Some topics are hard to discuss: racism, sexual violence, immigration reform, slavery, gun control. Rarely do we realize that the accepted narratives come from our oppressors, who wield the power and money to have their POV dominate our thoughts. But not for educator and organizer Phan.
Plan A Magazine is proud to present Phan’s podcast, Pod of Most Resistance, Challenging Dominant Narratives One Episode At A Time. Join Phan as she tackles the most perverse misconceptions and skewed narratives within contemporary politics and tells the story of America from the side of resistance.
The following transcript comes from the show Pod of Most Resistance, episode “Why the Green New Deal Isn’t Just About the Environment.” It has been edited for length and clarity.
The UN has declared that climate change will be irreversible if things don’t change by 2030, which gives humans only 11 years to act. Climate scientists have known this for decades, yet America has failed to switch to clean energy at the same rate as other developed countries and ranks as the number one contributor of global carbon emissions in all of human history. Advocacy for climate action has only recently moved from the fringes to the center stage of political debates. According to a poll conducted by the group Data for Progress, the Green New Deal is popular among 59% of voters, and most, if not all, Democratic presidential candidates support sweeping climate action.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did an MSNBC town hall back in March 2019, and when asked why her first action was to pass the Green New Deal, she said this:
“… First of all we’ve been here. We’ve been here before with the Great Depression. We’ve been here before with WWII, even the Cold War. And the answer has been an ambitious and directed mobilization of the American economy, to direct and solve our problem, our biggest problem. And historically speaking we have mobilized our entire economy around war. But I thought to myself, it doesn’t have to be that way. Especially when our greatest existential threat is climate change. And to get us out of the situation, to revamp our economy, to create dignified jobs for working Americans, to guarantee healthcare and elevate our education opportunities and attainment, we will have to mobilize our entire economy around saving ourselves and taking care of this planet.”
So what makes the Green New Deal different from the past? Why has it received so much attention?
To quickly summarize the basic facts, the Green New Deal was actually created by the Green Party, which was the political party that nominated Jill Stein as a third-party presidential candidate in 2012 and 2016. Then, on her first day as a congresswoman, AOC propelled the momentum by launching a committee that would draft the Green New Deal resolution, which gives us the Green New Deal as many of us know it today in the form of a House resolution.
Now, what is the Green New Deal? It’s simply a resolution. It doesn’t contain any budget plans or policies. It’s a document that provides a framework and sets goals for how America should grow its economy and protect the environment. Here’s how Vox describes it:
“It refers, in the loosest sense, to a massive program of investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure, meant to transform not just the energy sector, but the entire economy.”
Here are a few excerpts from the Green New Deal resolution that was proposed in Congress. The proposal passed the House, but failed in the Senate (because Republicans are climate change deniers):
- To achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers
- To create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people
- To invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century
- To promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers
What makes the Green New Deal revolutionary is that it’s the first proposal of its kind to comprehensively address climate change implications within all sectors of our society and also to gain the support of a major political party. It’s also not a band-aid either, like a carbon tax riddled with corporate loopholes. It’s not a plan B to escape climate change disaster by colonizing Mars or launching giant mirrors into space. In fact, it’s the only feasible plan we have to save ourselves.
The reason why the Green New Deal isn’t just about the environment is because our economy is intertwined with how we produce and consume and with the types of energy that fuel that consumption. Every attempt to either entrench or transform America’s energy sector will have a direct and indirect impact on the financial and material well-being of Americans, such as our monthly energy bill and air quality.
Just as importantly, every decision has the potential to exacerbate or mitigate the enormous wealth gap between the rich and poor. Take, for example, the scenario of government contracts. The federal government will have the power to stipulate that companies with which it contracts for multi-billion-dollar clean-energy projects must pay their workers a $15 minimum wage, allow them to unionize, and restrict pay for executives to 150 times the pay of the average worker.
Now, these are just hypothetical, and sadly not real examples. However, when there are billions of dollars on the table, the American people — and by extension, our representatives — should feel confident in demanding more from companies to protect workers. Whether politicians are conscious of it or not, every decision will have ripples on whether the resulting economic benefits of a green revolution will go to the average American or to the wealthy class, about whom we have more to worry than our use of plastic straws.
“The Green New Deal …is in fact an opportunity to shift power from corporations to the people”
According to Oxfam, the richest 10% of people in the world contribute 50% of individual-consumption-based carbon emissions. Members of the wealthy elite like the Koch brothers don’t want us to know this, because they’ve spent millions of dollars to convince us that climate change is not real or that regulation will have the greatest negative impact on the poor, thereby stifling the demand for corporate accountability and wealthy class accountability.
We cannot rely on the private sector to discover some long lost sense of altruism and reduce the U.S’ carbon footprint for us any longer. Decades of unfettered capitalism have more than sufficiently revealed how little corporations care about its workers, its community or the environment. We are in fact living in an age where 70% of global carbon emissions come from just 100 companies within 3 industries.
The world’s heaviest polluters fear the Green New Deal, knowing full well that it will result in a fundamental shift in class power. Their priority is to protect their bottom line by making sure that we don’t see the benefits of it, or better yet are skeptical of it, and distract us with debates about personal recycling and hypothetical restrictions on meat consumption. The time is now to demand that our government upgrade our country to a clean energy economy that benefits everyone.
Enter Bernie Sanders. Sanders has released the most comprehensive and aggressive climate action policy proposal of any presidential candidate. Also called the Green New Deal, this plan would cost $16 trillion. Here are some quick facts about it. It will:
- Aim to reach 100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation by no later than 2030 and complete decarbonization by 2050
- Create 20 million jobs
- Prioritize the transition of fossil fuel workers
- Give $40 billion of the budget for underserved and under-resourced communities who often bear the burden of climate change disproportionately
- Ban false solutions like nuclear power, whose risks outweigh the benefits
- Reduce the cost of electric vehicles and create a larger network of electric vehicle charging stations.
The Green New Deal will pay for itself over 15 years, and the cost of not doing anything is predicted to be far more than $16 trillion.
Here are several proposed revenue streams for its funding.
First: the fossil fuel industry will finally pay their fair share in taxes under this plan since it has paid very little for the cost of climate change in the past. In the last decade, they’ve benefited from $50 billion in tax loopholes and subsidies. They also haven’t paid for the roads they’ve torn up in the process of transporting oil or paid for the cost of healthcare for the communities they pollute. More recently, they are predicted to receive an additional $15 billion windfall as a result of the GOP tax code revisions in 2018.
Second: we will need to reduce military spending on overseas oil reserves, and reduce military spending overall. According to Securing America’s Future Energy, “the U.S. spends about $81 billion to protect oil supplies around the world.”
Third: Democrats have entertained various kinds of taxes on the wealthy. In an interview on “60 Minutes”, AOC floated the idea of an income tax as high as 70% on individuals who make more than $10 million. Senator Elizabeth Warren has proposed a wealth tax, and former Vice President Joe Biden has included a capital gains tax in his healthcare plan.
Fourth: under Sanders’ plan, revenue will also be generated from the income tax levied on 20 million new jobs. Now, many critics are rather quick to challenge Sanders’ plan by asking “Who will fill those 20 million jobs when the number of people unemployed isn’t nearly that high?” The answer to that is simple:
- People who used to work in the fossil fuel industry
- People who are working jobs that pay at or below the minimum wage
- The millions of people who enter the workforce every year
- Immigrants, through the expansion of work visa programs
The last solution would certainly be the most controversial and rattle the nerves of xenophobes, but it is no exception to history, as we have done it before. When there was a labor shortage during WWII, the U.S. Bracero Program brought in almost 5 million legal workers from Mexico. Only this time, if the United States does expand its immigration programs, it will need to fix the humanitarian crisis happening at the border and ICE detention centers, do a better job at protecting the rights of migrant workers, and offer more opportunities for granting them citizenship, i.e. major immigration reform, before we can even begin to ponder that option.
The Green New Deal isn’t a compromise to save the environment over people or some sort of socialist pipe dream, as skeptics may try to lead us to believe. It’s not an elitist policy that will only benefit the wealthy. It is in fact an opportunity to shift power from corporations to the people, an opportunity to protect people from food shortages, commercial air and water pollution, environmentally induced chronic health conditions, and increasingly devastating natural disasters.
Senator Sanders has released the most ambitious climate change plan that is nothing short of revolutionary. What separates him from other candidates is his boldness to single out and punish architects of climate disaster and simultaneously address the climate crisis as a crisis of inequality. Thus, mocking the Green New Deal as a “kitchen sink proposal”, which is the criticism that the economic reform is irrelevant or out of scope, undermines the massive scale of the problem. Climate change is the greatest existential threat to humanity. Once the global temperature rate breaks 3 degrees centigrade, the environmental consequences will be catastrophic, millions will perish, and millions more will be displaced, and that’s not counting the millions of people who die due to air pollution every year.
“Bernie Sanders’ Workplace Democracy plan… is by far the most progressive labor reform proposal out of any presidential candidate”
“Revolutionary” not only describes the Green New Deal. It’s also the difference between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.The Green New Deal is a far cry from the $3 trillion Warren has pledged to fight climate change. Senator Warren has recently endorsed Governor Jay Inslee’s Clean Energy plan, but what makes their combined plans less progressive than Sanders’ is that they don’t outline any plans to force Big Oil companies to pay for their malfeasance or reduce military spending on protecting overseas oil; they give only a cursory mention of protecting environmentally vulnerable communities who tend to be communities of color and indigenous people; and they do not include a plan for moving toward public ownership of power, which is important because for-profit utility companies currently have no incentive to quickly switch the country to a renewable energy grid.
And remember how I said the government could demand federal contractors provide a $15 minimum wage, allow unions, and place a ceiling on executives’ salaries?Those are all details within Bernie Sanders’ Workplace Democracy plan, which is by far the most progressive labor reform proposal out of any presidential candidate. From a purely environmental standpoint, Warren and Inslee do a sufficient job of addressing climate change, but unfortunately, lack the ambition of Bernie Sanders to address widening systemic economic disparities at all intersections.