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A Green New Deal: Bill McKibben Hails Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Plan to Combat Climate Change

Web ExclusiveNovember 26, 2018
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Rep. John Lewis has become the most prominent Democratic legislator to back incoming New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s call for a Green New Deal. The resolution would create a bipartisan committee that would work on a plan to bring the U.S. to a carbon-neutral economy and adopt 100 percent renewable energy. For more, we speak to Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we bring you Part 2 of our conversation with Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, his latest piece for The New Yorker magazine headlined “How Extreme Weather Is Shrinking the Planet.” His forthcoming book, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

In Part 1 of our conversation, we talked about how extreme weather is shrinking the planet. We talked about the new report out from the government talking about the shrinking of the economy because of climate change. And I wanted to talk about what happened out of the midterm elections.

In Colorado, voters rejected a ballot measure that could restrict where new oil and gas wells can be located. Prop 112 would have barred drilling sites closer than about a half a mile from buildings and vulnerable areas like schools and parks and waterways.

In Washington state, voters rejected Initiative 1631, a ballot measure that would have made their state the first in the country to enact a fee on carbon dioxide emissions. Fossil fuel interests spent a record amount, at least $32 million, to defeat the measure. But there were also environmental victories around the country.

Can you talk about these initiatives and what they mean?

BILL McKIBBEN: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: Some that won, some that lost.

BILL McKIBBEN: So, these losses were pretty tragic, because these were all efforts that had big majority support a few months before the election. Washington would have put a carbon fee and used the money to do renewable energy, especially in the poorest and most vulnerable communities. Colorado’s was a very modest effort to keep people from basically fracking your backyard or your schoolyard. It would put setbacks on fracking wells.

They were popular for obvious reasons, but the fossil fuel industry took the one thing they have—cash—and put it to work. In Colorado, community activists were outspent literally 40 to one by the fossil fuel industry. You could not turn on the TV or radio without hearing an ad telling you that a setback for fracking wells was somehow going to wreck the economy. In fact, they ran out of airtime to buy. When I was in Denver in the fall, there were trucks driving up and down the highway towing billboards telling people to oppose this thing. And so it narrowly lost. Same thing in Washington.

Maybe the most incredible example was San Luis Obispo County in California, where there was a fracking ban on the ballot. This was one county. The fossil fuel industry spent more than $8 million, more than $100 per voter, in order to narrowly defeat this thing. So, those were reminders of just how powerful this industry remains, even as its heyday is past. They’ll do anything to keep their business model alive for a few more years, even at the cost of breaking the planet, which may well be the cost.

There were also some real victories. There’s obviously people showing up in Washington now who are determined to push this issue right to the fore and to see that it became the first issue, really, that the Democrats were pushing and that Ocasio-Cortez so skillfully joined with young protesters from the Sunrise Movement to make an issue. That’s a very good sign, because I think she understands and they understand that not only is it an environmental issue, but it probably is the issue that holds the economic key to the future, the place where good jobs are going to be assembled, where a new vision of America might come from.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, in that Green New Deal that she is putting forward, the congresswoman-elect from New York, joined now by one of the leading longest-term congressmembers, John Lewis, the great civil rights leader from Atlanta, Georgia, Bill, the significance of this?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, I think it could turn out to be really significant, not because they’re going to pass legislation tomorrow, Amy. I mean, even if you got something good through the House, which is no guarantee, it obviously isn’t going anywhere in the Senate. It obviously isn’t going to be signed by the president. And it might well not make it past the Kavanaugh Supreme Court.

But it moves the window. By putting a huge emphasis on this, it makes it clear to everyone that we’ve got to act. And you can see the effect already. You know, the last three or four days, the front page of The New York Times has been filled with stories about climate change. That wasn’t true a year ago, and it sure wasn’t true 10 years ago. And so it’s beginning to break through. My worry is that we’re waiting very late in the game to get started. But that seems to be our way.

AMY GOODMAN: And just to talk about the details, the resolution that Ocasio-Cortez has put forward, to create a bipartisan committee that will work on a plan to bring the U.S. to carbon-neutral economy and adopt 100 percent renewable energy, the proposal for the committee also seeks to bar lawmakers who have accepted money from the fossil fuel industry, Bill.

BILL McKIBBEN: Absolutely. This is going to be one of the few absolutely bottom-line questions for 2020, too, I think. Look, if you’re planning to run for president, please make it clear that you’re not going to be taking money from the fossil fuel industry. That is the very least that you can do, because this is the industry that’s now holding the planet hostage.

You know, Amy, you guys have done such a good job for so long at covering this issue and been by yourselves so much of the time. I imagine you’ll be close to by yourselves in Katowice in Poland when you go there to cover the next U.N. conference. But it must be gratifying for you in some ways to see the rest of the media beginning finally to really take on this story with the power and depth that it should have long ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Bill, watching the corporate networks during the fires in California, the horror, the conflagration there fueled by climate change, for the first time the other day in a regular weather report, one of the chief meteorologists—I’m not talking about Fox—at MSNBC said the words “climate change.” Or it might have been “global warming”; I’m not sure which one. But that is so incredibly rare for a meteorologist—not on Fox; of course, they’re climate change deniers—but on MSNBC and CNN, you know, the places where most people tune in. They tune in for the weather. They flash “extreme weather,” “severe weather.” They almost refuse to flash the words “climate change” or “global warming,” or at least it seems. But I saw one of them mouth those words.

BILL McKIBBEN: I think you’ll see much more of it. And in an odd way, I think the president may be helping here. Every time he insists that there’s no such thing as climate change, or every time that he suggests that the proper answer to wildfires is, you know, rakes, look, even most of the people who vote for the guy know that he’s full of nonsense about this. And I think it makes it easier for everyone to understand, by contrast, you know, what real scientists are saying and thinking.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, as you’re speaking, we’re showing a picture of President Trump standing next to Governor Brown in California, also next to Gavin Newsom, the governor-elect of California, when he went out there.

BILL McKIBBEN: Both of them trying very hard to get away from him.

AMY GOODMAN: And he talked about rakes. Of course, the Finnish president—he said he had been speaking with the Finnish president about this. In fact, let me go to the clip.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I was with the president of Finland, and he said, “We have—we’re much different. We’re a forest nation.” He called it a forest nation. And they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don’t have any problem.”

AMY GOODMAN: So, there he was. You know, he also visited Paradise, but he called it Pleasure. But he talked about the Finnish president talking about raking, and then the Finnish president said, “I never talked to President Trump about raking.” But what did Governor Brown’s—

BILL McKIBBEN: The whole Finnish nation has been busy trolling this guy. If you have a spare 20 minutes, it’s kind of fun to look at Twitter and the endless pictures of Finns with vacuum cleaners out in the woods. I mean, this is just—I mean, look, this is a guy who knows nothing about nothing, and climate change is actually something you need to know a little bit about. And so, we obviously are going to waste four years because of Donald Trump. It’s not four years that we have to waste, but that’s the situation we’re in. We need to make sure that when he goes, all this climate denialism and inaction goes with him. We can’t have, if we get a Democratic president, a return to the status quo ante of kind of slow, measured progress. We need to actually be willing and able to jump into this fight head-on.

AMY GOODMAN: We asked you earlier about the climate change divestment campaign around the country and around the world of corporations, foundations, universities. Can you expand on that, spend a little more time talking about what’s happening and where the progress has been made?

BILL McKIBBEN: Yes. I’ve got just a second, and I will. The highlights of the last year were, as you know, New York City deciding to divest its vast pension fund from fossil fuel, and then the country of Ireland in August becoming the first nation-state to divest from fossil fuels. Those are big landmarks. And what they show is that increasingly people are unwilling to continue going down this path, that even among elite rich institutions, the understanding that we’re now at a crossroads is dawning. And so this fight will continue. The goal is to get to $10 trillion in endowments and portfolios by 2020 and to broaden the fight to the insurance companies and investment banks and others that are continuing to finance the end of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, I want to thank you so much for being with us. Now you can get that phone.

BILL McKIBBEN: Thank you, Amy, so much.

AMY GOODMAN: Co-founder of 350.org. His latest piece for The New Yorker, “How Extreme Weather Is Shrinking the Planet,” we’ll link to it at democracynow.org. His forthcoming book, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

To see Part 1 of our discussion, you can go to democracynow.org. Bill McKibben, speaking to us from his home in Vermont, where it is, to say the least, cold and snowing. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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