“Green New Deal or No Deal” Part 2: Environmental Action is not Elitist


By Sondra Abruzzo ’19
Environmental and Sustainability Columnist

Nothing gets me more fired up than seeing Alexandria Ocasio Cortez eloquently, yet forcefully, explain why climate change is a serious and urgent issue to her Republican opposition. Nothing. Not even coffee.

In a recent viral video, Congresswoman Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) passionately responded to congressman Sean Duffy (R-WI) who, during a house committee hearing on Tuesday, March 26, called the Green New Deal “elitist” since it would raise housing prices and hurt low income and homeless people. He argued that the Deal only appeals to “rich liberal[s] from maybe New York or California” who can afford to retrofit their homes to be energy efficient. Duffy called supporters of the Green New Deal “hypocritical,” because the wealthy elites who can afford it will still be flying their private jets to Davos. His argument is an attempt to minimize the Green New Deal by insinuating that only the one percent would concern themselves with improving the environment. The implication is that combating climate change is a luxury, and not a very real issue that affects everyone’s access to fundamental resources.

For those who have not yet seen this clip, Ocasio Cortez responds passionately to Duffy. “You want to tell people that their concern and their desire for clean air and clean water is elitist?” Ocasio Cortez said. “Tell that to the kids in the South Bronx, which is suffering from the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country. Tell that to the families in Flint, whose kids have their blood ascending in lead levels. Their brains are damaged for the rest of their lives. Call them elitist. You’re telling them that those kids are trying to get on a plane to Davos? People are dying. They are dying.”

I have seen the video clip of AOC explaining why climate change is “not an elitist issue” countless times, not just because I watch it on repeat to fuel the fire that burns inside me, but because it’s been popping up all over my social media feeds through friends who are just as inspired. This video resonated with many climate activists because it gets right down to point: climate change affects us all, especially those who live in areas with fewer resources and limited access to clean air, water, or resilient infrastructure. Ocasio Cortez calls out politicians for labeling climate change as an elitist issue that can be tackled in the future. She exposes their misdirection and excuses. She voices what I have wanted to scream for years: we need to cut the crap, and take political action now.

As I mentioned in my previous Green New Deal article, the United Nations says we have about 12 years to cut global emissions in half to avoid the “threshold of catastrophe” or a global warming of two degrees celsius. Breaching this threshold could result in 200 million up to 1 billion climate refugees coming from coastal and island nations unable to ward off rising sea levels and regions in the Middle East and South Asia, which can be unlivable in the summer heat. For these reasons, Ocasio Cortez stresses that “the cost of pursuing a Green New Deal will be far less than the cost of not passing it.”

Not only does construing hardline climate change legislation as “elitist” absolve politicians from taking action, the argument that this problem will be solved by future generations shifts the responsibility to individuals down the road. After stating that the Green New Deal is “not an agenda of solutions but a token of elite tribal identity,” Utah Senator Mike Lee proposed his solution to the climate problem: make more babies and encourage these future engineers to build innovative technological solutions.

Listening to this proposal stopped me in my tracks. The Green New Deal is exactly the type of innovative technological solution Lee supports, only its available to us here and now. Yes, it will cost money, but according to Ocasio Cortez,“if we tell the American public that we are more willing to invest and bail out big banks than we are willing to invest in our farmers and our urban families, then I don’t know what we are doing here.”

The way I see it, it seems elitist to cut taxes for corporations and wealthy families when there is no large benefit to the economy, as was demonstrated by Trump’s 2017 tax bill. However, investing in energy efficiency, renewable power, sustainable infrastructure, and greater access to clean air and water, will benefit all individuals, especially those with less access to healthy and safe cities.

At the end of the day, what can we do to make this climate debate less of a debate and more of a collaborative action? We need to campaign and vote for representatives that support a platform of positive climate action. We need officials who will bring the U.S. back into the Paris agreement, remove climate change deniers from cabinet positions, hold big corporations responsible for their carbon emissions, and support more direct action. Let’s all channel the take no prisoners attitude of AOC: flare our nostrils, roll up our sleeves, point some fingers, and get down to business!

Photo Courtesy of Refinery29

Don't Miss