She’s a force to be reckoned with on social media platforms, behind the microphone and among the people. Armed with dry wit, she corrects her often-misinformed, conservative antagonists, shares her vision with artful brevity and keeps young Americans engaged with tangible ideas set in an achievable framework. Every young socialist is smitten with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but now that she and Sen. Ed Markey have brought the Green New Deal to the table, aspiring and current urban planners are at an impasse.
Many of the values Ocasio-Cortez represents align with those of city planners, but, as with most infrastructural undertakings, the feasibility of the Green New Deal within its projected timeframe is unreasonably low. Nevertheless, the root is always the best place to start correcting a problem, and with issues as pressing as environmental deterioration and climate change, infrastructure is the most sensible first step.
At first glance, the resolution lays out its goals logically and systematically. It defines the current state of affairs, both socially and environmentally, proposes possible solutions and concludes with specific plans. But it overlooks very practical counterarguments that critics and confused supporters are dissecting and debating on Twitter, discussion boards and in urban planning Facebook pages.
A large portion of the Green New Deal involves reshaping buildings and transportation to increase their efficiency and reduce emissions. It overlooks more centrally environmentalist concerns like deforestation but tries to target environmental concerns that directly affect people’s daily lives, regardless of where they live. In the section regarding transportation, the resolution aims for “zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing; clean, affordable and accessible public transit; and high-speed rail.”
Net zero emissions is impossible even with current technologies. Manufacturing of any kind requires electricity, and there is not enough sustainable energy created by solar, wind and water to replace every gas-guzzling car on the street with a sustainable electric vehicle.
City dwellers constantly combat the rising costs of public transit. High-speed rail as an alternative for air travel is far from a viable reality. California has proved that building a rail network is regionally possible, but there is quite a bit of work to do before the idea for a cross-oceanic rail to replace long-distance air travel becomes a reality.
These three goals need heavy research, calculation, funding and planning to even make it to a legislative floor, and in this resolution, they fail to provide specific expansion on the resolution’s more general goals.
The resolution also fails to speak in layman’s terms, as Ocasio-Cortez does so masterfully. It does not acknowledge consumer-level automobiles as the “transportation” that needs to be eliminated. As a result, the resolution fails to recognize that most infrastructure development is automobile-oriented.
It’s not enough to build more railways. The country needs to re-lay its city grid, its housing development, its power and water systems. Insufficient budgeting always leads to an inability for federally led changes, but the funding required to reimagine every aspect of our construction would be in the trillions, close to the ballpark of the U.S. foreign debt.
Beyond poor precision of language and feasible goals, this resolution ultimately lacks a realistic acknowledgement of the time it will take to implement these initiatives. Ten years is not nearly long enough to accomplish even one of the 15 closing goals of the resolution.
Despite its shortcomings, this resolution sets the right tone for U.S. environmental policy, especially with the 2020 presidential election on the horizon and fresh voices from the last midterms calling for change. Rather than leaning in on the resolution’s flaws, urbanists should focus on ways to bring its changes to fruition and to innovate and adapt to time frames.
But most importantly, we must remember the purpose of the Green New Deal. This is a non-binding resolution. It’s not a bill, and it’s not a law. It’s merely a request for the U.S. to recommit to the values of protecting the planet and the people who live on it. And this is the attitude we need as stewards of a dying planet, whose resources we are slowly draining.
Breanna de Vera is a sophomore writing about urban planning. She is also the opinion editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Where the Sidewalk Starts,” runs Mondays.