Opinion

SCOT LEHIGH

Green New Deal fears: Will AOC rustle our cows?

US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, and US Senator Ed Markey (C), Democrat of Massachusetts, speak during a press conference to announce Green New Deal legislation to promote clean energy programs outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, February 7, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey announce Green New Deal legislation in Washington on Feb. 7.

The question catches Senator Ed Markey off guard:

Is AOC going to take away our cows?

AOC, of course, is Bronx congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has partnered with Markey in proposing a Green New Deal to combat global warming. She has become both lightning rod and punch line for conservatives and climate-change deniers because an incorrect Green New Deal explainer issued by her office mentions reducing — how to put this politely? — the malodorous methane effluvium cows emit from their rear (and front) ports.

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That has resulted in gales of conservative hilarity, plus a charge from President Trump that under the Democrats’ plan, “You’re not allowed to own cows anymore.”

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Which, to stay thematically consistent, is just so much b.s.

“It will not take away cows,” declares Markey.

Thank goodness. Having worked on a dairy farm for several summers some centuries back, I’d hate to see the four-legged denizens of same rendered homeless and left to sing for their supper.

My query to Markey was obviously tongue-in-cheek. But the cow contretemps does show just how juvenile conservatives have become on climate change, a matter of enormous consequence.

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Republicans hope to discredit a Green New Deal by portraying it as ridiculously intrusive — and to paint Democrats as radicals intent on changing American life as we know it. That’s why Trump is also falsely claiming the proposal would eliminate all planes and cars, as well as the military. And why conservative polemicists have seized on AOC’s faulty FAQ sheet with such relish.

“This is what the Republicans, the Koch Brothers, Donald Trump, and the fossil fuel lobby want instead of a real, substantive debate about the devastation of climate change,” Markey says. “They want to talk about cows. They want to talk about banning all planes.”

None of that is part of the Green New Deal, which isn’t even legally binding legislation, but rather a declaration of aspirations and goals. Yes, those goals are ambitious, and no, they won’t come cheap. But neither does climate change. As storms and fires and droughts and flooding intensify, those costs “will have an infinity sign next to them,” Markey says.

Now, I’ve neither met nor covered AOC, whose camp was obviously sloppy in its homework and slippery in its explanation for the confusion. But I do know Ed Markey. He’s an accomplished legislator and a longtime leader on climate change. Yes, he has big climate goals, but then, global warming is a huge problem.

It’s a problem today’s Republicans largely refuse to acknowledge, much less address. Led by a president who calls climate change a “hoax,” and a Senate majority leader who hails from a coal state, the GOP is still deep in fossil-fuel-funded denial.

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That majority leader, Mitch McConnell, the master technician of small-mindedness, thinks the Green New Deal is a political albatross — and thus wants to hang it about the necks of Senate Democrats by holding a quick vote on the Markey-AOC resolution. His obvious hope is to force Democrats to take a stand on an easily caricatured matter voters as yet know little about in order to give Republicans a political cudgel. That puts Markey in the uncomfortable position of objecting to the speedy consideration of his own measure.

“McConnell is trying to block the hearings, block the expert testimony, block the historic debate,” Markey says.

For their part, Democrats will counter McConnell’s stunt by challenging the Republican leader to acknowledge man-made climate change — and by demanding that Republicans produce their own climate plan.

No matter how the short-term maneuvering goes, it’s important for those concerned about global warming to keep their eyes on the ball. The climate debate has been stalled for a decade. Markey is trying to jump-start it. In AOC, he has a partner who can bring younger voters to the fight.

So let’s be clear: This is not about AOC rustling cows. Or the Democrats banning planes.

It’s a serious fight about the future. Don’t let Republican ridicule disguise that.

Or this: In this political battle, they are emphatically on the wrong side.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.