“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity,” wrote William Butler Yeats in his famous poem, “The Second Coming,” written in 1919, and published in 1920. Ironically, the poem’s centennial years (2019 and 2020) are the precise time frame for making socio-political choices that will determine whether we manifest — or avoid — the apocalypse the poem implies.
In 2019, with a new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, there’s an opportunity for a better agenda on climate— as articulated within the Green New Deal called for by the Sunrise Movement and supported by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her new freshman congressional colleagues.
And not a moment too soon.
In 2020, the year of the next US presidential election, we will likely begin what the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report defines as our final decade of opportunity to forestall or mitigate climate disruption.
It’s time to hold all elected officials accountable. The Congress who gets sworn in today and the president we elect in 2020 must fully grasp what has entrapped us into destroying our own habitat. These officials must harness the political will to revise a whole range of interlocking systems on a structural, economic and socio-political level. To do this, they must be unhampered by any allegiances that require equivocation, denial, stalling or retreating into incrementalism.
Unfortunately, Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues face opposition from within Democratic Party leadership.
In the House of Representatives, incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) downgraded the Green New Deal Select Committee, proposed by the new representatives. He denied the committee the same right to subpoena, which the prior Energy Committee had held. According to HuffPost reporter Zach Carter, “the sole purpose of this protecting fossil fuel executives,” who might be subpoenaed and held accountable by a committee tasked with acting on the climate emergency.
Meanwhile in the Senate, “as momentum builds for a Green New Deal, Senator Schumer has an opportunity to appoint a Ranking Member who will help the legislation we need to preserve the planet for our generation,” explains Aracely Jimenez, a member of Sunrise NYC. Unfortunately, tasked with Senate Committee assignments, Sen. Chuck Schumer has penciled in pro-coal Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) to lead the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“Putting someone who has taken $1 [million] from fossil fuel CEOs in charge of climate policy is like pouring oil on a fire and saying you’re trying to put it out,” said Jimenez.
Voters elected Minority Leaders Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to enact the US’s best convictions. But given the surreal spectacle of Donald Trump in a recent exchange with them, the very notion of bipartisanship itself stands utterly compromised.
With every step forward by Ocasio-Cortez (and her colleagues), there’s always the risk of temporizing or backsliding from those who lack her passion and clarity. According to Open Secrets, in 2018, the top 15 congressional representatives who received the most contributions from the gas and oil industry were nearly all Republicans, except for Beto O’Rourke, recently termed as a 2020 presidential contender by a MoveOn.org survey. Likeable or not, O’Rourke takes a wrong-headed stand on climate.
First, he voiced his support for the gas and oil industry, calling natural gas production “a great job opportunity and an environmentally responsible opportunity.”
Next, Sludge reporter Alex Kotch found campaign finance records revealing that O’Rourke, “violated the ‘No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge’ dozens of times, receiving $324,650 total in donations of over $200 from executives and other individuals in the fossil fuel industry.”
The nonprofit organization Oil Change, which administers the pledge, removed O’Rourke from their list of signatories, because, according to strategic communications director David Turnbull, O’Rourke “did not fully understand” what he was pledging to do.
Finally, according to Politico, when asked if he is a progressive, O’Rourke responded, “I don’t know.”
Lacking in all conviction?
Schumer, O’Rourke and Manchin are not alone. The corporate takeover of government has forced the majority of elected officials to pledge allegiance to the drivers of planetary disruption.
But we can’t let them stall our best shot at saving ourselves— through transitioning to the Green New Deal. As we begin the New Year, we must assure that our elected leaders and presidential hopefuls seize this moment to act on climate. In 2019 and 2020, politicians who equivocate on climate, energy, and the gas and oil industry are not equipped to lead our country. This is our final window to offset a return to a climate similar to the mid-Pliocene era by 2030, and the Eocene epoch of 50,000 years ago by 2150, according to a recent University of Wisconsin study. (In the Eocene, palm trees grew in Alaska, and there was no ice on Earth.)
From this moment forward, climate is the litmus test for every potential candidate for the highest office. Does a candidate— whatever their age, gender, race, party affiliation and/or charismatic appeal — have the willingness and capacity to address climate and lead Americans in the coming age of increasing climate destruction?
Dealing with climate change will entail a great deal more disruption than anyone is prepared for — or can even imagine. It will likely be uncomfortable and discombobulating, requiring a monumental shift in our economy, infrastructure, politics, communities, values and priorities, as well as your and my habits, assumptions, behaviors and life circumstances.
Incremental approaches feel slow and stately — naturally according with maintaining our comfort levels. When more far-reaching steps are proposed, the common response is that “people aren’t there yet,” and small steps are urged instead. But this misconstrues the choices before us. The most crucial choice isn’t whether or not it’s a bother to use plastic straws or divest from fossil fuels, helpful though both those actions are. The crucial choice is whether we can elect a president and a sufficiently progressive Congress to lead the transition towards a new green economy.
Up until now, politicians with wavering convictions have permitted us to put off dealing with our climate reality. Normalizing mixed agendas blocks society’s ability to expose and reject all socio-political allegiances that drive us towards final extinction.
However, we still can and must expect authentic and consistent dedication to addressing climate. When scripted politicians appropriate climate-oriented language — for example by referring to the “Paris Agreement” or “clean energy” — and use such terms as cover for counter-productive legislative decisions — like conferring appointments and committee powers, or passing bills that stall climate action — this obfuscation shows a profound disrespect for the will and the needs of the people, as well as a subservience to vested interests. Being less bad than some other politicians cannot substitute for a leader’s capacity to go beyond false assurances to offer a valid and far-reaching climate change national policy as a first order priority. We must accept nothing less. This is not a dress rehearsal.