Look at How Much Sense It Makes to Do the Green New Deal Right Now

We can get out of this depression and save the planet all at once.

Sarah Lazare May 6, 2020

People wait on a long line to receive a food bank donation at the Barclays Center on May 15, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough in New York City. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Our polit­i­cal lead­ers, Repub­li­can and Demo­c­rat, are leav­ing tens of mil­lions of peo­ple in free fall. Instead of a guar­an­teed income and uni­ver­sal, sin­gle-pay­er health­care, we are offered pal­try, one-time checks and unem­ploy­ment pay­ments (for those who qual­i­fy — and many don’t, includ­ing all undoc­u­ment­ed peo­ple). Epi­demi­ol­o­gists tell us that peo­ple must stay home to curb the spread of the virus — yet, to do so, peo­ple need a con­sis­tent income, which most can­not achieve from home. We have been offered no road map for keep­ing bread lines — like the 10,000 fam­i­lies who showed up at a food bank in San Anto­nio — from grow­ing ever longer.

To get to the other side of the Covid-19 crisis without leaving a single person behind, we need ambitious social programs like a universal income and a jobs guarantee.

Even as there are no jobs, work is pil­ing up. For exam­ple, any plan to safe­ly emerge from shut­down also requires con­tact trac­ing, which involves mass test­ing to find peo­ple who have been infect­ed with the virus, then track­ing down and mon­i­tor­ing any­one they have come in con­tact with. (Such an effort should remain firm­ly under the purview of pub­lic health, with checks to ensure the data is in no way sub­ject to polic­ing, gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance or pri­vate inter­ests.) By some esti­mates, ade­quate con­tact trac­ing in the U.S. would require at least a hun­dred thou­sand trac­ers. As no health­care exper­tise is required, it would be a per­fect job for the present­ly unemployed.

Which is to say it has become abun­dant­ly clear that, to get to the oth­er side of the Covid-19 cri­sis with­out leav­ing a sin­gle per­son behind, we need ambi­tious social pro­grams like a uni­ver­sal income and a jobs guar­an­tee. If these calls sound famil­iar, it might be because they are also vital to address a slow­er-burn­ing but even more cat­a­stroph­ic emer­gency: cli­mate change.

We are already expe­ri­enc­ing some effects of cli­mate change, but if the atmos­phere warms beyond 1.5 degrees Cel­sius above pre-indus­tri­al lev­els, they will be more dev­as­tat­ing. A uni­ver­sal jobs pro­gram would pro­vide the labor for the urgent tran­si­tion to renew­able ener­gy: clean­ing up shut­tered coal mines, build­ing robust mass tran­sit sys­tems and ener­gy-retro­fitting homes. A guar­an­teed uni­ver­sal income would pro­vide the means to sur­vive droughts, floods and super­storms to the peo­ple most direct­ly affect­ed, in a coun­try where 11.1% of peo­ple are food inse­cure and 40% can’t afford a $400 emergency.

The Green New Deal that emerged from the long­time demands of labor and social move­ments, and was first cham­pi­oned in Con­gress by Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.), would cre­ate all of these pro­grams and more.

So, why wait to start the Green New Deal? We can imple­ment a uni­ver­sal basic income right now, dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, when it is des­per­ate­ly need­ed. A uni­ver­sal jobs pro­gram could put peo­ple to work test­ing, con­tact trac­ing and check­ing in on elders — and lat­er be used to build the zero-car­bon econ­o­my. As pro­po­nents of a green stim­u­lus” argue, even though social dis­tanc­ing cre­ates a lim­it on phys­i­cal labor, we can get mil­lions of green jobs shov­el ready,” and the sys­tems in place now to save lives in the com­ing months and decades.

While wealth is buffer­ing the rich from the effects of these cat­a­stro­phes, the poor — dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly peo­ple of col­or — are bear­ing the brunt. To ensure the resilience of the work­ing class and to rem­e­dy the long-run­ning cri­sis of inequal­i­ty, we need to redis­trib­ute wealth down­ward. Instead, thanks to the cor­po­rate bailouts in the CARES Act stim­u­lus pack­age, law­mak­ers have been orches­trat­ing a tremen­dous redis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth from the poor to the rich. Repub­li­cans are the worse offend­ers, but Democ­rats deserve blame for their timid­i­ty and incrementalism.

As the cir­cles of the vul­ner­a­ble and dis­pos­sessed expand rapid­ly and dra­mat­i­cal­ly — with 30 mil­lion more peo­ple unem­ployed in April than in March — we need a robust Green New Deal now to get through the cur­rent cri­sis, and mit­i­gate the next one.

Sarah Lazare is web edi­tor at In These Times. She comes from a back­ground in inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ism for pub­li­ca­tions includ­ing The Inter­cept, The Nation, and Tom Dis­patch. She tweets at @sarahlazare.

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