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Green New Deal Refocuses U.S. Attention on Climate Change

Activists calling for greater action to address climate change march in Washington.

It’s safe to say that the Congressional Resolution to create a Green New Deal is no ordinary government matter. Overnight, it has drawn intense reactions: Some Democrats and Democratic Socialists have forcibly occupied public offices and are planning to knock on doors en masse to gain support for the resolution while conservatives and even some self-declared moderates have presented it as both unrealistic and an alleged “totalitarian plan to destroy America.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised: the Green New Deal places the global problem of climate catastrophe in the middle of American public discourse in a sweeping, ambitious way. With hundreds of thousands of children as young as 13 skipping school in Europe, white-hot anger in Brazil over a deadly collapse of a dam due to climate changes and corporate mismanagement and a year of headlines which included fires in the Arctic circle and reports warning of irreversible mass extinction, the old debate between moderate action and denialism has been replaced by a sharper divide.

Globally, we are now seeing a split between proponents of complete societal overhaul and warlike mobilizations to stave off collapse, such as Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who introduced the Green New Deal into Congress, and opponents who, rather than denying the oncoming disaster, have begun to claim that there is nothing that we can do to stop it, so action is futile – the official stance of the Trump administration, which rejected even moderate fuel emissions rules on the grounds that they wouldn’t make any difference.

As the world’s largest consumer of oil, natural gas and meat, with the world’s largest carbon dioxide pollution per capita and the only nation to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, which scientific experts consider to be inadequate anyway, the direction of this debate in the United States matters. On Temple University’s campus, Democratic and Democratic Socialist student groups have planned activism around the agreement.

“There’s a big youth movement behind it, we’re definitely in support of this legislation. This country needs this because climate change is a devastating issue facing the world and we’re not long before we’re past the point of no return,” said Jason Linderman, interim vice president of Temple’s Young Democratic Socialists of America.

The resolution they are rallying around is, for better or worse, easy to understand. Just 14 pages long, it calls for a transfer to making the United States carbon-neutral by 2030, a switch to 100 percent renewable energy, and the creation of public banks to provide large-scale green jobs and infrastructure investment. Along with taking on climate change, the bill is intended to create a massive redistribution of wealth and install universal health care.

Polls say the Green New Deal has over 50 percent support even among Republican voters, however, many components of the proposed legislation have already been seized upon by the center and right as hopelessly utopian, dictatorial or ridiculous, with some commentators claiming that a Green New Deal would outlaw air travel, force Americans to stop eating steak and “tear down and rebuild every building in the country.”

At the same time, left opposition to the text proposed by Ocasio-Cortez has also emerged, with some environmental activist organizations noting that the deal currently does not call to a total end to the use of fossil fuels, does not ban fracking and has received backing from groups closely connected to major corporations.

Asked about the bill’s content, Linderman replied, “it seems like it’s more of a signifier of where they want to take the Democratic Party rather than a bill that will pass in its current form.”

Capitalizing on conservative media attacks on the Green New Deal and the reluctance of the Democrats’ right wing to support the proposal, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to hold a vote on the deal in the coming days, requiring Democratic Senators to choose whether or not to back the measure.

Even before the bill’s text was revealed, however, youthful enthusiasm for rhetoric of a “Green New Deal” led to occupations by young people in the offices of Democratic governors and congressional offices. Whatever becomes of the proposals, they and the young people backing them – not just in the U.S., either, word is “Green New Deals” are also being considered overseas – are only the beginning of what is sure to be a series of attempts to resolve the climate situation.

“The fact that someone is finally subverting the status quo with this grand proposal is refreshing,” said Daisy Confoy, leader of the Temple College Democrats. “Like many others, I’m tired of hearing ‘how are we going to pay for it?’ and ‘this is unrealistic’ — because we know what’s at stake is much more important than the technicalities. Right now, we have a duty to prove our commitment to addressing the most pressing issue of our generation.”