Climate scientists are now telling us that we have less than 12 years in which to cut our climate-warming emissions in half or face irreversible consequences.
That stark deadline is why we need a national awakening and a new commitment to action. Concretely, we need to adopt a set of policies that will move us off of fossil fuels and transition us quickly and equitably onto clean, safe, renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.
The Green New Deal can guide that urgently needed transformation.
The Green New Deal is a vision, a framework and a set of core principles, not (yet) proposed legislation, so it doesn’t contain specific policy measures. But one thing is clear: It syncs closely with PSR’s vision, values and our work. Here are three ways it does that.
1. The Green New Deal Phases Out Fossil Fuels
The Green New Deal’s starting point is the phase-out of extraction and use of fossil fuels. PSR has worked toward that goal for more than a decade, and we’ve played a key role as a trusted health voice in calling for a major shift toward a green economy. Our “Code Black” project brought the health and medical voice into the movement to close coal-fired power plants. PSR chapters worked with health and environmental allies to close coal-fired plants from coast to coast and in the Pacific Northwest were early supporters of just transitions for displaced workers.
PSR/National provided the movement with two widely used reports:
- Coal’s Assault on Human Health, which identifies how coal combustion harmed the respiratory, cardiovascular and nervous systems and contributed to four of the five leading causes of mortality in the U.S.
- Coal Ash, The Toxic Threat to Our Health and Environment, a collaboration with Earthjustice that expanded the analysis of coal’s harms to examine coal’s toxic post-combustion waste.
Next we took on fracked gas, whose climate-damaging power is far stronger than CO2 over its first century in the atmosphere—not that we have that long to get it under control. PSR chapters are active across the country working to ban fracking, block the construction of fracked-gas pipelines, challenge the drive to export fracked gas in the form of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG), and oppose other uses of the gas.
PSR/National supported that work with more health-focused, research-based materials: the fracking Compendium, on which we collaborated with Concerned Health Professionals of New York, and our own report, Too Dirty, Too Dangerous: Why Health Professionals Reject Natural Gas.
Along the way, PSR also called for abandoning nuclear power. We chaired a coalition that pressed the government to end the massive federal subsidies and other support for that dangerous industry.
In the second installment of this blog, we will look at how the Green New Deal can create jobs and support health with clean energy.
2. The Green New Deal Creates Jobs and Supports Health with Clean Energy
The path to a livable climate is clear: Power generation must shift from fossil fuels to 100% safe, clean renewable energy and energy efficiency. Renewables avoid the deadly pollution and resulting negative health impacts caused by coal, oil and gas mining, fracking, transport and burning, and they don’t emit climate pollutants like carbon dioxide and methane. Multiple PSR chapters are helping to build this absolutely necessary shift, supporting strong policies that advance the uptake of energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal while ensuring a just transition away from fossil fuels. In addition to the vital health benefits of quitting fossil fuels, PSR chapters promote clean renewables and energy efficiency because they provide new jobs anchored in local communities, not vulnerable to offshoring, with opportunities for former fossil fuel workers to launch careers in the green economy.
PSR chapters and members are also lending their voices to advance solutions in other sectors: phasing out fossil fuel-dependent vehicles while expanding public transportation and powering it with clean renewable energy; transforming our agricultural and forestry practices to reduce reliance on fossil fuel-based fuels and fertilizers, reduce the methane emissions associated with livestock, and maximize the capacity of forests and farms to capture CO2 from the atmosphere; and reshaping the built environment to increase energy efficiency, reduce sprawl, and promote active transportation like walking, jogging and biking.
3. The Green New Deal Ensures a Just Transition to a Green Economy
As we adopt clean, health-supportive ways to power our world, we must be sure that their benefits are shared widely and equitably. PSR chapters and the national office support vulnerable populations, impacted communities and displaced workers in many ways.
Vulnerable populations—the young, the old, the sick, low-income people and people of color—have been most harmed by fossil fuels, and will continue to disproportionately bear the burden of costs to health, safety, and community resilience if we don’t change the energy status quo. PSR advocates for marginalized communities to be at the top of the list to receive relief, whether that is energy efficiency improvements in their housing or EPA air quality standards that are set at levels to protect their health.
Already-impacted communities must be sheltered from new sources of pollution and given priority in implementing clean-energy projects. Plant closures must include funding for job transitions for displaced workers, who must be among the first to benefit from new clean-energy jobs. The rights of Indigenous communities must be upheld, protecting their land from pipelines and other polluters and respecting their cultural rights as well as legal and treaty rights. PSR has upheld these principles, from negotiating the agreements to close coal-fired power plants to standing with Indigenous people at Standing Rock.
These and similar changes are urgently needed and are underway in many places—but not everywhere, and not quickly enough to prevent severe climate change. The Green New Deal, thanks to its broad vision and progressive values, can help guide our steps to achieve these necessary transformations.