and technical assistance. The Green New Deal must also enforce anti-trust laws to prevent unfair pricing and consolidation throughout the food supply chain.
- Supporting transition to healthy, climate-friendly, regenerative food systems: To fight climate change we must cut billions of dollars in subsidies, loans and research for energy-intensive, GHG polluting industrial farming systems that degrade soil health. Instead, we must invest in programs that support diversified, organic and ecologically-regenerative farming and land use practices that increase soil health, increase biodiversity and protect our water. We must also enact nutrition, agriculture and food procurement policies that promote consumption of more healthy, climate-friendly plant-based foods and less animal products and make preferences for local, diversified organic and ecologically-regenerative producers. We must also support efforts to reduce the billions of tons of food wasted each year, instate new regulations to monitor and restrict methane emissions and other air pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations and reduce the use of energy-intensive toxic chemical inputs such as pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that are harming our health, pollinators and climate.
- International climate obligations: The resolution fails to address the United States’ obligation on climate finance and technology transfer, given the United States’ historic responsibility as the largest greenhouse gas emitter. The U.S. must provide finance for developing countries to adapt to and mitigate climate change and provide funds for loss and damage, in quantities and via mechanisms commensurate with what science and justice demand. Moreover, the U.S. should enable and facilitate the transfer to developing countries of environmentally-sound, socially just technologies that are appropriate, affordable and easily accessible.
- National greenhouse gas reduction target: The resolution does not include a national greenhouse gas reduction target, let alone one that is grounded in an equitable approach toward global emissions reductions and takes into account the United States’ large share of both total historical emissions and total global wealth. Without a target, the proposal is a “map without a destination.” Such a target is needed to prioritize and guide public investments, and to establish sector-specific mandates to drive emissions reductions.