Commentary – A Case for the Green New Deal

Red Skies at High Noon Reveal the Failures of the Past

By Shahid Buttar 

Seeing the color of the sky change, it couldn’t be more clear that business as usual has failed. The air quality in San Francisco may have improved over the last few weeks, but we’re not out of the woods yet. During the only debate among the 2020 vice presidential nominees, both candidates ran to the right on climate change, recommitting to fracking and demonizing the Green New Deal.

California is burning, battling the worst wildfire season in memory. Beyond the thousands of lost homes, and dozens of lost lives, are hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced, and millions more who have been subjected to air quality levels among the worst in the world.

Scientists know that rising temperatures and changing weather patterns create the conditions for everything from catastrophic wildfires to devastating flooding. We must divest from fossil fuels, and ultimately nationalize fossil fuel industries to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

While many Republicans deny science outright, too many Democrats claim to understand the science behind climate change – yet remain unwilling to challenge the fossil fuel industry. Conveniently, these same politicians will not be around to experience the effects of the weather calamities and rising sea levels that their inaction forces the future to endure.

The stakes of the climate crisis are higher for low-income and middle-class families, but no one can escape its effects.

Harmful air pollution disproportionately affects folks who live in San Francisco’s historically Black neighborhoods, like Bayview and Hunters Point, where reports have revealed rates of cancer and asthma are among the worst in the world due to radiation poisoning by the U.S. Navy that went on for decades.

But all San Franciscans – even our wealthiest neighbors – breathe the same air. No degree of economic privilege can insulate someone from the adverse health effects linked to local pollutants. Climate justice requires racial justice, but everyone shares a stake in it.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey have recognized the problem, and articulated a bold and transformative vision to address it in the Green New Deal.

Their proposal includes a commitment to 100% renewable energy. It also importantly ensures a just transition to a green economy and includes a vision for a federal jobs guarantee that will provide opportunities for everyone to participate in the green economy. That offers both a way to work around industrial lobbying interests, and a crucial economic boost to underserved communities marginalized by today’s economy.

In California, the Green New Deal could help lessen the impact of wildfires. For instance, a federal jobs guarantee could enable the replication of indigenous forest management techniques that have fallen out of favor for generations. The market can’t possibly mobilize the resources needed to address the problem, since no organization has a profit motive to conduct what amounts to a massive public works project.

A federal jobs guarantee would also help bolster the economy from the pandemic-induced recession, inviting a new era of economic security while engendering a culture of stewardship for our natural environment.

At this point, any policymaker who refuses to support the Green New Deal has no business being in Congress. But San Francisco’s powerful voice in Washington, Sen. Nancy Pelosi, remains in the fossil fuel industries’ corner.

For instance, she derides the Green New Deal as “a dream, or whatever.” Pelosi also claims credit for allowing the creation of a new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, but she hamstrung the committee by denying it the authority to either legislate or even merely investigate. It shouldn’t surprise us. After all, Pelosi has been funded by polluters for decades.

As the first Democratic challenger in 30 years to face Pelosi in a November election, our campaign is the first to ever offer San Franciscans a voice at the federal level willing to  prioritize climate justice. As a grassroots organizer, my goal is to represent the people of San Francisco – not the Wall Street banks and fossil fuel industries driving climate chaos.

Our leaders have failed to prepare for the future. This past month has made that inescapably clear. The costs of climate delay and denial have already grown catastrophic. This year, wildfire season began officially only after nearly four million acres had already burned and dozens of lives were lost.

Climate chaos will grow worse, and continue to threaten the homes – and lives – of Californians, and people across the world. With damage like this seeming inevitable going forward, how can we afford NOT to embrace a Green New Deal?

The future can’t afford to wait. We need to make changes in Congress today.

Shahid Buttar is a Democratic candidate running to represent California’s 12th Congressional District.

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