(Tom Toles)
Editorial cartoonist

Everybody is busy these days telling Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) why her ideas on the climate crisis and the Green New Deal are too ambitious. And telling her what we need to do instead.

She can notch all of this as her first amazing victory.

One reason this is such a crucial victory is that people are talking about it at all. It had become settled wisdom that why, yes, the science on the ongoing climate catastrophe is settled, but, no, we really don’t need to talk about it particularly, let alone do anything about it. Tough political nut, that one. (No, not the other one who lives in the White House.) And because it was agreed all around that we didn’t need to talk about it, we didn’t. Now, what do you know, we are. Ocasio-Cortez, a.k.a. AOC, is the what-do-you-know that made the difference here.

Another reason this is a victory is that she has vastly broadened the debate on the subject, from miserly talk nibbling at the problem on the edges, to actually turning the discussion into one of solving the crisis. This is also known as expanding the Overton window, That is the term for what is considered reasonable debate and what isn’t. It is truly bewildering that, in a city full of think tanks, the public thinking and conversation about climate has consisted of little more than “Yes it’s worrisome, but … um …” If that. AOC called it out, loud and clear, as the imminent crisis it in fact is, and suddenly the conversation about addressing it is underway. I’ve yet to hear anybody plausibly counter her urgency on the issue or defend the lackadaisical to nonexistent action (actually we’ve been going backward under Trump) that everyone seemed altogether comfortable with and uncritical of before AOC showed up.

And still another victory is in the way she enlarged the frame to include discussion of the potential positive side to restructuring our energy economy. In Washington, we love to talk about how you can generate winners as well as losers, but so far the climate discussion has been all been about downside. There will be costs! Inconvenience! Aside from the shameful fact that tomorrow’s citizens, you know, our kids and theirs, haven’t made it onto the cost-benefit scale as potential winners if we should act responsibly now, somebody needed to shift the focus to the fact that any national undertaking of ambitious scale would produce a lot of real and immediate winners. In jobs-building, maintaining and profiting from the energy economy that we need to be transitioning to in any case.

Thank you, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Read more:

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