US presidential hopeful Kamala Harris supports Green New Deal

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From pv magazine USA.

It’s been a big 24 hours for the U.S.’ Green New Deal proposition. On Monday afternoon, U.S. senator and Democrat presidential candidate Kamala Harris announced her support for federal mobilization to address climate change and create jobs. Since this is 2019, the news came as a tweet, with Harris declaring: “I support a Green New Deal. Climate change is an existential threat to all of us, and we have got to deal with the reality of it.”

Not to be outdone yesterday morning, billionaire, philanthropist and businessman Michael Bloomberg announced he would give details of his own plan for a Green New Deal. Which is interesting, because he hasn’t yet announced he is running for president – or ruled it out.

The former New York mayor tweeted: “Today I announced I’ll outline a plan for a Green New Deal, accelerating [the] U.S. transition to 100% clean energy. The first pillar will be investing in people and communities that powered our economy for decades. The economic benefits of a Green New Deal must reach every corner of the country.”

Harris wasn’t the first presidential candidate to announce her support for the idea, as fellow Democrat senator Kirsten Gillibrand spoke up last week, following the example set by Elizabeth Warren, who hasn’t yet formally launched a presidential election campaign.

Green New Deal is a slogan which is also being picked up at state level, with New York’s Democrat governor Andrew Cuomo announcing his administration’s legislative priorities will include a more ambitious renewable energy mandate as a Green New Deal for his state.

What is the Green New Deal, and why are public figures with political ambitions getting in line to back it?

Green New Deal basics

The concept has been around for decades, and was part of the platform of Green Party candidates in several presidential elections before breaking into the mainstream courtesy of the Sunrise Movement and freshman Democrat Member of Congress and social media star Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

The idea is based on the New Deal programs implemented by former president Franklin D Roosevelt during the Great Depression, a policy package that included public works programs, social security, rural electrification – via the Tennessee Valley Authority – expanded rights for workers and financial reform.

The Green New Deal applies the framework of public works, societal reforms and social programs to the task of addressing climate change, and as a central component includes a move to clean energy. In the Sunrise Movement and Ocasio Cortez version, it calls for a move to 100% renewable energy by 2030.

It’s popular

A December poll by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found 81% of voters questioned supported the concept of a Green New Deal when it was explained to them, with majorities across the political spectrum – albeit with more support from left-leaning voters.

That support has made its way into the halls of Congress, where 42 other U.S. Representatives – 10% of the House – joined Ocasio Cortez in supporting the call for a select committee for a Green New Deal. Democrat leaders, however, put the brakes on by instead creating a much weaker committee on climate change.

The apparent support of conservative voters seen in the Yale Program poll is not shared by conservative groups, who are largely aghast at the implications of social democratic programs, not to mention those who totally oppose the idea because they are still in the climate denial camp.

Subject to interpretation

While 81% of voters polled by Yale supported the concept of a Green New Deal, 82% didn’t know that there was a policy being proposed to that effect and said they had heard “nothing at all” about it.

While that number may have shrunk somewhat since, the number of Americans who do not understand the policy may be useful for those who want to craft their own interpretation of it. While Cuomo’s Green New Deal contains more ambitious renewable energy deployment and job creation, it stops short of some of the more radical aspects of the program as outlined by Ocasio Cortez and the Sunrise Movement.

That is why activists have expressed skepticism at Bloomberg’s announcement, as the media mogul has supported strong moves on decarbonization but has sent out mixed rhetoric on taxes and could have different ideas about the jobs guarantee and other redistributive aspects of the program.

It’s about jobs and social justice too

While 100% renewable energy by 2030 may be a top-line demand of the Green New Deal, the legislation is much, much more than that. The Sunrise Movement insists anything called the Green New Deal must include net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, a federal job guarantee for all Americans, clean air and water, and “a just transition for all communities and workers”.

The version of proposed legislation introduced by Ocasio Cortez included a suggestion of a minimum basic income as well, although that has not been stressed as strongly as other portions of the plan – for more background, read this write-up by Vox’s David Roberts.

It comes out of political organizing

While Ocasio Cortez has carried the torch of the Green New Deal into the limelight, core members of the Sunrise Movement were organizing for years to reach the protest at Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office that catapulted the idea onto screens across the nation.

As such, that this idea is coming up in presidential debates is no accident. After the movement experienced a clear defeat with Pelosi’s creation of a weak congressional committee, the Sunrise Movement turned its attention to the presidential campaign.

The campaign group is already planning to gather “thousands” for the first primary debate, and it is notable senator Harris announced her support for a Green New Deal at a campaign rally after activists dropped a banner over the 20,000-strong crowd.

As the Atlantic has observed, there are many barriers to the proposal becoming federal legislation. However that may miss the point, as the Green New Deal is already inspiring action at state level and is having a strong effect on the national political discourse.

Whether or not a Green New Deal bill is passed through congress, and whichever politicians do or don’t support the call – or however they interpret it to suit their own ends – the concept isn’t going away. Not as long as the Sunrise Movement has an army of young people across the nation and a powerful idea.