It seems that in each election cycle we hear a familiar phrase, “this is the most important election of our lifetime.”
In 2020, it’s actually true.
The November election is both the most important election in our lifetime and a referendum on the future of our very planet. There is one group of individuals who grasp this concept, perhaps more than anyone — young people. Any politician who ignores their passion and commitment does so at their own peril.
The climate crisis is the defining issue of our time. Every other problem is linked to it. No solution to any challenge will be successful unless we address it. And young people know the basic truth: urgent action on climate change is a matter of life and death.
There is no time for compromise on this existential threat. We must pass a Green New Deal.
When Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and I introduced the Green New Deal in February 2019 it galvanized an intersectional, intergenerational movement for action. Across the country, we see progressives running for offices and winning — on their promise to enact a Green New Deal.
Compare 2020 to 2016 when not a single question was asked about climate change in the presidential debates. (Let us hope this cycle's debates will be different.) In the 2020 presidential primary, the Green New Deal was a centerpiece of Democratic presidential candidates’ platforms.
The conversation has changed radically and it is because of climate activism and support for a Green New Deal. This change has been clear in down-ballot races all the way to the presidential race -- at least for Democrats. And public polling is showing that the Green New Deal has majority support in this election cycle.
When we talk about a Green New Deal, we are not only talking about climate action — we are talking about justice. We are talking about the greatest blue-collar jobs program in a generation. We are talking about repairing the historic oppression of frontline workers and vulnerable communities, those have borne the worst burdens of the fossil fuel economy. Just as we see with the coronavirus pandemic, climate change disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color. The people dying from the virus are the same ones who desperately need environmental justice.
And when we plan for COVID-19 recovery, the Green New Deal should be central. We can and must do more than simply rebuild our economy, we must transform it into one that works for all Americans and saves the planet.
The Green New Deal will create millions of well-paying union jobs in clean energy, overhaul our transportation systems to make them climate-smart, upgrade our buildings to be energy efficient, help build a smart energy grid, and restore watersheds and natural ecosystems.
Implementing a Green New Deal would re-employ millions who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. And we can stop throwing good money after the dirty fossil fuel industry and instead invest in the workers and companies that will help us build a healthier, more resilient society.
We can and must do more than simply rebuild our economy, we must transform it into one that works for all Americans and saves the planet.
Young people know this. They know that indifference is not an option, that partial measures are a betrayal. We must look to them, listen to them. We must follow these young people and let them lead.
The conventional wisdom has always been that young people don’t vote, that young people don’t really care about what their government is doing. Today, that’s just plain wrong. This generation of young climate activists will save the world. Faith in the power of activism and optimism is not naive – rather these values are prescriptions for healing our country and our planet.
This is what the most important election of our life is all about. That is what this moment demands. The very future of our planet is on the ballot on Election Day.
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration of more than 400 news outlets committed to better coverage of the climate crisis. This Sept. 21-28 collaborative week focuses on the intersection of climate change and politics.
Ed Markey Cognoscenti contributor
U.S. Senator Ed Markey serves as chair of the Senate Climate Task Force, and on the Environment and Public Works Committee, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, the Small Business Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee. In 2019, he co-authored the Green New Deal with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.