There's this book I'm reading right now called The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. It's about how the next big extinction event in the Earth's history is currently underway and it's basically all our fault. You know, normal stuff.
“To argue that the current extinction event could be averted if people just cared more and were willing to make more sacrifices is not wrong, exactly; still," Kolbert writes, "it misses the point. It doesn’t much matter whether people care or don’t care. What matters is that people change the world."
Seattle City Council passed a Green New Deal resolution last week. It's a lengthy package of commitments that mirrors the national Green New Deal put forward by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It is not legally binding. It's a set of action items that the council will act on in the future. But, that future council could have four to seven different members depending on how November's city election shakes out. Why pass this resolution now with a soon-to-be majority-lame-duck council?
"There’s likely going to be a lot of turnover on the council," Jess Wallach, an organizer with 350 Seattle, one of the groups behind the Seattle Green New Deal, said. "There’s still a few months to get meaningful work done" including making the budget which will be a "meaningful moment to shape what the council does next year."
Shaun Scott, a candidate for City Council in District 4, brought the Green New Deal to a local level back in March and started running his campaign on achieving one for Seattle. He stressed how important the passage of this resolution was because "winning slowly on climate justice is the same thing as losing" and "our chances of reaching the point of where we can still reverse the impacts of climate change are dwindling."
The importance of this resolution is that it's the first step.
Since Kolbert's book came out in 2014, it's been widely publicized and universally confirmed that there are nearly 1 million species now at risk of extinction. Iceland just held a funeral for the first glacier lost to climate change. Wildfires are raging out of control in Alaska and Siberia. New York flooded for a second this summer, the Midwest is probably still underwater.
The last major extinction event (the one that happened before the one we're living in, according to Kolbert) was the thing that killed the dinosaurs. The asteroid. In The Sixth Extinction, Kolbert described mankind as the asteroid this time around.
“The current extinction has its own novel cause: not an asteroid or a massive volcanic eruption but 'one weedy species,'" Kolbert wrote. The 'weedy species' being us. This is the way that people "change the world." It's not necessarily a good change. That "change" can, and does, go either way.
In order to effect a change of the positive variety, we'll have to become more focused on sustainability.
But are we doing that? Nationally? Not much. Cities are paving the way for this change. With the passage of the Green New Deal resolution, Seattle has joined the likes of New York and Los Angeles with its own sustainable climate policy.
The Green New Deal has a lengthy list of goals. There's a "commitment of meeting a goal of zero climate pollution by 2030 which is a 20-year shift," Wallach said. The current goal has Seattle getting to carbon neutrality by 2050. Among other things, the Green New Deal also calls for free public transit, heating new buildings with electricity and not gas, and going electric with rideshare vehicles.
It will take work, time, and, most importantly, funding, to pull the Green New Deal together and make its commitments realities. Passing it will also make a huge difference. While no concrete financing plan has been laid out, there's talk of using “progressive revenue sources” and public funds.
Yet, we're in the midst of a heated election that has pitted more-conservative corporate candidates against progressive grassroots candidates. The public could determine the fate of Green New Deal policies.
"With O'Brien leaving city council we need candidates in there working on filling that void and making sure somebody's there who are leading and showing vision and political action on climate justice," Scott said.
Scott's primary race was thick with other progressive candidates. "Cathy Tuttle and Emily Myers reiterated and iterated the importance of having a Seattle Green New Deal," Scott said of his competition, Tuttle the urbanist, and Myers the labor-focused Ph.D. candidate. "They had climate justice platforms that made us shift in our seats a bit and they added a lot to that conversation."
Scott added that that couldn't be said for every candidate in his race. "I don’t know where Alex stands for a Green New Deal," Scott said about Alex Pedersen, the former aid for former-Council Member Tim Burgess and Scott's competition in the general election. "I haven’t heard him talk about it at candidate forums and he skipped the MASS forum" where the candidates discussed a Green New Deal specifically.
"That doesn’t send great signals that if I were to lose in November that we could get that across the finish line," Scott said. Alex Pedersen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For Wallach, a potential political shift on the council shouldn't matter in the long run.
"We’re running a community-driven campaign for a Green New Deal in a moment when Seattle is already failing to meet its climate commitments," Wallach said. "I don’t think it’s so much a matter of progressive vs. conservative candidates."
Seattle's Green New Deal is an opportunity to make broad swaths of change in our city but also in a lead-by-example sort of way. As it stands now, it's a pledge and promise to achieve these goals. We'll have to see what happens to that as the current city council finishes out their term and the new members are elected.
"There's a need for leadership and not just hoping that we can make incremental changes here or there and call it good," Scott said.