Green New Deal

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Green New Deal

New Concensus

A policy group is being formed to support an energized progressive movement that's taken Capitol Hill by storm under the leadership of Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

It's called the New Consensus.

The 501c(3) nonprofit is in the process of being formed to provide a policy platform that will underpin the ambitious — and increasingly politically popular — Green New Deal aimed at weaning the United States off fossil fuels, boosting renewables and clean energy jobs, and building a "smart" grid.

Front and center will be Rhiana Gunn-Wright, a 29-year-old Yale graduate and Rhodes scholar who will serve as the group's policy director working to flesh out details of the plan.

She's working alongside Demond Drummer, an organizer and tech guru slated to serve as New Consensus' executive director. Drummer is also the co-founder and executive director of CoderSpace, a youth tech mentoring and education program on Chicago's South Side.

Gunn-Wright said during an interview she's already busy fleshing out the multipronged plan that's received national attention and revved up Democrats who recently won back the lower chamber. Gunn-Wright said she plans to release her policy in phases over time before heading to Capitol Hill.

"It's not your run-of-the-mill think tank; the aim is for it to be more agile, a bit less of a sitting research entity and more of a critical problem solver," she said. "With the progressive left and all of these new, big ideas that could make people's lives better, the holdup is how to make it happen, how to pay for it."

For Gunn-Wright, a Chicago native, the work is a continuation of her focus on the intersection of policy and politics.

She most recently served as a policy director for the campaign of Democrat Abdul El-Sayed, a first-time candidate who captured the attention of progressives across the nation in the Michigan Democratic gubernatorial primary. El-Sayed ran on an ambitious clean energy platform that called for a shift to all renewables by 2030.

Although Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, a former Michigan state senator who served as minority leader there, bested him to serve as the state's governor, El-Sayed later endorsed Whitmer and vowed to push a progressive agenda on the Hill.

Gunn-Wright said the campaign served as a training ground, her first time running a policy team and doing field work — know-how she plans to bring to New Consensus.

"I learned on that campaign that the best way to equip a progressive idea is to do the work of figuring out 'how,' so that's what I think we're bringing to the Green New Deal," she said. "We'll be the 'how' shop."

The first tranche of New Consensus' policies aims to mobilize the United States to tackle climate change.

That includes the creation of a "climate mobilization office"; ramping up funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, the Energy Department's research arm; and the creation of a green bank to fund clean energy innovations.

The aim is for those policies to be taken up by lawmakers or a newly revived Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming in the House that Ocasio-Cortez has called for. Under the platform the incoming lawmaker laid out on her website, the committee would produce a draft of the plan by Jan. 1, 2020, and finalize legislation no later than March 1, 2020.

Gunn-Wright said a "climate mobilization office" would serve as a hub for planning and administering an economic mobilization to address the threat of climate change. Whether that will be an office or an agency hasn't been decided.

New Consensus, she added, is drawing inspiration from frameworks set up during World War II used to coordinate government agencies involved in the war effort.

Another focus: boosting funding for ARPA-E. The thought, Gunn-Wright said, is to ensure ARPA-E's funding is on par with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Also on the table is the creation of a "green bank," a public bank that would be used to invest in zero-carbon technologies under development in the public and private sector that need to be commercialized. The bank would be designed to offer financial enhancements and support to communities that haven't had access to clean energy and transportation, she added.

"We do know what we want a green bank to do and how we'd design it, we just need to design that work at a federal level," Gunn-Wright said.

And that's just the beginning.

Gunn-Wright during the interview outlined the broad framing and structure for a host of future policy ideas focused on decarbonizing the economy, creating climate or green jobs, and ensuring all sectors of the U.S. economy can benefit from a carbonless or zero-carbon economy.

But she also acknowledged the difficulty the progressive movement faces in pushing such an ambitious idea through a Republican-controlled White House and Senate. The urgency of looming climate catastrophe — as evidenced by recent government reports the Trump administration has dismissed — will fuel her work regardless of political pushback, said Gunn-Wright.

"The truth is, the best chances for success are with a Democratic president, House and Senate," she said. "But the reality of what's happening won't change. Climate change is happening, and people will die. It's not going to get easier; the reports will only become more damning and the need for action more urgent."

Part of her policy work will be figuring out the mechanism to pay for such a sweeping and ambitious deal. But Drummer said mechanisms are already being fleshed out.

"Right now we're focused on what needs to be done and how all the pieces fit together," Drummer said. "Then we will focus on how to pay for it. To be clear: It's a question of how we will pay for it — not if we can afford to pay for it. America can afford what we decide to do."[1]

Beginnings

The Green New Deal, which in the past month has come to define the progressive cause in Washington, exists in its most authoritative form as an eleven-page Google Doc. The document was written over a single December 2018 weekend by the staff of the freshman representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and three like-minded progressive groups, none of which existed two years ago: the Sunrise Movement, a grassroots climate organization; the Justice Democrats, which recruits and supports progressive candidates; and an upstart policy shop called the New Consensus. Just about everyone involved was new to lawmaking. “We spent the weekend learning how to put laws together,” Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, told New Yorker journalist Benjamin Wallace-Wells . “We looked up how to write resolutions.”

The format of the document looks familiar: there are sections for “procedure” and “funding.” But its maximalist, aspirational approach is, to say the least, unusual for a legislative document. Its goal is to make the United States greenhouse-gas emission neutral within ten years. That alone would be a historic transformation, but the authors were more ambitious still. Clause (6)(B) begins, “The Plan for a Green New Deal (and the draft legislation) shall recognize that a national, industrial, economic mobilization of this scope and scale is a historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation.” Its seventh subsection suggests, in a dependent clause, the inclusion of a federal jobs guarantee and universal health insurance. The document raises the example of a trillion-dollar investment over ten years, then dismisses it as “wholly inadequate.” To its creators, the scale of the project is not a political complication but a point of pride.

No one who helped draft the resolution expected it to catch on quickly. But it did. Within a few weeks, more than forty-five Democrats in Congress had voiced support for the project, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, as well as Bernie Sanders. Al Gore called it “part of the answer to global inequality.” There are hard limits on how much power the group has won—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly rejected Ocasio-Cortez’s call for a select committee on the Green New Deal—but its influence has been plain. Christy Goldfuss, who served under President Barack Obama as the managing director of the Council on Environmental Quality and now leads the energy and environmental team at the Center for American Progress, said that she has noticed a change in how more senior Democrats are thinking about climate policy. “People are asking how are we going to address climate change at scale, not what’s our building-block approach,” she said. “For me, that is a huge, huge shift, and it would not have happened if the Green New Deal had not come along.” On the campaign trail, and in the House, Democrats have a confident veneer. They are winning elections; they are younger than the opposition; the press is full of appreciations of Pelosi’s tactical savvy. But to watch the unlikely progress of the Green New Deal is to realize how much of the Party’s program and its sources of moral authority remain up for grabs.

Last spring, Chakrabarti, a thirty-two-year-old veteran of the Sanders campaign, was leading Brand New Congress, an organization that he co-founded to recruit progressive candidates, and which helped persuade Ocasio-Cortez to challenge a powerful Democratic incumbent, Joseph Crowley, in New York’s Fourteenth Congressional District. He became Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign manager, and, at first, he said, “Climate wasn’t the frame in which we were talking about this—we were trying to go back to a place where we as a society were taking on massive challenges, like how do you move people out of poverty into the middle class.” Ocasio-Cortez’s early ads emphasized Medicare for All and free college tuition—the Sanders package—but she herself was a more eclectic figure. In interviews, she credited her political awakening to the anti-pipeline protests she joined at Standing Rock. Eventually, Chakrabarti said, the campaign decided “that this idea of doing a gigantic economic transformation was hard to convey,” and that the concept of a Green New Deal could help. “That’s huge. It’s a gigantic national project to transform our economy.” The theme began to surface in the fall. At a campaign event in October in the Queens neighborhood of College Point, Ocasio-Cortez spoke at length about environmental transformation, calling it “one of the most existential issues for our generation and our time.”

Ocasio-Cortez has been such a practiced presence in the media that her ascent has seemed, from afar, to flow from some design, but Chakrabarti made it sound more chaotic. Her first act when she arrived in Washington for new-member orientation was to join the Sunrise Movement’s sit-in outside Pelosi’s office, to call for a select committee for the Green New Deal. It started with a request for a retweet from the activists, who knew the young congresswoman and her staff only slightly. “Alexandria was, like, ‘Shoot them a retweet? I’m going to join it,’ ” Chakrabarti said. He was more judicious—it would be her first major act as a member of Congress, she would be challenging the Speaker, and it could easily backfire. But it didn’t, and, once the protest drew attention, it seemed necessary to explain what the fuss was about. By the weekend, Chakrabarti was at work with the activists in the Google Doc. “If it’s really not possible, then we can revisit,” he said, of their proposal. “The idea is to set the most ambitious thing we can do and then make a plan for it. Why not try?”

In our conversation, Chakrabarti came across as curious and excitable—he kept using the word “gigantic” to describe the changes he envisioned—and not unlike the young people who, a decade ago, attached themselves to Obama. In the group that joined him to draft the Green New Deal, you can see the emergence of the next generation of the progressive élite: Waleed Shahid, the most prominent spokesman for the Justice Democrats, was the policy director on Cynthia Nixon’s campaign for governor of New York; Rhiana Gunn-Wright, the policy director for the New Consensus, played the same role for the progressive gubernatorial campaign of Abdul El-Sayed, in Michigan. The leaders of the Sunrise Movement are younger still, in their twenties, with at least as great a sense of urgency. “If you look at the latest United Nations I.P.C.C. report, we need a massive transformation of our economy, unlike any we’ve seen in recent history,” Stephen O'Hanlon, a co-founder of the group, told me. The ubiquitous young left-wing activist Sean McElwee, whose weekly East Village happy hours have drawn senators and Presidential aspirants, published an early sketch of what a Green New Deal policy might look like. Some of these people may have thought of themselves as outsiders but, to older Democrats, they must have looked the way rising leaders of the Party always have.

In their draft document, the Green New Deal group writes, “Many will say, ‘Massive government intervention! How in the world can we pay for this?’ The answer is: in the same ways that we paid for the 2008 bank bailout and extended qualitative easing programs, the same ways we paid for World War II and many other wars.” Several of them told me that, on climate policy, Obama had not been audacious enough. “It sounds like hyperbole, but we are fighting to preserve life as we know it,” O’Hanlon said. “A lot of the solutions proposed during the Obama Administration were not up to that scale.” Chakrabarti said that Obama “wasn’t talking about a big mobilization and the solutions were too small.”

This way of thinking isn’t exactly new, either. When Obama appointed the prominent environmental activist Van Jones as his special adviser for green jobs, in 2009, Jones also spoke of a Green New Deal, and was also confident that a climate-driven economic transformation could help correct racial inequities. The Obama economic stimulus, Jones, who is now a CNN commentator, pointed out to me this week, provided more than eighty billion dollars for clean-energy jobs, an investment that the White House expected would be supplemented by a national cap-and-trade program. But the cap-and-trade plan failed in the Senate after being labelled, as Jones put it, “so-called socialism.” Jones said he thought the current movement had certain advantages over his—the environmental crisis is deeper and better understood, the grassroots activists are more diverse and more energized—but the vision was the same. It made sense to him that the idea had come back around. “The most exciting, inspiring vision out there is still the Green New Deal,” Jones said. He expected it to keep resurfacing “until it gets done.”

Democrats have not hesitated, in the Trump era, to call out existential threats to democracy and to the climate. But their campaigns have not often reflected that sense of alarm—their focus in the midterms, a success for the Party, was on the defense of health-care coverage for preëxisting conditions. One early uncertainty of the 2020 Presidential race is how deep a crisis its leaders see. This week a Washington Post reporter, in El Paso, caught a bearded Beto O'Rourke in a Hamlet mode, worrying over illegal immigration and the other great topics of the day. O’Rourke praised the Green New Deal for being “bold” and said, “Thank God, the work has been done to articulate the goal, the vision, the means to achieve it.” The Post’s reporter, Jenna Johnson, noticed that he was vacillating between “a bright-eyed hope that the United States will soon dramatically change its approach to a whole host of issues and a dismal suspicion that the country is incapable of implementing sweeping change.” Which was it, she asked. “Yeah, I think that’s the question of the moment: Does this still work?” O’Rourke said. By “this,” he seemed to mean America.

That old Gen-X tick—transparent uncertainty. No such ambiguity from the Green New Deal faction. Lately Chakrabarti has been reading not just into climate policy but into the history of transformative governmental programs. Sounding a little amazed, he told me about F.D.R.’s “Arsenal of Democracy” speech, which spurred the industrial effort to support the Second World War. “Did you know about this?” Chakrabarti asked. “He gave this great speech, and then he also set production targets: a hundred and eighty thousand planes at a time when America was going to produce three thousand, and we ended up producing three hundred thousand.” He went on, “I don’t know if it’s a uniquely American thing, but I associate it that way. People get excited by this idea of, ‘Let’s come together and defeat this huge enemy through innovation, by solving this crisis.’ I think that’s motivating and inspiring.” Of course the millennial left has been able to set the Party’s mood, as it has returned to Washington this month. It has an idea about how to transform bleakness into hope.[2]

References

  1. [https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060107485 E&E News Meet the scholar crafting the 'Green New Deal' Hannah Northey, E&E News reporterGreenwire: Tuesday, November 27, 2018]
  2. The New Yorker How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Allies Supplanted the Obama Generation By Benjamin Wallace-Wells4:51 P.M. o1/17.2019