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Ethics instead of wealth

28 of December '22

Interview from A&B 06|2022 issue


Residents of the Bronx—one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City—face a variety of daily problems that may seem more pressing than climate policy. Yet Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is the area's representative in the US Congress, says that targeting environmental injustice is the first step toward not only saving the planet, but also adjusting the economy to better serve everyone, not just the rich.

We need to save ourselves. Period! There will be no future for the Bronx, there will be no livable future for generations in any part of this country or the world, if we don't address the climate problem with urgency," were the words of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during an interview she gave to the MSNBC television station in 2019. Climate change is an issue close to her heart, but the starting point is economics. AOC (that's the acronym she uses for her name) is known for being straightforward about how the U.S. economy actually works and what it's made of. She believes that the American economy is too virtual and based on the financial sector: profits are made from interest, from leasing instead of from production and innovation. And this is very evident in big cities. That's where issues of social injustice or inequality in medical care are most drastic. There is a false view in America that you have to put all economic problems on the line and decide what we care more about. "I realized," Ocasio-Cortez said in the same interview, "that these are not separate problems. They are all part of the same issue. In the past, we struggled with this kind of stagnation as a country during, say, the Great Depression or the Cold War. Historically, the answer has been to mobilize the American economy around the war, but I thought to myself—it doesn't have to be that way. It's better to mobilize our economy around another long-term idea: take care of education, medical care, housing inequality." In other words, climate change is a matter of ethics.

This sounds more like a philosophical speech than a political one, and yet the Green New Deal ( that's what AOC calls its program), time and again, is drawn into a political duel between the conservative movement and the Democrats. This is because climate change costs far more than the energy needed to change mindsets. "Radical environmental socialism" is what the Green New Deal was called by FOX television. Some media outlets reproached AOC for working as a bartender a few years ago. For me—the author of this article—being a bartender or barista is an ideal starting point for becoming an activist in the future. One small coffee shop equals liters of wasted water, milk and energy. Now multiply that by millions of Starbucks and dunkin donuts....

There is another quote worth citing here. It comes from a statement made by an American Conservative Union representative in 2019 about the Green New Deal: "They want to take away your hamburgers. This is what Stalin dreamed of, but never achieved." The pushback continues, and the serious conversation about how to start real innovation inside the food, agriculture and housing industries continues to be postponed. The Green New Deal is about changing political, economic and social paradigms.
The Green New Deal has five main tenets: net zero emissions; good, high-paying jobs; infrastructure and industry; a clean and sustainable environment; and finally, fairness and equality. The New Green Deal is a clear reference to the historic New Deal, which was a series of programs and projects established during the Great Depression and introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. They were intended to restore prosperity to Americans. When Roosevelt took office in 1933, he acted quickly to stabilize the economy and provide jobs and aid to those suffering. The effects of today's crisis may look different, but the scale seems the same.

AOC has been keeping up to date with the latest news on real activities inspired by the Green New Deal in recent years.

She was met during a presentation given on April 20, 2022 at Town Hall in Astoria, Queens, New York.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez w sukni przygotowanej na MET Gala 2021, na której widniał napis „Tax the Rich”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a gown prepared for the MET Gala 2021, which read "Tax the Rich".

© Instagram AOC

Ania Diduch:The Green New Deal saw the light of day three years ago. What are the latest updates on its impact at the micro and macro levels? What is the progress nationally and locally?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:We are constantly bombarded with information about the climate crisis, but I don't want to get into an apocalyptic mood. This kind of attitude is definitely not at the heart of what we are proposing in the Green New Deal. In fact, the opposite is true: I don't want to talk about sinking into dystopia or cynicism, because that's just discouraging. You can't talk about environmental issues as if it's something that just happened to us and we can't do anything about it. Of course we can, we can always take action to help take care of our future. The facts are that greenhouse gas emissions are projected to increase. Not only are we not meeting the reduction targets set, we are not even flattening the curve. The global warming forecast says 3.2 degrees Celsius by 2100, the highest estimates even 4 degrees. What do these figures mean? An increase of 4 degrees Celsius means that half of the Earth's land mass will be uninhabitable. This will happen if we don't take any action. That' s why it is our responsibility to radically change the way our economy depends on fossil fuels and switch to other energy sources. The good news is that this kind of change will require a lot of action, and it will put millions of people to work striving for a transition to a zero-emissions economy. So this is actually an opportunity not only for the planet, but also for us.

Ania: What does this mean specifically for the Queens and Bronx neighborhoods that you represent?

Alexandria: Currently, Queens is the area with the highest risk of flooding when the Earth's sea level rises. The Bronx and Brooklyn are located higher. We had the opportunity to see—on a much smaller scale—that during last year's Hurricane Ida. Safeguarding against climate change will require a lot of investment in infrastructure, designing resilience into the subway system, changes in our homes to make basement levels safer, for example. I'm a politician at the federal level, and the issues I list are more oriented to urban policy. In order for cities to implement certain solutions efficiently, however, a top-down legislative change is needed, such as legalizing basement apartments to make them safer and habitable. Our community lost twelve people due to Hurricane Ida: family members, including children, who were trapped in apartments organized in poorly designed basements. I feel that one of my tasks is to make the legislative system stop denying this kind of reality, accept it, and then correct it. In the case of the Bronx, the borough has a deep tradition of climate injustice, and it shows in... our lungs. We have the highest number of asthma cases here in the entire United States. It contributes to forty-three deaths a year. The reason is the expressway that cuts through the area. This kind of industrialization is characteristic of poorer neighborhoods; children grow up here with diesel trucks under their noses. This problem has been dragging on, unfortunately, since Robert Moses decided to cut through the Bronx with a major artery.

Ania:And yet, action against climate change should still be seen as an opportunity, not the series of failures that got us to this point.

Alexandria: After the introduction of the Green New Deal in 2019, one of our main goals was to submit it for the record in Congress, so that individual states could take note of it and adapt it to their local conditions. In two years, we have recorded at least ten city initiatives drawing on the Green New Deal. I'm thinking of cities such as Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, New Mexico and, of course, New York. In 2019, I also attended a conference known as C40, which was a gathering of city mayors from around the world. We were able to get some officials to commit to a "lifestyle" inspired by the Green New Deal. Around the world, at least ninety-four cities are taking action oriented toward the goals of the Green New Deal. What's even more surprising is that the first steps were taken during Trump's administration—urban action can be effective regardless of the national political coloration of people like Trump or Putin. And more importantly, it's not really about anyone's political beliefs. People on both sides, Democrats and Republicans, can say that climate change action is impossible. I then say: look at how we are working and what results we are getting!

The vote has already been cast

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