Can the North Bay achieve a modern version of the New Deal to revive the region’s economy and promote a sustainable green future?
The obstacles are huge — and so are the imperatives. A massive recession is boosting unemployment, while severe pollution continues to fuel global warming. The need for a Green New Deal is greater than ever.
Locally, important steps are under way. Sonoma County’s Energy Independence Program leads the state with creative use of AB 811, a law offering low-interest loans to implement green efficiency. Marin County is in the vanguard of trying to develop “clean energy” options for electricity consumers.
But such efforts must contend with tight limits on public investment.
In Sonoma County, the enthusiasm from homeowners — seeking loans for solar installation and other energy improvements — is sure to go way beyond the available dollars. In Marin County, current market conditions are placing major obstacles between purely green sources of electricity and distribution to large numbers of eager customers.
Try as they might, cash-strapped state and county governments cannot meet the region’s urgent needs. And we should not expect relief from the not-so-tender mercies of the free market.
To move toward social equity and sustainability, the North Bay will need to develop long-term resilience. And that process will require much more support from the federal government. There are historic precedents.
Seventy-six years ago, at the outset of his presidency, Franklin Roosevelt matched his eloquence with high-rolling aid to states via the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. The launch of the Civilian Conservation Corps quickly provided fresh-air work to young people.
On a larger scale, the New Deal went on to provide millions of government jobs with a multibillion-dollar program that became the Works Progress Administration.
Today, we ought to push for a much larger federal role in direct job-creation, rather than simply wait for trickling effects of a stimulus package.
As the columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman continues to warn, the Obama administration has underestimated the size of the nation’s economic disaster as well as the need for bold federal action. Among those who deserve more tangible help are homeowners faced with foreclosures and small businesses confronted with meager lines of credit.
Every step of the way, the social values of economic equity and green sustainability should infuse the budget decisions of elected officials. That means re-examining how to spend — and raise — tax revenues.
It’s time to reverse the decades-long trend that has shifted tax burdens away from large corporations and wealthy individuals onto the rest of us.
In the North Bay, civic awareness and involvement are unusually high. During the spring, I saw that reality unfold at several public forums in Sonoma and Marin counties as a wide range of people shared information with the Commission on a Green New Deal for the North Bay — a grass-roots initiative to develop a progressive agenda for the region. Along with other commission members, I appreciated the thoughtful depth of numerous presentations.
Many of the speakers at eight Green New Deal forums were preoccupied with finding energy-efficient ways of reducing the regional carbon footprint. Others focused on dire economic trends and widening holes in safety nets. The goal of good green jobs was a frequent theme.
Looking ahead, easy “solutions” are apt to be disappointing. Real dilemmas exist as we consider the complex jigsaw puzzles of social change. We need respectful and candid discourse that brings key facts to light, while identifying the best policy options and examining the foreseeable impacts.
Right now, our region has no clear path to a Green New Deal. But it’s possible that we can create one.