What it Takes to Go Bold–by Iyla Shornstein

The Beals Team Courtesy of Alex Petraglia

Election season has officially peaked, and with 7 candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in NYS District 19, voters are finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between the candidates’ various platforms. As a self-declared policy wonk, I think the differences are clear. However, I am also deeply biased and completely enmeshed in my own candidate’s campaign. It has therefore become my job (along with candidate Jeff Beals and my colleagues) to try and distinguish our campaign as best we can.

One way in which I think we have been successful has been the development of a bold and unique environmental agenda. Our campaign is calling for FDR-inspired legislation to enact a Green New Deal. This would essentially call for a massive infrastructure and energy investment by the federal government that would exclusively utilize green infrastructure technology. Additionally, we are calling for a complete moratorium on fossil fuel projects.

While this may sound like classic progressive environmental rhetoric, it’s the subtleties that matter. Learning to decipher these subtleties seems to fall into the “skills used and gained” category. My CEP-honed critical thinking skills have encouraged me to look beyond fancy environmental buzzwords and examine more closely the well-oiled sheen of a heavily-consulted, carefully-constructed environmental agenda that upon closer inspection is nothing more than a smokescreen for corporate profits and donor preferences.

 

The Fallacy of the “Environmental Platform”

For much of this campaign, I was content knowing that even if my candidate was not victorious, our opponents were like-minded enough in their approach to environmental policy. However, after a year spent on the campaign trail listening, studying and reading the positions of the other candidates, I feel differently.

The subtle differences between the candidates’ platforms are symbolic of the struggle at the federal level to determine what kind of legislative action needs to be taken in order to get serious about combating climate change. How bold do we need to be versus how bold can we be as Democrats?

‘D’ is not synonymous with environmentalist — at least not by my standards. Moving “towards” a fossil free future is not the same thing as a moratorium on fossil fuel projects. “Banning” fracking in NYS doesn’t mean reduced natural gas usage by NYS residents (we’ve actually increased our imports since the ban). A “carbon tax” is not a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card to the true cost of climate-induced suffering that will be particularly profound in our community.

 

Town of Ulster Residents at a Glidepath Meeting

How to be Bold in the Face of a Wealthy Donor Class

Putting forth a bold environmental platform means saying ‘no’ to a well-fed donor class, who would prefer to see a more gradual approach to lessening our carbon consumption. Jeff has witnessed first-hand the conflict born from climate change in the Middle East and I’m in graduate school for environmental policy. Therefore, the decision to take such a dramatic position on the environment was not a difficult one for us to make — even if it meant less interest in our campaign from mainstream Democratic donors.

The two main facets to our environmental platform (Green New Deal and the OFF Fossil Fuels Pledge) were born from the decision to be bold on this issue.

 

A Green New Deal

The idea behind a Green New Deal is as simple as it sounds: a contemporary economic stimulus package that invests in green infrastructure technology and renewable energy. This interdisciplinary approach is reflective of priorities put forth by the UN and ICLEI and embraces current job growth trends that show wind and solar technicians as the top two fastest growing jobs. This week, our campaign decided to go one step further and call for a Universal Jobs Guarantee with a focus on renewable energy infrastructure.

Our campaign is the only campaign calling for such a bold solution that would effectively alleviate the stranglehold of corporate influence by the fossil fuel sector on our politics, and guarantee jobs for all Americans.

 

A Moratorium on Fossil Fuels

Our campaign made the decision for Jeff to take the OFF Fossil Fuels Pledge — legislation introduced by Tusli Gabbard to oppose any project that would expand fossil fuel production and its use or transport. This is particularly relevant for NYS and for our district as two natural gas projects are being proposed and built (Glidepath and Cricket Valley, respectively). Our campaign has been the only campaign to take a specific position against these projects.

 

Policy Pride

Helping the campaign craft a bold and aggressive platform was one of my proudest moments at this job. Knowing that our campaign is embracing the most dramatic action on climate change reassures me that I’m supporting a candidate who reflects my values and also listens to my ‘expertise’ on these specific issues. Asserting my voice in these early discussions was very much a result of the skills I developed at Bard. CEP honed my critical thinking skills in such a way as to boost my confidence and elevate my voice.

About iylashornstein

Iyla Shornstein is a dual-degree MS/MBA candidate at the Center for Environmental Policy at Bard College. She has a specific interest in sustainable agriculture and agricultural climate change adaptation.