“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. Freedom of speech is of no use to a man who has nothing to say and freedom of worship is of no use to a man who has lost his God.”
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt said these words in 1933, ushering in the era of The New Deal, he was also branded a socialist, leftist radical who would bring about the complete and utter destruction of our union. What’s striking is not only how prophetic these words are, but how different they sound and are perceived and received when U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez utters the same chorus regarding the Green New Deal (GND).
So what is the Green New Deal anyway?
“The GND is not just a climate change policy. It is a vision for a new kind of economy, built around a new set of social and economic relationships,” Vox explained. “It is not merely a way to reduce emissions, but also to ameliorate the other symptoms and dysfunctions of a late capitalist economy: growing inequality and concentration of power at the top.”
America was founded on big thinking like the GND, and America itself is inherently one great big idea! It was founded to resist and has never prospered from small thinking, scare tactics or myopic vision. In that light, as President John F. Kennedy implored us to the moon, he echoed the same chords: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
No American leader worth his or her salt has ever rallied our collective spirit towards small steps, gradualism and summiting molehills while proclaiming them to be mountains! We are a nation of aspirational vision.
That same aspirational vision promises to unlock latent opportunity for African-Americans and many forgotten inner-city and rural communities. By promising a more inclusive structural change to America’s economy beyond simple clean energy, there is a glimmering green bridge to tackling inequality. Many green tech jobs cannot be outsourced and will reside in our own communities. Like the building and servicing of wind turbines in Oakland, California, or solar panels in Jacksonville, Florida, these jobs are intrinsically structured to benefit, re-train and lift our communities.
While former White House contenders like Al Gore call it an “Inconvenient Truth,” I call it counting thousands of plastic bottles and pieces of trash beneath my toes; so many that they seem to outnumber the shells and stones themselves and extend to the horizon on a recent beach walk on the idyllic cast-away island of Utila, Honduras. I had never seen anything quite like it in my life, and witnessing that environmental trauma first-hand reminded me of the fierce urgency of now spelled out in The Green New Deal.
So here are a few climate change facts, GND speed bumps, estimated costs and legislative roadblocks that help further frame the enormity of the problem from a recent Vox article.
- Poor Public Awareness – 82% of Americans have heard “nothing at all” about the GND.
- Current Renewable Sources – The United States got only 17 percent of its electricity last year from renewable sources, with 7.5 percent coming from hydropower, according to the Energy Information Administration.
- Staggering Costs – A back-of-the-envelope calculation by Christopher Clack, a physicist who has studied rapid deployments of renewables, estimated that building out the generating capacity alone would cost at least $2 trillion.
- Dated Politics – Talk of a “blue-green alliance” between labor and environmentalists, built around public infrastructure investments and new jobs, goes all the way back to 2000 presidential candidate Ralph Nader
- Legacy Infrastructure – Buildings produceabout 40 percent of annual US carbon emissions. Decarbonizing buildings will involve implementing zero-carbon standards for all new buildings and funding the wholesale retrofitting of existing buildings, millions of which use fossil fuels like natural gas for heating and cooling.
So we find ourselves faced with enormous challenges — a proposal many in the public are not aware of and a crisis that many cannot agree upon.
But this is not the first time that American exceptionalism has been called upon to challenge a black box, murky quandary or existential threat.
So let us recall our own national DNA which is firmly rooted in American big thinking, which has always had a certain power and majesty to it. It’s the reason there is such a thing called the American Dream that we fight so desperately to achieve and keep alive generation to generation — so that our children’s children can have more, be more, do more and see more than those who came before them. As we fight to keep the very idea of the American Dream alive, we must also fight to keep what’s woven into our national fabric alive as well, and that’s the power of American big thinking and big ideas!
I’m not going to falsely claim that AOC’s Green New Deal doesn’t have its economic flaws, its timing shortcomings or its funding pitfalls. There are serious holes in the proposal, dire questions that need to be answered and a million new things that need to be invented along the way. But what truly BIG idea has ever lacked those same perils?
Even if one were to segue to the current presidential candidate debate on reparations for American slavery, the GND could touch on that, as well. If structured properly, it could indirectly provide the primary building blocks for more systemic and structural changes to full economic participation, education incentives and direct fiscal stimulus for communities still burdened with the weight and legacy of slavery.
Most importantly, the Green New Deal is a proposal, an aspirational idea, a vision to address the most pressing problem of our time, as even some national security experts in the Pentagon or CIA would call climate change an “existential threat” to humans living on planet earth.
The biggest problems always require the boldest thinking a champion who sometimes can appear to be a bit too far out in front of their skis, quirky, dreamy or downright wistful.
Our best leaders have to reach down in the American consciousness and shake up our spirit, reminding us of who we are and how we tackle our greatest problems. Not with perfect plans, concrete alternatives and proven data … but with a dream, a vision, a hypothesis for an America that can be, but is not limited by, the America that is or was.
The Green New Deal represents the best of American big thinking because it forces us to wrap our heads around a problem that seems utterly insurmountable at the time, but all too essential to who we are as a Nation. Not because it is perfectly thought out, but because the beauty is in the messy start itself! The beauty is in the idea and the billions of small thoughts, hacks and fixes it will take to get there. Think of all the bountiful inventions and future technologies that came out of the simple aspirational statement to reach the moon.
The fact that we will be forced to rally forgotten communities and overlooked people to solve this green riddle of the Sphinx is a treasure in and of itself. The answers may come from Muslim inner city Dearborn, Michigan, or the sun-soaked shores of the Mississippi Delta, or some unique American combination of the two.
But surely they will come, as they always have when America has engaged its best and brightest, fueled by the soaring inspiration of its most hopeful!
In due course, surely they will reignite one of the most quintessential American parts of our heritage — the power to think big and to think beyond our current realities. When those two rising tides are married with a can-do spirit that has always proven to turn those ideas into executable realities, mountains are moved, seas are shifted and humanity is elevated.
I love the idea of The Green New Deal, not simply because it wagers to solve the biggest challenge of our time, but because of what it turns on inside the consciousness of the American spirit!
America at its best, as the Arsenal of Democracy in WWII!
America at its best, as we landed the Apollo on the moon!
America at its best as we marched on Washington as one with Dr. King and the power of inclusion!
Simply put, The Green New Deal may be exactly what we need to get our American mojo back. A big problem … matched with a big idea … to inspire big thinking … in a big people!
Kwame Jackson is a global contributor for Newsweek and a frequent political commentator for CNN, MSNBC, FOX, and NewsOne. Best known for his inspiring leadership performance as the Runner-Up on Season 1 of NBC’s Apprentice, Kwame combines his Harvard Business School, Goldman Sachs and Procter & Gamble corporate pedigree with thoughtful civic engagement, and an affable nature that allows him to touch audiences from the Boardroom to the Barrio as a sought after professional speaker and U.S. Department of Commerce National Entrepreneur Awardee. Currently on a year-long, 50 country global leadership, research and writing sabbatical, you can find Kwame training to complete the 6 World Marathon Majors and on Twitter and Instagram @kwameinc.