These Maps Show Why We Need A Green New Deal

A map of land use across the Lower 48. (Image: The McHarg Centre)

The Green New Deal is a massive proposal that aims to take on the climate crisis—the greatest threat humanity has ever faced—while creating millions of jobs and boosting economic equality. That’s going to take plans for everything from electricity to housing to flood control, not to mention a fuckload of political will and, if it’s done right, a commitment to social justice and democracy. These changes are all necessary and urgent, but the scope is still enough to make you dizzy.

Luckily a new atlas from the University of Pennsylvania’s McHarg Centre is here to help us all get our bearings. It’s called the 2100 Project: An Atlas for the Green New Deal, and it’s made up of more than 100 colourful maps, diagrams, and gifs that show why a Green New Deal is not just possible. It’s necessary.

“The scale of the challenge in front of us is just so immense,” Billy Fleming, who directs the McHarg Centre, told Earther. “We thought it was really important to show it physically in place, in spaces on the landscape of the United States.”

Some maps in the atlas show the climate impacts the U.S. has already seen. One that’s particularly heartbreaking—not a word I typically use to describe grey diagrams with red lines on them—shows how victims of Hurricane Katrina migrated all over the country in the wake of the storm.

The atlas also shows that by the end of the century, sea level rise could force 13.1 million people to migrate away from the coasts. A Green New Deal will have to contend with this type of displacement. The atlas’ historical maps are a reminder of both climate risks and the injustices that come with them. The Katrina map notes that every state has survivors who have filed Federal Emergency Management Agency claims for assistance. And it’s a reminder that the storm’s aftermath laid bare the nation’s ugliest inequities as largely low-income people of colour bore the brunt of the storm. The low-income, mostly black neighbourhood Lower Ninth Ward, for instance, is home to half of its pre-Katrina population.

Image: The McHarg Centre

Without policies that take on climate change and inequality, we have much more of that in store. Wildfires, hurricanes, and heat waves could also affect millions of people as the climate crisis worsens, meaning this is far from just a coastal issue. Fleming said the atlas shows climate change is “totalizing” problem requiring large scale solutions.

“People think, you’re merging these two big things,” Fleming said. “They think, there’s no way we can take on this massive challenge of decarbonizing the economy and do it in ways that creates millions of jobs. But in fact, we have done things on a giant scale before.”

That’s where another kind of map, ones that show the effects of past policies, comes in. One, titled “The History of Big Ideas,” shows the U.S. has actually taken on huge development projects for hundreds of years, from land grants for colleges in the 1800s to programs for flood control and electricity generation under FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s.

But the Green New Deal has to a better job of developing new projects in a way that’s just compared to grand projects of the past. It can’t replicate, for instance, the creation of public lands at the expense of indigenous people or the dispossession of black farmers’ land in the South in favour of big agriculture, Fleming said. The climate crisis—which exacerbates inequalities—will only increase the need to better protect the most vulnerable people.

“The United States has the worst history of treating people like shit,” he said. “So if the question is, can we afford to do all of these other things in addition to like the decarbonization goals of the Green New Deal, then I think my response to that is, can we afford not to try?”

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