A couple of weeks ago we saw the unveiling of the New Green Deal. In the spirit of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with a second from Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts, stood in front of the media and laid down an ultimatum to the American public and political elite alike.
The New Green Deal makes a compelling case that we have to act now on carbon emissions or face the consequences of climate Armageddon. I agree with this. In fact I’ve been saying it for years. Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s plan outlines several broad objectives. Among them; our electric grid must be powered entirely by alternative energy by 2030, and by 2050 our nation’s automotive fleet is to be converted to electric power. There are several other ambitious environmental goals, including retrofitting buildings for conservation. You can dig deeper here for the details.
The New Green Deal isn’t just about combating climate change though. If it was maybe it wouldn’t be seeing such an outburst of resistance from the right. Equally highlighted are the foundational tenets of the Bernie Sanders platform – free college and free healthcare for all. It didn’t take much for the GOP to stamp the scarlet letter of socialism on its front cover. I’m not going to do a deep dive into the specifics of the New Green Deal here and hypothesize what it’ll take to accomplish it and whether it it’s even doable. Let’s just say, I don’t think anyone else did either.
This brings us to Ocasio-Cortez, or as the media has dubbed her – AOC. The New York based national media can complain all they want about Hollywood celebrities, but their fawning takes no back seat when idolizing their own. One only has to look to our current clown in chief, put there in large part by the unrelenting (New York) media coverage of his every move and tweet; and this continues to this day, as we get a double dose of his antics as clown in chief as well as those who are fighting to terminate his rule. As a counter balance to Trump, the media has now created AOC.
Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m against her and I don’t disagree with the premise of her far-left proposals. I do take issue with her tactics. They’re straight out of the Bernie Sanders scorched-earth playbook – which isn’t surprising since she worked for him. I don’t believe in spewing policy options that have little possibility of being implemented, regardless the accurate articulation of the problem. This is exactly what Bernie did three years ago; and what Ocasio-Cortez is doing now. I believe a lot of supporters of Ocasio-Cortez acknowledge this now, but apparently don’t care. Their rationalization is that by bringing attention to the dire predicament of climate change, the fine print of actually “doing it” doesn’t matter: “We’ll figure that out later.” The proposal is Ocasio-Cortez’s idea of a protest, only without the marching in the streets and the risk of getting arresting. I question the value of the publicity for publicity’s sake. Why do our proposed solutions need to be just hyperbole?
I just wonder if a realist road map for implementation was put forth along with the rousing speech and sound bites – wouldn’t we be a littler better off? Why not take a month or two and get it right first; incorporating insight from people who would actually have to implement it. When Charles Darwin unveiled his epic “Theory of Evolution” he first prepared to such a degree that he became his own biggest critic. He anticipated every conceivable objection; and researched and rehearsed his response to each. Understand his adversaries were the hierarchy of omni-powerful and omnipresent “church.” Odds against his theory being accepted by the submissive public were daunting at best and the personal risk he took could not be overstated. But with all this – he succeeded. His process should be a case study for the preparation of movements everywhere, regardless the context. And make no mistake, his “theory” was a movement.
Instead Ocasio-Cortez went off half-cocked, even inadvertently exposing a draft version not intended for public consumption. The proposal has put many of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates in a difficult position; either support the New Green Deal or risk the brazen ire of the Bernie/AOC fanboys. Whether she knows it or not, Ocasio-Cortez is emulating the GOP Tea Party strategy. Look where the Tea Party is now; virtually gone, relegated to the scrap heap of ill-fated political over-reaction. And if dividing the Democratic party isn’t enough, she did it all less than a month before the Conservatives’ annual convention, CPAC. Conservatives and kooks alike now have a common villain to unite around. Nancy Pelosi has been replaced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Socialist who wants to take not only our guns, but our airplanes and hamburgers. Every speech at the convention had Ocasio-Cortez in the crosshairs. The GOP and Trump couldn’t have laid out better strategy. Who needs Russia when you have AOC.
It’s not just with ardent conservatives are we seeing the backlash. Both of the nation’s two major farm groups, even the left-leaning National Farmers Union have come out against the New Green Deal. They say it blames farmers for the climate crisis. While I don’t necessary agree with their assessment, I’m not one of them in the Midwest who is critical to the 2020 election. These are exactly people the Democrats are banking on to take back the White House from Trump. That said, farmers have a lot of room to improve in making the impact they have on the environment less so. I can’t see how the nation’s current crop selection bloated with corn used for processing (including ethanol) is a good thing and has anything to do with the industry’s manta of “feeding the world.”
If the Tea Party was a testament to lack of staying power, then Occupy Wall Street is one that exemplifies the peril of having no plan, “after the flag is raised.” No matter how much someone agrees with you on the problem, at some point the details of solving it becomes relevant. You would assume Ocasio-Cortez, being from New York City, would realize this. But apparently not. For her, it’s the protest that matters; the noise – Bennie-style. Throwing out a premature proposal of aspirations can do more damage than good if we aren’t organized to combat the inevitable push back. We saw what happened after the Sandy Hook massacre and the resultant mobilization of the NRA and its minions. Troops were rallied, more lobbying money was raised, more guns were sold … and no legislation was passed. These are the same people. They’re just waiting for reason to hate on liberals (aka socialists) and a villain to focus on. And now they have it.
Now let me establish something: I am not a “green Luddite.” On the contrary, I was on the front lines of the alternative energy movement before Ocasio-Cortez was born. In 1978 I even had a giant bubble solar panel on the back of my home in North Dakota. During this time, while in college at the University of North Dakota, I sold solar and wind systems and created a Fortran code (remember that) model on the college’s IBM 306/370 mainframe using punch cards. My model predicted the economics any of solar or wind system installed anywhere in the Unites States. And if that wasn’t enough, I wrote a state legislative bill for net electrical billing (with future North Dakota Attorney General Sarah Vogel). Unfortunately, the national lobby for the REC (Rural Electric Cooperatives) flew in from Washington D.C. in force and hammered it to oblivion. Now forty years later net billing is ubiquitous throughout the country.
It’s time we get past rhetoric. I’m exhausted thinking a grand vision is enough, a start that goes nowhere else. Most of these pontifications are little more than lip service, vacuous political promises; kicking the proverbial can down the road isn’t going to do it. It’s just an excuse for not doing what it takes to burrow down into the details of execution. It’s lazy policy making and it’s lazy on our part buying into it – not requiring more of ourselves.
Diving Deep Beyond Rhetoric
Now enough of the naysaying.
I believe we can make this happen, but it won’t happen by only looking to Congress and some airy proposal created by people with none of the requisite skills needed to pull it off. A truly progressive society that is dedicated to creating a better world needs to differentiate between pragmatic policy outlines and protest slogans. It just needs to be tactical, not just ideological. We need to sweat the details.
Now for details.
The government should provide large subsidies to green-energy companies; including solar power, batteries and electric cars, as well as mandating the replacement of fossil-fuel plants with zero-carbon plants. It shouldn’t require the decommissioning of nuclear plants (regardless the objections of what’s left of the anti-nuclear movement). It should also provide incentives for higher density in urban areas, since sprawl contributes to emissions. It should also implement a carbon tax (or cap-and-trade policy). This would engage corporate polluters and encourage them and their factories to reduce carbon output. A carbon tax (or cap-and-trade policy) would also encourage air and sea travel, as well as other sources of emissions, to search for lower-carbon alternatives. It should also remove the incentives for farmers to not grow food; and where needed help build out the logistic channels for changing crop selection to real food.
The United States government’s role in environmental restoration should extend beyond its borders also. American companies, with the help of federal research dollars, should strive to discover cheap ways of manufacturing cement, concrete and other materials used in building without carbon emissions. Along with reducing emissions from agriculture, this will give developing countries a way to reduce carbon output without threatening their economic growth. This would leverage the technical innovation expertise here in United States empowering it to become a leader in the “new world” – all while working to save it. This is the new economic opportunity
“Large-scale problems do not require large-scale solutions; they require small-scale
solutions within a large-scale framework.”
Even with an aggressive far-reaching federal government commitment, we also need a decentralized approach that will spread locally and takes advantage of expertise distribute throughout the communities of America. We need to uncover and support local leaders who can spearhead efforts in their respective communities. This nurturing needs to start in our schools. Just preparing our young people for gainful employment might have been a noble directive in the past; but today we need leaders to inspire their peers to act with purpose and rapid commitment to restore the environment around us.
We need an abundance of deep thinking and expertise in supply chain management – supplies of everything, tangible and other. We need a thousand community activists and logistical virtuosos to coordinate all the moving parts making our aggressive goals a reality. We need not only the public sector, but even more so, we need the private sector – specifically the business community. We need businesses that see that abundant economic opportunities can be had from “greening their communities.” And we need local elected leaders to understand their position isn’t a reward … but a responsibility.
We need citizens and consumers to form the foundation of support. We need them to use their purchasing power to force businesses to green up; and we need them to use their power at the ballot box to hold their public officials accountable by making decisions that are not only economically prudent, but environmentally vigilant.
Decentralized solar needs to spread like a wildfire. For that to happen we need rate payers to in buy and buy. We need to force utilities to support green energy and offer financing to make it a reality – not fight tooth and nail to protect the bad decisions they made in the past. We need zoning changes, and where we can’t get long-term policies, we need situational variances until we can. We need private financing options. That means banks not being conservative to a fault while they “hold onto yesterday.” We need people to install the millions of solar panels we have to sell – which is no easy task in a time a low employment. We need schools to catch up and be the labor conduits. Trade schools, community colleges and even high schools need to partner with private companies, develop curriculum, ramp up instruction and training, and create apprentice and intern programs. And maybe most of all, we need the manufacturing capacity to create the products we need to evolve to a “green economy.” This means companies and production capabilities to make and sell them, and the banks willing to finance the production of these systems.
Moving Past the Movement To Reality
Represent.Us is a non-profit organization that is on a mission to reform our election process. Rather than using the tried and not-so-true methods most activists use (March For Our Lives not included) – their road to national reform winds through the state and local levels. In the following video, their spokesperson and board member Jennifer Lawrence introduces us to what she calls the line (at the 7:45 mark). This line represents when an issue, say gay marriage equality, reaches a tipping point of state adoption. At this point support spreads exponentially to eventually force federal law. This local and state approach not only anchors key grassroots support in a plethora of locales – it strengths its ability to fight any anecdotal overturn in the Supreme Court.
This is the approach our “green campaign” should take … and we have two models we can emulate.
First is the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a nonprofit organization of conservative state legislators and private sector representatives who draft and share model state-level legislation for distribution among state and local governments in the United States. ALEC is a big reason the United States is run by a conservative minority. Their successful efforts to commandeer state legislatures has resulted in gerrymandered districts in key states that resulted in the Trump presidency and contributed greatly to the House of Representatives turning red in 2010. While the Democrats completely abandoned state and local politics during Obama administration, the Republicans through ALEC filled the void. In addition to losing the national House in 2010, Democrats lost control of over a 1000 state and local seats. And with that, America ushered in Trump’s reign of terror in 2016.
To appreciate ALEC, we have to look past the context and what they advocate for. I’ve brought them up before in social media and was most often greeted with open hostility. People on the left can’t look past the objectives of their operations to appreciate the logistics they use and the success that has resulted from it. Unless the “green movement” turns these 1000+ seat back over to Democrats, how are state and local governing bodies going to pass the legislation that is needed for the movement to succeed? And how will we be able to build the momentum to achieve the tipping point (the line Jennifer Lawrence alluded to) we need to generate rooted national legislation? It’s all about operations and tactics, not context.
The second case study I want to look to is March For Our Lives. Last year, high school students from Parkland, Florida turned the deaths of seventeen of their friends and teachers into an incredible example of how to use local organization and social media to build a movement. In a piece I wrote last Spring, I contended the real value of the MFOL movement is its ability to uncover, nurture and give confidence to young leaders through the establish of local chapters (currently in over 200 cities in America). The potential of these groups and their leaders transcends their mission of gun legislation. Not only have they continued the push for sane firearms control – they’ve rallied for student mental health and voter registration by launching Vote For Our Lives ahead of the 2018 mid-terms. This effort is continuing on through the 2020 presidential election. Leaders of the green movement should take note and engage with these young leaders. Their networks could be invaluable as their members are the exact demographic who would be passionate and organized enough to invoke change.
A bunch of kids (actually young adults) won’t necessarily lead the charge for zoning changes – but their parents can. Also, there are millions of rooftop solar systems that are needed to be installed. Who is going to do that? Logistics aren’t glamorous and don’t get the press – but without it, the protests, press and AOC’s vision of a perfect world is nothing but a sugar high. We need young people to participate on multiple fronts. We still need the vocal activism and loud protests, but let’s make sure our message is succinct. That was the beauty of March For Our Lives. They articulated four bullet point objectives; specific legislation they wanted passed – not just generic gun control, but four specific objectives. Ocasio-Cortez’s New Green Deal lays out only very broad climate change remediations. Add in the boilerplate socialist-depicted talking points – and the message is muddied, opening the proverbial oppositional can of worms.
We need to use young people to spearhead this green movement, but their action need to be directed and pragmatic. They have the most to lose in future and least amount to sacrifice today. Their lives haven’t been built on the oxymoron of material wealth and well-being. We need their out-of-box ideas, sweat equity and urgency. However incomplete it may be, a lot of the Green New Deal came from the minds of young people. We just have figure out how we can take the pertinent ideas, work out the logistics and do it.
Now we can sit around and expect the federal government to come riding in to save us — which they have absolutely no recent history of being able to do; or we can add them to the mix which includes us and our kids all working in concert in our neighborhoods on solutions fitting the specific places we live, utilizing the strengths each of our communities embody – all while taking into account the obstacles that may exist due to local social, cultural and economic baggage put there by us and our ancestors.
Solutions, Suggestions and Front Porches
Now of course we need a national and even an international plan – but we can’t expect that to be all. We need to be able to act without approval from some elected body. We need to create hubs of civic engagement independent of government. These hubs will be where the real expertise and leadership will surface; the exact expertise and leadership required to succeed at this monumental task ahead of us. It’s too big to entrust to a single entity that may or may be up to the task or even if the want to undertake it.
I call these hubs of civic engagement Front Porches. These informal meeting places, most often locally owned businesses, are named after the front yard gathering spots so often seen in Latino communities that are used for neighborhood discussion and connection to the street. Through our community’s Front Porch network, we can create environmentally restorative civic Solutions that bring us together – regardless our political affiliation. It’s through this network we can establish new community norms of conservation and environmental stewardship; creating expectations of each other that will empower all of us to succeed individually and collectively by taking advantage of the opportunities that will present themselves as well as ensuring our children and grandchildren have a hospitable world to live in. We have to re-condition our thought processes. No action or decision should be immune from what effect it will have on the environment and how best we can conserve and economize. Consider the adage; “Think globally, act locally” … only on steroids.
Every candidate we consider for public office should be scrutinized on their commitment to the implementation of our green agenda. Schools need to be pressured to include “living a green life” into the curriculum — from the earliest ages. All of this means we have to think. We have to engage with the world around us. Shut off your autopilot – and pressure those around you, young and old, to do the same. Stories of the successes we achieve in our own communities need to be shared with other communities. Any efforts we make will be all for naught if they’re not synthesized with those of others.
Even though we might take solace in the litany of promises by our many public figures (current and want-to-be) – the societal measures we need to fight this demon of environmental destruction we’ve created will come through our personal and professional efforts, and those we persuade in our communities to join in.
Complacency is not an option … but pragmatism is required.
Now is the time to build a clearinghouse of ideas on how we can restore our world to place we can be proud to bestow to our children and their children. Check out the Community 3.0 site for how we can create a network of environmental accountability that put our habitat first. We invite you to respond at the end of “If not us … then who” with your ideas. Or if you prefer, just comment below.