Low-Tech Solutions are a High Priority for the Green New Deal

Photo courtesy of jerry monkman/ecophotography

Photo courtesy of jerry monkman/ecophotography

Last month’s rollout of the Green New Deal has been a welcome and urgent invitation to think about solutions to the scale of the climate and economic challenges we face. The Green New Deal is, right now, an idea: it’s a fourteen-page, non-binding legislative resolution.  But the Green New Deal is also many ideas being proposed and argued for by activists, politicians, journalists, and so many others.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, at the press conference announcing the Green New Deal resolution, acknowledged this rush of ideas—some complementary and some divergent—that has followed the initial proposal: “When people say, what about this or what about that, the answer isn’t, ‘This is why it isn’t in here,’ the answer is, ‘That is part of the solution, too.”[1]

Much of what I’ve read about the Green New Deal(s) has been about the expansion of clean technology, renewable energy, and electrification. Indeed, a foundational premise for the Green New Deal resolution is that the United States has the advanced technological capacity to transform our energy and economic systems. 

Among the chorus of voices asking, “What about this,” my ears have perked to those asserting the essential roles that forests and land-based action must play in meeting the dual goals achieving net-zero carbon emissions and creating an economy that works for everyone. Jad Daley, president of the conservation organization American Forests, describes effective forest management as playing both “carbon-offense,” through tree planting to increase carbon storage, and “carbon-defense,” through strategic action to prevent wildfires and contain pests and disease.

These are not brand new, high-tech solutions to climate problems— reforestation was a major part of the work of the Civilian Conservation Core and the original New Deal.[2] It is work we still need, all across the country: “Scaling up this hands-on work,” Daley says, “guided by the latest climate science, can create a huge wave of green jobs that can’t be computerized or outsourced, in urban forests and rural landscapes alike.”[3]

And we can find this work in the language of the Green New Deal resolution. I encourage you to read the text, to see what’s there and what’s missing and to see where you find yourself and your community. The resolution lists a series of more specific goals and projects to achieve the over-arching aims of the Green New Deal. Many of these goals resonate with the work of the High Meadows Fund, but this item speaks directly to Daley’s point:

“(J) removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and reducing pollution by restoring natural ecosystems through proven low-tech solutions that increase soil carbon storage, such as land preservation and afforestation;”[4]

Other goals include supporting sustainable farming to increase soil health and building resilience to extreme weather through community-defined projects. I see “proven low-tech solutions” to the challenges of climate change in the efforts of many of our grantees, including the watershed organizations, farmer associations, and forestry networks we support. While the debate around the Green New Deal continues, and as we ponder the feasibility of a clean technology transformation, it’s exciting to support work that’s happening right now on Vermont’s farms and in our forests. In your own conversations about the Green New Deal, we encourage you to listen and speak up for how land-based, hands-on work fits into the plan’s overall vision for the future. 

Beyond advancing clean technology and beyond scaling up low-tech solutions, the Green New Deal also calls for the requirements of a livable and just economy, including good wages, safe working conditions, and other protections for workers. Some have suggested these parts of the plan are extraneous. The observations we’ve gathered from our partners like the Northern Forest Center, Rural Vermont, and the Vermont Council on Rural Development suggest otherwise: you can’t have an explosion of land-based, green jobs without reliable healthcare, quality housing, and communities where people feel in touch with their neighbors. This is part of the solution, too.    

[1] https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/with-the-green-new-deal-democrats-present-a-radical-proposition-for-combatting-climate-change

[2] https://medium.com/@AmericanForests/lets-reforest-america-to-act-on-climate-1c46ae54acb1

[3] https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/429040-forests-must-stand-tall-in-any-green-new-deal#.XGcPk6n9eWg.twitter

[4] https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/5729033/Green-New-Deal-FINAL.pdf

Other reading: Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society, emphasizes the role of public lands in climate action.