Senator Elizabeth Warren envisions a future where our cars don’t run on gas but on the algae growing in our seas. That’s according to her “Blue New Deal” proposal out Tuesday that’s essentially a Green New Deal for the oceans. And what goes in our cars is only one quick example of the ways she would transform our relationship with the sea if she wins the presidency.
This idea of a Blue New Deal has been floated earlier this year. But Warren, whose array of comprehensive climate plans is really quite impressive, is the only presidential candidate so far to put out an oceans-focused environmental plan. Beyond algae for cars, the plan includes investing in efficient shipping ports and marine protected areas. And it couldn’t have come at a more timely moment.
The international climate talks happening in Madrid known as COP25 have centered on oceans for the first time in 25 years. Chile—the chair of talks—has dubbed it the Blue COP, and it’s about damn time. A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in September showed us the oceans have reached a tipping point. Ocean acidification and coral bleaching are just the beginning of how massive this problem is.
Now, Warren is presenting some solutions that would help not only our oceans and fishermen but our economy, too. The Blue New Deal rose to prominence at CNN’s climate crisis town hall in September when a fisherman asked Warren if she’d support such a proposal.
“I like that!” she said during the town hall. “I think he’s got it exactly right.”
Now, barely three months later, the Massachusetts senator is giving us a glimpse of what a bold policy package could look like. Marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, the founder and CEO of Ocean Collectiv, a solutions- and justice-based ocean sustainability organization, told Earther she’s really excited to see this type of proposal because it’s the first time oceans have received such detailed attention during a presidential election.
“The ocean usually gets left out of the discussion entirely and especially when it comes to climate,” said Johnson, who helped advise Warren on this plan. “And that’s a huge miss because the ocean can be a huge part of the climate solution. We just have to stop ignoring it.”
First off, as any modern New Deal should, the Warren vision for saving the oceans highlights all the ways doing so would boost the economy. That includes, in part, creating thousands of jobs through building offshore wind and investing in regenerative fishing to improve fisheries. But economic growth means little if the most vulnerable in a nation don’t reap those benefits.
Warren’s plan would also wind down offshore drilling that poses a threat to marine ecosystems and the climate, though it doesn’t offer a timeline to do so. Her Blue New Deal wouldn’t leave rig workers hanging, though. The proposal features key points around equity and justice that would reinstate protections for fossil fuel workers. These workers would also have access to proper training for new jobs and early retirement benefits if they decide to leave their industry with, as the plan notes, “dignity.” Most notably, Warren calls for unionizing these ocean-based jobs whether that’s fishermen or offshore wind farm engineers. Everyone needs labor rights, amirite?
Climate change will also make living on the coast more risky due to sea level rise and the risk of monster storms. To ensure people living there don’t suffer, the plan prioritizes “vulnerable populations” to receive recovery aid after a disaster. Right now, the wealthy tend to receive more financial assistance even though they can typically handle weather shocks more easily. The Blue New Deal would help level the playing field.
In addition, it would move people out of harm’s way. Warren promises in the plan that no further public housing will be built within five feet of sea level “because it is the responsibility of the federal government to protect our most vulnerable families, not intentionally put them in harm’s way.” Previous research has shown that low-income people are more likely to live in floodplains because property is usually cheaper here, and these areas have been developed for multi-family housing, such as mobile homes or rental units. This point is the plan’s most groundbreaking commitment, Johnson said.
“We actually need to completely rethink how and where we’re living on this planet,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t make any sense to keep investing in building things that we know are going to be inundated, and so this plan is the first truly realistic proposal in that regard.”
Warren’s plan also includes creating a blue carbon program, which involves creating a carbon market in our oceans. Typically, carbon markets (while problematic) are associated with trees, but she’s talking about using the kelp and peatlands to sequester and store carbon. She says she’ll issue an executive order to direct the National Oceans and Atmospheric Administration to develop this program.
Kimberly Oremus, an assistant professor at the University of Delaware’s School of Marine Science and Policy, noted that Warren’s plan brings together climate change, ocean pollution, people, and the economy in a thoughtful and meaningful way. For example, the blue carbon program wouldn’t just help absorb carbon emissions in the atmosphere. It’ll also protect coasts from storms and help boost the ocean ecosystem overall, which is a win for any local fishermen.
“I think that it’s true that we are entering a more complex world, and she has considered a lot of them,” Oremus told Earther. “In many areas, I’ve seen that repeated, that she made a lot of links between the various industries and just thought through both the environment, biology, as well as jobs and equity—a lot of issues that the ocean community is grappling with.”
The Blue New Deal talks about buying back homes from low-income people who need to move out of areas that keep flooding. That sounds super dope—but also super expensive. She also proposes fully funding programs in different federal agencies, such as NOAA and the Department of Agriculture.
Warren has proposed $3 trillion to take on climate change through suing Big Oil, ending fossil fuel subsidies, closing corporate tax holes, and the like. The campaign told Earther that the $3 trillion would cover the Blue New Deal, though a followup on the estimate costs of the ocean plan went unanswered.
The plan also doesn’t talk much about international ocean efforts. The oceans connect us all, and any little change domestically may have ripple effects around the world (and vice versa). There are risks that not taking a holistic approach to ocean policy could just shift bad things like dirty shipping vessels or overfishing from one location to another rather than stamping them out.
Despite that, Warren’s Blue New Deal offers an incredible starting point in the role oceans must play in the fight to stop climate change. Let’s see if her opponents step it up.