Zina Precht-Rodriguez is a senior at Columbia University where she is majoring in Human Rights with a concentration in Sustainable Development. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Zina delayed her entry into college to work at the front lines of a start-up museum focusing on climate change solutions called the Climate Museum. As an associate to the Director, Zina developed a passion for climate social enterprise and policy. She is currently pursuing her thesis focusing on the "right to the city" in sustainable development models. She was an Our Climate Fellow in the Fall of 2017.
Zina with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
In the political sphere, climate change is receiving a brand new messaging package. The “Green New Deal” is trending, gaining momentum not just in progressive media but also in the halls of Congress. Last Monday, Senator Bernie Sanders’ town hall “Solving Our Climate Crisis,” featuring prominent leaders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Van Jones, streamed on online platforms and brought the topic of climate change out of the shadows and into the mainstream media. Sanders organized the town hall out of a demonstrative concern for the lack of climate dialogue in corporate media. Similar to major issues like health care, climate change is disproportionately undercovered not just in relation to the overwhelming tangible threats it poses, but also in relation to the flurry of fossil-fuel supported advertisements that air on major platforms like CNN. It is this silence on climate change that necessitates bold climate coverage.
The underlying theme of the night goes as follows: contrary to conservative framing, the climate crisis is not a “climate versus jobs” debate. It is a climate and jobs solution. For far too long, fossil fuel-backed politicians have positioned climate change as antithetical to the neoliberal concept of economic growth. This has relegated the topic of climate change to two general camps: those acknowledging the real dangers of climate change and those in denial.
Because the two camps operate in such polar opposition to each other, and the focus of the climate crisis wavers so heavily on belief and denial, any real political dialogue on climate change has been stunted. By “real political dialogue,” I mean discussion that generates ranges of opinions on levels of political actions to address climate change. Confined in this limited dialectic, past climate “progressive” policy has really resembled a compromised approach that has failed to practically address the demonstrated threats of climate change, and moreover, failed to center the pillar of climate justice. When considering the progression and consciousness of climate science and justice in relation to the progression of politics surrounding climate change, it can be said that, up until this point, climate change action has been politically premature in its limited and non-intersectional approach.
The town hall demonstrated that movements on climate action find ideological formations outside of political inertia. Climate justice movements, youth action movements, and grassroots political movements like Sunrise and Our Climate are propelling discussions around the policy ideas we see being proposed today. And smart politicians like Ocasio-Cortez are catching on, calling for immediate legislation of a Green New Deal in the upcoming 2019 congressional term, and also framing the support of the Deal as a sort of litmus test for future politicians running for elected office.
The Deal merges environmental policy, job creation, and social equity all into one package. It is an ambitious approach that resembles no other proposed climate action seen before in the United States political arena. It is important to note that the Green New Deal is merely a framework for the future of climate policy. Because the Green New Deal is a framework, it may also resemble a space to re-politicize climate change. The Deal is political because, in its mimicry of the New Deal passed in 1933 during the Great Depression, it responds to the most pressing societal crisis of the century while accounting for the current inequalities prevailing today. In drawing on the citizen-state relationship, it asserts that the allocation of government funds can be redirected to ensure a safe and fair future for the denizens of the nation and world.
What does this mean for the future of carbon pricing? The Green New Deal implies that climate pricing may serve as tool-- as part of a suite of solutions -- in the climate crisis. While carbon pricing is a promising approach to incentivize a shift away from a carbon intensive economy, it must exist within the political milieu of a Green New Deal framework. In essence, no one policy serves as the solution. In imagining a new climate policy future, carbon pricing can have a transformative effect so long as it works in conjunction with wide-sweeping and intersectional political momentum.