What Green New Dealers can learn from the first New DealRoundup
tags: climate change, political history, New Deal, environment
Eric Rauchway, professor of history at the University of California, Davis, has written six books, most recently "Winter War: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the First Clash Over the New Deal.”
Seeking to create a politics that will address the climate crisis, Democrats ranging from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) advocate a Green New Deal, evoking Franklin D. Roosevelt’s mobilization of Americans to fight the Great Depression. With their emphasis on economic restructuring, public employment and social justice, the Green New Dealers have much in common with their Democratic predecessors. Indeed, they have more in common than they know: The original New Deal was itself a green New Deal, and modern Democrats should learn from its successes and failures alike.
When Roosevelt promised Americans a New Deal upon accepting the Democratic nomination for president in July 1932, he pledged a series of programs to defeat the Depression and prevent its recurrence. Prominent among them was a proposal for sustainability in the use of natural resources. At the convention, he exclaimed, “Why, every European Nation has a definite land policy, and has had one for generations. We have none. Having none, we face a future of soil erosion and timber famine.” The Dust Bowl disaster vindicated his dire prophecy: Plowing and planting unsuitable soil with little regard for its natural properties led to the destruction of the prairies and the impoverishment of farm regions.
Roosevelt inherited a conservationist consciousness from generations of American leaders including his distant cousin Theodore, who had encouraged policymakers to think in what later Americans would call ecological terms about federal control of waterways. But it fell to Franklin Roosevelt to transform the nation's history of occasional damming into a cohesive case for regional development, including flood control, resettlement and, as he said when launching the New Deal in 1932, “the kind of public work that is self-sustaining.”
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