By: Jacopo De Marinis, CAPA Climate Fellow, Summer 2019
You might have heard about the 2018 report on climate change released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It found that, if we do not keep warming of global temperatures to below 1.5 degrees celsius above pre industrial temperatures, the worst effects of climate change will not be averted. This will cause a massive loss of human life, severely damage the biodiversity of our ecosystems, and damage vital economic infrastructure, costing the United States and other countries trillions of dollars annually.
These disastrous events induced by climate change will spark humanitarian disasters, forcing the dislocation of millions who will live in constant fear of the next climatic disaster. Undoubtedly, the upheaval caused by the impending climate crisis will generate immense social and political unrest as existing patterns of social and economic inequality are exacerbated by the devastating environmental changes that will grip the world. This future will soon be irreversible.
But we must not lose hope.
In February of 2019, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey introduced a resolution, an idea, that has the power to change everything. An idea that would even the playing field for millions of people by enhancing economic and social equality while ensuring that Earth will still sustain life for our children and grandchildren. An idea that would strengthen democracy and freedom for all citizens of the United States, no long held down by the wealthy elite and corrupt politicians. An idea that is exactly what we need: a Green New Deal (GND). And yes, it is a bold vision of a better world. Bold, but not unrealizable…
The GND consists of three parts: 1) Ending the United States’ economy’s reliance on fossil fuel based energy sources, 2) transitioning to a renewable energy source based economy by 2050, and 3) using this transformational shift as an opportunity to enhance social and economic equality for everyone, especially the poor, people of color, and indigenous communities to ensure a just transition, led by those most affected. It is a bold vision, but many citizens of the United States have already stepped to spearhead the fight, including me.
In Summer 2019, I participated in an advocacy internship program organized by Chicago Area Peace Action (CAPA). CAPA’s main goals are centered on foreign policy (such as ending the endless wars in the Middle East and throughout the world) and climate justice. This particular summer, the CAPA climate justice team was focused on promoting the GND. We, like many, were alarmed by the doomsday predictions put forth by the IPCC and were determined to do something about it.
So, we drafted a letter to the Illinois Congressional Delegation urging our representatives to support the GND. And, to illustrate the strong societal support behind the GND, we started building a coalition of concerned organizations that had a stake in the GND. These organizations ranged from places of faith to refugee organizations to environmental advocacy groups… a diverse group reflective of the intersectional nature of this progressive, transformative initiative.
While we recruited the majority of these organizations via computer, building a coalition for what might turn out to be the most significant push for a long-awaited change wasn’t as easy as just pushing a button and hoping for a signature; it required active campaigning. We went to networking events, attended by business owners, climate scientists, politicians, and social activists, always with a petition in hand, urging congressional leaders like Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi and Representative Sean Casten to cosponsor the GND. We made constituents aware of their representatives’ lack of support of the GND at town hall meetings, growing more knowledgeable about the urgent need for a GND. We met with experts and coalitions working for the same goal, and as a united front, attended forums on climate change. Leaders like Tom Skilling and Dick Durbin were there, but their support was still omitted for the comprehensive Green New Deal resolution.
I would say that the most exciting event was a forum for Economic Development held in a local pizzeria. Aside from eating amazing Italian food, I was excited to get Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Cook County Commissioner for District 12 Bridget Degnen’s signatures in support of the Green New Deal!
But it wasn’t easy. Some politicians, yes, even Democrats, were reluctant to lend their support to the GND due to concerns about the cost, as well as hesitancy to support such a “radical” resolution. And telling them that we DO have the money to finance a GND (after diverting some funds currently flowing into the pockets of defense contractors and the US’s oversized war machine) didn’t seem to make much a difference. One politician, Rodney Davis, representative of Illinois’ 13th Congressional District, still hasn’t responded to me about setting up a meeting, even with my having repeatedly contacted his office.
Despite some disappointments, our perseverance bore fruit; we successfully compiled a list of 50 progressive organizations eager to sign onto our coalition letter which we will present to our Illinois Congressional Delegation.
But there is still much to be done.
The urgency of the problem is apparent in Greta Thunberg’s voice as she begs world leaders at the past UN Conference on Climate Change to treat the impending climate crisis as it is: a catastrophe. The world admires her boldness and courage for several days, and then it’s back to business as usual. While her determination helps motivate protests for environmental reform, nobody realizes how important it is that we all fight as Greta Thunberg is for environmental justice. She cannot bear the burden of saving the planet alone, and we all must find that inner courage to sacrifice for the common good as Greta has.
All of us must take an active stance to force radical, but vital, climate reform, in any way possible. I believe that the GND is one of the best proposals yet put forth to combat climate change as its comprehensive goals tackle the underlying cause of climate change: the divisive, profit driven nature of the current economic system that has left so many behind. But in any way we choose to fight, we must fight like our lives depend on it. Because they do.