Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wants to make something clear: The U.S. will inevitably end up paying for the effects of climate change, which already disproportionately impact marginalised communities. The question is when and how.
During a meeting of the House Committee on Financial Services on Tuesday, Republican Rep. Sean Duffy said Democrats are only interested in helping "rich liberals" and called Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal "absolutely outrageous." The landmark proposal seeks to address climate change and income inequality, but has often been subject of mocking by Republicans, who believe it to be illogical.
Regardless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell forced a vote on the Green New Deal resolution Tuesday, without a hearing. The goal was to force Democrats to take a public stance on the legislation, but Republicans wasted no time before mocking it. During debate, Sen. Mike Lee presented a series of posters showing everything from President Ronald Reagan riding a velociraptor to Star Wars scenes, arguing they were more realistic than the Green New Deal. He also said his solution to fight climate change is for people to have more babies. In protest of the vote, which Democrats called a sham, 43 senators voted "present" and the procedural motion failed. (Sens. Doug Jones, Joe Manchin, and Kyrsten Sinema broke with the party and voted against the resolution.)
After Duffy's remarks at the House meeting, Ocasio-Cortez used her turn to reprimand her colleagues for suggesting the fight against climate change is somehow elitist. "This is not an elitist issue, this is a quality of life issue," Ocasio-Cortez said. "You want to tell people that their concern and their desire for clean air and clean water is elitist? Tell that to the kids in the South Bronx which are suffering from the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country. Tell that to the families in Flint."
A report commissioned by the U.S. government and published in November found that lower-income and other marginalised communities" are the ones that will bear the brunt of the worsening effects of climate change. The New York freshman took her colleagues to task for prioritising oil companies and other interests instead of communities across the country feeling the impact of climate change, such as those in the Midwest that have been facing record-breaking flooding in the last weeks. "This is about our lives. This is about American lives and it should not be partisan," she said. "Science should not be partisan. We're facing a national crisis."
One of the main issues raised by the opponents of the Green New Deal is its cost. But according to the November report, the U.S. is set to lose around $141 billion from heat-related deaths, $118 billion from the impact of rising sea levels, and $32 billion from damaged infrastructure, and much more by the end of the century. Researchers also estimated the national economy could shrink up to 10% by 2100. "We’re going to pay for this whether we pass a Green New Deal or not. We need to decide whether we’re going to pay to react or we’re going to pay to be proactive," Ocasio-Cortez said. "I’m very sad to say that the government knew that climate change was real starting as far back as 1989. I’m going to turn 30 this year, and for the entire 30 years of my lifetime, we did not make substantial investments to prepare our entire country for what we knew was coming."
Advocates consider climate change the greatest threat to humanity today. A report released by the United Nations last year found that by 2040 the globe would face a multi-faceted crisis of disastrous magnitudes, including everything from food shortages and extreme poverty around the world to wildfires, droughts, and the death of all coral reefs. The panel said in order to cut carbon emissions and try to minimise the damage, the world economy would have to be transformed at a scale and pace that has "no documented historic precedent." The crisis has led youth to mobilise across the globe and demand change, though it has often fell in deaf ears.
Though the Green New Deal is intensely disliked by conservatives and it's unlikely to pass under the current Congress, plenty of Americans support some of the principles outlined in the resolution. According to a December poll, 81% of registered voters said they supported supportive of some the Green New Deal's general policies, including transitioning the U.S. to using 100% clean energy and providing training for green jobs. Per the survey, 92% Democrats, 88% Independents, and 64% Republicans supported the plan.
In a tweet Wednesday, Ocasio-Cortez said that taking action on climate change is about leadership. "3,000 Americans died in Hurricane María. The Midwest is drowning as we speak. 100s of Flint families were pumped w/ poisoned water & our water infrastructure is imperiled across the country," she wrote. "GOP thinks this is a joke. They choose to laugh+delay. We choose to lead."