Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez revealed the final draft of her Green New Deal this week. The sweeping and potentially politically unrealistic climate resolution seeks to eliminate fossil fuel use by building a renewable energy infrastructure that will lead America to a carbon-neutral future. Critics from diverse ideological backgrounds have been quick to respond that the plan is, if not simply too ambitious, then downright impossible. Even if this is true, it is definitely beside the point. And parents, of all people, know this.
Parents have, to be slightly simplistic about it, two responsibilities: keeping kids safe and giving them the opportunity to thrive. As the effects of global climate change become manifest, it’s looking increasingly likely that our kids won’t be safe and may struggle to thrive in the face of cataclysmic weather and demographic events. Is the Green New Deal going to solve all of that? No, of course not. Is it a stretch? Absolutely (though the part about planting more trees seems quite doable). But the Ocasio-Cortez proposal at least represents an attempt to put, in a very real way, a roof over kids heads. Hate the policy if you must. But it’s something.
The resolution neatly lays out what that suffering will look like if global temperatures shoot past a two-degree Celsius shift above pre-industrial levels. The perils of unchecked climate change will include rising sea levels, mass human migration resulting in climate refugees, an increase in wildfire activity, a 99 percent loss of coral reefs and some 350 million more people affected by heat stress, which leads to violence. This is a national security threat. It’s a global threat.
And the suffering isn’t simply ecological. It’s also economic. A two-degree rise in global temperature will also result in $1 trillion in public infrastructure damage and loss of coastal real estate in the United States. Also, the resolution notes, climate change will cause some $500 billion in lost economic output. Kids are going to be put to work footing their parents ecological bill. This should be, for parents, a source of shame or at least extreme concern.
It’s true that there are plenty of parents who have taken the message of ecological emergency to heart and have sought to make a difference in their household. The monitor water use, go solar, drive electric vehicles and recycle. And that’s a great way to model sustainability in the present. But it’s not enough. Personal responsibility is real and parents should teach their children all about it, but some problems require at least some governmental solutions. And those have not been forthcoming at the federal level. Both parties have been reticent to introduce industry regulations, much less taxes. (And Republicans have taken a lot of oil money. A lot.)
The Green New Deal, flawed as it may be, at least represents a genuine attempt to try to help the next generation.
The gist of the plan is to increase government investment in renewable infrastructure. That will require upgrading homes and buildings, adding new energy capacity, building new wind solar and hydroelectric facilities, as well as overhauling the transportation system with high-speed rail and zero-emission electric vehicles. Lots of subsidies. The plan also calls for investment in education to spur advancements and innovations in the green energy sector. The notion is that the rush toward carbon neutrality will create millions of jobs, not just in engineering fields, but also in the traditionally blue-color manufacturing sector which has been devastated over the past decades.
But that’s almost beside the point. If the plan keeps the global temperature from continuing to rise, it would mean our kids actually have a shot at lives that anywhere near as pleasant (and temperate) as our own. As parents, we would ideally hope for far more than that, but it’s too late for that.
The Green New Deal calls for America to become carbon neutral, running on 100 percent renewable energy. It’s an audacious idea and perhaps impossible, but as President Kennedy once pointed out, American’s don’t do things because they are easy. Whether they admire its specifics or its animating impulse, parents need to push for the Green New Deal because that advocacy will move legislators in the direction of action. And if we don’t reach the 100 percent renewable goal, at least we will be able to tell our sweat-stained children that we tried.
If we don’t try, it will be as though we decided to raise our children in a burning house. You can do that for a while. But not for long.