Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (center) speaks on the Green New Deal with Senator Ed Markey (right) in front of the Capitol Building in February 2019. (Photo by ‘Senate Democrats’ via Wikimedia Commons.)
SF State could have been the first higher education institution to take a stance on the controversial climate change legislation known as the Green New Deal, but missed its chance when the bill died in the Senate on March 26.
The Environmental Resource Center drafted a resolution passed by the Facilities and Services Committee on March 20, which called upon the Associated Students to recognize climate change as a threat to all students. It asked the student body to join coalition organizations that supported the tentative Green New Deal to help make it a reality in Congress.
The bill was rejected on March 26 before AS could vote on the resolution. Despite the legislation’s failure, the ERC nevertheless opened a dialogue with students about the ongoing issue of climate change.
According to last year’s report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, humans are responsible for a global temperature increase of approximately 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. The report suggests we are already seeing disastrous effects of this warming in the form of extreme temperatures, precipitation and drought.
The Green New Deal, introduced by New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, attempted to address IPCC findings, urging the federal government to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The bill outlined a series of audacious goals to make net-zero emissions a reality, including upgrading existing industries in the U.S. to be more eco-friendly and expanding the amount of renewable power options across the country. Congress would also be responsible for addressing climate change in all new infrastructure bills.
At a local level, the Green New Deal sought to funnel money for climate disaster prevention to communities.
ERC President Monica DiLullo supported the Green New Deal and maintains a broader mission of getting other higher education institutions to recognize the importance of climate change legislation for students in particular.
ERC office assistant Harry Koepenick said low-income students are hit hardest by the consequences of climate change.
“We see higher rates of asthma, higher rates of respiratory illness in low-income communities of color because they’re likely closer to these fossil fuel extraction sites,” Koepenick said.
If the resolution passed, the AS President Nathan Jones would have sent a letter to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi, a veteran climate change advocate now serving her 31st year in Congress, previously dismissed freshman Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal as one of many dreams in a pool of environmental policy solutions.
“[Pelosi] sort of holds all the power,” Koepenick said, “and it just so happens that she represents our district.”
The ERC’s resolution aimed to speak on behalf of all SF State students. Members collected over 200 signatures backing the initiative in a single day.
Applied math major Bhavna Singh was among the supporters who signed the petition.
“The environment isn’t just an individual problem,” Singh said. “If we don’t care about the environment, then who will?”
The ERC had a passionate action plan, but the all-encompassing language of the proposal didn’t reflect opposing student views.
“It’s not necessarily a political statement at all,” Koepenick said. “It’s just trying to get them to recognize the health and safety impacts on students here at San Francisco State.”
Daniel Yeluashvili, a fourth-year political science major said he was not in favor of the Green New Deal and thinks Ocasio-Cortez might be missing the mark.
“I think it’s a good idea in theory,” said Yeluashvili, “but in practice, not only does it not help prevent climate change, but it actively exacerbates the issue.”
Yeluashvili said a number of climate change prevention strategies, such as the Paris Agreement and most recently the rejected Green New Deal, focus solely on reducing carbon emissions, but fail to address the removal of existing emissions.
“Nobody seems to be talking about the necessity of carbon-capture technologies,” Yeluashvili said. A number of carbon-capture systems are already in place—mainly in the U.S.—allowing the separation of CO2 from other gasses making up exhausts that result from power and manufacturing plants. Once isolated from the mixture, carbon is stored and therefore kept out of the air.
According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, carbon capture has the potential to reduce carbon emissions globally by 14 percent.
SF State environmental studies associate professor Glenn Fieldman said none of the strategies for carbon capture come close to catching up with the damage we have done and continue to do to the environment. Fieldman said immediately reducing our carbon footprint should be a priority.
“Everything that we are seeing indicates that we have to bring down emissions as soon as we possibly can,” Fieldman said. “One of the most important things we can do is get serious about building public transit.”
More than 40 percent of California’s emissions stem from transportation methods, according to Fieldman.
Fieldman said the Green New Deal had the potential to both create and destroy jobs.
The deal vaguely addressed workers in the fossil fuel industry by assuring a “fair and just transition for all communities and workers,” and the creation of “high-quality union jobs.”
While it did not describe how exactly U.S. workers employed in such industries would be affected, the bill hoped to guarantee benefits, stable wages and advancement opportunities for those “affected by the transition.”
The Green New Deal goal outline provided an emphasis on hiring and training workers locally, as well as funding improved green infrastructure.
Fieldman said, despite potential problems and uncertainty, she was delighted that Ocasio-Cortez and SF State students took action.
“[Ocasio-Cortez] is the first person in Congress to step up to face the issue of climate change,” Fieldman said. “I think she’s on the right track.”
The Senate thought otherwise. The resolution was rejected 57-0 with 43 Democrats voting “present,” leaving an opening for a new and perhaps simpler climate plan down the line.