It’s Now or Never: Let’s Build a Green Economy
By Andres Bernal, Senior Policy Advisor
It’s Now or Never: Let’s Build a Green Economy
Last month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its official Working Group III report. It clearly states that the world has approximately 30 months for global greenhouse gas emissions to begin to fall in order to steer clear of the worst impacts of social-environmental disasters. From millions of climate refugees, devastating natural disasters, and increasingly deadly temperatures, we are running out of time. If we’re serious about leaving our children and future generations a stable planet while mitigating mass suffering in the here and now that is only going to get worse, we must step out of our collective paralysis and begin immediate action with a clear vision: A world beyond fossil fuels and systemic social-ecological harm.
The urgency of the climate crisis can be felt at all levels of society. In Colorado, dozens of environmental organizations have signed on to a letter calling on the Governor to issue an executive order declaring a climate emergency for the state in addition to: recognizing that the state’s water resources are in danger and that aridification under extreme drought is leading to mega wildfires; recognizing the disproportionate burdens borne by generations of black, brown, indigenous, and communities of color as a result of environmental racism; acknowledging that oil and gas drilling and pollution ruins the air, water, and the livability of our communities; and issuing necessary executive orders in collaboration with the legislature to require that relevant agencies develop a comprehensive plan to phase out fossil fuel production in Colorado by 2030.
For years, residents of Denver have been breathing unhealthy air according to both federal standards and the World Health Organization. The causes of these challenges include the state’s largest emitter of methane gas by way of an active coal mine, a waste disposal site in Arapahoe which is the largest stationary source of fine-particle pollution in the state, the release of airborne lead, almost 15 tons of Hydrogen cyanide released every year from the refining facility just a few miles north of Denver, and the more than 1,400 megawatts of energy from 3 coal-fired generators emitting more than 9 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere on an annual basis.
Mounting pressure and calls for change from city and state efforts in Colorado and Denver are worthy of much praise. But it is absolutely critical that we match and even surpass these efforts with support from the federal government. These are very serious national and international challenges that unfortunately are not being met by a congressional leadership that is largely compromised by the excessive lobbying power and wealth of fossil fuel interests. Not only are the vast majority of Republicans engaging in outright denialism, far too many members of our own Democratic party play into a kind of soft denialism offering ineffective-weak solutions premised on waiting for “free markets’ ‘ or individual consumer and lifestyle choices to somehow take the entire burden for overcoming the unfolding disaster. Others may support “green” ideas on paper but offer no articulated policy vision, essentially paying lip service to the kind of leadership and organizing we need from our elected officials.
Our campaign believes that a new generation of public servants must be both aggressive and inspiring when it comes to facing the scope of an existential challenge like the climate crisis. We see a responsibility for our national government to lead the way by massively investing in reshaping our energy system and economy in such a way that also fosters and makes way for new more just and sustainable markets and entrepreneurs to emerge and join public efforts. It is on us to change the narrative about what is possible while standing up to the corrupt and destructive world views that are driving us all off a cliff.
The lack of action on the environment is undoubtedly a common cause of social despair and anxiety. Nevertheless, the IPCC’s latest assessment lays out what needs to be done and in fact, emphasizes the opportunities that exist such as major cost reductions from switching to renewable energy as well as increases in quality of life and human health. Perhaps most importantly, the report stresses that the limits we face to beat climate change are not technological or scientific, they are rather political and economic. Progressives in congress have responded to the crisis by calling for a Green New Deal mobilization which gives us a policy framework to reach net-zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible by creating millions of jobs, restoring ecosystems, and securing clean healthy communities including those groups most affected by fossil fuels.
The Biden administration had included at one point aspects of important green reforms in its Build Back Better agenda. Yet, we all saw that Senators like Joe Manchin, who has become a multi-millionaire aiding the coal industry, was instrumental in tearing apart the most transformative parts of BBB and ultimately drove the legislation to a stand still.
For Manchin, like many Republicans and Democrats alike, the claim is two fold: 1) that big investments in renewables and clean energy are too expensive and would thus harm the economy by leading to a bloated public deficit; and 2) that the social rights provisions in the Green New Deal framework are unnecessary and forcefully inject “liberal” social policies into straightforward technological and economic matters.
This is the thinking that is holding our politics hostage. Until the majority of our party become unapologetic champions of transformative environmental policies that not only stop climate change but crucially do so by elevating standards of living and social inclusivity across the board, we will be going in circles and losing valuable time.
Can we afford to save the planet?
Our campaign completely rejects the premise that we cannot afford to stop climate change. We understand that for the last century, our federal government has had no problem spending big when it comes to war, corporate subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, tax cuts for the rich, and Wall Street bailouts. What we cannot afford to do is passively accept the status quo. What we cannot afford to do is continue to believe that people’s lives and the planet we co-inhabit should be subdued to the whims of financial interests as opposed to using finance in the interest of our lives and planet. It’s time to proudly declare that yes, we can and must afford a Green New Deal.
If we were able to win a World War and go to the moon by way of big public investments, public employment, and public research during the same era that built the middle class and triggered the civil rights movement, we can do the same to build a sustainable and just economy. This means breaking with failed assumptions and myths about economics and public finance more broadly. Instead it’s time we turn to the latest breakthrough in state of the art progressive economics.
When it comes to the investments needed to overcome climate change, we need to shift our understanding of public investments. As both the 2008 financial crisis bailouts and the covid stimulus have taught us, our federal government does not need to wait to “collect” revenue from taxes in order to spend. When passing a budget, congress simply instructs the treasury and federal reserve to coordinate credits and debits. This simply involves keystrokes on computers. Instead of obsessing over pay-fors and “finding the money” while the world burns, we need to work with our agencies, unions, and industry experts to obtain information about the social and macro economics impact of specific spending proposals. This includes thinking about the available resources and productive capacity our economy has to offer. As Senior Economic Advisor to the Bernie Sanders campaigns Stephanie Kelton emphasizes: the job of our federal government is not to balance its budget (like it is for a household), it is to balance the macro economy, which of course, involves the well-being of communities and ecologies.
Understood this way, the limit to our public investments is not reducible to tax revenue or deficits. The real limit is inflation, or continuous price increases, understood as a matter of resource constraints, possible shortages, and economic capacity in relation to what we intend to consume and produce. The pandemic has shown us that inflation issues are not generalizable across the economy but specific to industries, supply chains, labor, corporate power, and of course the stability of energy systems. Those same obstructionists on climate action are the ones that now insist current inflation struggles are a consequence of the pandemic stimulus that, among other things, drastically cut child poverty and raised wages for millions of workers. Led by mainstream economists, they would now have us believe that a proper policy response is to “slow down” the economy by raising interest rates and consequently raising unemployment and reducing household disposable income.
Our campaign stands strong in believing we need to toss aside these brutal and failed policy conventions for new approaches. Raising interest rates will not strengthen our supply chains or make fossil fuel less volatile and prone to dependencies on war and authoritarian regimes. Raising interest rates will not stop the most powerful corporations from price gouging the public.
To keep our prices stable while maximizing our economy’s sustainable output: we advocate for policies that invest in better infrastructure and logistical systems, true full employment, more public accountability, tighter regulation on the for profit financial system funding fossil fuels, a wealth tax on billionaires, updated anti monopoly laws, and perhaps most importantly; actively building a green economy.
A Green Care-Economy
Getting down to the nitty gritty, our vision for Denver and the nation is straight forward. We will do everything we possibly can to pass and support legislation to rapidly decarbonize the nation and beyond with the aim of reaching net zero emissions. This means bringing jobs to our district that pay people to build out the infrastructure necessary for a green economy. Some of the most exciting ideas here involve bringing high speed rail and better public transportation online, retrofitting buildings and expanding our social housing stock, partnering with our universities to expand research & development in renewal technology, carbon capture, and waste management and recycling systems, and building out the clean energy grid. While many of these projects are capital intensive, decarbonization also involves prioritizing new forms of low capital economic activity such as a well funded national public arts initiative, leisure, ecological stewardship, life-long education, urban gardening as well as child and elder-care. The purpose is to shift the quality of our economy away from polluting and exploiting nature and one another to living more intentionally and harmoniously.
Our second objective is to secure a just transition. This involves ensuring that we stay true to the principles of social and environmental justice. Our campaign believes that we will leave no one behind. It is not enough to simply have more renewable energy sources, we have to make sure that our new economy does not operate like the one that we leave behind. We will pass and support legislation that provides early retirement buyouts for fossil fuel workers along with re-training and education as legally enforceable rights not empty promises. We will fight for paid family leave, a quality medicare for all system, and yes, we will cancel student debt and build out a public higher education system that is no longer premised on predatory lending and lifelong debt.
A just transition could not be complete without addressing the social pathology that is involuntary unemployment. Elitists have normalized unemployment as an unquestionable part of nature and unfortunate reality due to automation or “skills”. The truth is human beings all have diverse abilities and capacities for learning. There are boundless things we can organize ourselves to do to contribute to our communities in a dignified way. This is why we support a federal job guarantee at a thriving wage with a reduced work week designed around meeting social-environmental needs.
Lastly, our policy vision for a Green Care-Economy consists of expanding democratic accountability to more aspects of our lives. A sustainable and fair society cannot simply be stated into existence in one swipe, it must be cultivated and cared for on an ongoing basis. Some key legislations involve campaign finance reform including publicly financed elections to give more of us a fighting chance to enter the political process. Further, our campaign will push for legislation to elevate the healing, story telling, and accountability powers of restorative justice practices geared towards environmental injustices on front line communities.
We will also join the growing public, postal, and community banking movement to give lending and credit systems more of a “triple bottom line” of people, planet, and purpose. We will work to grow a worker-cooperative enterprise sector in partnership with labor unions. Our goal of shifting towards clean energy and public accountability also aligns with the potential of Community Owned Utilities. COU’s provide us with the opportunity to restrain out of state extractive monopolies in favor of not for profit consumer ownership. Colorado already has a history of community-owned electric utilities providing 28% of retail electric sales. In Denver, residents pay 25% more through Xcel, an out-of-state monopoly protected by Colorado’s Public Utility Commission and those that take its lobbyist money, than those with Platte River Power Authority, a not-for-profit, community-owned public power utility, which is also decarbonizing much faster than Xcel. The Denver Post Op Ed coathored by Neal Walia calls for a true non profit public service company that champions true community planning and accountability. In it, it is pointed out out how Xcel Energy’s profits provided $660 million to Wall Street shareholders last year and $585 million the year before. A congressional representative must be actively in tune and standing strong with these efforts by way of law, voice, and vote.
Looking at the science, the challenges facing our warming and polluted planet are quite daunting. It can feel paralyzing and even difficult to fully comprehend exactly how to take action. There are many ways one can get involved to make a difference, but one thing that is sure is that we need systemic changes from those that have the authority to make them. This campaign will promise you that it will never get tired of vocally and openly pushing and dreaming to find ways to overcome the roadblocks to true sustainable prosperity. With our cards on the table, our policies laid out, we offer you this commitment to graciously ask for your vote.