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The word "fisherfolk" never appears in House Resolution 109 of the 116th U.S. Congress––better known as the Green New Deal.

Nor will you find the terms algal bloom or petrochemical, much less the names Seminole, Tunica- Biloxi, Houma, Choctaw, Chittamatcha, or Coushatta Peoples.

They do, however, appear in the Gulf South for a Green New Deal Policy Platform.

This policy agenda, developed by hundreds of grassroots organizations, builds upon the central premise of the Green New Deal—that the United States must create a carbon neutral economy that works for all members of society, not a privileged minority—and shows how it can put its money where its mouth is in the Gulf South.

The congressional Green New Deal calls for an economic restructuring that prioritizes Indigenous and frontline communities—those shouldering the heaviest burden of climate change, and those that have been oppressed by economic and political systems. The Gulf South for a Green New Deal makes clear that on both counts, this means prioritizing the Gulf South and going beyond market-based solutions to repair the damage this economy has done to the region's people and land.

"The changing climate not only signals an existential threat on the horizon but it also stands as evidence that our current political and economic systems have failed us for the benefit of a few,"

The Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy, a Louisiana-based public interest law firm and nonprofit focused on climate justice, led a process that generated the Gulf South for a Green New Deal through conversation. Organizers spent months facilitating discussions, modeled on People's Movement Assemblies, among frontline and marginalized communities across the Gulf South. Participants included members of both national and local groups, from The Sunrise Movement, to The Farmworker Association of Florida and the Biloxi NAACP.

With over 100 signatories, the Gulf South for a Green New Deal makes the following case:

If the states that constitute the Gulf South, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida, were a country they would have the fifth largest economy in the world. The region accounts for more than 11.5 percent of the nation's agriculture production, is second only to Alaska in fishing production, has 51 active military outposts, and supplied 75 percent of the country's liquid fuel in 2019.

At the same time, the Gulf South has some of the weakest labor laws in the country. Paired with a history of discriminatory housing law and racist Jim Crow laws, these conditions have systematically disadvantaged people of color and low income communities.

Moreover, the Gulf South is disproportionately impacted by coastal erosion, heat waves, storms, flooding, toxic petrochemicals and the algal blooms they create. Within the Gulf South, marginalized communities, particularly indigenous communities and historically black communities, have born and continue to bear the brunt of these effects.

Because of climate change, these challenges will only intensify. Flooding will increase. Heat waves will become more common. The coast lines will continue to erode.

"The changing climate not only signals an existential threat on the horizon but it also stands as evidence that our current political and economic systems have failed us for the benefit of a few," the document reads. "Urgent national action capable of addressing the full scope and complexity of this moment is needed."

In the open water of climate policy, the Gulf South for a Green New Deal places buoys to guide activists and politicians toward their avowed goal of equity.

In describing what that action should entail, the Gulf South for a Green New Deal takes the central premise of the Green New Deal and goes deeper. It contends that in a new economy, wealth must be concentrated in and controlled by local communities.

Crucially, this economy would not value people by the amount of money they make. All would be entitled dignity and self determination.

Among others, the Gulf South for a Green New Deal makes these specific demands not seen in the congressional Green New Deal:

  • Pay reparations to people of color who have had their land taken from them.
  • Recognize that marginalized communities have been used as "sacrifice zones for polluting industry and government" ; clean up toxic lands.
  • Recognize the "human right to remain" and that "relocation must be a self determined process." (Climate change is expected to displace of 13 million people in the United States by 2100 as land disappears or becomes unlivable. In Louisiana, people have already begun migrating away from a receding coastline.)
  • Combat climate gentrification. As described by GCCLP Executive Director Colette Pichon Battle in a recent TED Talk, climate gentrification can happen when the wealthy are seeking safer land and displace low income communities, when a low income community is forced to leave during a disaster and their space is then repopulated by wealthier residents, or when prohibitive pricing keeps lower income communities out of green, climate resilient homes.
  • De-incentive mega-farms by redistributing unpolluted land to marginalized communities
  • Prevent factory farms and large-scale aquaculture from industrializing the ocean
  • Protect the Gulf of Mexico from petrochemical runoff that flows from down the Mississippi River from fertilizer and pesticides used on farms. This runoff has created an algal bloom at the mouth of the Mississippi that harms fisheries and coastal communities.
  • Repeal "Right to Work" and "At Will" employment laws and ban the use of convict labor.
  • Prohibit pipeline construction and drilling leases in the lands and waters of the Gulf South 
  • Repurpose leftover physical oil and gas infrastructure, like oil rigs, in the creation of renewable energy infrastructure.
  • Transition investment away from the military and toward "regenerative industries" in the Gulf South
  • Put the cost burden of transitioning to a new economy on polluting industries that have contributed to this climate crisis.
  • Invest in farm biodiversity and root the American food system "in principles of community-based agroecology and food sovereignty."

As of now, the congressional Green New Deal has no legal teeth. It has not yet been passed, and, even if it is passed, will likely require numerous bills to piecemeal its vision into existence just like its depression-era namesake.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has already begun to push Green New Deal bills like the Climate Equity Act, which would require the Congressional Budget Office to consider the impact on low income communities when evaluating environmental legislation. On January 15, The House Committee on Energy and Commerce released its own more moderate version of a climate change action plan. Republicans, too, plan to release climate change legislation in 2020.

In the open water of climate policy, the Gulf South for a Green New Deal places buoys to guide activists and politicians toward their avowed goal of equity.

Emily Carmichael

Emily Carmichael is a freelance writer based out of New Orleans. She covers local news, food, and culture for publications including New Orleans CityBusiness, OffBeat Magazine, Country Roads Magazine, and Uptown Messenger. Check her out at www.emilycarmichaelwrites.com and on social media at @ecarmichael19 on Instagram and Twitter.