To U.S. Rep. Engel: The birth pangs of the Green New Deal


(re: “Engel urged to back Green New Deal,” Feb. 14)

On Feb. 6, five community organizations — Bronx Climate Justice North, North Bronx Racial Justice, Northwest Bronx Indivisible, NYCD-16 Indivisible and Bronx Progressives — held a lively rally outside the Johnson Avenue office of U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel to deliver petitions calling on Mr. Engel to support a Green New Deal to address the climate crisis.

Mr. Engel had not yet joined nearly 50 representatives supporting the Green New Deal push led by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In response to our rally, the congressman announced his original co-sponsorship of a resolution on a Green New Deal to be announced that week by Ocasio-Cortez and U.S. Sen. Edward Markey.

Thank you to Congressman Engel for co-sponsoring, and thanks also to The Riverdale Press for its coverage of our rally.

Anyone watching media coverage of the Green New Deal phenomenon knows that we’re at the beginning, not the end, of the story. What is the Green New Deal? Where did it come from? What do we need, going forward, from Congressman Engel?

A Green New Deal is a comprehensive approach to the hydra-headed problem of global warming. Rather than a single policy intervention, it is an equitable, multi-pronged policy approach to transform our economy and energy system, and help build sustainable, democratically empowered communities.

The Green New Deal, in its current form, is embodied in non-binding Congressional resolutions introduced by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey on Feb. 7.

As the mainstream media would have it, the Green New Deal arose magically during the 2018 midterms out of the hearts and minds of Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise Movement — a movement of young people uniting to stop the climate crisis. You’ve seen these courageous young people occupying the halls of Congress and offices of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In fact, the notion of a Green New Deal approach to the climate crisis has been around a long time — in the work of the New York Green Party and green parties across Europe, and of environmental justice communities and organizations laboring for decades to inject concepts of justice and a focus on the unique struggles of low-income and people-of-color communities into the environmental and climate movements.

In the past few months, working in alchemical tandem, Ocasio-Cortez and Sunrise have managed to bring an unprecedented level of visibility and urgency to the Green New Deal concept, giving it strength and staying power as a bold plan to tackle global warming that, for the first time, is on par with the scale of the crisis itself.

The devil is now in the details — everyone concerned about the crisis would do well to engage with the Green New Deal to make it as strong as possible, and then fight like hell to pass the many pieces of legislation needed to enact it. The Ocasio-Cortez/Markey resolutions were designed to kickstart the Green New Deal conversation and inject it into presidential politics.

Whether one sees the Green New Deal as a threat or an opportunity depends on whether, for example, one is a fossil fuel industry executive, a politician beholden to fossil fuel donations, or a person concerned about the viability of the planet.

There are those who endorse the Ocasio-Cortez/Markey resolutions as written, others fighting to bury them. There are those who scoff at them as naïve or quixotic, while others are deeply concerned that they need radical strengthening.

I am in the last category — the Ocasio-Cortez/Markey resolutions are a decent beginning, but fall short.

I urge people to read the Indigenous Environmental Network’s talking points on the Green New Deal, which conclude “without a clear enunciation of a commitment to keeping fossil fuels on the ground; rejecting carbon pricing mechanisms as unjust, false solutions that destroy the climate, ecosystems and communities; strengthened language on indigenous peoples; and the fundamental need to challenge and transform the current political and economic systems driving social injustice and the climate crisis, (Ocasio-Cortez and Markey) could allow for increased global warming. We demand that subsidies and tax breaks that keep the fossil fuel industry viable be shifted towards a clear, grassroots-based just transition.”

There are other important critiques of the Ocasio-Cortez/Markey Green New Deal, including the Green Party’s urging that any Green New Deal worth its salt must call for defunding of the Pentagon in favor of the massive civilian undertaking the Green New Deal calls for.

Rep. Engel — your ongoing engagement in forging a strong, just Green New Deal is critically needed. Please center the input of communities on the front lines of climate change — seek the input of the Climate Justice Alliance, and here in New York City, the NYC-Environmental Justice Alliance. The South Bronx is a front-line Environmental Justice community, with highly mobilized justice organizations long at work on all fronts of what is now termed the Green New Deal.

In addition, while I commend you for not taking donations from fossil fuel companies, I ask that you take the no fossil fuel money pledge to make your commitment official and part of a nationwide effort to break the chokehold of the fossil fuel industry on our political system.

The author is coordinator of Bronx Climate Justice North.

Jennifer Scarlott,