Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal is radical. It is, however, not optional. Why?
Because it’s impossible for a conservative approach to handle climate change.
It gives me no pleasure to say that. I don’t say that sneeringly, or with smug ego. I say it dispassionately, as an objective fact, based on what “conservative” means in today’s America.
This is in no way a screed against conservatism. Conservative philosophy and values have a meaningful place in our culture and politics. In fact, I’ll go even further: a conservative approach could have avoided this problem. To be conservative is to husband resources, to safeguard things in limited supply. It’s conservative to recognize that some things are precious and irreplaceable. If we had preserved the atmosphere for the past thirty years (that’s at least how long we’ve known this problem existed, and we can go back even earlier) none of this would be happening now. If we had actually been conservative, today’s radical proposals wouldn’t make any sense.
But that’s not what we did. We were liberal with our consumption. We were excessive with our use of energy. Our leaders ignored decades of warnings from the scientific community. We neither held them accountable nor replaced them with people who took the emergency seriously. Instead, we continued seeking our short term pleasures and short term benefits. Now the bill has come due.
It's like exercise. Exercise is valuable, helpful, and essential. You can't reach your full potential without some exercise. It's extremely important. All hail exercise.
But climate change is a cancer. If you have cancer, you simply cannot exercise your way out of it. That doesn’t mean exercise isn’t a good thing - it is. If we’d exercised for 40 years, we probably wouldn’t have gotten cancer in the first place. But now we are where we are. You can't cure cancer by lifting weights. You can't shrink your tumors by doing pull-ups.
You have to do difficult and disruptive things to cure cancer. You have to take drugs that make you throw up. You have to flood your body with radiation. You have to grab a knife and carve out the parts that will kill you. These things are painful, and expensive, and no one wants to do them. But none of that matters because those things stop the cancer.
It’s the same with climate change. Under normal circumstances, radical proposals like AOC’s wouldn’t be necessary. But that is not what we’re facing. Today, what we face is so big, and so bad, that playing it safe is indistinguishable to doing nothing.
It makes sense why people with a conservative philosophy, a small government, free-market philosophy, would reject all the things that need to be done. I get it. If you didn’t want to spend millions dollars on the environment twenty years ago, you sure don’t want to spend trillions of dollars now. But it doesn’t change the fact that radical steps must be taken. Moonshot-style, invasion-of-Normany-sized, Hoover-Dam-massive, Burj-Kalifa-level steps that will transform our society. The changes we need may even seem frightening. But like it or not, agree with it or not, it's simply too late to be conservative on this issue. Now, being radical is the only way to be conservative.
That doesn’t mean that conservative people can’t help fix this. Dealing with climate change is in every single human being’s interest. Even if it costs money. Even if it raises taxes. Even if we’re inconvenienced by the process. We all have to act together. Conservative people can help solve the whole thing. They absolutely can.
But when it comes to climate change, being conservative will fail.