America does the impossible. Independence, democracy, the Erie Canal, human flight, curing polio, ending slavery, defeating fascism; these are just a few of the daunting challenges America has conquered. Growing up, my parents often said, “If we can land a man on the moon…”, followed by some lesser challenge we could also overcome. In their minds, America could do anything because we already had.
I have tried to pass along that same can-do Americanism to my kids. That’s why I am so disappointed by the melodrama surrounding the Green New Deal resolution. Meekness in the face of crisis isn’t what America is all about.
My concern isn’t with the bad-faith arguments from Republican climate change deniers. Their denial is reckless and stupid, and it’s going to end badly.
What worries me more are those who believe in climate change but offer no real solutions. From fretful hand-wringing to derisive sniggering to outright dismissal, folks who say climate change is an existential crisis have also cherry-picked or distorted elements of the Green New Deal to reduce the whole idea to pie-in-the-sky fantasy. This undermines the seriousness of the threat, downplays the scale of an adequate response, and sticks us with an untenable status quo.
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But, first, some basics. Cars and airplanes are still legal. The Green New Deal doesn’t actually include policy prescriptions. That’s because it’s not a bill — it’s a resolution. It simply sets goals and commits Congress to acting on those goals in a specific time frame. When I ran a business, we set goals and deadlines at the start of every major project. The Green New Deal brings that same approach to Congress.
And yes, the Green New Deal is bold. Getting to net zero carbon emissions will be hard. We can (and will) argue about how to get there. But disagreement on the “how” shouldn’t stop us from trying.
Aiming high can save America money
We also really need boldness: Weather-related disasters have more than tripled since the 1960s, costing our economy $240 billion per year. That’s about 30 percent of this year’s military budget. Oh, and it’s only getting worse. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year.
Considering those staggering numbers, the Green New Deal aims high: zeroing carbon emissions, building “smart” power grids and overhauling aging infrastructure — all in time to do us some good. This requires innovation, investment, education, and lots of new jobs. The resolution also commits to tackling these challenges justly — by ensuring that the jobs created will be real, family-sustaining jobs that can rebuild the American middle class and lift up long-neglected communities.
The Green New Deal presents a vision of a sustainable America with good jobs, clean water and breathable air for everyone. But it’s not meant to be the final product. I invite every critic and skeptic to weigh in. Present alternatives. Engage in the conversation. We need and welcome your input. But to those who want to sit on the sidelines and say real change is impossible, I say: not good enough.
Shooting for the moon was a good investment
It’s worth remembering that when President John Kennedy said an American would go to the moon during the 1960’s, he was making an outlandish promise. Alan Shepard had literally just made his first suborbital flight a few days prior. Landing on the moon was technologically unimaginable and impractically expensive. But by 1969, Neil Armstrong had walked on the moon, and future generations benefited from the Apollo program’s innovations. Americans now see the moon landing as one of man’s greatest technological achievements — and a worthwhile investment.
The story of the moonshot is profoundly American. To conquer a new horizon, we charted a course that was intimidating in its boldness. We have done this repeatedly throughout our history. Only by doing so have we achieved the impossible. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “you must do the thing you think you cannot do.” I am proud to be an original co-sponsor of the Green New Deal because it is the manifestation of that principle.
If we were to shrink from the greatest challenge of our generation, it would not only be disastrous for the planet — it would be a betrayal of our American values. This is the first step, and yes, the devil is in the details. But if we’re going to do the impossible, we better get to work.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat representing New York’s 18th Congressional District, is an original cosponsor of the Green New Deal resolution. Follow him on Twitter: @RepSeanMaloney