When I left Congress after four decades of service, my greatest regret was that we failed to address climate change. As the most pressing and critical challenge of our generation threatens species and civilization with unimaginable upheaval, our inability to legislate a federal solution is a national shame. We got as close as we ever have in 2009 when the American Clean Energy and Security Act was approved by the House of Representatives—in large part due to artful maneuvering by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But the bill never cleared the Senate or reached President Barack Obama’s desk for signature.
A decade later, I’m encouraged that young progressives are joining with many of my longtime colleagues in Congress to renew the fight against climate change. Their call for a Green New Deal is smart, politically and substantively.
The frame is right—both economic and historic—and gets to the heart of what we were trying to do a decade ago: use the mechanisms of government to build a cleaner economy. A few small reforms won’t limit the rise of global temperatures; we need a massive movement on multiple fronts.
By definition, a Green New Deal must place green jobs and transformative innovation at its core. Policy makers will need to look at the industries that drove the 20th-century economy and reshape them for the 21st. They must show that sustainability is not just the right thing to do for the fate of our planet, but an unparalleled opportunity to ensure the prosperity of future generations. That is a hopeful message in a time when hope can sometimes feel out of reach.