New Orleans Sure, I’ve read about the Green New Deal. I know it’s a liberal-left litmus test. I know US Speaker Nancy Pelosi has derided it as impractical and essentially irrelevant, while others are waving the banner. I’ve read the arguments that we need to transform the economy and its fossil-fuel dependency. I wanted to know more about the details behind it all. I got a flyer via email as a Mellon Community Fellow at Tulane University saying that Rhiana Gunn-Wright, who they identified as a “policy architect for the Green New Deal, was going to be speaking there to the public in conversation with Jennifer Parker, an editor for the New York Times Opinions page. I thought, hey, what better way to find out the real details than going to hear the key policy person behind the whole shebang?
By the time I navigated rush hour traffic uptown and then a parking place as near to the campus as I could find, I was eight minutes late at the starting bell, and in smallish lecture room it was standing room only. Gunn-Wright and Parker were likely in Yale at the same time and buddies there. Gunn-Wright was a Rhodes scholar, native of Chicago, which she referenced several times, and policy person at the New Consensus, a newly minted think-tank of sorts that is trying to graft a policy structure and implementation plan to the Green New Deal. She was witty, engaging, whip smart, and politically spot-on, and trying to work her magic in order to engage the young student audience in the room. She believes there needs to be a movement to affect the changes we need around climate and that young people are critical in driving that movement. She hopes they see the Green New Deal as a map of demands for change.
In her remarks she referenced the Roosevelt New Deal and the changes it made to the American economy as the kind of sweeping change that was needed now. In her telling the policy slant was more about spreading the tent widely by creating income equity and security for all Americans, ending the environmental injustice that poisoned racial and lower income communities, creating responsive alternative institutions, and flipping the script to put local interests and people first, rather than the national government. She offered a laundry-list of policy and political reforms that were needed. She saw all of this as a priori to specifics on the environmental side. Sure, there would be new and different jobs and lots of them, she argued, but they would be unobtainable without offering families health insurance and living wages for example. Sounds good, right?
Specifics were harder to nail down. In answer to a Parker question about her vision, she mentioned a Climate Protection Plan that would need to be established. There would need to be a specialized agency created, maybe at the Cabinet level, to coordinate all of the moving pieces for this transformation. The grant cycle would have to be disrupted so that local interests prevailed and got the resources. In this “utopia,” New Orleans for example might be a center for studying and implementing “eco-system restoration” or some such. Redistribution would be required. If we count on existing institutions, in her words, we’ll be “assed out.”
Gunn-Wright mentioned, amusingly, that critics had referred to the whole plan as the “Green Dream Deal,” and how much she had almost wished that had been the name for the whole program. There’s insight there. I might have come looking for the real deal on policy details, but in the Green New Deal, the process at this point is as important as the policy, and it encourages dreaming before it is ground down to specifics in the flesh-eating machine of politics.
Gunn-Wright isn’t the backroom, green visor policy nerd trying to figure out how to win votes or make special groups happy right now by tweaking this or that. She’s the dream weaver trying to rally people to the cause. She doesn’t want to talk about airplanes and hamburgers, but top to bottom transformation of global economies, governments and societies, she only wants to hear how many lives we are ready to save now, and how we are going to prevent 55 million people from this death and destruction by 2050.
You have problem with that? She’s ready to get in your face! She wants to look around and know you are with her on this, and that you are ready and set to go.