In recent weeks, a polar vortex blew across the U.S., killing at least 20 people. At the same time, U.S. government scientists reported that 2018 was the fourth-warmest year on record, with the five hottest years occurring in the past five years. A huge hole in one of the largest glaciers in Antarctica is causing accelerated melting there, while across that continent, large lakes of meltwater are bending, buckling and threatening to collapse these vast ice sheets -- all leading to rapidly increasing global sea level rise. Glaciers melting in the Himalayas threaten tens of millions of people downstream with flooding and the disruption of water supplies. As evidence that the planet is experiencing what has been called "the sixth great extinction," a recent review of scientific data concludes that 40 per cent of the world's insects are on the brink of extinction.
President Donald Trump's response? During the polar vortex, he tweeted: "What the hell is going on with Global Waming? (sic) Please come back fast, we need you!" Yet there are signs of hope. Two Democrats, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, have submitted a resolution to Congress recognizing "the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal." House Resolution 109 had a remarkable 67 co-sponsors in the House, all Democrats, and has been distributed to 11 different House committees for consideration.
"Today is the day that we truly embark on a comprehensive agenda of economic, social and racial justice in the United States of America," Ocasio-Cortez said, announcing the effort. "Climate change and our environmental challenges are one of the biggest existential threats to our way of life, not just as a nation, but as a world."
The Green New Deal is named after the original New Deal, the massive government program launched by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to help the United States recover from the Great Depression. In addition to imposing a slew of regulations to constrain the big banks that were largely responsible for the financial collapse, FDR's New Deal empowered the federal government to directly hire millions of workers to do everything from building roads and bridges to writing poetry. The Social Security system was created to protect the elderly from the ravages of poverty. In the decades since, the New Deal has become synonymous with successful government intervention on a grand scale to solve massive, seemingly intractable problems.
The parallel Senate and House resolutions put forth by Markey and Ocasio-Cortez -- known as "AOC" to her supporters -- are a call to action to Congress to craft laws that implement a true Green New Deal, rapidly shifting the U.S. economy to one that is powered by renewable energy, and to do so in a fair, equitable and just manner.
When asked on 60 Minutes by CNN's Anderson Cooper, "Are you talking about everybody having to drive an electric car," AOC replied: "It's going to require a lot of rapid change that we don't even conceive as possible right now. What is the problem with trying to push our technological capacities to the furthest extent possible?"
Cooper also challenged her on the cost of a Green New Deal, which, in part, AOC would pay for with an increased marginal tax on the super wealthy -- a 70 per cent tax rate on income earned in excess of $10 million, for example. Several national polls suggest strong support for such a tax.
While almost every Democratic presidential hopeful has embraced the Green New Deal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi casually derided the plan, saying, in response to a reporter's question about its legislative chances: "It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive. The green dream, or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they're for it, right?"
After Sen. Markey submitted his Green New Deal resolution, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, "We're going to be voting on that in the Senate to give everybody an opportunity to go on record." He and the Republican Party are calculating that a vote in favour will politically damage incumbent Democrats come re-election time.
But McConnell is wrong. A majority of Americans believe that climate change is real, poses a threat to humankind, and that something must be done. It is time for the dinosaurs in Congress and the White House to wean themselves off fossil fuels and support the Green New Deal, or face extinction.
Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller. This column originally appeared on Democracy Now.
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