Making the Green New Deal (GND) a legislative reality remains a daunting challenge, but a few Maine politicians are certainly trying. On Thursday night, State Representative Chloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro), along with Representative of the Houlton Band of Maliseets Henry Bear and 2018 Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Zak Ringelstein, came to Bowdoin to speak about the bill currently in the Maine legislature which would establish a task force to develop a GND for Maine.
In a town hall-style discussion sponsored by Bowdoin Climate Action (BCA) and the Sierra Club of Maine, Maxmin, Ringelstein and Bear joined Associate Professor of Biology David Carlon and Haley Maurice ’20, the leader of BCA, on a panel to answer questions about what a state-level GND would mean for the environment and for the residents of Maine. About 50 students and area residents attended, packing the Beam Classroom of the Visual Arts Center.
“The Green New Deal is based on the belief that we need to not just solve the climate change, but to solve our massive inequity problems at the same time,” said Ringelstein.
Maxmin is the lead sponsor of the state GND initiative, which has meant collaborating with union leaders, farmers, small business owners and leaders of indigenous groups. Her bill was endorsed by the Maine AFL-CIO earlier this week—the first GND bill in the nation to be endorsed by an AFL-CIO group.
Both Maurice and Carlon emphasized the urgency of taking action. Maurice argued that the GND is the first proposal in her lifetime to truly match the scale of the climate crisis, making it an incredibly unique and powerful tool. But in order for the bill to become a reality, both Americans and their politicians must understand this urgency.
While the proposal of the GND is often framed in politics as abstract and idealistic, its implications—such as its potential to give voice to the most marginalized communities—are quite tangible. Communities with the fewest resources will be, and already are, most impacted by climate change. Ultimately, the costs of climate change will outweigh any short term profits that come from avoiding mitigating change.
“Not taking action would lead the U.S. economy to decrease by 10 percent,” said Maurice. “Climate change is going to be the greatest cost our system has ever faced if we don’t deal with it.”
Maxmin’s bill is less comprehensive than the bill that many envision at a federal level. She explained that her focus, when drafting the bill, was creating economic opportunities for rural and working communities in Maine.
“This bill does not include everything,” she said.
It doesn’t, for instance, include provisions for agriculture or transportation. For her, representing the voices of her community has taken priority over some of the more radical demands mentioned in discussions about the GND. She acknowledged that it’s important to draft a bill with widespread local support in order for it to be considered for passage.
As an indigenous leader who has been trained by the federal government in climate change adaptation planning, Bear has a unique and informed perspective on the environmental history of Maine and the challenges of organizing an effective response to the climate crisis.
“I’m worried that the culture that we have here, the fossil fuel culture, will resist because their jobs and their tax incomes rely upon the current economic order,” he said. He added that creating new jobs in renewable energy industries will be of paramount importance, arguing that climate justice and economic justice are inextricably linked.
As the panelists answered the final questions, members of the audience wrote the policies they hoped would be included in a Maine GND on sticky notes, which they then read out loud. Campaign finance reform, empowerment of labor unions and education about climate change ranked among the most popular. Ringelstein emphasized that input from constituents is the most important consideration when writing the Green New Deal.
“We have a chance to write together,” he said.