Guest columnist Alex McKinley: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal is a call to arms for grassroots activists

  • Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., listens during a news conference with members of the Progressive Caucus in Washington, Monday, Nov. 12. AP PHOTO/Susan Walsh

Published: 12/12/2018 8:22:45 AM

I learned the meaning of the phrase “think globally, act locally” two months ago. In October, alongside other community members, I begged Northampton’s city council to stop prioritizing their economic interests over my health, safety and well-being. And they listened. That night, the city ended the Columbia Gas pipeline expansion project. 

I am too young to remember 9/11. The first tragedy of my lifetime was Hurricane Katrina. Then, it was Haiti. Now, Puerto Rico. Growing up, my childhood was shaped by the devastation climate change created. And, at 19 years old, I am not too naive to know that it is only a matter of time until my own family will face the consequences of climate change.

When I was a child, the environment could wait. We had time. Obama could brag about securing oil in the Middle East. Now, that time is running out, quickly. The United Nations’ The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report this year warned that unless we completely overhaul our environmental policies, many effects of climate change will be irreparable by 2030. The Fourth National Climate Assessment, which just came out two weeks ago, said the Northeast will suffer the worst temperature increase in the U.S. by 2035. This means even more extreme weather and mass public health crises like those in Holyoke and Springfield, where about one in four children have been diagnosed with asthma because of poor air quality.

As a young person in this country, I will bear the burden of the consequences of our apathy toward climate change, and I shudder to think of what the earth will look like for my own children someday.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal is the remedy to these frightening predictions. 

The Green New Deal is the first actual, aggressive solution to climate change and irresponsible fossil fuel use, its main purpose being to completely decarbonize the U.S. economy, to shift the U.S. onto 100 percent renewable energy fast, and to create new jobs in the green energy sector. 

But even if it manages to pass in the newly democratic House, the bill will die in the Trumpian Republican Senate. Therefore, it’s up to grassroots activists to carry on the movement Ocasio-Cortez began, starting locally to effect change in our communities and then stepping onto the global stage. Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal should be our touchstone.

This means supporting the Green New Deal, not just in spirit, but in protests, marches, calls to Congress members and senators, and town hall meetings. Not just for own lives and futures, but for our children and our grandchildren. As one of the most progressive areas in the U.S., we’ve got to lead the way in implementing actual solutions to climate change. And, because our lawmakers are so liberal, we have a unique opportunity to implement new, radical pieces of legislation to preserve the earth we love.

Button Up Northampton 2.0 is one such example of a community organizer-led, groundbreaking idea to promote renewable energy that is gaining steam at a local level. BUN2.0 is aligned with the Green New Deal’s central mission in its goal to create a pool of government funds for families who want to green the energy in their homes, and it will create resources to help homeowners through the process. And most importantly, it’s entirely being carried by local grassroots activists in Mothers Out Front, Climate Action Now, and ener-G-save.

Those of us who care about the fate of our planet even in the next 10 years should use the Green New Deal as a blueprint for local action. Instead of wasting time on an administration that will never listen to us, we can create policies to expand our use of renewable energy and create new, green jobs in our own communities. We can join or support local activist groups that inspire us. We can take action and change the fate of western Mass now. Because soon it will be too late.

My generation will bear the brunt of the climate change policies we don’t implement. But because of the Green New Deal, young people will no longer be alone in this fight. In the past, climate justice meant recycling, planting trees and conserving water for a theoretical post-global-warming future. The Green New Deal takes on these issues, but it underscores issues that impact all generations directly and immediately, such as new jobs, financial security and public health. In this way, the Green New Deal creates a platform for every community member, young and old, to come together to create the world we want to live in.

I’m tired of being terrified of the future of the earth I love. I’m tired of waiting for an unresponsive federal government to listen to me. I’m tired of hearing about a new climate change disaster every week. New Orleans. Haiti. Puerto Rico. Texas. California.

We need to unite as a community. We need to act on this climate emergency.

Alex McKinley is a sophomore at Smith College studying Women and Gender Studies, with interests in both gender law and environmental policy. She works with Climate Action Now in Northampton and will start working in the new year to make marijuana growth sustainable in Massachusetts. She can be reached at alexnmckinley@gmail.com.

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