Think global (Green New Deal). Act local (sustainability)

Student rally, Lafayette College, Easton, Pa., 2015. By The Lafayette.

An opinion

By David Loomis

INDIANA — On Friday, students worldwide (and nationwide) skipped school to protest inaction on climate change by grownups. In Indiana, Pa., students and teachers had a scheduled day off.

Protesters elsewhere were moved in part by a report in October from the world’s top climate-science body, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Mainstream news media emphasized the report’s warning that the world has 12 years – until 2030 — to take action to avoid catastrophe. To protesters, the date added new meaning to the word “deadline.”

“It’s like a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen,” Erik Solheim, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, said of the report’s release. “We have to put out the fire.” (Cue Billy Joel.)

In January, fresh polls reported Americans are increasingly worried about the climate changes they see all around them. But they’re unwilling to do or to pay much. The smoke alarm has faded.

Then in January, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, told an interviewer, “Millennials and Gen Z and all these folks that come after us are looking up, and we’re like, ‘The world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change, and your biggest issue is how are we gonna pay for it?’”

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Feb. 7, Capitol Hill, with co-sponsor U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. By Al Drago/Bloomberg for TeenVogue.

In February, Ocasio-Cortez outlined a Green New Deal – in legislative terms, a non-binding simple resolution, not a bill with the force of law — that urges economic-stimulus programs aimed at climate change. Renewable energy and energy efficiency are among its goals.

Ocasio-Cortez’s big idea has drawn comparisons to JFK’s plan to land a man on the moon and to FDR’s plan to win World War II. But the backlash to the Green New Deal was as predictable as global warming.

“We’re going to vote in the Senate and see how many Democrats want to end air travel and cow farts,” snorted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The Washington Post’s Fact-Checker labeled such claims distortions.

Undeterred, last week a House member labeled the plan “tantamount to genocide.” Later he said he was joking.


THE BACKLASH hasn’t stopped there.

Try Googling “Green New Deal” and “sustainability,” a buzzword with local resonance. Among search-listed websites is the American Policy Center, described by SourceWatch as “a far-right wing think tank.” The 501(c)(4) non-profit is not required to disclose its donors on tax documents.

The center linked the Green New Deal with sustainability in a way that may surprise Indiana County sustainability supporters. The policy center described the Green New Deal as a “scheme promoting environmental Sustainability. The ‘deal’ is a massive transfer of wealth based on race…. The Green New Deal is a Trojan Horse.  It is Socialism masquerading as environmentalism.”

Indiana County institutions apparently did not get that memo. When county commissioners convened a sustainability summit, its resulting September 2018 report was drafted by a bipartisan cross-section of county interests – elected county and municipal officials, citizens, environmentalists, university academics, developers, farmers and the local Chamber of Commerce, among others.

Their recommendations emphasized the economy and the environment, not unlike the Green New Deal, but with local wording to fit a local scale with local ways and means. Its four “issue areas”:

  • renewable energy
  • agriculture
  • construction, renovation and restoration
  • natural resources


COUNTY COMMISSIONER Sherene Hess chaired the steering committee of the sustainability group. She downplayed climate change as an animating purpose of the local group.

“The Sustainable Economic Development task force is promoting renewable energy and sustainable agriculture as a way to use our community’s existing assets to become part of what is already a clean energy revolution in the region and the country and the rest of the world,” Hess wrote in a March 16 email. “The fact that climate change will be affected has been in the background, not a direct benefit of the task force’s work per se.”

She eyed the future of the sustainability effort in Indiana County.

“I think there are many on the task force steering committee that would like to eventually promote climate change advocacy as a direct result of the work of the task force,” Hess added.


ELECTION YEAR 2019 is an election year for Hess, a Democrat, who is seeking a second term on the county board. Her announcement, published in The Indiana Gazette, mentioned her interest in sustainability.

Among other county commissioner candidates announced in The Gazette, only Democrat Don Lancaster, an Indiana borough councilman and member of the county’s sustainability task force, mentioned sustainability as a campaign issue.

Maria Lawer Jack is the lone Republican county-commissioner candidate so far to publicize involvement with the local sustainability task force or interest in its work.

In the May 21 special election to fill retiring state Sen. Don White’s 41st District seat, only Democrat Susan Boser publicized an interest in the local sustainability task force, which she helped lead.

Three candidates for Indiana borough council – incumbent Peter Broad and newcomers Sara Stewart and Jonathan Warnock, all Democrats — also mentioned interest in local sustainability as a campaign issue or credential.


Student Ryleigh Murphy, 16, shows signs made for the March 15 climate strike in Pittsburgh. Photo: by Ryleigh Murply and the Allegheny Front.

IT WOULD BE COUNTERPRODUCTIVE environmentally, economically and politically if sustainability and its cousin, the Green New Deal, turned as partisan in Indiana County as the buzzwords have become in Washington, D.C.

One cautionary note for opponents was expressed by Ryleigh Murphy, 16, a sophomore at North Hills High School, in an interview before the student walkout she helped organize in Pittsburgh on Friday.

Do you think the strike will make a difference? Murphy was asked.

“I think it will,” she replied. “I really think it will. We’re going to be the future voters, and some of us are actually already voters. We’re going to determine if you get into office and or not. They’re going to need our support.”


David Loomis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye.

The HawkEye invites comments on this and other issues of community interest. Email



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