The Austin Chronicle

Point Austin: Signing On to a Green New Deal

Doggett in defense of concrete steps, not “absolute purity”

By Michael King, March 1, 2019, News

Everybody's talking about a "Green New Deal." D.C.-watchers in general and folks engaged in our response to climate change are definitely bristling with opinions, pro and con, about the broad-based project that became an official congressional resolution on Feb. 7, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. The entire 14-page resolution (House Resolution 109) is worth a read; so much ink, tweets, and headlines have been spilled on reactions to it that the proposal itself has gotten less attention.

The resolution introduced by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey is not yet a bill, and its wide-ranging provisions would never be contained in even an omnibus piece of legislation. Nonetheless, it does describe an omnibus project, clearly aspirational in its formulation. If nothing else, the GND is to be applauded for firmly injecting into public discussion some increasingly obvious scientific knowledge that the Trump administration has taken enormous pains to deny.

Consider just a couple of brief selections from the resolution's "whereas" clauses: "(1) human activity is the dominant cause of observed climate change over the past century; (2) a changing climate is causing sea levels to rise and an increase in wildfires, severe storms, droughts, and other extreme weather events that threaten human life, healthy communities, and critical infrastructure ..." There's much more in that ominous vein – all of it essentially incontrovertible. On the subject of climate change and its real, current consequences, the resolution is analogous to the child's declaration: "The emperor has no clothes."

Beyond that emphasis, the resolution explicitly (more controversially) connects the climate crisis to increasing inequality and other "systemic injustices" aggravated by global warming. The implicit argument – the "New Deal" aspect of the proposal – is that we can't fix one without addressing the others.

No Time Like the Present

I spoke to Austin's own Rep. Lloyd Doggett, now a co-sponsor of the resolution, about how he sees the GND and where we go from here. He called it a "broad aspirational resolution" that recognizes "the urgency of the existential threat" of global warming, and that in doing so it represents the voices of "an active group of people determined to respond and do something about that threat." He said that while it "might not be the resolution I would have written ... that's not unusual," adding that the immediate question is, "How do we get more people to join our cause?"

Doggett emphasized that building progressive alliances in this campaign is more important than "demanding absolute purity" – the progressive Twitter-sphere is already having way too many unproductive arguments over whose global-warming hair is sufficiently on fire. Asked, "How do we stop those pointless disagreements?" he answered dryly: "With great difficulty."

Doggett defended the "systemic injustice" aspects of the resolution as acknowledging that the environmental changes that must be made have inevitable economic consequences, but also benefits, and that we need to plan for economic dislocation as well as climate disaster. He noted that Texas already "leads the way" on wind power and has made "significant investments" in solar power, and that "much of the economic aspects are designed to cushion the transition," as is already happening to the coal industry. "We need to identify the concrete steps we can take now," he said, suggesting accelerated research, tax incentives, and infrastructure improvements as examples. "We should have moved more quickly 10 years ago," he added. "Every day we put off finding constructive solutions, the answers will be more difficult – politically and practically."

Spread the Word

Doggett acknowledged that without "a new president and a new Senate in 2020," the necessary tasks will seem overwhelming. In the meantime, he said, "We need to identify the first steps to move us forward," and the Green New Deal outlines a path for progress. In the face of the organized denial of the current administration and its supporters, Doggett added, "We need to increase the number of people willing to take any step" to address the crisis.

The institutional deniers – for example, the Texas Public Policy Foundation shilling for the fossil fuel industry under the guise of "conservatism" – will continue to mock the evidence of global warming and to deride any effort to address it, Green New Deal or otherwise. If we are to stave off or diminish the already evident climate catastrophes, we'll need to expand the number of persuadable allies and build hope against the mounting evidence that we're running out of time.

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