The news for both climate change and economic inequality has been undeniably dire. In December the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual Arctic Report Card concluded that a critical cooling system around the North Pole may be breaking down, just the latest ominous survey about the existential threat of the climate crisis. On the economic front, a recent report by the Brookings Institution showed that 44 percent of American workers are stuck in low-wage jobs paying a median of $18,000 per year.
Addressing one of these crises is a monumental challenge for one nation; tackling both at once might appear to be insurmountable. But there are lawmakers, academics, and leaders in business and labor who believe that not only should the U.S. deal with both crises simultaneously, it must and it can. Indeed, a growing body of research indicates that many of the solutions to address the climate crisis and economic inequality are the same.
How a Green New Deal Could Grow High Wage Jobs
On a November day outside the U.S. Capitol, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, (D-N.Y.), and Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) told a shivering crowd that they would be introducing legislation to invest $172 billion in retrofitting the nation’s public housing stock to improve energy efficiency, as part of a sweeping Green New Deal. “This bill shows,” they announced, “that we can address our climate and affordable housing crises by making public housing a model of efficiency, sustainability and resiliency.” The broad outline for a Green New Deal, endorsed by 60 representatives, made news for its climate change goals, including decarbonizing manufacturing and agriculture, upgrading all buildings to be energy efficient and building a “smart” grid. But the Green New Deal also addresses income inequality, acknowledging that the effects of climate change fall hardest on lower income people.
A September United Nations report endorsed the general framework for an international green new deal as a way of lifting up poor and vulnerable communities. It concluded that “achieving human well-being and eradicating poverty for all of the Earth’s people—expected to number 8.5 billion by 2030—is still possible, but only if there is a fundamental—and urgent—change in the relationship between people and nature.”
The Trump administration remains hostile to any efforts to cut back on fossil fuel extraction or consumption, and no Republican in Congress has embraced any renewable climate goals, let alone ones that benefit workers. Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidates run the gamut of “green-blue” advocacy.
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