Lyndon Haviland: Our health depends on the passage of a Green New Deal

February 13, 2019 | Press Releases & Announcements, SPH in the News

In an op-ed in The Hill, CUNY SPH Distinguished Scholar and Foundation Board Chair Lyndon Haviland urges lawmakers to create and pass a feasible plan to address climate change.

Lyndon Haviland

Lyndon Haviland

Our health depends on the passage of an achievable Green New Deal
By Lyndon Haviland, Opinion Contributor

The Green New Deal is all the rage in Congress, capturing our imaginations about new jobs, new industries and a cleaner energy future for the nation.

But the only way any deal will get done is if lawmakers don’t lose sight of the serious human health consequences of inaction. They must work together, show leadership and pass a realistic plan that may not please everyone, but will put our nation on a constructive path toward addressing the increasing health threat posed by climate change.

The Green New Deal has the potential to boost jobs, drive our economy and promote important environmental programs. Presidential seekers, ranging from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former Mayor Michael Bloomberg (D) and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Corey Booker (D-N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have signaled interest in pursuing a plan aimed at achieving these lofty goals.

But Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is in the driver’s seat. Her proposal seeks to derive 100 percent of the country’s electricity from “clean” sources with a federal jobs guarantee. Protesters with the Sunrise Movement stormed Rep Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif) office late last year demanding support for Ocasio-Cortez’s approach. But some, such as Michael Bloomberg, have expressed public concern over “pie in the sky” proposals that will “never” have a chance of passing.

Long before Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” became the most successful economic stimulus initiative in American history, it received enormous criticism when it was introduced. Opponents from the left felt it didn’t go far enough to nationalize certain industries, such as the banks. Opponents from the right thought it was too heavy handed, where the government was sticking its neck into places it didn’t belong.

It didn’t dissuade him. Putting people back to work was too important, so he found ways to compromise with his critics. He didn’t try to accommodate everyone, because it would end the New Deal’s chances of ever seeing the light of day.

It took leadership from FDR to secure support for his idea. To him, success wasn’t defined by whether it included every program his base audiences wanted. Rather, it was his ability to garner support from opposing sides for its most important elements. The “art of the deal” wasn’t a line in the sand for FDR. And he refused to allow special interests to derail it with unreasonable demands that had no chance of winning bipartisan support.

The architects of today’s Green New Deal might learn something from FDR. Today more than ever, lawmakers must find ways to compromise to ensure core programs that could do enormous good for the country don’t become casualties of constituency-driven political agendas.

Our health will suffer if a workable Green New Deal plan fails to advance soon. We must do something now. Temperatures are rising. Mosquito-borne diseases once limited to tropical regions are reaching the United States. The frequency of summer heat waves is escalating. And extreme weather patterns caused by climate change are increasingly putting lives in danger.

These facts must drive the Green New Deal debate. Lawmakers can use this moment to invest in a public health workforce that can respond to climate change. They can bring about meaningful change by working toward a solution that prioritizes the health of all humanity. This is where the conversation should be focused. What’s more, there’s a good chance lawmakers can agree on these measures.

Standing tall and fighting for what’s right on climate change is a noble mission. But when all-or-nothing proposals risk impeding the advancement of significant policies that could be a monumental step toward driving our economy, protecting the environment and creating a healthier planet for generations to come, everyone loses.

FDR took hits from every direction in order to prevail, in the end, with a plan that became the single, most important economic development program of modern time. His long-view of the political landscape made its implementation possible. And it’s what’s missing from today’s Green New Deal environment.

Congress must lead on this issue and advance a Green New Deal that has a chance of winning broad based support. It will require lawmakers to adopt a more moderate approach, and have the courage to put country over constituency and support a plan that’s realistically achievable.

Because if it doesn’t happen, a Green New Deal to address climate change’s growing impact on human health is already D.O.A.

Lyndon Haviland DrPh, MPH, is a distinguished scholar at the CUNY School of Health Policy & Public Health.