(EnviroNews California) — Bon Tempe Dam, Marin County, California — Rising temperatures, devastating droughts, terrifying wildfires, warming oceans and melting polar ice caps: scientists warn it’s hard to ignore the signs the planet is changing, and climate disruption caused by humans is the culprit. It’s a topic EnviroNews has reported about extensively since the multimedia platform started in 2008.
Many conservationists, researchers and lawmakers, including Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA), believe adopting measures outlined in the Green New Deal is the environmental lifeline the U.S. desperately needs.
In an exclusive sit-down interview with EnviroNews, Rep. Huffman – considered one of the most environmentally friendly lawmakers in the House — challenged critics of the resolution: “If you don’t like this big, ambitious, equitable answer to the climate crisis, what’s your answer?”
The concept behind the Green New Deal is both ambitious and controversial. The bill calls for reducing the country’s human-caused greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning away from fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas and using green, renewable alternatives like solar, wind and hydro energy instead.
Studies show that increasing amounts of greenhouse gases contribute to climate change by creating and trapping more heat in the earth’s atmosphere, causing temperatures to rise. NOAA scientists found that not even the COVID-19 lockdowns last year made a dent in the climate problem. “Extra heat trapped in the atmosphere by human-caused greenhouse gas pollution continued to exacerbate global warming in 2020, driven by historically high emission levels that were largely unaffected by the economic slowdown stemming from the pandemic,” the agency stated on its website.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from burning fossil fuels, solid waste, trees and other biological materials makes up 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. And once CO2 is in the atmosphere, it can stick around for 300 to 1,000 years, damaging the climate further, all the while. An article published by NASA in 2019, crediting NOAA research, reveals how much C02 levels have spiked in the last two centuries. A science writer for NASA’s Global Climate Change website wrote:
The concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere is currently at nearly 412 parts per million (ppm) and rising. This represents a 47 percent increase since the beginning of the Industrial Age, when the concentration was near 280 ppm, and an 11 percent increase since 2000, when it was near 370 ppm.
Methane (CH4) — which is considerably more damaging to the climate than CO2 — makes up about 10% of atmospheric greenhouse gases. It’s emitted during fossil fuel production, livestock and organic waste decaying in landfills. CH4 sticks around for about nine years after it is liberated into the air.
The topics of moving away from these atmosphere-plaguing gases and moving toward greener, cleaner energy have been discussed for decades. But in 2019, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) introduced their now widely-known Green New Deal. The 14-page non-binding proposal calls for Congress to work toward renewable energy, high-speed rail and electric cars while creating new jobs in these sectors. The proposal — which had more than 100 co-sponsors, including Rep. Huffman — also calls for increasing the minimum wage and universal healthcare. Many Republicans, conservative media outlets and the Trump Administration have repeatedly vilified the plan, casting it as a socialist, liberal splurge by Democrats. The Senate ultimately voted the deal down.
But as Rep. Huffman told EnviroNews, the Green New Deal is “not a specific piece of legislation; it’s a resolution. It’s a vision statement, really a goal.” Even if Congress did approve it, nothing in it would be binding or become law. But in April of 2021, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Markey reintroduced the Green New Deal in Washington, D.C. with Rep. Huffman by their sides. He spoke at the news conference with strong words for critics of the proposal, asserting, “Anyone who says these targets and goals are too high needs to rethink that because if the scientific consensus says this is what we must do to avoid an existential threat, how could anyone aspire to anything less?”
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, Senator Ed Markey Reintroduce the Green New Deal Alongside Rep. Huffman
Just before the announcement, on March 26, 2021, EnviroNews Editor-in-Chief Emerson Urry interviewed Huffman at Bon Tempe Dam in Marin County about the climate crisis and the Green New Deal. Huffman said, bottom line, “the real action is going to be in the legislation that we pass, not in the vision statements and resolutions.”
The two-minute and forty-second interview excerpt can be seen here. The transcript reads as follows:
Emerson Urry: We’re here today with Congressman Jared Huffman, representing California’s Second Congressional District. How are you doing today?
Rep. Jared Huffman: I’m doing great. Good to be with you.
Urry: Thank you. And we’re here to delve deep on the environment, climate and wildlife today. So I just want to say: big thumbs up. And thank you for coming on the show with us today.
Huffman: Well, it’s my pleasure.
Urry: I would like to start with the Green New Deal.
Urry: And, you know, with every administration, there’s new hope. President Trump pulled us out of the Paris Accord, obviously. You are a co-sponsor on that legislation. Tell me a little bit about that. How did that come about? Did AOC (Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) come and recruit you, or what happened there?
Huffman: Well, AOC had a lot to do with it as you know. With her arrival in Congress as part of the class of 2018 — that big blue wave that was our first big pushback against the Trump Administration — this whole climate movement — with a whole bunch of new young people and communities of color — just got a huge infusion of energy. And the Green New Deal, I think, was an expression of that. So, she and the Sunrise Movement and some other groups that have been working on this rolled it out. Now, people need to understand it’s not a specific piece of legislation; it’s a resolution; it’s a vision statement really; a goal. But it made a huge impact almost immediately. It changed the whole conversation [and] put some pressure on some people. You know, if you don’t like this big, ambitious, equitable answer to the climate crisis, what’s your answer? And I think just really raised the profile of finally dealing with this climate crisis at the scale it demands in a way that was unlike anything we’d previously seen.
Urry: And what is the status of that at the moment? Are you going to be able to find enough support for that in the Senate, or? There’s a Senate version of that too, correct?
Huffman: There is. Senator Ed Markey has been the senate lead on it. So, here’s what I need to explain about that. I think you’ll probably see these resolutions in both houses of Congress continue, but the real action is going to be in the legislation that we pass, not in the vision statements and resolutions. Where I think the Green New Deal will continue to be important is as a way of measuring the completeness or the effectiveness of a lot of that legislation that we begin to pass. And then on the right, you know, Fox News is gonna continue to claim that everything we do is the Green New Deal, because they have vilified it and I think grossly misrepresented it. So, you’re still going to hear about the Green New Deal, but I think the actual climate action we take in the months and next couple years will be different.
VIEW MORE SEGMENTS FROM THIS ENVIRONEWS FEATURE INTERVIEW SERIES WITH REPRESENTATIVE JARED HUFFMAN