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Tom Goldtooth of Indigenous Environmental Network says that a Green New Deal must reject corporate takeover and center indigenous and frontline communities

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DHARNA NOOR: It’s The Real News, I’m Dharna Noor.

The Green New Deal continues to capture headlines. Popularized by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York and the Sunrise Movement, the broad policy umbrella is still being shaped and the umbrella seems to be getting bigger.

Over six hundred environmental and climate justice organizations signed onto an open letter to the House of Representatives calling for a Green New Deal. The letter, released Thursday and endorsed by groups from to the Labor Network for Sustainability to the Indigenous Environmental Network, calls for “visionary measures,” like an end to all fossil fuel leasing and the transition to one hundred percent renewables by 2035, the decarbonization of transportation and massive investment in public transit, the aggressive enforcement of the Clean Air Act, a just transition led by frontline communities, and a commitment to upholding Indigenous rights.

With me to discuss this and the shaping of the Green New Deal is Tom Goldtooth. Tom is the Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network and he’s on the steering committee of Climate Justice Alliance. Both IEN and CJA Signed on to the letter. Thanks so much for coming on today, Tom.

TOM GOLDTOOTH: Thank you for the invite.

DHARNA NOOR: So you’re joining us today from DC, where you’ve been meeting with legislators on the Hill. Talk about what the response has been to this letter so far and what the conversation about this big splashy Green New Deal has been on the Hill.

TOM GOLDTOOTH: Well, it was a bit surprising to us on the interest that some of the legislators are having around an ambitious economic stimulus, you could say package, linked to climate issues. And that’s pretty much what some of the new freshmen on the Hill, Representative Cortez from New York, for an example, has taken a lead on working with this new youth movement, Sunrise Group. And we do recognize that they actually pushed this out there, the Green New Deal that created a reaction from a lot of the legislators.

And we went on to the Hill today to meet with some of the legislators. Some are familiar with Green New Deal, and many are not familiar with the letter that went out today. But it is consistent with this new buzz on the Hill of this very progressive movement that’s emerging that’s recognizing our frontline communities, including our frontline communities in Indian Country, that we’re there, we’re ready to have a strong part in this new initiative. And so, that’s what we talked about today.

DHARNA NOOR: And to go back to the letter itself, some 626 groups in all signed onto it, but the groups are pretty varied. So talk about how this particular set of demands came to be.

TOM GOLDTOOTH: Well, right. And our network, Indigenous Environmental Network, became involved as we worked with some of these groups. And we’ve been working as IEN and also our allies within Climate Justice Alliance on building alignment and building equity with a lot of the green groups. So we’re familiar with some of the main groups that have been behind the initial drafting of this letter. Of course, we really had to assert ourselves on different issues that are very dear to us on seeking real solutions to mitigate climate change. So there was a lot of input back and forth, but one of the things that we definitely have strong positions in standing together in solidarity is on the need to reduce our greenhouse gases, our carbon dioxide, our emissions sooner than 2050.

So that’s why we signed onto this, to support a hundred percent transition to a new economy that’s not reliant on fossil fuels, and also looking at the different mechanisms on how do we fund this, how do we fund it with public monies for an example, and not allowing corporate takeover. These are very critical issues that we put on the table from our communities because we’ve seen a lot of contradictions around climate legislation over the decades that we’ve been active. One of the areas that we’ve been pushing for is our rejection of a carbon market system as a solution. That includes cap and trade, carbon offsets and even carbon tax.

DHARNA NOOR: Yeah, and that’s something that CJA has been very critical of, is the inclusion of those sort of market-based solutions in climate policy. And I was really interested to see that the letter doesn’t call for carbon capture and storage or a carbon tax. Talk a little bit more about why those kinds of market-based solutions don’t have a place in a platform like this.

TOM GOLDTOOTH: Well, the platform did not go as far as rejecting a carbon tax. We did reach consensus that there was an opposition to carbon markets related specifically to carbon trading and carbon offsets. There are still some green groups who are signatory to this that are still keeping the door open to carbon tax, carbon dividends, carbon fees. But we stand united on the opposition, for an example, California has a very aggressive cap and trade program, carbon offset program that they’re operating domestically here in the U.S. and internationally. And one thing about carbon markets, it’s not about reducing emissions at source, and we try to stress that. We have released a report called Carbon Pricing: A Critical Perspective, released by IEN and Climate Justice Alliance, that has been very, very useful to a lot of the Green Movement, who tell us, “Hey, we did not understand it, but by reading the report, we stand with you.”

The techno fixes are very critical as well. In our analysis, it’s part of the false solutions. Carbon capture and storage, for an example, the technology is still being tested out there, concerns around leakage, and a lot of the private sector, the polluters, will benefit now, only to find out that there’s complications, and really justifying the offset regimes that happen in this scenario to where carbon capture and storage just isn’t working. Carbon capture use and storage and these other areas are very critical concerns with us. We have formed solidarity with other entities that have been addressing this issue as well. And so, we’re very thankful to all the other green groups, the six hundred and twenty some signatures, that they stand with us in looking for real solutions.

DHARNA NOOR: But what’s your response to some people who might say, “Oh, well market-based solutions are the only way that we can usher in change, because right now in a capitalist system, the markets have the power and that’s the only way that we can really usher in an end to climate change or a fight against climate change.” What do you say to people who are critical of the idea that we need such bold and radical action?

TOM GOLDTOOTH: Well, one thing, I’ve talked to a lot of those folks. I’ve been in many debates, not only here in the United States, but also globally within the UN climate negotiations. Many of them do not know the structure of the market system that we’re talking about, because even saying it has nothing to do about the reduction of emissions at source. they don’t know that the money that’s involved with offset and trading to fund these offset programs to put into the conservation of trees in the Global South, where carbon credits are very cheap, that money comes from the polluters of the North.

Chevron, for an example, in Richmond California can continue to pollute, and communities address it and say, “How come you’re not cutting back on your emissions?” And they say, “Well, you don’t understand, we’re offsetting our pollution.” “And how are you doing that?” They say, “We’re buying carbon credits in the Amazon to protect the trees.” And it’s a trading mechanism that really, in our eyes and our analysis, could really end up being a Ponzi scam. It’s part of climate disaster capitalism. So it really makes us address these issues around new forms of economics, for an example, energy policy, climate policy. We have to really look seriously at this issue from a different lens that’s community based.

And as Native American, as Indigenous peoples, we have been putting forward this new perspective of a new legal paradigm that’s needed that sees Mother Earth not from a resource, like capitalism looks at Mother Earth, as a living entity that recognizes the territorial integrity of Mother Earth, the Earth Jurisprudence, that the Earth and even the air and the water have rights. So these are certain things that, as Indigenous peoples, we’re bringing to the table, is a special relationship that humanity has to the sacredness of Mother Earth. So these are different concepts that we have been lifting up and that are very much needed as Americans, as humanity throughout the world, are looking for real answers to address this climate crisis.

DHARNA NOOR: You also mentioned the need to address funding. And of course, there’s many things in this plan, massive investment in public transit, the transition to one hundred percent renewables, that will take a lot of money. And some people, like members of Code Pink who are also signed on to the letter, have called for the Green New Deal to fight militarism and to defund the military, because the Pentagon is the world’s number one polluter, number one consumer of fossil fuels. Is that how you fund the Green New Deal? How do we get the money for this, if not from other parts of the government?

TOM GOLDTOOTH: It’s an important question, and it’s something that–we’re ready to have that discussion and that debate within our allies within the green groups. How are we going to propose initiatives that will create funding for this transition that has to be just? And it goes deeper than hooking up our communities with caulking guns for weatherization. It’s deeper than that. And we do advocate for weatherization programs, energy efficiency initiatives, not only in our urban and rural areas and People of Color communities, but also with our federally recognized tribes, very important that our tribes are a part of this.

Funding is a very important discussion, and that’s why we’re looking at how do we create public funding mechanisms with banks and co-ops and really preventing this corporate takeover that we’ve seen too many times. And it’s also looking at different initiatives. One example, all the tax loopholes that currently exist with oil and gas industry. If we cut that off, that’s about two point one, two point two billion dollars that we have available for just transition in this initiative. If we look at taxing the polluters outside of a market system, outside of a trading system, if we look at taxing the wealth and the people with money, there’s different mechanisms, different ways that we can look at creating money, cutting back the subsidies that the United States provides for fossil fuel development.

So that’s what we’re willing to look at. And as part of Climate Justice Alliance, we are developing just transition initiatives involving our own co-ops, our own regenerative loan programs around reinvestment within our power. So we’re doing that along with our Indigenous Environmental Network and many of our partners in this Just Transition initiative.

DHARNA NOOR: And lastly, I guess, this all comes after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with the support of the Sunrise Movement, called for the creation of a Select Committee on the Green New Deal. But instead, of course, House Speaker Pelosi created the Select Committee on Climate Change that doesn’t have subpoena power, doesn’t exclude representatives who take fossil fuel money. How much of a challenge has that posed to the legislative aspect of this Green New Deal to the House’s ability to actually act on any this?

TOM GOLDTOOTH: It’s a good question that we have to really look at the experience of our folks that have been here on the Hill and to help our freshmen legislators. And we must not underestimate this power that has been created with our youth, with the Sunrise Movement, and that’s growing. We are meeting with them as Climate Justice Alliance, as IEN. The strategy around the mechanisms for creating these committees is very critical, and we will be there and involved with helping to be part of those decisions and standing behind the legislators that are open and listening to our perspectives.

DHARNA NOOR: All right. Well, Tom, I know that you have a happy hour to get to with CJA in DC, so thank you so much. And as this Green New Deal continues to broaden and take shape and shift, we’d love to talk to you again. So please come back, and thank you.

TOM GOLDTOOTH: Yes, thank you.

DHARNA NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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Dharna Noor is a staff writer at Earther, Gizmodo's climate vertical.