Policy Expert Discusses Green New Deal

Davey Sullivan ‘22

News Editor

On Monday, Feb. 17, the McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross hosted a talk in Rehm Library that is part of a series of public lectures on the topic of political paths to dealing with climate change. The talk was given by Professor Thea Riofrancos, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Providence College in Providence, RI. 

Professor Thea Riofrancos is the co-author of a recently released book on the subject, A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal, which was released in 2019. Areas of expertise of Professor Riofrancos include the studies of resource and environmental politics and social movements and protest, among others. 

At the beginning of her lecture, Professor Riofrancos discussed the goals of the Green New Deal, addressing safety and social justice. According to Riofrancos, in order to address these issues, one must understand that they are not two separate goals; they are interconnected issues. She stated that currently facing the world today, there are two major subsets of problems: crises of climate change and crises of social and economic inequality. The Green New Deal is a plan to solve both of these issues. 

Riofrancos emphasized that the climate issue is one that needs to be urgently dealt with. The scope and depth of the problem are severe, which takes the form of natural disasters, sea-level rise, and erratic warming temperatures. She notes that this problem is generally created by people with more wealth and large corporations; however,  people with less wealth and ability to deal with the problems being more heavily affected. 

On the topic of policy, Professor Riofrancos states that policy change is unlikely to come from the federal level, and it is best to rely on state and local means to bring about change. One of the key parts of the policy is starting with green and affordable public housing. She argues that there is currently wide support for change of some kind, and the cooperation of the media could bring about more support for the Green New Deal. The policy trifecta of the Green New Deal is to slash emissions, slash inequality, and create jobs. Overall, the policy is feasible, and Professor Riofrancos is optimistic about social mobilization to bring about this change. The Green New Deal is visionary, yet complete. 

Professor Thea Riofrancos commented directly to the Spire by saying, “The policy paradigm that we call the Green New Deal is what I think is most in line with the climate science, and also what I think will engage and mobilize the majorities of voters that we need to actually enact really aggressive climate policy. [The Green New Deal] is scientifically necessary and politically feasible, as well as inspiring and exciting because it is a new paradigm and it has been a long time in U.S. politics since we’ve had a paradigm that really galvanized a lot of people. If we think about the New Deal, the Great Society, and World War II era mobilization, there are these moments in American history that are inspiring because we see masses of people supporting something and the government doing something good for us. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of those moments, but there are some, and so I think that the Green New Deal is a paradigm shifting, new social contract where we expect the government to do something good rather than something bad.”

Professor Peter Fritz of the Religious Studies Department here at Holy Cross, who was in attendance at the lecture, commented to the Spire, “We have a complicated and comprehensive crisis that we face, and therefore, we’re going to need a multi-faceted and comprehensive plan to address it. Nibbling around the edges is not going to work, and what Professor Riofrancos described very well is a solution that won’t be a complete one; she was modest about that aspect. But it will be scaled to the problem, and because of that, and other factors, it will be feasible. To have something that is comprehensive to address something like this and to be feasible, that is a home run.”

As previously mentioned, the McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture here at Holy Cross hosted this lecture as part of a series on of talks titled Political Paths to Climate Change. The next talk in this series is by Professor Jody Freeman titled Resetting the Course for Climate Policy: What’s Necessary and What’s Achievable. Professor Freeman is a Professor of Law, and the Director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program of Harvard Law School. This lecture will be on Mar. 31 at 7p.m. in Rehm Library.

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