Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said the fight against climate change will go down in history as this era’s civil rights movement, Great Society and Apollo program all rolled into one.
The New York Democrat was addressing a town hall on climate change hosted by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., at the Hart Senate Office Building Monday night. She compared the “Green New Deal” championed by progressives to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s economic New Deal of the 1930s, when American was in the midst of the Great Depression and the world was heading toward war.
“No one would have thought that a nation so poor, so scarce, and in such dire straits as we were in that time could pursue such a bold economy agenda, but we chose to anyway. We had the courage to do it anyway,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “That is what this moment demands of us right now. This is going to be the Great Society, the moon shot, the civil rights movement of our generation. That is the scale. That is the scale of the ambition that this movement is going to require.”
There were other guest panelists, but Ocasio-Cortez, the charismatic 29-year-old who unseated a powerful 10-term representative to win a seat in Congress, was certainly the night’s star. The previous speaker, Earth Guardians youth director Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, was giddy about getting to hear her speak: “Alexandria Ocasio [is] about to come up and just to tear up the mic. I’m excited to be witness to it.”
Her grand statements about the scale of the necessary response were met with thunderous applause. The evening’s message that global warming caused by man is a tremendous threat, and a requirement for unprecedented action to lower greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to rising sea levels, is validated by scientific consensus and the latest National Climate Assessment.
But for the next few years, at least, it seems unlikely that the American people or government will rally around climate control action the way they embraced the Apollo program, the successful project conceived by President John F. Kennedy to put an astronaut on the moon by the end of the 1960s. Back then, NASA received more than 4 percent of the federal budget. Ocasio-Cortez didn’t address how the Democrats could pass a “Green New Deal” without control of the White House or the Senate.
She characteristically spent much of her time talking about income inequality, and her points about climate change were mostly related to economic justice. She called for “fully funding the pensions” of coal miners and “inventing technology that’s never even been invented yet,” but said all of these proposals need to be consolidated under a “Green New Deal” because these issues cannot be handled piecemeal.
The phrase “Green New Deal,” in reference to a stimulus package that would address environmental and economic concerns, was popularized by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in 2007. Since then, it’s been embraced by Green Party candidates such as Jill Stein, but democratic socialists like Ocasio-Cortez will give it new life on Capitol Hill.
“I believe that the progressive movement is the only movement that has answers right now. We’re the only ones that are drawing from the lessons of history,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “From Franklin Delano Roosevelt. From some of the most ambitious projects we have pursued in American history. That truly again is the scale that it’s going to take.”
But after Ocasio-Cortez said progressives are the only people offering solutions to climate change, the next speaker was a Republican from Texas — Georgetown Mayor Dale Ross — who successfully transitioned his city, population 70,000, to 100 renewable energy sources.
“You have to be a fact-based decision maker,” Ross said. “So I trust the scientists in their field who can land a Mars rover 300 million miles from here versus somebody who really doesn’t have any education or expertise in climate change.”
Ross said the energy market is at a tipping point where coal cannot compete with wind and solar power in cost, so his town has been looking to renewables. He told stories about meeting constituents who used to work the oil fields but got jobs as technicians on wind farms and love their new careers.
“People take a sense of pride in it. We still have that little segment that’s not really happy about it because, you know, ‘This is some kind of partisan liberal, Democratic, left-wing conspiracy policy of some sort,’” he said. “I don’t know what the conspiracy is.”
Sanders promoted the event as an opportunity to explore solutions for protecting the planet from devastation and millions of good-paying jobs. After becoming a household name during the 2016 presidential campaign, he has hosted similar town halls on health care reform, income inequality and foreign affairs. He hasn’t announced plans for another run in 2020 but is frequently mentioned as a possible contender.
The town hall coincided with the second day of the two-week U.N. climate conference in Katowice, Poland, where national representatives from member states of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change are working on establishing rules for fulfilling the Paris Agreement. As a result of President Trump’s announced intention to withdraw from the climate accord, the U.N. has a lesser seat at the negotiating table in Poland.
“In the next few weeks and months, very important decisions are going to be made in the House and in the Senate,” Sanders said. “The truth of the matter is that the American people, in my view, understand the moral imperative of combating climate for our kids and grandchildren. And they increasingly understand that we can create millions of jobs as we do that.”
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