- Jessyn Farrell is the senior vice president at Civic Ventures and co-host of this week’s Pitchfork Economics episode.
- In this opinion piece, she argues that the Green New Deal policy is effective because it directly counters the narrative of trickle-down economics. It promises to create a new economy and jobs, fighting the narrative that climate measures require austerity and cutting back.
- The plan would stimulate the economy — and spending. It would also directly benefit women and people of color, coupling economic and climate growth with societal change.
- For more on this topic, listen to the latest episode of Pitchfork Economics.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The debate is over. Every reasonable person now understands that climate change is a human-made problem and a crisis that must be averted. In some parts of the country, like my home state of Washington, the debate has been over for some time. Our governor, Jay Inslee, heroically inserted climate change as a topic into the Democratic presidential campaign earlier this year, and our voters roundly prefer climate-friendly candidates on the national, statewide, and local levels.
Though all that is true, in 2016 and in 2018 Washington state voters decisively rejected carbon tax initiatives that would have strengthened our environmental credentials. Stranger still, some internal polling indicated that the carbon tax was popular with the electorate before support largely evaporated.
What happened? Why did arguably the most climate-friendly electorate in the US turn its back on positive environmental policy? As soon as Big Oil and other opponents started using the familiar framing of trickle-down economics — warning voters, falsely, that more responsible regulation would result in higher costs for them and fewer jobs for everyone — voters turned on the carbon tax. It’s a textbook example of how trickle-down economics coaxes the middle class into voting against its own interests.
That’s why I’m so inspired by the success of the Green New Deal as a policy — it flips the trickle-down narrative on its head. Instead of the tired argument that environmental regulations kill jobs, the Green New Deal promises to create millions of good-paying jobs. Rather than arguing that the fight against climate change will require sacrifice and austerity, the Green New Deal promises a prosperous new clean economy, built from the middle out.
In the latest episode of the Pitchfork Economics podcast, Nick Hanauer and I got to talk with environmental leaders Naomi Klein and J.W. Mason about the success of the Green New Deal as an idea and what it would look like in practice.
Klein has been at the forefront of the environmental conversation for years, and this episode perfectly demonstrates why: she’s one of our sharpest and most compelling thinkers on environmental policy. In her latest book, “On Fire,” Klein makes an argument for the Green New Deal that helped expand my thinking about what is possible. This passage in particular, is a distillation of her thinking:
When we talk about “green jobs” — and we talk about them a lot — most of us picture a guy in a hard hat putting up a solar array. Sure, that is one kind of green job, and we need lots of them. But there are plenty of other jobs that are already low-carbon. For instance, looking after elderly and sick people doesn’t burn a lot of carbon. Making art doesn’t burn a lot of carbon. Teaching kids is low-carbon. Day care is low-carbon. And yet this work, overwhelmingly done by women, tends to be undervalued, underpaid, and is frequently the target of government cutbacks.
This realization, Klein writes, “extend[s] the usual definition of a green job to anything useful and enriching to our communities that doesn’t burn a lot of fossil fuels.”
When you expand the idea of what a Green New Deal encompasses, the plan becomes much more exciting, and its immediate benefits touch everyone in the nation. Consumer spending by people in these high-wage low-carbon-impact jobs will stimulate the economy, creating value that will finally quiet the eternal complaining of the how-will-you-pay-for-it crowd. And as Klein noted, the demographics that will see the biggest benefits from the expansion of these sectors are women and people of color, who tend to earn markedly less than their neighbors on average.
By encouraging workers to pursue low-carbon fields of employment, we will be protecting the environment, meeting our societal needs, and strengthening the economy — all at the same time. Best of all, there’s a clear historical precedent for this: the Works Progress Administration in Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which employed not just construction workers and engineers to build much-needed infrastructure projects but also actors and painters and writers and all kinds of artists to create public art that buoyed spirits and reminded Americans of our common cause — something that we desperately need right now. Imagine, for instance, a “Civilian Care Corps” that provides much-needed child care, shores up elder care for an aging populace, and addresses the widening geographic and economic inequalities in our national health and child care sectors.
For too long, trickle-downers have argued against environmental jobs on a balance-sheet basis, claiming that job losses and business closures will accompany any responsible carbon legislation. The only way they could turn voters to their side was by threatening your livelihoods and communities. It’s hard to argue with someone when they threaten your children’s future.
Progressives finally have a response to these threats that is compelling, optimistic, and — best of all — entirely true. By bringing everyone into the climate fight, progressives will create massive political change the same way we did with same-sex marriage and gun responsibility: by swaying one neighbor at a time with personal stories and an appeal to our better natures. This is the optimistic call that promises a cleaner, safer, more economically sound future for everyone — a call to save the world by changing the world.
Listen to the Podcast: In 2014, venture capitalist Nick Hanauer warned his fellow plutocrats that our growing crisis of economic inequality would lead to an uprising or a dictatorship. Two years later, angry voters elected Donald Trump. In Pitchfork Economics, Nick explores why the pitchforks are coming, who they’re coming for, and how the stories we tell about the economy can change the economy itself.