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OTHER VOICES: 2020 candidates should offer their own Green New Deal

March 16, 2019

In politics, if you don’t define yourself — and fast — somebody else will do it for you.

That seems to be what’s happening to Democrats and the Green New Deal, a plan to deal with climate change.

The 14-page non-binding proposal, offered last month by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., aspires to be, well, a lot of things.

It calls for a 10-year mobilization effort to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions, upgrade all existing buildings in the U.S., overhaul the nation’s transportation systems and restore fragile ecosystems, among other goals. It also throws in achieving universal health care and a jobs guarantee for all.

For many liberals, the Green New Deal has become synonymous with climate-change action.

For conservatives, it is a sign of the Democrats’ new radicalism. That is why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is planning to call for a vote on the Green New Deal soon — a vote aimed not at having a meaningful debate on climate change but at kneecapping the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential hopefuls. Because, you know, that’s what’s really important in all this.

Our view is that 2020 presidential candidates ought to offer their own Green New Deal.

The one currently on offer is impractical and unfocused. Its 10-year time frame is not feasible. The inclusion of worthy health care and jobs goals only serve to distract from the need to act now on a warming planet.

It’s already divided Democrats — just look at the viral video of young activists confronting Sen. Dianne Feinstein recently.

If Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker want to avoid falling into McConnell’s trap — if they want to avoid becoming the next viral video for not adequately bowing to the Green New Deal — they ought to create their own.

But they ought to offer one that is more focused and more detailed, a plan that reflects the urgency we now face.

Recent reporting has made it clear the window of time we have to deal with significant changes to our planet is rapidly closing. Those candidates who are appearing before Iowa audiences to lobby for their vote in the 2020 caucuses ought to show they realize this is a looming threat.

Some might say it’s early in the 2020 campaign cycle. Members of the Quad-City (Iowa) Times editorial board wouldn’t. We also don’t think Iowans see it that way, either.

There’s a reason 800 people turned out to see Harris in Bettendorf. Hundreds of others went to see Warren at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds. Across the state, candidates are drawing big crowds.

There is a hunger for action and for solutions.

Members of the Quad City (Iowa) Times editorial board recall the 2008 cycle, when all the major candidates offered their own ideas.

They were less ambitious than what this moment calls for. Today’s candidates need to be bolder. They should say what they’d do to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which has been identified as a key benchmark by the experts.

If this involves raising the price of carbon, what would that look like? And what else would you do beyond that? Achieving meaningful reductions of global emissions will require more than just a carbon pricing scheme.

They also should say what they would do to cushion rising consumer costs that would likely result. And they should show they can adequately explain the costs of doing nothing. Which is what we’ve mostly been doing for years.

They also should say what they plan to do to overcome resistance in a Senate that still will likely be controlled by Republicans.

Despite obvious political risks, we think candidates offering their own proposals would send a far stronger signal to the American public that they’re serious about dealing with global warming than adding their name to the Green New Deal.

Ocasio-Cortez and Markey deserve credit for kick-starting this conversation. It was impressive that Feinstein, in the aftermath of her confrontation, introduced a plan that called for net zero emissions by 2050. That is more ambitious than what we’ve seen from mainstream proposals previously.

However, the people who want to lead this nation in 2021 should get in the game. They are the ones who will have to provide the leadership on this issue going forward.