For the past couple of years, the US has been losing its influence. Rarely has a pariah state like North Korea claimed the moral high ground than when President Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Accord. The world’s greatest polluter had turned its back on the rest of the world to feed narrow industrial interests.
Yet in the layers of government below the Presidency the good fight continued. Over 100 states, counties and cities have committed to zero-carbon goals and many others are working to reduce their environmental impact. Commitments to renewable energy and waste reduction are coming thick and fast from industry. Without Federal support, it often feels like a waiting game is being played. Actors are doing what they can, but ultimately they’re waiting for the current storm to pass and new momentum to come when the Trump Presidency is over.
A timescale for climate change action
There may not be time. The UN has warned the planet has a dozen years before man’s impact on the climate becomes permanent. Plastic continues to build up in oceans. Beautiful mountain lakes are polluted with the legacy of decades – centuries – of fuelling the industrial revolution. 9 million people a year are killed by pollution.
Such is the concern that children are becoming vocal in ways rarely seen before. They are invited to speak at the UN, at Davos and even at the US Senate (although they’re ignored in the latter). A groundswell of public opinion is forming that “do nothing” is not acceptable.
A new heroine arrives
Enter onto the scene the not-yet-30-year-old New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Barely a few weeks into her tenure, self-styled “AOC” has gained attention for her savvy use of social media, her left leaning politics and exceptional presentation skills. She speaks to a new generation of the politically engaged and while her message and approach is not to everyone’s liking, she gets attention.
With new blood and passion come new ideas, or at least smarter presentation of older ones. The Green New Deal is a catchphrase that’s been running around for about a decade. It’s been used as a collection of different ideas and interventions that expressed the aim of the world’s most polluting nation becoming its greenest. Now it’s been co-opted for a proposed legislative programme that could make the idea a reality.
Although there isn’t much in the way of firm plans, the message is clear. The best climate change science has given the human race a decade to sort itself out so that’s the timeline to work to. To achieve this, the US will need to remove fossil fuels from its grid, support communities that industrialisation failed and invest heavily in renewable, sustainable technologies and infrastructure.
A big ask for US industry
It’s a big ask. Hundreds of thousands of jobs depend on digging stuff out of the ground and burning it to keep lights on. These jobs support communities and entire ways of life that could easily feel threatened and react accordingly. The financial cost could be in the trillions of dollars, money the US does not have.
Supporters point to the high cost of the military complex and to the potential returns the government could make if it kept an equity stake in its new infrastructure. They also point to the reality there may not be an alternative.
A green conversation has started
The other reality is the plan is unlikely to pass in its current form through the current houses. Maybe that’s not the point. The boldness of the plan and the passion AOC puts behind it is enough for people on both sides of the political divide to take notice. A conversation has started in US politics about how to tackle climate change. Regardless of the current government’s position, it seems certain environmental action will be a key feature of the 2020 Presidential Campaign.
Perhaps the US will get a Green New Deal.