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Donald Trump recently signed into law the Great American Outdoors Act, a historic bill that will provide dedicated funding to acquire and preserve the country’s 419 national parks, 193 million acres of forests, wildlife refuges, and more, in what the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) calls the ‘largest investment the country has made in its national parks and public lands in more than 50 years’. 

Passed with bipartisan support and hailed as one of the most important environmental bills in decades, The Great American Outdoors Act comprises two major components, one of which is The Restore Our Parks Act. The act will use 50% of the government’s energy revenues to provide up to US$1.9 billion a year for five years to repair critical facilities and infrastructure in national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, recreation areas and American Indian schools.

For many conservationists, this is crucial. Across the US, national parks and public lands are facing a funding crisis caused by a surge in popularity. In 2016 and 2017 alone, national parks saw a record high of 330.9 million visitors, but this has led to public lands being overrun with visitors and demand overtaking parks’ capacity. As such, state funding has failed to keep up with parks’ mounting needs.

Now, with the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, local governments will have the resources to address $11.9 million worth of long-overdue maintenance and help restore the nation’s 419 national parks— from the trails in the Yosemite National Park to the sewage system in the Grand Canyon, the campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the failing electrical system in Kalaupapa National Historical Park in Hawaii.

The act also guarantees full and dedicated annual funding of $900 million for The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the nation’s bedrock land acquisition program. Since its establishment in 1964, more than $22 billion has been diverted from the fund for other unknown and unaccountable purposes. In signing the act, the congress attempts to redress this lapse and ensure that the funding- coming almost exclusively from royalties from oil and gas drilling activities- is used to support much-needed land conservation as was intended 56 years ago.

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The enactment is as much a victory for public lands as it is for the rural communities that depend on them. Outdoor recreation tourism has long been one of the backbones of the nation’s economy, generating $125 billion in tax revenue and supporting 7.6 million jobs. However, with the shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector has suffered the hardest blow. 

“The unusual show of bipartisanship that led to enact this legislation is largely due to the political and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Professor Linda Bilmes, the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) told The Harvard Gazette. “The US tourism industry is facing massive job and revenue losses. The Great American Outdoors Act is expected to create more than 108 000 new jobs to repair park infrastructure, including access roads and bridges in these adjacent communities,” she continues.

Economic benefits aside, the passage of this act mandates the conservation of huge landscapes that soak up floodwaters, recharge aquifers and provide clean drinking water to millions of Americans.

In these uncertain and often polarising times, the bill has successfully united the country’s politicians, environmentalists and economic groups. “We’ve always needed our public lands,” congresswoman Torres Small says about the importance of public lands to a country roiled by the COVID-19 pandemic. “They boost our economy, they connect us to the generations who came before us, and they provide an opportunity to relax, to marvel and to learn about our natural world. As we work to rebuild our country and heal from this pandemic, we’ve never needed our public lands more.”

More importantly, it has secured the public’s equitable access to natural spaces. As Land Tawney, president of the Montana-based nonprofit Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said in a statement, “the Great American Outdoors Act is a once-in-a-generation conservation and public access legislation that will have impacts for generations to come.”

Democrat nominee hopeful Joe Biden has proposed spending USD$2 trillion over four years on clean energy projects and ending carbon emissions from power plants by 2035, as part of a series of economic plans aimed at jump-starting an economy affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a speech outlining the plan on July 14, Biden called the threat posed by the climate crisis a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to jolt new life into our economy.” This new proposal is markedly more ambitious than the 10-year, $1.7tn plan he’d offered during the Democratic primary, which included the goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. 

The plan has been praised by progressive groups, with Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, a youth group that advocates for action on the climate crisis, saying, “It’s no secret that we’ve been critical of Vice President Biden’s plans and commitments in the past. Today, he’s responded to many of those criticisms: dramatically increasing the scale and urgency of investments, filling in details on how he’d achieve environmental justice and create good union jobs, and promising immediate action- on day 1, in his first 100 days, in his first term, in the next decade- not just some far-off goals.”

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Biden plans to pay for the proposal by raising taxes for wealthy Americans, undoing President Trump’s tax cuts and increasing the corporate tax rate to 28%.

Joe Biden’s Policies

Last week, Joe Biden called for $400bn for US-made manufacturing efforts such as clean-energy vehicles, telecommunications equipment, steel and other building materials and health care equipment, as well as another $300 billion in research and development on areas like 5G, artificial intelligence and electric vehicle technology.

Biden has expressed skepticism about the Green New Deal objectives of net-zero emissions by 2030, saying that this could more feasibly be achieved by 2050. 

Critics has accused Biden of endangering the jobs of millions of people employed by fossil fuel companies, but Biden’s team has said that the plan would create union jobs in clean energy and through projects such as the construction of electric vehicle charging stations, the weatherization of buildings, updating electric grids and expanding internet access, among others.

More details on how Biden will pay for his proposals will come in the weeks ahead, as more economic proposals will be unveiled. 

Featured image by: Gage Skidmore

In December 2019, the European Commission presented the ‘European Green Deal’- the EU’s legislative roadmap to carbon neutrality by 2050. With emerging markets continuously expanding fossil fuel capacity and increasing greenhouse gas emissions, one would not be remiss to wonder what the point of this is, especially since the EU is responsible for just under 10% of global emissions. Can its call to using Green Deals as a means of climate action have an impact?

The main aim of the EU’s Green Deal is to turn ‘an urgent challenge into a unique opportunity’ through adopting a series of legal and policy instruments transforming the European economy and society.

Meanwhile, In early 2019, American lawmakers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey released the ‘Green New Deal’ proposal in the US Congress with the same goal.

Both proposals are part of an international trend of pushing radically transformative policies aimed at tackling climate change while addressing other economic and social issues. 

What is a Green New Deal?

It is a package of legal, economic and policy measures that aims to address climate change and social inequality at the same time, while presenting a new way of thinking about economic growth. According to Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, “ The old growth is out-of-date and out-of-touch with our planet.” 

The climate crisis reinforces inequalities and its adverse effects will primarily affect people of colour, the working class and women, and will ultimately widen the gap between the rich and poor. 

The fundamental premise that Green Deals are built upon is that one cannot adequately address climate change or inequality alone but rather, they must be tackled together. Green Deals will, ideally, lead to the creation of sustainable jobs that afford a decent standard of living, less economic inequality, a clean environment, lower energy costs and improved infrastructure that will benefit everyone, not just the rich.

While the EU Commission’s proposal is focused on utilising existing market mechanisms to enable the green transformation, the American Green New Deal essentially calls for an overhaul of existing social and economic systems. The American proposal also tackles areas like education and a jobs guarantee, which would likely be outside the EU’s jurisdiction as it is not a sovereign state.

The Main Points of Each Deal

European Green Deal

The EU’s deal contains 50 policy measures, including a carbon border tax for non- EU companies importing energy-intensive goods and a €100 billion ‘just transition fund’ to help member states transition towards a green economy. Under the deal, member states may only enter into trade agreements with states that abide by their Paris Agreement goals. 

The deal pledges EU funding and support to make the steel industry carbon neutral by 2030 and the shipping industry will be included in the emissions trading system for the first time. 

The deal aims to put the EU’s climate neutrality target by 2050 into law, and it aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. It calls for tougher requirements on cutting emissions from road transport, as well as improving air and water quality and tightening pollution laws. Under the deal, energy efficiency will be increased and renewable energy targets put in place- currently renewable energy is at 17.5% with a target of 20% by 2020. Mass restoration of forests is outlined and there are calls for more organic farming and a cut in pesticides. 

Part of the deal is proposed financed through public-private cooperation. 

US Green Deal

Under this deal, greenhouse gas emissions will be cut in half by 2030 in line with the most ambitious Paris Agreement goals, there will be 100% renewable energy by 2030 (compared to 20% in 2019) and there will be stricter environmental protection provisions in trade deals. 

The deals calls for increased investment in research and technology, as well as nature-based solutions, developments for plans to ‘eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible’, for increased investment in improving energy grids, or ‘smart grids’ and for the mass upgrade of all buildings in the country to be ‘as energy efficient, affordable and durable as possible’.

Greenhouse gases associated with transportation will be eliminated ‘as far as possible’ through investing in electric cars and clean, efficient and cheap public transportation, in addition to introducing higher standards and taxes on polluting cars. 

Commonalities Between the Green Deals 

Both deals recognise that the current economic system is not able to adequately address the climate crisis, that radical new ideas are needed and that the current system disadvantages poor countries and massively benefits the rich. Both deals recognise that environmental provisions in trade agreements must be implemented and made more prominent and that a border adjustment tax must be introduced to avoid carbon leakage. 

Additionally, both deals acknowledge the importance of nature-based solutions and that greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut, ideally to a negative percentage by using technology such as carbon capture and storage and renewable energy. Both deals call for a move towards a circular economy and acknowledge that because some areas will be hit hard by these measures, a ‘just transition’ or ‘solitary fund’ is necessary. 

Criticisms

The EU’s deal has been called ‘too little, too late’ by Greenpeace. It does not deal with microplastic and it still relies on market-based approaches and the inefficient EU Emissions Trading Scheme.

Meanwhile, the US deal’s goals are too optimistic; opponents argue that carbon neutrality by 2030 is unrealistic and that implementing the deal would be incredibly costly, with estimates ranging from $52-93 trillion

What’s Next?

The American Green New Deal is still being discussed in the House of Representatives but was rejected by the Senate. As for the European plan, a string of legislative and policy measures will be tabled in the coming months for the European Parliament and member states to discuss. In the EU’s legislative process, the member states sitting in the Council have a say, and it is likely that they will be more conservative and less willing to agree to radical proposals. 

Unlike the US Democrats’ Green New Deal, the EU’s version is technically feasible. Therefore, it could do much more to pave the way for future environmental gains. If the EU succeeds in its ambitions, it will tell the world that prosperity is not incompatible with climate sustainability.

Featured image by: Flickr

In late 2018, American congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey unveiled the Green New Deal, a proposed package of legislation that aims to address climate change and economic inequality. 

Why do we need the Green New Deal?

In an age of rising inequality and perilous climate forthcomings, advocates for vigorous Keynesian-style state interventions are garnering support in the United States. Their inspiration is, of course, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, promulgator of a Green New Deal economics, a series of public works programmes and reforms aimed at lifting Americans out of the miseries of the Great Depression.

The New Deal fundamentally changed the federal government’s relationship to US citizens, establishing itself as responsible for their welfare.

Likewise, promoters of a Green New Deal call for a state-led response to the challenges posed by climate change and see investments in renewable energy and green-tech as an effective means to lift Americans out of poverty.

Newly elected Democratic congresswoman for New York State, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez picked up the promoters’ mantel and relaunched the idea, which is still largely aspirational, in recent interviews.

The ambitious programme, which is yet to be articulated, would address both climate change and economic inequality with sweeping legislation to achieve “100% of national power generation from renewable sources” within the next 10 years.

The congresswoman is spearheading the Sunrise movement to cajole members of Congress into forming a Green New Deal Select Committee and draw up a blueprint for action.

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https://twitter.com/AOC/status/1073685921156005888

What is the Green New Deal?

Thomas Friedman, the New York Times commentator coined the term in an oft-quoted 2007 column which called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, a tax on carbon dioxide emissions and for the creation of lasting incentives for solar and wind energy.

Then-presidential candidate Barack Obama appropriated the call and swept to power on the pledge to create “5 million green jobs” and incorporating in policy many aspects of the current Green New Deal reform programme. Democrats eventually passed a landmark cap-and-trade bill – the “American Clean Energy and Security Act” in 2009 – with a promise to generate US $150 billion in clean energy investments and create 1.7 million jobs.

But electoral tilts in favour of the Republican party dashed hopes for any prolongement of such policies in the World’s leading economic powerhouse (and polluter), sanctioning an abrupt pause to any talk of large-scale domestic green initiatives. Poignantly, it prompted astonishing reversals like the repeal of the Obama-era Clean Air Act.

Perhaps emboldened by the institutional backtracking on climate pledges, proponents of the Green New Deal enjoyed a resurgence in recent months. They are adamant to see their plan come to fruition. The Sunrise Movement hashed out the proposal for the creation of the Select Committee already in November 2018.

The movement calls for a fully decarbonised economy, investments of trillions of dollars, a wealth tax to cover the costs for a “just transition” to a new economic paradigm. “The Green New Deal we are proposing will be similar in scale to the mobilisation efforts seen in World War II or the Marshall Plan,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

“We must again invest in the development, manufacturing, deployment, and distribution of energy but this time, green energy.”

Despite the grassroot enthusiasm, any jolt of optimism should be measured against the current backdrop of political retrenchment, a resurgence of the coal industry and a White House leadership hostile to state intervention and apathetic to environmental issues, placing a heavy ceiling to any hopes of implementing concrete proposals in the short term.

Turning high-level goals into a concrete policy platform

Cognisant of the mammoth legislative task ahead, GND advocates are trying to fill the strategy void left unaddressed by the Democratic Party, the largest political organisation in America that cares about climate change but which has yet to agree on a way to tackle it policy-wise.

“The Green New Deal is a great framing and I’m glad it’s catching on, but this whole thing needs to be at least as comprehensive as the New Deal,” said Ashik Siddique, who serves on the Democratic Socialists of America’s climate working group. “We are talking about the need to transform the physical infrastructure of every sector of the economy.”

Rhiana Gunn-Wright, an advocate with New Consensus, a groups associated with the Sunrise movement, is one of the drivers of the policy renewal. She plans to convene other experts and activists for this ambitious undertaking – namely, figuring out how to transform the world’s largest economy into a carbon-neutral power.

“This requires an incredible amount of policy knowledge, more than one group, definitely more than one person can bring to bear,” she says, “so the hope is that it can be a foundation for supporting research.”

Gunn-Wright continuously brings back the question to how ordinary citizens would be affected by the programme.

“My team thinks about the end user” she says. “How does the average person get help putting solar panels on their roof or find a suitable job under the GND?”

Other efforts to fill in the policy gap are outlined in report by Greg Carlock at Data For Progress, an upstart think tank. It details options for each of the programme’s large-scale goals, from investments in public transit to eco-building standards and sustainable agricultural practices.

“Climate change is an emergent property of a bad economic system,” Carlock says, referring to neoliberal market-based solutionism. Ultimately, the GND aims to transform what its proponents view as an outdated economic system.

The grassroots dialectic, occasionally tinged of American exceptionalism, may succeed in garnering momentum and political oompf within state and federal legislatures, but faces an uphill battle with public opinion: outside of Washington’s gleaming corridors, few people have ever heard about the Green New Deal.

A recent survey from Yale Program on Climate Change Communications found that the principles underpinning GND command a majority and bipartisan support. But their research also shows that 82% of Americans have never heard of it.

Source: Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

Linking the initiative with large scale job-creation could unlock broad electoral support. Evan Weber, co-founder of Sunrise, believes that to succeed they must: “connect [the GND] inextricably to the economic pain that so many Americans still feel, and show people that there’s a way to build a better economy and improve their lives through action on climate change.”

FDR was able to channel discontent into productive endeavours of public utility. Pundits and environmentalists everywhere are waiting to see if the experiment can be repeated. In a green coating.

Featured image courtesy of Senate Democrats/ Flickr

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