On Thursday, congressional leaders introduced a resolution designed to tackle the overlapping crises of climate change, racial injustice, and the pandemic-induced economic collapse facing the U.S. It has the backing of 79 Democratic members of Congress and over 150 advocacy organizations, calling for millions of jobs in improving and decarbonizing infrastructure, prioritizing employment for marginalized groups like people of color, low-income people, and women.
Dubbed the Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy, or THRIVE, agenda, it may sound like a tall order. But the resolution is premised on the ideas that the best solutions to each of these crises tackle the others by design.
“The crises we face are interlocking and we cannot address them in isolation,” said Ben Beachy, director of the Sierra Club’s Living Economy Program. “Nor do we have to.”
In case you haven’t noticed, the U.S. is in shambles right now. The West Coast is on fire, and hurricane season is in full swing with more storms on the way. Weeks after historic protests against racial injustice, we’ve seen few meaningful promises from political leaders to address the issue. And while nearly 900,000 Americans filed for unemployment last week amid a deadly pandemic, billionaires are making a killing.
The THRIVE agenda—which is backed by staunch progressives like Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Ro Khanna, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren as well as moderates like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer—opens the door for addressing these issues all together. Recognizing the sovereignty and right to self-governance of Indigenous nations, for instance, is a part of the new platform because it is a key way to improve quality of life for Native communities, and also because research shows that doing so can help draw down carbon emissions. Similarly, transitioning from fossil-based energy to renewable energy is necessary to create livable conditions for the Americans who live near polluting coal, oil and gas infrastructure, who are disproportionately poor and often Black, Latino, or Native. It is also absolutely critical to avoid climate breakdown.
That transition will require a massive amount of new infrastructure, which someone has to build. That means jobs. The same goes for improving housing, broken water infrastructure, inefficient appliances, and access to broadband—improvements which are particularly necessary in low-income communities and communities of color. In addition to jobs in creating and improving transit, water, energy, and building infrastructure, the resolution would also employ Americans to protect and restore the country’s wetlands—which sequester carbon from the atmosphere and are necessary for flood protection, improving water quality, and controlling dangerous erosion—and to grow food on sustainably run farms.
All told, an independent analysis from economists at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst estimates that the THRIVE agenda would create 16 million new jobs and sustain them over the next decade. That’s more than enough positions for the 14 million U.S. workers who are currently unemployed.
“THRIVE would essentially eliminate the unemployment crisis,” said Beachy.
The new resolution doesn’t merely aim to create more crappy jobs in the gig economy, though; instead, it calls for creating highly desirable positions to build the 21st century economy. In addition to its massive infrastructure program, the agenda calls on Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a proposal to strengthen the federal laws that protect workers’ right to organize unions and negotiate higher wages and better benefits. It also specifies that no jobs created under the agenda will be misclassified as “independent contractors,” thereby preventing workers from organizing.
The new resolution doesn’t reference Green New Deal resolution released by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey 18 months ago, but it’s clear that it’s left an imprint. It also builds on Joe Biden’s presidential campaign’s promises for investment, calling for a 2035 timeline for decarbonizing the electric grid and targeting funding for lower income communities.
“The Biden campaign has already promised a $2 trillion green stimulus, with 40% of the benefits flowing to ‘disadvantaged communities,” Daniel Aldana Cohen, director of the Socio-Spatial Climate Collaborative at the University of Pennsylvania and co-author of a plan for a green stimulus, wrote in an email. “The THRIVE agenda is more ambitious, yes, but also more specific.”
An independent economic analysis accompanying the THRIVE Agenda estimates that implementing it would require an annual public investment of about $950 billion, sustained over the next critical decade. But that’s nothing compared to the costs of climate inaction.
“At less than $1 trillion per year, the THRIVE Agenda is a bargain,” said Beachy. “What’s expensive is the climate crisis, mass unemployment, threats to our health, and racial injustice. We cannot afford to sit idly and let the costs stack up from the mounting economic, health, racial, and environmental crises.”
If passed, the resolution wouldn’t immediately solve everything. Though it does include proposals to support transitioning the electricity grid, agriculture, and transportation away from emitting carbon, it does not include plans to end the country’s fossil fuel supply. Mitch Jones, policy director of Food and Water Action, said he applauded many aspects of the plan, but that this is an important failing.
“Any plan meant to address the spiraling, out of control climate chaos we are witnessing around the world must have a plan to stop the extraction, processing, and burning of fossil fuels at its center,” he said in an email. “There must be a ban on fracking, a ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure, a ban on crude oil and natural gas exports. The THRIVE agenda does not do that.”
Based on its price tag alone, the resolution is also currently highly unlikely to pass through the Republican-controlled Senate, or even to win support from some more moderate Congressional Democrats.
But the resolution’s supporters say that backing the THRIVE agenda isn’t just a good idea to improve quality of life and slow climate change but also useful in securing support from voters in the critical upcoming election. New polling released alongside the resolution shows broad nationwide support for the THRIVE resolution’s central goals, including federal investments in improving infrastructure, eliminating carbon pollution from the electricity grid by 2035, and giving all workers rights to form unions. That includes majority support in critical battleground House districts and the swing states of Ohio, Texas, Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, and Minnesota. If political officials get on board with the plan, it might serve them well with the voters their courting.
“At a time when it’s almost impossible to feel good about anything in this country, which is literally burning the sky before our very eyes, the THRIVE agenda offers a vision that would work—and that we might even win,” said Aldana Cohen. “It couldn’t come at a better time.”