There was a cheese plate, cookies, drinks and a booth dedicated to the new future of American energy.
Welcome to a discussion on the Green New Deal.
On Wednesday in room 111 in the arbor building at Illinois Central College in Peoria, close to a full auditorium gathered for a panel of area speakers, all slated to discuss America’s climate future through the lens of the lofty resolution.
The event was billed as the Green New Deal Town Hall and the keynote speaker – though not by specific designation – was Dr. Don Wuebbles.
Wuebbles is a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Illinois, and was the climate science adviser to President Barack Obama.
His work has received global recognition: he is a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize recipient for his work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and he participated in the fourth US National Climate Assessment, completed in 2018.
Wuebbles began with his work on the climate assessment.
The first slide of his PowerPoint featured the cover image of the assessment, a photograph of Glacier National Park ablaze.
Wuebbles himself has a unique connection to the park, it’s the site of he and his wife’s 40th wedding anniversary trip.
“She always wanted to see the glaciers before they disappeared, and I figured I better not wait,” said Wuebbles.
If Wuebbles wanted to set the stakes early on in his presentation, the audible gasps in the auditorium should have provided confirmation that he did just that.
As he continued, he detailed what he referred to as the bottom line of the science: severe weather is more intense, sea levels are rising, both of those things will continue, and it is largely happening because of human activities.
Wuebbles points to extreme weather as a chief concern for people across the country, but also at home in the Midwest. He references what NOAA considers to be billion dollar disasters as examples of how to measure extreme weather. So far in 2019 there have been two examples, and Wuebbles expects more soon.
“We’ll probably have a series of billion dollar events associated with this series of tornadoes that happened in the last week,” said Wuebbles.
Specific weather patterns that could affect the Midwest, according to Wuebbles presentation, are flooding and tornado activity. The first billion dollar event of this year was the bomb cyclone that brought blizzard conditions and flooding to the Midwest in March.
He added that these events are growing in frequency and that they have already cost the American taxpayer over $1.5 trillion over the last 38 years.
Wuebbles did provide three options for movement forward: mitigation, adaptation and suffering.
“Right now we’re doing all three,” said Wuebbles. “This is all pretty depressing, and I realize that.”
There are rumblings of sweeping policy change that brought all of these people together.
If the Green New Deal is the bright light at the end of the tunnel for its supporters, Paul Campion was its equivalent on Wednesday.
Representing the Sunrise Movement – a nonprofit organization with hubs in Chicago, Urbana and “Midstate”, Ill. that bills itself as a youth movement aimed at stopping climate change – Campion spoke with a heightened, more whimsical energy than Wuebbles; the Energizer Bunny of the Illinois Green New Deal movement.
He highlighted two simple goals of the Sunrise Movement: to provide good jobs and a good life for all.
His talking points were whimsical, detailing cities with more connected communities and resources that could be utilized by everyone like daycare centers and green spaces built by the world’s most renowned architects. Oh yeah, and infrastructure updates and ideas to curb emissions and end the use of fossil fuels.
“Some people may say this vision is too big, that we should just focus solely on reducing carbon emissions, but we say their vision is too small,” said Campion.
The divide in politicians who support the Green New Deal has been stark. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey presented the resolution in February, and there are four Illinois House co-sponsors in Chuy Garcia (IL-04), Mike Quigley (IL-05), Danny K. Davis (IL-07), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09).
However, the Green New Deal does have its detractors.
Locally, the idea is split down the party line, and Tazewell County GOP Chairman Jim Rule is not a fan.
“The Green New Deal would have catastrophic effects on the United States,” said Rule. “While these initiatives might look attractive on the surface, they would cause immense harm to the American taxpayer, would drastically increase our dependence on foreign energy and at the same time would destroy jobs and severely weaken the nation’s economy.”
Alternatively, Brittany Miller, the Chair of the Tazewell County Democrats, supports the ideas the resolution put forth.
“The Green New Deal is broad and lofty, and what is exciting is that it has legislators talking about the issues of climate change and economic security, which do, and will continue to, impact the lives of Tazewell County families,” said Miller.
There is nothing concrete about the Green New Deal when it comes to policy. At its current state, the package of ideas is simply that.
In Illinois, however, there is a bill in both the House and the Senate that incorporates elements of the Green New Deal.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act, according to a fact sheet from the Sierra Club, would ramp up renewable energy development in Illinois.
The sheet states the bill would provide a boost to the economy in the way of $30 billion in new private investment in the state, and would put Illinois on a path to be fully powered by renewable energy by 2050.
A March article on Vox points to CEJA as an opportunity to actually enact some of the talking points that the Green New Deal has to offer at the state level.
In the article, Chief of Staff for State Rep. Ann Williams said, “This bill is far more comprehensive (than the Green New Deal) and positions Illinois as a leader in the clean energy economy.”
If that’s true and the bill is passed, Illinois could position itself as a reference point – or leader – in the call for a Green New Deal, in which case, there will almost certainly need to be more cookies at the next town hall.