Editor’s Note: Michelle Romero is the national director for GreenForAll.org, an organization that Van Jones co-founded 10 years ago to promote green jobs in low-wealth communities. Van Jones is the host of “The Van Jones Show” and a CNN political commentator. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the authors. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Right-wing media outlets seem to be waging a coordinated campaign to portray US Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a dimwit radical. Their efforts will backfire. She is in fact championing the smartest, most practical idea in US politics to address two urgent problems: climate change and poverty.
Ocasio-Cortez, along with a growing number of Democratic colleagues, is asking Rep. Nancy Pelosi to create a select committee on a “Green New Deal” – comprehensive legislation for a mass mobilization of people and resources toward solutions to the climate crisis. If Pelosi agrees, the congressional committee could develop a plan to improve the economy and the environment within a year.
In 2007, Pelosi established a select committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming; it played a role in the creation of the 2007 energy bill, a 2009 stimulus package that included funds for energy efficiency and other environmental provisions, and the 2009 Waxman-Markey bill, which would have established emissions caps and implemented a system for trading emissions allowances, was passed by the House but never acted upon by the Senate. A select committee on a Green New Deal could allow congressional Democrats to pick up where they left off after Republicans disbanded the former committee in 2011 when they took control of the House.
Creating a committee now would be a huge step forward. A big driver of Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal is curbing climate change. A landmark climate report released last month showed the world has less than 12 years to cut carbon emissions in half to avoid catastrophic consequences – a fact that the Trump administration is teaming up with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Russia to try to bury at the COP24 summit in Poland.
Inspired by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s legendary public programs and projects in the 1930s intended to lift America out of the Great Depression, a Green New Deal could reduce climate pollution while uplifting struggling families.
The cost of living for too many Americans is going way up, while the quality of their lives is going way down. Reports show the cost of living in the United States is increasing at the fastest rate in 10 years. Rising housing costs and the increasing price of oil, gas and transportation are the two biggest factors. Low- and moderate-income Americans and people of color really feel the pinch, because they pay a higher percentage of their incomes on housing, transportation and energy.
The benefits of a Green New Deal are real whether you believe in climate science or not. Solar panels don’t put themselves up, wind turbines and smart batteries don’t manufacture themselves, new forests don’t plant themselves. Everything that’s good for the planet is a job, a contract, a business opportunity.
Well-paying green jobs can help lift people out of poverty. American families suffering most also have the most to gain from a Green New Deal that’s done right. The price of pollution adds up; it costs too much – and the poorest pay the most.
On average, according to the American Council on an Energy-Efficient Economy, low-income households pay more than three times the percentage amount that higher-income households pay for utilities, and 50% more than the average household for transportation. Research shows low-income communities and communities of color also bear the brunt of pollution-related health impacts, which means higher medical costs and shortened lifespans.
Modernizing our energy grid and investing in renewables to power homes and buildings would bring energy bills down for everyone. Meanwhile, retrofits for existing buildings to provide proper insulation, modern heating and cooling, and energy-efficient appliances would help struggling families afford to keep their homes warm and the lights on.
On top of that, we could bring transportation costs down for families and businesses by electrifying cars, trucks and buses, and by replacing gas stations with charging stations across the country.
At the scale where cities and school districts are saving money on energy and transportation, those taxpayer dollars could be invested in improving education, health care, and other services. The funds could even go toward improving transit services in rural communities.
This is the promise of a Green New Deal. Clean air and a strong economy. Better health and thriving neighborhoods.
There is a place for coal miners, too. In the short term, the steel to build the wind turbines would need to be smelted using high grade Appalachian coal. To prepare for our society’s transition away from fossil fuels, Green New Deal funds could subsidize green businesses that come in to replace local industries and pay for job training. Some funds could even cover health care and pension costs for workers close to retirement age. There is a place for everyone in the new clean economy.
The US Energy and Employment Report shows that in 2017 we already had 3.2 million people working in wind, solar, energy efficiency and other clean energy jobs, outnumbering fossil fuel jobs 3 to 1. Countries like China are outpacing the United States in renewable energy, as the Trump administration rolls back its ambition. Targeted investments by the federal government could help the United States stay competitive and keep consumer cost low, all while addressing the needs of communities most affected by pollution.
In our hearts, most people know that an economy tied to coal and oil is a ticking time bomb. When those resources are gone, those jobs will be gone, and so will our planet.
Communities do better when the planet does better.
We know Nancy Pelosi supports and has worked to achieve positive environmental policy. She shepherded the Green Jobs Act of 2007 through to passage and signing by George W. Bush, as a part of a broader energy package. The only question now is: Will Pelosi establish a committee to create a Green New Deal next year, to make progress under the current administration? That is the question hundreds of young people went to her offices to ask, first in early November and again on Monday.
We hope Pelosi creates the committee – and believe that she will. When she does, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be looking even smarter, and her critics will be looking even more foolish.