Climate Change as the “Enemy”

Written by Margaret Bruce, Program Manager LGSEC

On February 5th, a non-binding resolution titled the “Green New Deal” was submitted by Congress-member Ocasio-Cortez. This ambitious, holistic and unconventional proposal grips the imagination. To succeed, I think the Green New Deal needs an enemy to motivate action.

Why an enemy? This nation is never so united, tenacious and audaciously ambitious as when it has an enemy. The first New Deal was a fight against desperate poverty and grinding economic stagnation. Who is the enemy now? The coal industry? The oil and gas industry? They certainly bear some responsibility and accountability for the mess we’ve made, but no. Climate Change must be our enemy. The Green New Deal sets out a list of themes, goals and actions which, taken together and with others not yet mentioned, could turn the crises of climate change into an economic and social renaissance. But to do this, a fundamental notion needs to change. THEY are not the enemy – IT is the enemy. And what a formidable enemy IT is!

We need to put the issue of climate change on one side of the table, and everything else on the other. We, united, sit across from Climate Change, and we, united, must bring all we have to the table. And if there are elements that do not help in the fight against climate change, we must work together to re-frame them, aid and empower what must change and transform impediments into assets.

The Green New Deal proposes a swift transition of the entire United States energy generation capacity to 100% “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources…” Implementing this vision requires a huge re-alignment of resources. Is this impossible? Won’t this radically change our economy? I would argue – No, its not impossible. The technology exists. Furthermore, this nation once completely transformed its peace-time economy into the world’s largest, war-materials economy in a matter of months. All that is lacking now is political will and courage. And it will certainly transform our economy! Slow decline is hard to fight. Each passing year things are just a little bit harder, but we’re tough and we can manage. Up to a point. Many see that point as imminent. By neglecting the nation’s dwindling middle class, by the slow abandonment of the nation’s disadvantaged communities, we have been boiling ourselves like frogs in a slowly warming economic pot. Opportunity must be shared. The pie is big enough for everyone. The way the pie is divided must change. By changing our priorities and aligning everything on the side of economic opportunity and justice, and against climate change, we will transform our economy.

In a carbon-constrained world, carbon-based energy must stay in the ground. But hydrocarbon energy companies, and their hundreds of thousands of employees, and their communities, must have better jobs, better opportunities and better standards of living under the Green New Deal. What does that look like? Job training and similar programs have been token efforts addressing the economic dislocation that occurs when industries move or die. We must invest in these companies – encouraging them through changes in tax policy, investment, and direct incentives – to pivot from fossil fuels to other economic opportunities. We should never dim the lights on economic opportunity. We must invest in their employees, and in their communities with the equivalent of a Marshall Plan to swiftly realign our economy.

The Green New Deal calls for upgrading all existing buildings. California has been a champion of energy efficiency for decades, and even in California there is still much work to be done. This work is difficult and expensive. We will need more than the current rate-payer funded programs to accomplish such a sweeping vision. Upgrading existing buildings can bring benefits of energy efficiency to many who would otherwise not be engaged, or not benefit. Upgrading existing buildings also brings an opportunity to address three injustices: environmental, energy and economic.

California’s early leadership and growing experience with energy efficiency, environmental and social justice, energy resilience, smart grids and distributed energy resources and technologies give it a first mover advantage. Does California have all the answers? Of course not! We’re still figuring this out, too! But, when the nation gathers around the table, all of us, facing off against the enemy of Climate Change, California may be able to light some of the way for others.