Last year was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in “the number of Americans who say they worry ‘a great deal’ about climate change.”
That was before the release of two reports in the fall by scientists commissioned by the United Nations and the U.S. federal government. Both reports painted a dire picture of the coming climate catastrophe and a clear timeline. They warned that if we don’t take drastic action to cut emissions globally, we will face global catastrophic effects of climate change. According to the U.N., we have about a decade. That’s no time at all.
"Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the Green New Deal becoming the transformative set of policies we need it to be is the influence of the fossil fuel industry and other polluting industries."
So it makes sense that at the very end of 2018, even as global greenhouse gas emissions rose alarmingly, two bold plans for climate action took hold of the public imagination: the international People’s Demands for Climate Justice, and in the U.S., the Green New Deal. But in order to move these plans from visions to actual policies that are just and effective, we must address the largest obstacle that lies between today’s status quo and a livable future for all: the influence of the fossil fuel industry on climate policy.
Demand for Bold Action Takes Hold
Both the People’s Demands and the Green New Deal offer possibilities for bold, visionary and just climate solutions. The People’s Demands call for keeping fossil fuels in the ground globally, advancing people-first solutions at the U.N., and providing resources to countries and communities that have done the least to cause climate change—and which are currently bearing the brunt of its effects.
The Green New Deal resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey envisions a rapid drawdown of greenhouse gas emissions, the creation of millions of well-paying jobs, and the advancement of equity and justice for communities on the front line of climate change.
In the U.S., the Green New Deal has taken hold of the progressive imagination. Globally, the People’s Demands have become a rallying cry for hundreds of thousands of people and hundreds of organizations, including at the last U.N. climate treaty talks.
This growing call for action can’t be underestimated. We need great social and economic change to fully and justly solve the climate crisis, and no change on this scale happens without public engagement fueling the political will to create such changes. But we also must be clear-eyed about what stands in the way of achieving such transformative change.
Big Polluters, Big Obstacles
Certainly, for the Green New Deal—U.S. politics being what they are—the path from a visionary platform to actual policy is deeply fraught. But perhaps the biggest obstacle to the Green New Deal becoming the transformative set of policies we need it to be is the influence of the fossil fuel industry and other polluting industries.
As David Roberts at Vox points out: “If the [Green New Deal] looks like it has any chance of becoming a reality, it will face a giant right-wing smear campaign, coordinated across conservative media, think tanks, and politicians, funded by effectively unlimited fossil fuel wealth.” Indeed, fossil fuel wealth and influence has, for half a century, stymied necessary climate action at every level of policymaking—from the U.N. to national policy to state legislation. To succeed in moving both the Green New Deal and the People’s Demands from vision to action requires that we effectively counter the fossil fuel and other industries as they bring to bear their full arsenal of money and influence.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.