Why Trump can take credit for his opponents' Green New Deal: Don Pittis
U.S. president has handed the Democrats carte blanche on the issue of our time
U.S. backsliding on climate under the administration of President Donald Trump may have dealt his Democratic Party opponents an ace card.
While the Democrats' Green New Deal is championed by its left-leaning younger members, notably the dynamic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Trump's climate-skeptical stance has ceded the field on an issue that has a much wider potential appeal.
And according to centre-right Canadian supporters of climate action, the popularity of environmentalism as an issue owned by the Democratic U.S. left is in many ways a creation of Trump himself.
Not only that, but by dropping the ball on climate, the U.S. administration has allowed people like Ocasio-Cortez to capture younger voters disenchanted with the economy who might not otherwise fit the traditional environmentalist profile, combining the two concerns under a single populist rallying cry.
"I am so incredibly excited that we are going to transition this economy into the future,' said Ocasio-Cortez in a rousing speech outlining her Green New Deal plan. But clearly the young politician's intended audience extended well beyond the issues of climate and environmentalism.
Those left behind are not just young people. But according to Canadian millennial Katie Rae Perfitt, Ottawa-based community organizer for the climate change advocacy group 350.org, a message of "transformative change" appeals to a generation struggling with the gig economy and expensive rents.
Despite Canada's current court battle that pits the conservative governments of Ontario and Saskatchewan against the federal carbon tax plan, conservative supporters of climate change action insist it is not a left-right issue.
Margaret Thatcher's worry
It's good that the Green New Deal "puts climate change front and centre again," said Mark Cameron, executive director of Canadians for Clean Prosperity, who was director of policy and research for former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.
"But I think it does mix a lot of things that are not necessarily compatible and subordinates the goal of reducing carbon emissions to a lot of other things on the liberal social democratic wish list."
And while Perfitt believes greedy corporations are the problem, Cameron contends that business can be part of the solution. He says former British Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher was the first major world leader to put climate change on the agenda.
While Trump's voter base may include many climate deniers, others have witnessed the effects of drought, floods, forest fires and freak winter storms and realize something must be done. Conservatives, too, worry about the world their children will inherit.
According to David McLaughlin, a Canadian climate change specialist for the International Institute of Sustainable Development and adviser to former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, the current version of the Green New Deal could not have come about without three factors.
One is the charismatic Ocasio-Cortez. Another is the increasingly undeniable scientific evidence that climate change is affecting our planet. But the third necessary ingredient, he says, was Trump himself.
Impossible without Trump?
"Can you imagine it having this kind of radical breadth to it in terms of trying to remake American society and economy without two years of Donald Trump?" asked McLaughlin.
But in its current form, he said, the Ocasio-Cortez plan is not a viable blueprint, simply because it would never get through Congress. He called it classic Christmas tree politics.
But societal transformations are not born fully formed. Debate continues within the Democratic Party over exactly what the final Green New Deal will contain. Yes or no to nuclear? What will the private sector role be ? How much could taxpayers be convinced to spend?
So far, most of the Democratic presidential candidates have backed a version of the Green New Deal, perhaps seeing it as an aspirational starting point that can be moulded or cherry picked on the campaign trail. Without a climate plan of its own, the Trump administration can do nothing but oppose.
The original New Deal, introduced by Democratic Party hero and four-term president Franklin Delano Roosevelt amid the poverty of the Great Depression, is seen as part of a social revolution that redistributed opportunity and — along with massive spending on the terrible Second World War that followed — set the country up for decades of economic success.
The Democrats will be trying to make the case that the Green New Deal, in whatever form it finally takes, will do something similar.
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