Flight attendant union president says the Green New Deal isn't the job killer — here's what is
An airliner flying in the sky (Shutterstock)

On Wednesday, Sara Nelson, union president of the 50,000-strong Association of Flight Attendants, penned an essay in Vox voicing support for the Green New Deal — and dispelling the myth that decarbonization is contrary to the interests of airline workers.

"In my 23 years as a flight attendant and president of our union representing 50,000 others, I know firsthand the threat climate change poses to our safety and our jobs. But flight attendants and airline workers have been told by some pundits that the Green New Deal, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey’s environmental proposal, will ground all air travel," writes Nelson. "That's absurd. It's not the solutions to climate change that kills jobs. Climate change itself is the job killer."

Republicans have spent weeks falsely claiming that the Green New Deal would eliminate air travel. It is true that there is currently no known way to decarbonize airplanes, but the Green New Deal actually seeks to offset airplane emissions, not eliminate airplanes.

In fact, notes Nelson, the air travel industry has as much to fear from climate change as any other, possibly more. As the planet heats up, jet streams are disrupted, leading to more wind shears and increasing turbulence on commercial flights.

"Extreme turbulence is on the rise around the world. It isn’t just nauseating or scary — it’s dangerous," writes Nelson. "A few weeks ago, a Delta Connection flight operated by Compass Airlines from Orange County, California, to Seattle hit turbulence so sudden and fierce, the flight attendant serving drinks — and the 300-pound drink cart — was slammed against the ceiling of the plane. The flight attendant's arm was broken and three passengers were hospitalized."

Nor is turbulence the only threat. Some recent extreme-weather events linked to climate change have canceled flights outright, putting flight attendants' pay and jobs at risk. The polar vortex event in January, which froze much of the central United States, grounded some 2,000 flights. Wildfires in the western United States have also diverted aircraft, while hurricanes on the Atlantic coast have damaged airport infrastructure.

Serious action will not be easy, says Nelson. "If we can't overcome suspicion that tackling climate change just means job loss, we'll never enlist workers — or millions of others in jobs that rely on carbon-based fuels — in the solution."

But, she concludes, "Climate change is happening now. We need to get serious about it. Aspiring to achieve a green economy with good union jobs that leave no one behind is exactly the solution we need to fight climate change and provide opportunity for all Americans."