May 20, 2019
by Will Carruthers
Sonoma County activists and students gathered to discuss local approaches to support the Green New Deal, a proposal to tackle economic inequality and combat climate change at the same time.
The Green New Deal, named after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, is not a new idea.
In 2006, the Green Party released a proposal of the same name, but the idea gained national attention this year after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey introduced a legislative framework in February.
Although the framework – which calls for lowering greenhouse emissions to net-zero quickly, expanding public transportation options throughout the country and creating “millions of good, high-wage jobs” in the process – is unlikely to pass under the current administration, the bold, wide-ranging proposal seems like a necessity for younger people considering the impacts of climate change and a changing economy.
A May 15 town hall in Santa Rosa was organized by Sonoma County Conservation Action and other organizations. The idea was inspired by the Sunrise Movement, a climate activist group led by youth, which has been sponsoring town halls across the country.
The event started with speeches by high school students involved in two environmental activist groups. Some of the young speakers had become involved in activism agitating for small changes at their schools. For instance, at Roseland University Prep, one group advocated for the use of recycling bins in every classroom.
For Eleanor Jaffe, a 17-year-old member of Youth vs. Apocalypse, a leadership-training group funded by 350.org, the Green New Deal is a proposal that meets the stakes of the many challenges the country faces.
“The Green New Deal is working to improve everyone’s life,” Jaffe said. “We see the same people benefitting over and over, and the same people marginalized. [The Green New Deal] really acts to propel everyone forward.”
Although Jaffe acknowledged that the future for people of her generation can seem uncertain, she believes that change is still possible.
“We have time. If we make moves now and aren’t afraid, we can make the changes required to ensure a future for everyone,” Jaffe said.
Jaffe, who is heading to college in the fall, said she plans to become deeply involved in the 2020 presidential campaign, saying it’s “the last one where we can really make a big difference.”
Sonoma County, which has undergone a string of climate change-fueled natural disasters, is something of a microcosm of economic inequality and continued carbon emissions.
A panel of leaders from local environmental, labor and agricultural nonprofits led a discussion about how governments and residents can apply the lessons of the Green New Deal locally.
Mara Ventura, executive director of North Bay Jobs with Justice, pointed out that the local economy seems less and less sustainable for workers.
For instance, construction workers trained in the county often leave to work in the East Bay. If the workers building housing cannot afford to live in the completed product, the housing is not truly affordable, Ventura said.
“If we are rebuilding after the Tubbs fire on the backs of low wage workers, exploited undocumented workers then we are not doing it equitably,” Ventura said.
Daisy Pistey-Lyhne, executive director of Sonoma County Conservation Action (SCCA), urged attendees to advocate for dense, urban development rather than more sprawl.
While the Regional Climate Protection Agency (RCPA) has tracked the county's progress towards greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, recent reports have shown that the county is not meeting them, Pistey-Lyhne said.
Although emissions due to housing and other sources decreased between 2010 and 2015, emissions from transportation have increased from 1.89 million to 2.13 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, according to the RCPA. If the rate continues, the county will not meet its goal of reducing emission levels by 25 percent from 1990s levels.
Reducing emissions will require more public transit, bike paths, and increased building density in urban areas, according to Pistey-Lyhne.
“As much as we’re afraid of building up, we need to build up,”Pistey-Lyhne said. “We have a panel of people up here all below 40. I don’t think any of us own homes. We want to live here and we need homes in order to stay here.”
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