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As 'Green New Deal' Demand Grows, Democrats Have Choice: Confront and Defeat Fossil Fuel Industry or Take Credit for 'Doomed' Planet

"No more excuses or timid half-measures—the climate crisis demands action from Democrats."

Julia Conley

Progressive congresswomen-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) joined protesters this week in demanding that the Democratic Party take bold action to help curb the climate crisis. (Photo: Sunrise Movement)
With Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) fighting to win back her position as House Speaker in the coming congressional term, climate action groups and the new contingent of progressives on Capitol Hill are arguing that with their new power in Congress, Pelosi and other Democrats must make clear whether they will decide to boldly push for visionary climate solutions like the Green New Deal or fail humanity and the planet by continuing their servitude to the fossil fuel industry.

Weeks after the UN released its report on the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions in order to avoid "potentially irreversible" effects of the climate crisis, critics say Democrats have the opportunity to stand firmly on the side of progressives who are advocating for a Green New Deal in order to help save the planet—instead of continuing to rely on incremental measures aimed simply at "exploring" the climate crisis.

The Green New Deal is comprised of an ambitious set of proposals aimed at transitioning the U.S. to 100% renewable energy and employing millions of Americans to aid that transition.

In The Guardian, journalist David Sirota noted that in order to take meaningful action to help stop the climate crisis, Democrats must fundamentally change their outlook on the oil and gas industries which poured $100 million into midterm campaigns.

The fossil fuel sector, Sirota wrote, helped fund the fight against Proposition 112, aimed at keeping new oil and gas drilling operations away from schools, hospitals, and water sources in Colorado; an anti-carbon emissions measure in Washington; and a pro-solar energy proposal in Arizona.

The same industries were able to donate to Democratic candidates after a brief ban on such contributions was lifted by the Democratic National Committee was lifted after just two months—donating more than $4 million to party members in 2018.

The campaign to defeat new climate policies, wrote Sirota, "was a shock-and-awe spectacle designed to intimidate any prospective campaigns, organizations and movements that want to challenge the political supremacy of oil and gas—and some prominent Democrats in Washington seem to be cowering in fear."

"Always nervous about the donor class and about electoral blowback from Republicans, some congressional Democrats now seem intent on avoiding any direct confrontation over climate change policy." —David Sirota

"Always nervous about the donor class and about electoral blowback from Republicans, some congressional Democrats now seem intent on avoiding any direct confrontation over climate change policy," he added.

As dozens of protesters who crowded into Pelosi's office on Tuesday said, the potential Speaker and other Democrats must use this pivotal moment—in which they control the House as well as having total legislative control of 14 states—to fight for a Green New Deal and against funding from the fossil fuel industry.

Pelosi has announced her intent to re-establish a Select Committee on Climate Change, which the Republicans eliminated in 2011—but the Sunrise Movement, which organized the sit-in, has scoffed at the notion that the panel was ever a sufficient means of addressing the crisis at hand.

"It had no funding and no ability to put forward legislation—its purpose was to make connections and raise awareness. The time for messaging to the public about climate change is over, we need action," Varshini Prakash, Sunrise's co-founder, told Grist.

With Pelosi racing to secure enough support to lead the House Democrats again, newly-elected progressives including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib are hoping to secure her full support for a Green New Deal—forcing her to commit to her promise of a $1 trillion investment in climate change-resilient infrastructure and 16 million jobs.

"The next step is to get Pelosi to use those words, Green New Deal," environmental journalist Mark Hertsgaard told Grist. "She's already on board, but her statement about 16 million jobs and $1 billion investment in infrastructure, that's policy wonk talk out of Washington. The average person can understand what a Green New Deal is."

Ocasio-Cortez noted on Twitter that the decision regarding Democrats' future actions—or inaction—on the climate lies not just with Pelosi, but the whole party.

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