Currently, the global average atmospheric carbon dioxide measure is just over 400 parts per million, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. This means that there is more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere now than there has been for millions of years. In fact, the last time there was this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the earth was in the midst of the Pliocene epoch, three to five million years ago. At that time, there were trees growing in the South Pole, global sea levels were 15 to 20 meters higher than they are now and temperatures were 3 to 4 degrees Celsius higher than they are now.
The current state of our planet is unlike any other mankind has ever seen. How did our planet get this way? Our economy is driven by consumption of seemingly inexhaustible natural resources — our economic structure is environmentally and socially unsustainable. In fact, one might argue that the United States’ economy is broken and failing in light of such catastrophe.
What happened the last time our economy was broken? Following the Great Depression in the early 1930s, President Roosevelt pushed the New Deal to help the failing economy recover. In 2009 during the Great Recession, the government granted bailouts to major banks that were “too big to fail,” thereby risking catastrophe throughout the economy at large.
In February 2019, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts introduced the Green New Deal, proposed as a congressional resolution that attempts to address climate change and inequality within the United States.
The plan calls for a rapid decarbonization of our economy. The most publicized goal in the Green New Deal is shifting to completely clean, renewable energy in the United States by 2030, a change that would create high-paying jobs within the revitalized energy sector. While the multifaceted plan seeks to dramatically decrease emissions, it also has a social component. Economic, environmental and social sustainability meet in the Green New Deal, which aims to reduce poverty, income inequality and racial discrimination with a green, economically feasible policy.
The Green New Deal received criticism for using vague language and including goals without vehicles to reach them with. For example, there is no specific mention of which renewable energies should be utilized. Markey claimed that this, and other aspects of the plan, were left intentionally vague in order to encourage broader support of the plan.
The Green New Deal quickly became a polarizing issue in Washington. Republican leaders deemed the plan a “socialist takeover.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has spoken out against the plan since its introduction.
On March 26, the Senate voted on the Green New Deal. The resolution failed on a 57 to zero vote, with all Republican senators and four Democrats voting to block the resolution. Fearing political backlash, most Democrats voted “present” rather than for or against the deal.
Too big to fail. It’s troubling that our government deemed financial institutions too big to fail 10 years ago, yet those who are currently in power do not seem to think our own planet is “too big to fail.” The future of our planet has been clearly subjugated to the needs of a capitalist economy.
The earth is “too big to fail.” If we continue exploiting natural resources at this unprecedented rate, the human race (and our precious economy) will suffer alongside the natural world. Technology and innovation cannot save us from ourselves. We must begin to decarbonize the economy.
For the sake of the future of humanity and the natural world, climate change and policies like the Green New Deal cannot continue to be polarizing issues. Rather, parties need to begin to come together to effectively address issues that affect all humans, no matter your political preference, age or race. As we anticipate the presidential primaries next spring, I urge you to research candidates and their opinions on climate change and economic policy. Our earth is too big to fail, and it’s time we start acting like it.
Charlotte Cheek is a senior Economics, Sustainability and Society (ECOS) major. She is a guest writer from Louisville, Ky.