From the election of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to the rise of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, young Americans are injecting a strong dose of energy into the climate and environmental movements.
But unlike the saying from the 1960s “not to trust anyone over 30,” today’s young leaders do not intend to ignore the valuable work that’s already been done by environmental groups and green-minded politicians over the last several decades.
The youthful backers of the current form of a Green New Deal — a proposal designed to shift the U.S. away from fossil fuels and toward green energy, while making sure workers are treated fairly — have proven themselves to be open to learning from their elders about similar proposals from the past.
“The good news is that we’re not starting from scratch,” Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Monday night at a climate town hall on Capitol Hill hosted by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). ”There’s a lot of legislation that has been drafted to already start addressing some of these smaller issues. … But it needs to be consolidated and brought under the tent of a Green New Deal.”
She cited the work of Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), who served as chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming in the late 2000s when he was a member of the House. Markey announced his support of the Green New Deal on Monday.
So excited to have a partner in the House in @Ocasio2018 who is ready to work on the bold, transformational action on #ClimateChange and #CleanEnergy we need. America needs a #GreenNewDeal, and we have the Congressional leadership to do it. pic.twitter.com/gR3OjECuqZ
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) December 3, 2018
Given the dire warnings from climate scientists, Ocasio-Cortez said, the economic changes must be done in a sweeping fashion. When policymakers “try to solve this issue piecemeal, we’re not going to get it solved in time,” she explained. “That’s why we’re asking for this really great ambitious singular plan.”
Drawing from past labor and environmental leaders, Ocasio-Cortez also emphasized a move to a sustainable future must be done in a just fashion.
“When we talk about transition, we talk about just transitions. Transitions to renewable energy that also provide justice to all communities that are impacted,” she said at the climate town hall. “Whether they are people that need to leave their homes on the shores of Puerto Rico, whether they are coal miners that feel like they’re maybe transitioned out of a job, we need to have a just transition.”
There have been attempts to bridge the gap between environmental groups and labor unions. For example, the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle featured “Turtles and Teamsters” coming together to oppose corporate-managed globalization.
The BlueGreen Alliance was created by the Sierra Club and other groups in 2006 to unite large labor unions and environmental groups in a more lasting manner, with the goal of addressing environmental challenges while maintaining quality jobs.
Forty years ago, influential union leader Tony Mazzocchi, a top official with the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union (OCAW), was one of the first to champion a just transition for workers to a clean environment.
In response to concerns about the health and safety of OCAW’s members, Mazzocchi came up with a proposal for a four-year income and benefit guarantee for chemical and atomic workers that they called Superfund for Workers. But environmentalists complained the word “superfund” — better known as a Federal government program oriented around the clean-up of America’s toxic waste sites — had too many negative connotations, so they changed the name to “just transition.”
At the town hall, political commentator and former Obama administration official Van Jones recalled how he tried to a get a Green New Deal implemented during the first term of President Barack Obama’s president but failed. “I think you’re going to get it done,” Jones told Ocasio-Cortez.
As part of the inclusive tenet of the current movement, Ocasio-Cortez quickly corrected Jones: “We’re going to get it done.”
Members of the Sunrise Movement — a youth-led group founded in 2017 — spent the most recent election cycle working on the campaigns of pro-climate and economically progressive candidates — both young and old.
Since the midterms, the group has spent a great deal of time on Capitol Hill lobbying members of Congress to support a Green New Deal and holding lawmakers accountable to their pro-environment campaign promises. A week after the midterms, Ocasio-Cortez joined members of the Sunrise Movement in the office of incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) urging her to advocate for aggressive climate legislation.
At the climate town hall, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, youth director of Earth Guardians, explained that one of their goals is to make it “politically risky” for politicians “to not stand up to the fossil fuel powers.”
— Oil Change USA (@OilChangeUS) December 4, 2018
Martinez stressed that politicians need to be held accountable if they do not walk the talk. In his home state of Colorado, outgoing Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and incoming Attorney General Phil Weiser (D) are supporters of oil and gas drilling in the state.
Weiser was endorsed by pro-oil and gas industry Democrat Ken Salazar, who is also a former Colorado attorney general and U.S. senator and was U.S. Secretary of the Interior during President Barack Obama’s first term, where he opened offshore drilling in the Arctic and approved the Gulf drilling projects that caused the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Too many Colorado politicians who claim to be progressives and who claim to care about climate change, according to Martinez, are “taking massive campaign contributions from the natural gas and oil corporations.”
“For me, it’s been very clear that this isn’t about left or right wing. It’s about politicians that stand up and represent the best interest of our community,” he said.