BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is On The Media. Brooke Gladstone is out this week, I'm Bob Garfield. And this is President Trump on Tuesday giving his State of the Union address.
PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP: Congress has ten days left to pass a bill that will fund our government protect our homeland and secure our very dangerous southern borders. [END CLIP]
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BOB GARFIELD: Trump as his wall. The wall, the wall, the wall. And as usual, with an assortment of misleading and blatantly false assertions. But when former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams offered the Democratic response, she didn't devote much time to rebutting the barbarians at the gate nonsense. Instead, she sort of changed the subject.
STACEY ABRAMS: We can do so much more, Take action on climate change. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD: Climate change? Who said anything about climate change? Certainly, not Trump. But it was a telling moment because under the new Democratic House majority, a lot of issues are going to be addressed through the prism of climate change– Immigration being near the top of the list. That's because severe weather rising temperatures and rising sea levels will trigger waves of human migration. As the president likes to say, 'Unlike anything we've seen before.' In its most recent forecast in October, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated we have only 12 years to moderate warming trends. If we are to be saved the worst effects of droughts, floods and famine. But as Abram's message foreshadowed, the focus is being turned away from impending doom to the utopian possibilities of government being unleashed to avert existential crisis. In fact on Thursday, a group of Democrats presented a nonbinding resolution to start to address the climate crisis.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Democrats are rolling out an ambitious plan to eliminate the US's carbon emissions and revamp the American economy. It's called the Green New Deal and it's being spearheaded by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Our first step is to define the problem and define the scope of the solution. And so we're here to say that small incremental policy solutions are not enough. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD: Kate Aronoff has written about climate and the Green New Deal for The Intercept. She says that in order to rapidly strip fossil fuels and carbon emissions from the global economy in the next 12 years, we have to act fast and think big.
KATE ARONOFF: The Green New Deal tries to take in all of that and say, you know, 'we have this masive problem as we did in the aftermath of the Great Depression and we don't really know what it looks like to fix it. We didn't really know what it looked like in the late 1920s and early 1930s to build a welfare state in the United State but we did it because we invested resources in it and said 'we have the money available. We can make this possible and we're pretty screwed if we don't.
BOB GARFIELD: In your Intercept piece, you describe a sort of socialist and social justice utopia, where in the battle to restore climate equilibrium will also address many other structural problems and inequities and even right historical wrongs. Can you give me some examples of the subsidiary benefits that flow in your view from the Green New Deal?
KATE ARONOFF: Sure. If you think of something like transforming our grid system, most of those jobs are unionized and very well-paid. And that creates a lot of very well-paid work to make our economy low carbon and to strip fossil fuels out of it. Something else the Green New Deal could do is to provide public transportation to folks who, you know, don't have access to it. If we had, say, high speed rail connecting every major city in the country, that's something which not only improves our quality of life but also creates many, many jobs. So you can also imagine something like a federal job guarantee being part of the Green New Deal. And that would create, basically, a wage floor in the country. So you would offer a job to anyone who needs one and have the government be the employer of last resort and provide an alternative to these other sort of carbon intensive jobs that are so common throughout the economy. And so the benefits really, sort of, flow out from one another. At the heart of it is a real recognition that this transition can be something that improves people's quality of life.
BOB GARFIELD: Let's talk about the history of this nascent movement. It's gone from virtually no share of the public conversation, at least as measured by Google searches and Twitter mentions, to most definitely a thing. Where did it come from? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she's in the thick of it but she is not the inventor of it.
KATE ARONOFF: Certainly not. So, funnily enough the person who claims to have invented the term Green New Deal is Tom Friedman The New York Times columnist, who in 2007, wrote a column basically calling for a rebranding environmentalism. So, to take it out of the realm of, sort of, hippies and tree huggers and make it the sort of macho capitalist project.
TOM FRIEDMAN: We have, not only this kind of grand bargain between the environmental community and industry, broadly, but that we understand that through them, we can actually propel innovation and entrepreneurship in this country. [END CLIP]
KATE ARONOFF: That is not where its legacy has stayed since that time. There's a group of thinkers in the UK known as The Green New Deal Group who were the first to really do some substantial thinking about this and who Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez's team have actually drawn a lot of inspiration from. And, you know, it's been in the Green party's platforms since about 2012. Jill Stein made it a prominent part of her campaign.
JILL STEIN: An emergency Green New Deal to create 25 million jobs, end unemployment and jumpstart the green economy. [END CLIP]
KATE ARONOFF: And Van Jones a former quote unquote 'job czar' and the Obama administration talked about a Green New Deal as a way to sort of shape the stimulus in response to the Great Recession. But it's real re-emergence was when about 200 young people with the sunrise movement, this youth climate organization, occupy Nancy Pelosi his office and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined them they're.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: we're here to demand that Nancy Pelosi and Democratic establishment leadership step up and actually create a plan to stop this crisis that is imperiling all of our generation's lives. That we actually--[END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD: All right that's the history. Speaking of history and, as you alluded to earlier, there's plenty. It was called the New Deal and that was the original means by which an activist government mobilized against the ongoing catastrophe of the Great Depression with public funds, public works, vast infrastructure expansion and so on. Not because even in 1930 the public loved a socialist style command economy, but because the alternative was economic collapse.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: The members of Congress realized that the methods of modern times had to be replaced in the emergency by measures that were suited for the serious and pressing environment of the moment. [END CLIP]
KATE ARONOFF: So I think the circumstances are parallel even if you look at the lead up to the New Deal. So Herbert Hoover who dealt with the very early days of the Great Depression was consistently unable to figure out what this crisis was. He didn't know the scale of, what had caused it and was so committed to the idea of private businesses being able to meet the needs of the people that he really was just so opposed to the idea of federal intervention in the economy. And so one of the first programs that he unveils is this ad campaign to encourage people to invest in charities. But that doesn't work, and there just really wasn't an avenue for folks who were struggling to get their basic needs met. And so there was a sort of mass social uprising from people who were being thrown out of work, who couldn't feed their families saying please have the government intervene in our lives to make them better. And so that was sort of the call that FDR brought into the office and how he got into the office. And, you know, even as he was governor of New York implemented several programs that would find their way into the New Deal later on.
BOB GARFIELD: Now earlier I mentioned flipping the narrative. On the other hand, I kind of feel like Jor-El on Krypton.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: And we're like, the world is going to end in 12 years if we don't address climate change, and your biggest issue--[END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD: The ticking clock is still a part of the pitch.
KATE ARONOFF: Yeah and I think that is certainly a part of referencing back to the New Deal. And the other thing that people bring up, often, is the mobilization around World War II, which looked at a similar existential threat and devoted a massive amount of federal resources to confronting it. And, you know, I think that is absolutely the mindset that we need to be in. There are climate scientists who are increasingly calling for a quote unquote 'wartime footing' to deal with climate change. I think the New Deal and the Great Depression and something like the moon landing, if we were to combine all those things together then we might start to get a sense for the scale of work that this transition will require and the sort of vast nature of it.
BOB GARFIELD: There is significant buy in already from some key Democrats.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Will you fully endorse the Green New Deal tonight.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: I--I support a Green New Deal.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Well we have to have a Green New Deal for America we need--.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: A Green New Deal is creating many millions of decent paying jobs, transforming our--. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD: But, ha, as a society, we've been fighting over health insurance since the 1990s. So yeah, Krypton and all that, but Republicans. Does the future of Green New Deal not hinge on people who simply don't want any part of it.
KATE ARONOFF: Yeah it's a good question, but I think what the Green New Deal framing does, smartly, and the people pushing for it are smartly getting around is this tendency within environmental groups to sort of go begging to Republicans to say, 'please support our climate policy. We'll make it as weak as possible if you just get on board.' And we've seen this, you know, time and time again, most notably in 2009 with Waxman-Markey it with this cap and trade bill.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Ratifies the fact that emissions trading is a policy tool that will be employed--[END CLIP]
KATE ARONOFF: Which started off as somewhat decent legislation for that time and through the course of debating it just got watered down so much to the point where if it had been passed that bill would have kneecapped the Environmental Protection Agencies in ways that Andrew Wheeler and Scott Pruitt could really only dream of. And so that has been a trap that I think a lot of environmentalists and Democrats have fallen into with saying that, you know, 'we will only get climate policy if we convince enough Republicans to get onboard.' But as we've seen, this is such a deeply partisan issue that, you know, I don't think Republicans really come to the table in good faith to debate climate policy. Particularly not given the millions of dollars that they got from the fossil fuel industry every year in campaign contributions.
BOB GARFIELD: I want to end by bringing this back to something I was kind of hinting at in the introduction and that is President Trump's obsession with migration at the southern border. Now the fact checkers have documented chapter and verse why almost everything he says about the threat is untrue. But the irony of this conversation is that if the climate is left unchecked, it will all come true.
KATE ARONOFF: Some of the migration that we're already seeing from Latin America is due to folks not being able to harvest their crops because their fields are going fallow because of the effects of climate change. That's not all of it of course, but climate is a factor in why people are heading north and seeking jobs and, you know, some cases, protection. So, you know, we will see more migration. That is just sort of a reality of the world that we're living in, no matter how quickly we mitigate climate change. But I think this gets back to something that is really powerful I think about the Green New Deal framing, which is that we have to learn how the state can do new things. How the state can learn new tricks to deal with very different worlds. Climate change will affect every single policy field in the next century and so, you know, immigration is a climate issue, whether Trump talks about it like that or not. And it deserves folks who are thinking about climate change to have a real response to that which takes seriously the need to have a really humane approach to inviting folks into the country, I think.
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BOB GARFIELD: Kate, thank you very much.
KATE ARONOFF: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Kate Aronoff is a contributing writer for The Intercept. Coming up, the man who helped make Facebook what it is, is desperately trying to make amends. This is On The Media.