Ocasio-Cortez Lays Out Why Climate Change Isn’t an “Elitist” Issue

Luke Darby
“You want to tell people that their concern and their desire for clean air and clean water is elitist?”

On Tuesday, at a Financial Services Committee meeting, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made an impassioned speech on climate change. "We’re going to pay for this whether we pass a Green New Deal or not," she said. "As towns and cities go underwater, as wildfires ravage our communities, we are going to pay."

Since she and Massachusetts senator Ed Markey unveiled their joint resolution for a Green New Deal, Congressional Republicans and conservative pundits have been dedicating a great deal of time and energy to discrediting it. They've cited cost, inconvenience, and flimsy claims that the plan eliminates all cattle and airplanes. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even brought the Green New Deal to the Senate floor to force what many are calling a "stunt vote" to embarrass Democrats. And now there's a new line of critique: All this environmental talk is just an issue for fancy coastal elites.

Ocasio-Cortez's comments came after Republican congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin tried to force a homelessness bill to meet "green standards." He called the Green New Deal "elitist," saying it would raise the cost of housing and hurt low-income and homeless people. “The Green New Deal is one that if you are a rich liberal from maybe New York or California," he said, "it sounds great because you can afford to retrofit your home or build a new home that has zero emissions, that is energy-efficient, affordable, and safe.”

Ocasio-Cortez, who has a reputation for cutting through spin and political posturing, retorted:

You want to tell people that their concern and their desire for clean air and clean water is elitist? Tell that to the kids in the South Bronx, which is suffering from the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country. Tell that to the families in Flint, whose kids have their blood ascending in lead levels. Their brains are damaged for the rest of their lives. Call them elitist. You're telling them that those kids are trying to get on a plane to Davos? People are dying. They are dying.

She went on to cite unprecedented flooding last week that's still impacting millions of people throughout the Midwest. And while the U.S. is actively failing to do anything to address climate change, the entire country is facing more devastating natural disasters, and more often. California has faced a series of massive wildfires in the past several years, each one "historic." And as the Houston Chronicle pointed out late last year, the U.S. government's own climate-change report cited the quartet of hurricanes that struck Houston, Puerto Rico, and Florida in 2017, saying their ability "to rapidly reach and maintain very high intensity was anomalous and, in one case, unprecedented. This is consistent with the expectation of stronger storms in a warmer world."

Climate change is probably the one crisis that will so thoroughly and indiscriminately upend the lives of everyone in the U.S.—hell, everyone in the world. It's a threat to us as a species — it's not just a pet project for "coastal elites."