More than 100 climate activists, South Florida elected officials and local residents gathered this month to discuss the Green New Deal, the ambitious congressional plan to combat climate change. Many attendees left the town hall optimistic that the goals of the proposal are achievable, despite significant obstacles.
“It’s as aggressive as it needs to be,” said Daniella Vargas of Fort Lauderdale. “Anything that is going to make the changes that we need to make has to be that ambitious, if not more.”
The event at the Hollywood Beach and Culture Center featured conversation on what the federal government and local authorities can do to achieve the goals of the Green New Deal. Activists and residents also pitched ways to increase nationwide support for the proposal.
The Green New Deal, proposed by Democrats in Congress in February, seeks to dramatically reduce greenhouse emissions across the U.S. in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. The plan calls for a 10-year mobilization to reduce emissions and envisions sourcing all of the country’s electricity from zero-emission power and overhauling the nation’s transportation system by investing in electric vehicles.
It also aims to address societal issues like economic inequality and racial injustice by guaranteeing high-paying jobs and prioritizing historically-disenfranchised communities.
But since its release, the ambitious plan has lost steam at the federal level. Some moderate Democrats in Congress have failed to rally behind it, and critics have called it overly-ambitious and economically-infeasible. Republicans say it’s a socialist government takeover.
In cities across the country, however, the youth-led Sunrise Movement—which helped formulate the Green New Deal—is holding town halls to advocate for the resolution. And in South Florida, residents and elected leaders say achieving the provisions of the deal is especially important as the region addresses rising seas, worse storms and higher temperatures.
The rate of sea level rise has tripled in recent years, and the region is projected to see a 1 to 3 feet rise by 2060. Miami is also on pace to see 25 additional days with temperatures above 90 degrees, posing a health threat for children, the elderly and low-income people who cannot afford air conditioners.
“We are ground zero,” Teresa Williams of Plantation said after the town hall. “If we don’t open our eyes and do something quickly, all of us are going to be in a situation where we’re not going to have the great state of Florida as we know it today.”
Speakers at the event included Broward County Commissioner Beam Furr, Miramar Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Wayne Messam and Caroline Lewis, founder of the Cleo Institute, which seeks to address climate change.
Attendees acknowledged that the goals of the Green New Deal are broad and specifics about how to achieve it are vague. Lewis also said the proposal faces strong obstacles as many people question the threat posed by a warming planet. But the Green New Deal is “the only thing that we have right now that makes me think that maybe this existential threat can be contained,” she said.
“It’s ambition, where we can go, what we can shoot for,” she added.
Messam said meeting the goals of the Green New Deal will require educating people about the looming dangers of climate change. The government must also stop subsidizing fossil fuels and instead invest more in renewable energy. Such investment will help create higher-paying jobs that will reduce income inequality, he said.
At the local level, Furr said governments can do more to reduce carbon emissions. He pointed to Broward’s Climate Change Action Plan, which includes 100 ways of addressing economic, environmental and social impacts of climate change.
Fur also told attendees that the original New Deal that helped end the Great Depression demonstrates the potential of sweeping national projects. The Green New Deal can now help end another crisis, he said.
“We know what can be done. We know the huge difference that can be made,” he said.
“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of four South Florida media organizations — the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Public Media.