‘This is not optional’

PIELC panel explores Green New Deal, Sunrise Movement and community-led climate action

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezWikicommons

Environmental activists, concerned citizens and expert scientists heard from three panelists who spoke on the possibilities the Green New Deal presents for changing Oregon’s communities, as well as the global need for immediate action on climate change at a panel called “The Fight for a Green New Deal: Just Transition in the Next Twelve Years.”

The panel focusing on freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s ambitious Green New Deal and its hopes to galvanize the nation into combating climate change took place at the 37th annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) March 1.

Climate change “is a death sentence for future generations,” says Doyle Canning, a third-year student in the University of Oregon School of Law and the co-founder of the Center for Story-based Strategy — an organization that trains social justice alliances to use the power of narrative for social change.

Climate change is more than 95 percent likely to have been caused by human activity, according to NASA, and is “proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia.”

Canning says, “That is why we need a Green New Deal.”

PIELC ran Feb. 28 to March 3. It featured more than 100 panels on environmental topics such as climate change denial and how federal lands could be managed using indigenous intellectual lenses.

One of the two other Green New Deal panelists, Zoë Cina-Sklar, spoke on the Sunrise Movement, which is a national youth-led political action committee and major campaigner behind the deal that is working to make combating climate change an urgent political priority.

“We’re trying to impress upon people the urgency of the climate crisis and that we have a solution that scales to it: the Green New Deal,” Cina-Sklar tells Eugene Weekly.

She also discussed the goals of the Green New Deal — one of which is to meet 100 percent of the U.S.’s energy needs through renewable energy — and the need to implement such a program.

A founding member of the Bay Area’s Sunrise, Cina-Sklar explained that the Green New Deal is a step forward. “It’s bolder than anything I’ve seen in federal politics in my lifetime,” Cina-Sklar says.

Ocasio-Cortez’s massive policy package echoes former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, a similar set of social and economic public works projects and reforms during the 1930s that sought to bring the nation back from its economic nadir during the Great Depression.

The Green New Deal — proposed by Ocasio-Cortez in the House of Representatives and by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., in the Senate — fuses FDR’s liberal economic ideas with strategies to bring us to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in a decade, such as upgrading national power grids, buildings and transportation infrastructure and investing in green technology research and development.

It’s also a non-binding resolution, meaning that it couldn’t create any programs without separate legislation.

The massive policy package lays out a decade-long plan with goals that include investing in infrastructure and establishing “millions of high-wage jobs and ensuring economic security for all.”

Cina-Sklar presented a December 2018 study from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication that shows how the Green New Deal has strong bipartisan support among registered voters.

The study states that 81 percent of registered voters surveyed either “strongly support” (40 percent) or “somewhat support” (41 percent) the Green New Deal.

Support is strongest among Democrats at 92 percent, but 64 percent of Republicans also support the deal’s policy goals.

Critics of the resolution argue that the timeline for achieving such goals is politically unfeasible and unrealistic. On the other hand, climate scientists and activists say that such a plan is necessary.

Khanh Pham, the manager of immigrant organizing at the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, discussed the campaign in Oregon and local communities. She presented a quote from activist Grace Lee Boggs that read, “A revolution that is based on the people exercising their creativity in the midst of devastation is one of the great historical contributions of humankind.”

Pham says that quote is a good framework for thinking about Oregon’s campaign for a Green New Deal “because that’s really about us at the local level and at state level trying to face these really sobering, dire, horrifying conditions… to imagine another world,” Pham says. “That’s what we need in this moment.”

You can watch a livestream of the panel by searching for “Green New Deal – PIELC 2019 presentation” on YouTube.

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