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Why Democrats say the U.S. needs a Green New Deal to combat climate change

Democrats on Thursday introduced what they are calling the Green New Deal. The plan would require the U.S. government to reduce carbon emissions by overhauling how we get around, how we power our buildings and how we grow our food. William Brangham speaks to Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who is co-sponsoring the resolution with freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    We learned this week that 2018 was the fourth warmest year on record, making the five warmest years in recorded history the last five.

    William Brangham takes a look at how U.S. lawmakers are responding to climate change today.

  • William Brangham:

    This Green New Deal calls for the U.S. to take dramatic action to reduce the carbon emissions that are driving climate change, but which are also so intertwined in our everyday lives.

    The plan calls for the U.S. to be carbon-neutral in just 10 years, which would require massive changes to how we get around, how we power our homes and our offices, how we grow our food. And, its supporters argue, we can make these changes while boosting jobs and the economy.

    Its two co-sponsors, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, introduced their plan today to address what they say is the growing danger of climate change.

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.:

    In order for us to combat that threat, we must be as ambitious and innovative in our solution as possible.

    So what we're doing today in introducing these resolutions here today is that it's not a bill. It is a resolution. And what this resolution is doing is saying, this is our first step. Our first step is to define the problem and define the scope of the solution. And so we're here to say that small, incremental policy solutions are not enough.

  • William Brangham:

    And Senator Edward Markey joins me now.

    Welcome to the "NewsHour."

  • Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass.:

    Thank you. Glad to be here.

  • William Brangham:

    Before we get to the substance of this, I should also say there are parts of this that deal with housing and unions and jobs and wages and all of that, but I really want to talk to you about the climate change impact of this.

    Make the case why we need this deal.

  • Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass.:

    The case is scientific.

    Both the United Nations scientific community and every single U.S. federal agency in the Trump era have now said that it's much worse than we ever thought it was going to be.

  • William Brangham:

    The threat of climate change.

  • Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass.:

    The threat of climate change, and what the impact could be on our country and on the planet.

    And now they point towards 2030 as the year that we have to target, if we're going to avoid the worst, most catastrophic consequences of climate change.

    Now, we saw the wildfires out in California. We see the storms which are far more dangerous than they ever were before. It cost our country $300 billion last year just to deal with the impact of climate change.

  • William Brangham:

    Your — the costs that we have been incurring this past year are evident, as you have laid out.

    The costs of the proposals that you're putting forward in this plan are also costly. And I know you would argue that the benefits saved would accrue to the country enormously.

    But do you think that these costs are surmountable? Do you think we can generate the funds to do this?

  • Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass.:

    I actually don't think we have an option.

    The cost is prohibitive if we don't take this action. We're going to be losing areas of our country along the coastline that would have been avoidable, but it's going to total trillions of dollars. So we should spend the money now. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  • William Brangham:

    How do you imagine we will become carbon-neutral? What are the tangible steps you would imagine we take?

  • Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass.:

    Well, what we do in the resolution is, we talk about each one of the sectors, transportation, agriculture, electric power generation.

    And we talk about what the goals should be for us to find the best technologies that can be used in order to reduce dramatically the greenhouse gases that come out of each one of those sectors, and to then challenge the country, but to challenge the United States House and Senate and the White House to deal with this issue.

    But it's ready to be a politically weaponized issue. You can really feel that this younger generation, millennials in our country, are just fed up with no action it. So I think this is far different than 10 years ago, when I was the author of the climate change bill that passed the House and then died in the Senate.

    I think now we have an army out there. We have the resources to be able to fight back against the Koch brothers, fight back against those that do not want to see this issue dealt with.

  • William Brangham:

    One of the things that would be crucial to this, it seems, is government investment in some of these technologies.

    The market is working. I mean, we have seen incredible growth in solar and wind over the last two years that have largely been private sector. But to make the changes you're talking about, do you imagine that the government is going to have to heavily invest in these technologies?

  • Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass.:

    There is going to require some government investment, no question about it.

    We need the tax code to provide the same opportunities for wind and solar and all-electric vehicles, new battery technology that we have been providing for 100 years to the oil industry, to the natural gas industry, to the coal industry.

    It's about time we really had a true level playing field in terms of where all these subsidies go. We have to fight every year just to continue the wind and solar tax price. It's just not right.

    So, yes, there's going to be a federal role, but there's always been a federal role in energy policy. The nuclear power plants have federal guarantees when they are built in our country. So now we're talking about this renewable revolution. We're talking about all-electric vehicles.

    We're talking about mandating that all new buildings in the United States are twice or three times more efficient than the ones that are being built today, and to refurbish the old ones, so that they meet higher energy efficiency standards.

    But that can be a huge private sector job creation opportunity. We now have 350,000 blue-collar workers in the wind and solar industry. And there's only 50,000 coal miners left.

    We're going to take this up to hundreds of thousands? No, millions of workers in this sector. We need to have this become a voting issue in our country. It really wasn't back in 2009 and 2010. It's about to become one of the two or three most important issues in 2020 in the presidential and in the congressional and Senate races.

    And, with that, I think we're going to be able to see a lot more progress.

  • William Brangham:

    Senator Edward Markey, thank you very much.

  • Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass.:

    Thank you. Thanks for having me on.

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