Following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, climate change has caught the attention of many Americans. What’s your take?
JS: The crisis of the moment and the question of the hour is whether this election will be the response that we need to the climate crisis.
It took the storm of the century, an unprecedented storm, a storm one thousand miles across, to break the silence around this election when it comes to climate.
So now, we have Mayor Bloomberg for example taking a stand for climate, but not for anything that needs to be done other than build storm gates — and that’s not going to cut it. The protection for today will not be the protection for ten years from now as rising sea levels accelerate.
Do you think the spotlight on climate may impact how you fare in the polls on November 6?
JS: I think the American public has been waking up to this for quite some time, but there has been no discussion this election about climate up until this point. Instead, the candidates are competing with each other as the leading caretaker for the fossil fuel companies.
What’s wrong with this picture is we have a political system that has been cut loose from reality and cut loose from public responsibility. I think young people especially are standing up and we are seeing people coming to our campaign in unprecedented numbers. Young people are not going to take it anymore because it’s not something that can wait for four years.
The greens have been ahead of the curve for decades, and now the curve has caught up with us. So people are waking up and standing up now. Nature is not going to give us the opportunity to do otherwise.
What are the most daunting challenges we face when it comes to climate change?
JS: Even the most optimistic science says that if we don’t make substantial progress by 2020, our goose is cooked.
We need to listen to the science as established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], which is a United Nations commission that brought together scientists from all around the world to clarify what the science says exactly about climate.
[The IPCC] models all kinds of scenarios — sort of, “what if” cases — and what they said is that by 2020, we have to make substantial reductions in our carbon emissions if we want to have a chance of avoiding essentially a lethal climate meltdown.
As a scientist myself, I have come to understand the need for putting reality back into technical scientific terms. The terms [the IPCC] used was significant reductions in greenhouse gases in order to avoid “a temperature rise of 2 degrees centigrade.” That is code for maintaining a climate in which civilization has a chance to survive.
What we have already seen in terms of record heat, sea level rise, droughts, flooding – all of this is happening with less than one degree temperature rise. So we have to be making major inroads by 2020 if we want to have a climate we can survive in.
Are their lessons to be learned from Sandy in terms of climate change?
JS: 40,000 low-income people have been displaced from public housing because of Sandy. Even to deal with 40,000 people is devastating – and yet we’re talking about one-third of the population of the world that lives along the coast, threatened by sea level rise.
It’s not fun to talk about, but it just makes the point that if we want to get out of here alive, we have to start doing something now. Not four years from now.
That means we don’t go cheerleading for fossil fuel companies, we don’t endorse fracking, we don’t open up our national parks to drilling – we have to start dramatically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. That’s what the science says in no uncertain terms.
The centerpiece of your platform is the “Green New Deal.” What should voters know about this proposal?
JS: The Green New Deal is about the win-win. It’s not only that we can rescue the climate, but at the same time we can rescue the economy.
First, green energy. The Green New Deal calls for emergency action now, like we did after World War II, as if we had been attacked. Because we have been attacked by storms, drought and flooding. In the process of building up green energy, we can put millions of people back to work.
Second, green transportation. Weatherization and conservation is the biggest bang for your buck. It pays for itself in a matter of years because of the money saved in energy conserved.
Third, green food. Providing healthy, sustainable, local food systems that in turn also improve your health. So there’s a health dimension to this as well. Pollution prevention, with increased activity and healthy eating. Rather than putting our tax dollars into agro-business food, we put it into good, local, fresh food production so as we’re creating the jobs, we’re also creating a low-carbon food system with high-quality food.
We call for 25 million jobs in public services and public works as well as providing start-up money and grants in these industries, much like Germany did in order to jump-start its solar sector.
What are some of the other issues that the Green Party cares about?
JS: Ending student debt and making public higher education free. We call for ending student debt because we’ve been bailing out the banks and it’s students who’ve been hung out to dry.
This is outrageous and it harms not only the students but it harms our society and the economy. We need to liberate the students. Instead of bailing out the banks, yet again, we should be bailing out the students. If we buy up student debt, we are unleashing the economic power of students – and that’s what we need to reboot the economy.
Secondly, public higher education needs to be free. Throughout the 20th century, we provided a free high school education because it was necessary for an individual’s economic security – and we owe that to our younger generation, to give them a decent starting point to their economic lives. In the 21st century, you need a college degree, so public higher education needs to be free. This is our social contract with the younger generation.
What would you say to voters who believe a vote for a third party candidate is either wasted or stolen from a candidate who is more likely to win?
JS: Someone like Nader is a convenient scapegoat, an opportunity to create a fear campaign. [The fear is] created by the fossil fuel companies, the nuclear energy companies, the big banks — they don’t want people breaking away from the two-party system that works so well for them.
And look at where the politics of fear has gotten us — when you vote for the “lesser evil” and not for your beliefs. What we’ve seen is that silence has not been an effective political strategy, and in fact the politics of fear have actually delivered to us many of the things we were afraid of.
In talking to young people, they are already alarmed about the crisis that they have inherited. I think there is a sea change — literally and figuratively — in terms of how people are thinking. So I don’t think the public is just going to get amnesia. Do our politicians have amnesia? Of course. They are paid to have amnesia, which is why we don’t fix this without changing our politics.
[Mainstream politicians] are trying to suppress the discussion until after the election, but people are not going to stand for that. And we’ll see how much they will stand up, but there are a lot of young people who get that their future is in their hands, their life is in their hands, and they are working for us as if their life depends on it.