By Ben Beachy January 1, 2019, the Sierra Club
From kitchen tables to the halls of Congress, talk of a Green New Deal continues to grow. In the past year of writing and speaking about this bold plan to tackle climate change and inequality, we’ve covered Green New Deal goals, local policy wins that offer tangible Green New Deal models, and the recent surge in Green New Deal momentum.
But what could a Green New Deal actually look like? What sorts of policy changes could be part of this massive effort to shift to a more equitable, clean energy economy that leaves no one behind?
No one person or organization can answer that question. Building a more-inclusive economy requires an inclusive process.
Communities on the front lines of the climate crisis must have a leading say in that process so that a Green New Deal truly supports their fight for healthy livelihoods that are free of climate disasters. Workers, unions, and working-class families are essential to this process if a Green New Deal is to create high-quality jobs and reduce the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us. And communities of color, disproportionately harmed by both climate change and economic inequity, should have a central role so that a Green New Deal — unlike the original New Deal — counteracts systemic racism.
The Sierra Club’s goal is to support this inclusive process to offer substance for a Green New Deal. That means working with a wide array of partners to find shared policy-change goals, amplifying the efforts of local frontline groups to name their Green New Deal priorities, and offering our own ideas as fodder for collective discussion.The Sierra Club’s view is that the policies that form part of a Green New Deal must simultaneously achieve three essential goals:
- Tackling the climate crisis and pollution;
- Creating good, high-paying jobs; and
- Counteracting racial and economic inequity.
Policies that tackle all three of these goals recognize that climate change and inequality — two of the defining challenges of our time — are intertwined problems that require intertwined solutions. Such policies also are broadly popular, offering a big opportunity to galvanize movement momentum toward systemic change.
Thankfully, a wide swath of policy ideas meet all three criteria. Below we name five such ideas as examples — not an exhaustive list — of potential building blocks for a Green New Deal.
1. An Infrastructure Renaissance
A bold plan to renew public infrastructure could be a big down payment toward Green New Deal goals. We have a major, job-creating opportunity to repair, upgrade, and expand our country’s neglected railways, bridges, energy grid, and water lines. This is not only a matter of fixing what’s broken — it’s also a chance to build transportation, energy, and water systems that cut climate pollution, ensure clean air and water for all, and help frontline communities reduce the impacts of the climate crisis. Such a transformation would create millions of good jobs while slashing costs for working-class families.
Here are some examples of public infrastructure projects that could support the three Green New Deal goals outlined above.
- Hiring workers across the country to replace lead pipes for the millions of people who are drinking lead-contaminated water, including the nearly 3,000 communities where lead poisoning is more than twice as severe as in Flint, Michigan.
- Reducing flooding in cities hard-hit by climate change by training workers to build “green infrastructure” that uses natural spaces to better handle stormwater.
- Employing workers to build a nationwide network of high-speed rail and regional rail systems to give people a clean and affordable way to get between communities quickly and safely.
- Expanding our cities’ public light rail and clean bus rapid transit systems to support clean air, cut climate pollution, and help working class families save money
- Creating a new wave of jobs by developing a “smart grid” that enables people to cut their electricity costs, boosts energy reliability, and supports the growth of clean, renewable power.
- Training workers to construct and upgrade energy transmission lines and expand battery storage to connect remote sources of affordable wind and solar power to our electricity grid.
To meet Green New Deal objectives, these and other infrastructure projects should adhere to some core criteria. To create good, high-paying jobs, projects should be required to pay workers family-sustaining wages, hire locally, offer training, and sign project labor agreements with unions. To tackle climate change and pollution, priority should be given to projects and materials that reduce climate, air, and water pollution or help communities prevent climate disasters. And to counteract racial and economic inequity, priority should be given to projects that benefit low-income people and communities of color, with community benefit agreements used to ensure support for community-defined priorities.
2. Buildings That Slash Energy Costs
Each time that a building is retrofitted to save energy — e.g., installing more energy-efficient heating, windows, insulation, ventilation, lighting, and appliances — it supports good jobs, slashes energy bills, and cuts climate pollution. What if we decided to retrofit buildings across the country? An ambitious Green New Deal plan to weatherize America would create hundreds of thousands of construction, installation, and manufacturing jobs; save families and businesses billions of dollars; and move us closer to climate stability. We could achieve these goals with new national energy-efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, public investments to fund weatherization projects, and requirements that those projects pay prevailing wages and offer training in working-class communities.
3. A Clean Manufacturing Revolution
Manufacturing helped create the US middle class, offering a path for millions of families to make a decent living. Though corporate-led globalization and unfair trade deals have weakened our manufacturing base, the urgent need to tackle the climate crisis presents an opportunity to create a new generation of manufacturing jobs. That is, so long as we replace policies that pad CEOs’ profits with ones that pad families’ pockets by supporting manufacturing growth, clean air and water, and a stable climate. Here are a couple of examples of such policies that could form part of a Green New Deal:
- Buy Clean: Each year the federal government spends billions of our tax dollars to buy goods, from steel for bridges to paper for offices. A national “Buy Clean” law, building on a Buy Clean policy recently passed in California, would help stimulate clean manufacturing by requiring that tax dollars be spent on goods manufactured under conditions that protect our air, water, and climate. The law also would help workers and reduce inequity by supporting businesses that pay family-sustaining wages, hire and train local workers, and locate job opportunities in working-class communities and communities of color.
- Local Wind and Solar Manufacturing: How can workers and local communities capture the gains of the transition to a clean energy economy? One way is to enact “buy local” policies that encourage local manufacturing of wind turbines, solar panels, and other essential clean energy components. Indeed, at least seven states already have such policies. A Green New Deal could spur significant job growth in clean energy manufacturing with a new federal law offering incentives for clean, renewable energy, tied to requirements for components to be made in local businesses that offer workers high wages and dignified working conditions.
4. A Green Brigade to Restore Natural Resources
The original New Deal included the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) — a massive, job-creating campaign to protect our natural resources. A Green New Deal could include a similar nationwide campaign — a Green Brigade, so to speak — to employ hundreds of thousands of people in restoring our essential ecosystems. Revitalized wetlands, forests, and parks would help communities reduce the threat of climate disasters, increase our capacity to trap climate pollution, and create and protect green spaces for all to enjoy. Unlike the original CCC, which disproportionately benefited white men, this program must create jobs and community benefits for all, with priority access for people of color, women, and working-class communities. Here are examples of specific projects that could be pursued:
- Forest Growth and Fire Safety: We need to redouble our efforts to shield communities from forest fires as climate change fuels more and more-deadly fires that threaten communities in western states like California. Green New Deal projects could employ people to reduce fire risks by managing land near urban areas and making homes more fire-resistant. Meanwhile, teams of tree planters could help expand our forests that are effective at trapping climate pollution.
- Wetlands Restoration: Wetlands not only filter water and trap climate pollution but also help buffer communities from the hurricanes, storms, and floods that are becoming more severe with climate change. However, our wetlands are rapidly disappearing — Louisiana loses the equivalent of a football field of wetlands every 100 minutes, exposing Gulf Coast communities to increased climate risks. A Green New Deal could hire and train local workers to bolster communities’ efforts to restore the wetlands that protect their homes.
- Hazardous Waste Cleanup: Across the country, thousands of communities — disproportionately communities of color and low-income families — live near hazardous-waste sites, including former industrial facilities and abandoned mines that leach toxins into the air and water. Green New Deal workers could be trained to safely clean up such waste to help ensure clean air and water for all.
5. Climate-Friendly Farming
While large-scale industrial agribusiness contributes significantly to climate pollution, climate-friendly farms can actually trap more climate pollution than they produce. By investing in practices like turning manure into compost, planting cover crops between harvests, and avoiding tilling, family farms can become sponges for climate pollution. Such practices also can boost farmers’ economic security by helping them produce more plentiful harvests and better withstand the droughts that are becoming more frequent with climate change. A Green New Deal could offer family farmers training and funds to implement such productive, pro-climate practices, thereby supporting the livelihoods of oft-neglected small farmers and rural communities.
These are just a few policy ideas for a Green New Deal. The list of ideas will grow and change as the national conversation on a Green New Deal broadens to include more and more frontline communities.
At least one thing will remain constant, though: the need to think big. To tackle the twin crises of climate change and inequity, we need solutions that match the scale of the problems. And to find and achieve systemic solutions, we need all hands on deck. So please let us know: What big ideas do you have for a Green New Deal?
A Green New Deal Is Already Underway in States and Cities
Momentum for a Green New Deal continues to grow. Over 100 members of Congress have endorsed the landmark Green New Deal resolution and polls show broad support for this bold plan to tackle the climate crisis and pollution, create millions of high-paying jobs, and counteract systemic injustices.
The policy changes envisioned in the Green New Deal resolution are not hypothetical. In fact, many are already happening at the state and local level, where broad local coalitions of labor, environmental, and racial justice groups are winning pro-climate, pro-jobs, pro-equity policies that help lay the groundwork for a national Green New Deal. In addition to more than 100 cities nationwide that have already committed to 100 percent clean, renewable energy, here are just a few examples of state and city initiatives that offer models and momentum for a nationwide Green New Deal.
NEW YORK CITY
The New York City Council recently passed a job-creating bill that takes aim at the city’s largest source of climate pollution: inefficient buildings. The new policy, cited as part of the city’s own Green New Deal, will require about 50,000 large buildings to meet ambitious targets for reducing climate pollution. The building retrofits required by the policy are expected to create about 8,000 jobs each year. To protect low-income residents, the policy includes terms to prevent rent increases in rent-regulated buildings.
Maine recently enacted a new “Act To Establish a Green New Deal for Maine.” The law will create a task force of labor, youth, climate science, and other representatives to craft a strategy for achieving 80% renewable energy in Maine by 2040, creating good jobs in renewable energy and manufacturing, and ensuring low-income households have access to affordable solar power. The Maine AFL-CIO has praised the policy, saying that workers must “have a seat at the table in crafting bold climate protection policies.”
In April 2019, Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti released an update to the Sustainable City pLAn, calling it “L.A.’s Green New Deal.” The plan lays out the most ambitious and achievable climate goals for the city to date. It would invest in L.A.’s local workforce and economy by creating good union jobs for thousands of technicians, electricians, engineers, and other clean energy workers. Critically, the plan tackles the ongoing poor air quality that Los Angeles and other Southern California communities continue to breathe as the worst region for smog pollution in the country.
The Future Energy Jobs Act gives low-income families priority access to solar panels, while providing solar-installation job training, particularly for formerly incarcerated people and communities fighting environmental injustice. The law also sets new energy-efficiency standards that are slated to further reduce air and climate pollution, create over 7,000 new jobs each year to retrofit buildings, and cut $4 billion in energy costs for Illinois families.
In addition to committing to 100 percent clean energy by 2045, California’s Buy Clean policy helps stimulate clean manufacturing by requiring that tax dollars be spent on goods manufactured under conditions that protect our climate. The law will help ensure that when the state government buys steel for bridges or glass for offices, it sends tax dollars to manufacturers that are slashing their climate pollution and creating good jobs.
New Mexico has enacted a historic law to transition to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045. The bill sets interim milestones for clean energy adoption and invests heavily in NM communities, accounting for retiring an existing coal-fired generating plant while pursuing a just and equitable transition to a clean energy future for NM workers and families.
In 2018, after a grassroots campaign led by communities of color, voters in Portland overwhelmingly approved a ballot referendum that will raise $30-70 million per year, via a fee on big retailer profits, for energy efficiency, renewable energy, job training, affordable housing, regenerative agriculture, and green infrastructure projects. A new task force of city stakeholders will be tasked with deciding annually the beneficiaries of the fund, with at least half of the revenue going toward investments in low income communities and communities of color.
In August 2019, the Seattle city council unanimously passed a resolution calling for a city-level Green New Deal, which seeks to eliminate Seattle’s climate pollution by 2030, address historical and current injustices, and create thousands of good, green, well-paying, unionized jobs. The effort is being led by local environmental justice organizations and frontline communities of color, and includes a “Healthy Homes, Healthy Businesses” ordinance that would require new buildings in the city to run on clean electricity rather than gas appliances.
Pittsburgh United’s Clean Rivers Campaign has been pushing for job-creating green infrastructure projects that could drastically reduce flooding in some of the city’s vulnerable neighborhoods. They are one of many local coalitions across the country calling for, and often securing, public investments in green spaces to absorb rainwater, replacement of lead pipes, and other infrastructure upgrades to increase climate resilience and ensure clean water.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
The Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act of 2018 requires DC to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable electricity sources by 2032. It also sets stronger, job-creating building performance standards to reduce energy use and make buildings more energy efficient and requires buses and large private vehicle fleets to transition away from dirty fuel and toward electric vehicles.
Effective policy and market design are critical for positioning Colorado as an energy leader long into the future.
How to design markets for effective energy transition in Colorado
FEB 16, 2020 Steven Dahlke, Special to The Colorado Sun
Colorado, like most parts of the world, is undergoing a significant transition in its energy system.
Thanks to significant research and development efforts across the public and private sectors, the costs of using energy from wind, solar and natural gas are at record lows.
Coal, which had long reined as an energy king prior to the 2000’s, is in the middle of a dramatic and rapid decline across the United States. Coal power plants across Colorado have been closing and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. These changes have had positive environmental effects. Colorado’s carbon dioxide emissions are declining after hitting a peak around 2010.
However, the global risks and negative impacts from climate change require further transition. Effective policy and market design are critical for positioning Colorado as an energy leader long into the future.
Against this backdrop, state lawmakers passed a suite of bills late last year designed to accelerate the state’s energy transition, all in support of new goals for aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Now that clear direction and goals have been established, the important conversations shift toward policy details and implementation. In other words, how can we set regulations and market design to most efficiently enable investments to meet the state’s energy goals?
One of the first, crucial steps is to bolster and expand Colorado’s electricity markets.
Our state is relatively unique in that it does not formally participate in a regional market. This makes it more costly and technically challenging for Colorado electric operators to manage growing wind and solar production. A regional market will enable us to lean on our neighbors for help through trade on days when there is too much or too little renewable energy production.
Regional market design should support and reflect the state’s greenhouse gas goals, which should be treated like other air pollutants and be limited by through pollution standards, caps or prices. Under this framework, there may be neighboring states we’d like to trade with who don’t share Colorado’s environmental goals. This can be addressed in a regional market framework by implementing border adjustments that reflect the environmental quality of energy imports.
Competitive markets can further support the state’s energy transition via more efficient pricing. Most Colorado electricity is currently sold at relatively flat, volume-based rates. This pricing structure is simple for everyone involved, but incentivizes more investment in conventional energy sources, not wind or solar.
A more dynamic, market-based system that adjusts prices throughout the day and across seasons to reflect the true cost of energy will incent more efficient energy use and support the profitability of clean energy technologies.
Importantly, this will also create new business opportunities for enabling technologies like energy storage that are flexible and can respond quickly to changes on a dynamic clean energy system. Once the appropriate market design is in place, state and local policy should focus on transition support for communities that are currently dependent on coal-based energy production and mining, and for those on the cutting edge of developing clean energy economies.
Residents in coal-based communities are understandably worried as the state’s new energy goals cast uncertainty on their economic futures. Public support for these communities on the tail edge of the energy transition is just as important as support for those at the front. Pueblo provides a useful case study for a community that is successfully diversifying from a historic steel and coal-based economy.
Colorado is in an enviable position, with one of the highest growth rates in the country and a world-class energy research hub. Given the clear goals and direction set by last year’s energy legislation, effective policy and market design will position us as a 21st century energy leader.
Steven Dahlke is a research fellow supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, working under a collaborative appointment with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and First Solar. These are the author’s views and do not reflect positions of any of his affiliated organizations.
Climate Crisis Could Cause a Third of Plant and Animal Species to Disappear Within 50 Years: Study
The human-caused climate crisis could cause the extinction of 30 percent of the world’s plant and animal species by 2070, even accounting for species’ abilities to disperse and shift their niches to tolerate hotter temperatures, according to a study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
University of Arizona researchers Cristian Román-Palacios and John J. Wiens analyzed data on 538 plant and animal species and 581 sites worldwide, focusing on species surveyed at the same locations over time, at least a decade apart. They found that 44 percent of the species had local extinctions at one or more sites.
“The study identified maximum annual temperatures — the hottest daily highs in summer — as the key variable that best explains whether a population will go extinct,” said a statement from the university. “Surprisingly, the researchers found that average yearly temperatures showed smaller changes at sites with local extinction, even though average temperatures are widely used as a proxy for overall climate change.”
As Wiens explained, “This means that using changes in mean annual temperatures to predict extinction from climate change might be positively misleading.”
Lead author Román-Palacios laid out their key findings. “By analyzing the change in 19 climatic variables at each site, we could determine which variables drive local extinctions and how much change a population can tolerate without going extinct,” Román-Palacios said in the statement. “We also estimated how quickly populations can move to try and escape rising temperatures. When we put all of these pieces of information together for each species, we can come up with detailed estimates of global extinction rates for hundreds of plant and animal species.”
The university statement noted that “previous studies have focused on dispersal — or migration to cooler habitats — as a means for species to ‘escape’ from warming climates. However, the authors of the current study found that most species will not be able to disperse quickly enough to avoid extinction, based on their past rates of movement.”
The researchers found that species were able to tolerate hotter conditions at their original locations to a point, but the local extinction rates increased as maximum temperatures did. About half of the species they studied experienced extinctions if the maximum temperature rose over 0.5°C; that figure jumped to 95 percent of species when maximum temperature rose by over 2.9°C.
“Given dispersal alone, many of these species (∼57–70%) may face extinction. However, niche shifts can potentially reduce this to only 30% or less,” according to the study. Considering both dispersal and niche shifts, the researchers projected that 16–30% of the 538 studied species could disappear within the next 50 years.
While the researchers’ new projections are similar for plant and animal species, they found that extinctions could be up to four times more common in the tropics compared with more temperate regions. Román-Palacios said that “this is a big problem, because the majority of plant and animal species occur in the tropics.”
“In a way, it’s a ‘choose your own adventure,'” said Wiens. “If we stick to the Paris agreement to combat climate change, we may lose fewer than two out of every 10 plant and animal species on Earth by 2070. But if humans cause larger temperature increases, we could lose more than a third or even half of all animal and plant species, based on our results.”
Some scientists and climate advocacy groups have long criticized the landmark 2015 Paris accord as too weak to adequately address the planetary emergency — and, as Common Dreams reported in December 2019, the latest global negotiations about implementing the agreement were denounced as an “utter failure.” At the time, nearly 100 civil society groups called out polluting industries and wealthy countries for “throwing gasoline on the fire of the climate crisis.”
Ahead of the COP 25, U.S. President Donald Trump delivered on his promise to ditch the Paris agreement by beginning the one-year withdrawal process in November 2019. Climate experts and activists condemned the move as “irresponsible and shortsighted” but also looked ahead to the November 2020 election and emphasized that the next president could recommit the U.S. to the accord and fight for even more ambitious action on a global scale.
The new study comes as young people take to the streets worldwide to demand bolder climate policies, experts warn that the climate crisis is an “existential danger,” and scientists contribute to the growing body of research showing how global heating is expected to affect species and the environment. One of those studies, published last week, found that the rate at which bumblebees are declining due to extreme heat is “consistent with a mass extinction.”
Building GND Policy and Power
Goal: Broad and active coalitional and congressional backing for a parade of concrete GND-esque policies that meet overall GND criteria (see below) and that span the policy spectrum of the GND resolution
Steps to success: For each policy plank, here are benchmarks of success, in rough sequential order (not all steps must be achieved to make progress toward the above goal):
- Release of key inputs that serve as initial fodder for a House bill on a given policy plank (e.g., constituency group policy platforms, state and local bills, related congressional bills, relevant reports, and polling). We did much of this work in 2019 — see below for specific, recent examples.
- Potential House champion for a given policy plank is identified
- House briefing on policy plank to boost congressional support and inform content — featuring frontline and technical experts, hosted by House champion, and supported by GND Network members (see below) and other constituency groups. See here for a draft proposal for a House GND Briefing Series.
- Local GND convention for the policy plank, in which impacted constituency groups and technical experts in a strategic location come together to spell out the contours of a bill for that policy plank. (Examples: a GND for clean manufacturing in SE Michigan, for agriculture in Iowa, for coastal restoration in the Gulf, etc.) The convention would be conducted in coordination with a House champion and would be co-organized by local anchor groups, GND Network members, and other constituency groups. See here for the full proposal for Local GND Conventions.
- Bill is drafted and circulated to local convention participants, constituency groups, and technical experts for further input
- Draft bill is finalized, and constituency groups (including GND Network members) and House champion begin push for original co-sponsors, including mobilizing pressure from activists
- Bill is released with respectable list of original co-sponsors, and with strategic press roll-out and grassroots/media amplification from constituency groups (including GND Network members)
- [For certain bills:] Bill moves through committee process
- [For certain bills:] Floor time is scheduled for debate and a vote, and House champions and constituency groups (including GND Network members) ramp up push for “yes” votes, including mobilizing pressure from activists
- [For certain bills:] House passes bill, with strategic press roll-out and grassroots/media amplification from constituency groups (including GND Network members)
GND Caucus: A GND Caucus could be created in Congress to support this effort. The Caucus could help GND-interested members of Congress connect with frontline communities and technical experts, coordinate to produce legislation, and work with constituency groups (including GND Network members) to build support and press coverage for bills. See here for one proposal for a GND Caucus.
GND Network: The GND Network was created in 2019 to coordinate a three-pronged strategic campaign to shape an auspicious post-2020 election moment that positions us to pass groundbreaking GND legislation and defend its implementation. The three prongs are: 1) passage of national and state-level GND legislation, 2) narrative shift, and 3) electoral realignment. The GND Network Coordinating Team includes national labor, environmental, and climate/environmental/economic justice groups with a membership base. Current members of the Coordinating Team include: Climate Justice Alliance, Center for Popular Democracy, Greenpeace, Indigenous Environmental Network, Indivisible, It Takes Roots, MoveOn, People’s Action, SEIU, Sierra Club, Sunrise Movement, US Climate Action Network, and Working Families Party.
Recent examples of initial inputs for a House bill (step #1 above)
- GND-related policy platforms from constituency groups — examples include:
- Recent state and local GND-esque bills/laws: see here for several current examples (more comprehensive map coming soon)
- Recent GND-esque bills/proposals from members of Congress — examples include:
- Cross-cutting Equity: Climate Equity Act (Harris/AOC)
- Infrastructure: Build Local Hire Local Act (Gillibrand/Bass)
- Manufacturing: Buy Clean Transparency Act (Klobuchar)
- Lands and Agriculture: Climate Stewardship Act (Booker)
- Transportation: Clean Cars (Schumer)
- Buildings: GND for Public Housing Act (Sanders/AOC)
- Recent and forthcoming GND reports: examples from Roosevelt Institute, Data for Progress, PERI
- Recent and forthcoming GND polling: examples from Data for Progress and Hart Research
Criteria for GND and GND-esque Bills
To merit advancement via the above process, a bill — whether or not explicitly called “GND” — should:
Advance all three pillars of GND:
Tackle climate change and toxic pollution. Key goals: increase climate resilience/adaptation, reduce GHG emissions, increase natural GHG sinks, and/or reduce air/water/land pollution. Example of a “GND” bill that does not qualify: one that includes gas as a solution.
Create good jobs. Key goals: boost the number of family-sustaining jobs (with high-road labor standards) and/or broader economic security. Example of a “GND” bill that does not qualify: one that bans bad things, but does not include job-creating investments.
Fight economic, racial, and gender inequity. Key goals: ensure that the environmental and economic benefits go first and foremost to low-income communities, communities of color, and/or other frontline communities. Example of a “GND” bill that does not qualify: one that fails to address the question of who gets priority access to jobs, cost savings, pollution reduction, climate resilience, or other benefits.
Be large in scale. The GND is an invitation to name solutions that match the scale of our problems — to tackle climate change and inequity at the speed and scale that justice and science demand. Marginal changes alone do not qualify as a Green New Deal. (E.g., a small tax incentive to weatherize buildings is not as GND-aligned as a plan to directly invest in weatherizing a wide swath of buildings.)
Support an equitable, inclusive process. We seek an equitable, inclusive process for shaping GND input — one in which frontline communities and workers have a leading say. GND bills can support that process by inviting frontline communities and a range of environmental, labor, racial and economic justice groups to co-design bills via early and repeated input. They also can make clear that continued input will be needed — even beyond the bill — to continue building out the content of a GND.
Local GND Conventions: Growing a Green New Deal from the Roots
- We are currently in the midst of a nationwide process to craft innovative and tangible Green New Deal (GND) policy ideas, helping to lay the groundwork for GND enactment. Indeed, broad local coalitions have been pushing and winning GND-esque policy changes at the state and local level, building on community-led campaigns that have been going on for years. At the national level, members of Congress are expressing the desire to champion GND bills in the coming months. Their plan is for such bills to flesh out distinct policy planks of the GND, offering an opportunity to build alignment and momentum behind concrete GND policy ideas that can be implemented under a new administration.
- The question is: Who will shape these policies to tackle the defining crises of our time? Nationwide, communities on the frontlines of climate change and sky-high inequality are generating real solutions. In the shadow of the Trump administration, local coalitions of environmental, labor, and racial justice groups are winning pro-climate, pro-jobs, pro-equity policies to retrofit buildings, revitalize infrastructure, restore ecosystems, and revive clean manufacturing—offering models and momentum for a national GND.
- For the GND to succeed, DC policymakers must listen to such local leaders. To ensure that frontline communities can help shape GND policies, we are discussing with base organization partners the potential for a series of local GND conventions. We want policymakers to hear GND policy priorities from farmers in Iowa, manufacturing workers in Ohio, Katrina survivors in New Orleans, and coal communities in Appalachia.
Goals and Design of Local GND Conventions
- Each convention will convene local stakeholders—e.g., union workers, environmental justice advocates, community organizers—to name, discuss, and build alignment behind specific, locally-relevant GND priorities. The events will be invite-only and closed to press to allow for trust-building and navigating areas of disagreement. Each convention will focus on 1-3 locally-relevant GND policy planks, as determined by local anchor groups (e.g., agriculture, buildings, coastline restoration, manufacturing, etc.). Participants should be primarily local representatives who have the biggest stake in the focal issue(s).
- We are talking with key congressional offices to secure their buy-in for translating these community priorities into meaningful GND legislation (which may include having congressional staff in the room during the conventions). Once a focal issue has been chosen for a given convention, efforts will be made to recruit involvement from a congressional office interested in pursuing legislation on that particular topic. See here for how conventions could inform the design of GND bills.
- We need to discuss further with partners where we should hold these conventions. Criteria for choosing locations include: 1) local anchor groups support the idea of naming GND priorities, 2) local anchor groups have existing relationships with each other and with national coordinating groups (including chapters/affiliates/locals of the national groups), 3) local anchor groups have the capacity (with funding support) to help with recruiting and following up with participants, 4) local anchor groups have been doing local work related to the GND vision (local efforts are ripe, but not so fleshed out as to make this redundant), 5) the location and/or focal topic is typically overlooked in national climate or GND conversations, 6) the location and/or focal topic has the potential to positively influence the national GND narrative, and 7) the location builds out needed congressional champions. Based on these criteria, examples of potential initial locations include: Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Detroit, and Iowa (as with most of this proposal, the locations will be decided with local and national partner groups). Conventions would begin in 2020.
- Here are some of the top goals for these conventions, and keys to success:
- Policy content: Shape the content of federal/state/local GND legislation and administrative plans, with a leading say for frontline communities and workers. Keys to success:
- A clear and meaningful use for policy ideas: Buy-in from members of Congress (or relevant policymakers) to translate policy ideas into legislation, strategic communications, and/or a means of funneling ideas into the GND planks of a 2020 presidential transition plan
- A feedback loop so that participants can see how we’re compiling their ideas, to make sure they’re reflected correctly
- Buy-in from local frontline communities and workers for a given event
- Funding for local frontline communities and workers to organize and/or participate in events (see budget below)
- Prioritization of frontline voices in event design, recruitment, and facilitation
- State/local campaigns: Bolster existing and future state/local campaigns for GND-style policy change. Keys to success:
- Mapping recent/upcoming “listening tours” and related efforts, to make sure we’re not duplicating
- Choosing locations where we or partner organizations have strong chapters/affiliates or organizers who can do follow-up
- Buy-in from organizations and coalitions that are already pushing for GND-style state policy change
- Event program that links the push for a national GND with the push for state/local policy change
- A clear mechanism for plugging event participants into state/local policy campaigns
- Partnerships: Strengthen partnerships with strategic allies across sectors, both locally and nationally. Keys to success:
- Buy-in and organizing support – nationally and locally – from strategic allies that reflect the breadth of GND priorities (e.g., racial/economic/gender equity, labor, environment)
- Event program that fosters trust-building and ties together partners’ priorities (e.g., open discussion of areas of divergence and convergence, speakers from different constituencies, etc.)
- A follow-up plan for participants that requires further coordination from organizing partners
- Press: Build GND momentum in local and national press. While the conventions themselves will be closed to press, we also could plan for subsequent press events in which the array of involved local groups could spotlight the locally-rooted GND priorities that emerged in their convention. Keys to success:
- Event-specific statements, LTEs, and op-eds – pitched to local press
- High-profile speakers at the event
- Social media amplification of the event
- Stories on the nationwide array of events – pitched to national press
- Policy content: Shape the content of federal/state/local GND legislation and administrative plans, with a leading say for frontline communities and workers. Keys to success:
What Is Needed
- Coordinating groups: Sierra Club is working to co-convene the planning of local GND conventions with interested climate, labor, racial justice, and related organizations at the national, state, and local levels. We are particularly interested in working with partner organizations that, like Sierra Club, have local chapters, affiliates, or staff with capacity for local recruitment and follow-up, as we want to build on existing on-the-ground organizing and relationships, rather than parachuting into a new community and then leaving. We are having preliminary conversations with the members of the GND Network Coordinating Team and other strategic organizations with a strong membership base. Coordinating groups will need funding to carry out the logistical planning for conventions; to cover transportation, lodging, food, and related expenses; and to do follow-up with participants.
- Participating groups: As mentioned above, local frontline groups and individuals who participate in a convention will need to be compensated for the time they spend preparing for, participating in, and following up from a convention.
- Space rental: $2,000 for two days
- Materials: $300
- Equipment rental: $600 for two days