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Green New Deal Backers Rouse Enthusiastic Crowd

Congressional leaders call for strong action to fight climate change at a campaign-style rally in Washington, D.C.

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Americans need to rise up and demand real action to fight climate change now, leading congressional backers of the proposed Green New Deal told a packed and enthusiastic audience at a campaign-style rally at Howard University in Washington, D.C., last night, 13 May.

Speaking with a sense of urgency just 2 days after the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide hit 415 parts per million for the first time in more than 3 million years, the speakers said that the United States should be a global leader in combatting climate change, that there is no time for a middle ground approach, and that government subsidies for fossil fuel industries must end.

“I wish that as a public servant I can come here and tell you that everything is going to be alright. But I can’t tell you that today, because I’m not interested in lying to you. But frankly, there is no reason for us be comfortable right now. We are at 415,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said at the rally organized by the Sunrise Movement, an organization advocating for the Green New Deal. “I’m not here to guarantee to you that everything will be okay. But what I am here to say is that we must try.”

The resolution is an ambitious proposal to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, promote climate justice, and create jobs, among other goals. It has 93 House cosponsors.

Republicans have sharply criticized the resolution, with House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), for instance, calling it “radical” and a “laughable plan” that would increase unemployment, lower wages, and cause prices to skyrocket.

Some Democrats, too, have questioned the political viability of the plan. “One of the challenges with the Green New Deal is it is so aspirational that the thought of it somehow passing the Senate and being signed by this president makes no sense at all,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), cochair of the New Democrat Coalition’s Climate Change Task Force, said recently.

Presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden reportedly has been considering a middle ground approach to climate change that would appeal to environmentalists and blue collar workers. However, Biden’s campaign on Monday reportedly called that story inaccurate, and Biden said the country needs an “environmental revolution.”

A Dig at Republicans and Democrats

Ocasio-Cortez, who introduced the Green New Deal in the House, took a dig at Republican and Democratic legislators alike who don’t support the Green New Deal.

“I will be damned if the same politicians who refused to act then”—several decades ago when Congress heard early warnings about climate change—“are going to try to come back today and say we need a middle of the road approach to save our lives,” she said.

“I am not here to tell you that all Democrats are good and that all Republicans are bad and that if you simply elect someone with a ‘D’ next to their name that our problems will be solved,” she said. “I’ve been told from people on both sides of the aisle that we need to frack more and that we need to build more pipelines.”

Ocasio-Cortez said that “for years of denial and years of abdication of leadership and responsibility, we finally are stepping into that void” to deal with climate change. She also called for supporters to register to vote.

“People will vote if there is something worth voting for, and a Green New Deal is exactly what that is,” she said.

Calling for an End to Oil and Gas Subsidies

At the event, presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also did not mince words. Noting that President Donald Trump has called climate change a hoax, Sanders said, “It is absolutely imperative that we have American leadership that does everything possible to bring the nations of the world together to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel into energy efficiency and sustainable energies.”

Sanders emphasized that fossil fuel industry workers in coal mines and oil rigs “are not our enemies; they are working to feed their families. And that is why we will provide a just transition”—in the Green New Deal—“which protects the working families in the fossil fuel industry.”

However, he had other words for the industry itself. “A lot of people say, ‘Well, I want to combat climate change but, you know, I don’t want to take on the fossil fuel industry.’ That is not the way it happens,” Sanders said. “The truth is that right now we have a small number of incredibly powerful billionaires who exercise enormous influence over the economic and political life of our country.”

The fossil fuel industry is “making billions and billions of dollars in profit every year and then they deny what carbon emissions are doing to our planet. They lie and lie and lie and spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy politicians who echo their lies,” he said, noting that the industry also receives enormous government subsidies. “Maybe providing massive federal support to an industry destroying our planet makes sense to some people but sure as hell does not make sense to me.”

Sanders called for an end to tax subsidies to oil and gas companies.

Climate Change Is the Issue of Our Time, Sen. Markey Says

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who introduced the Green New Deal resolution in the Senate, said that young people are making a difference about climate change. “This generation of young people, your generation, is rising up and demanding that we protect the planet against the greatest challenge of our time, climate change,” Markey told the largely youthful crowd. “In the face of the opposition, in the face of climate denier–in–chief Donald Trump, in the face of critics and naysayers, you are not going to agonize, you are going to organize. That is what is putting fear into the hearts of the fossil fuel industry across our entire country. You will lead the movement that implements the solutions to end the catastrophe that is endangering the planet.”

Climate change “is the moral, the national security, public health, economic, and environmental issue of our time,” he said. “Let us go out and win this war for every person who lives on our planet.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2019), Green New Deal backers rouse enthusiastic crowd, Eos, 100, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019EO123859. Published on 14 May 2019.
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