In this year’s presidential elections, who speaks for the trees? The Romney and Obama campaigns are focused primarily on the economy, health care, and personal insults, largely ignoring environmental issues despite the obvious urgency of climate change. But Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for president, is not just speaking for the trees, but also for the cows, the climate and the 99 percent.

In their Green New Deal, Dr. Stein and her running mate, Cheri Honkala, are proposing an ambitious plan to put 25 million Americans back to work with green jobs, thereby building a strong, sustainable economy by rerouting tax dollars away from corporations and Wall Street and towards local communities.  She is the only candidate to vocalize the need for the federal government to support local food systems and to recognize publicly the clear link between what we eat, the environment we live in, and our health. She is also the only candidate calling for an end to drilling for oil and the use of fossil fuels, not to mention the only one to be arrested for protesting against housing foreclosures.

Stein and Honkala will not be on ballots in every state, hurting their already slim chances of making it to the White House. But as the first ever Green Party member to qualify for matching federal funds, they will likely influence the policies of whoever does end up sitting in the Oval Office.

Dr. Stein managed to squeeze some time into her busy schedule to answer some questions about her policies to make food and clean technology drivers of a thriving green economy.

Q: What role do you see food playing as a driver of the economy and social change?

A:  We see food as really an integral plank of what we call the Green New Deal, the centerpiece of our agenda. It’s a program to create jobs and solve the economic emergency that we face, at the same time that it solves the climate emergency, which as you know, has huge food impacts. We’re seeing that right now with forest fires, with the heat waves and with the drought. Specifically we’re looking at massively rising food prices right now. The grave concern is that this is going to cause a real food shortage, especially in corn but potentially in soy and wheat, the other basic staples of the American food system and really the world food supply.… It’s really important that we have a secure food system and that it be resilient, and we know that agribusiness as a food supply is not secure. The industrial food system is highly dependent on water and on fossil fuel and pesticides, which are derived from fossil fuels as well, so we badly need to have a sustainable food system. Yet, our tax dollars subsidizes the agribusiness industrial food supply. So we’re calling for a shift in those tax dollars to be able to jumpstart the small farms, the community farms, community sustainable agriculture, all different ways to ensure we have a healthy, secure food supply.

Q: In some urban areas, like New York City or San Francisco, it can be very easy to get fresh food. But what about places like Detroit or Baltimore?

A: There is actually a wonderful renaissance in food going on in those very places, in some of the most poor and devastated urban areas. And this is without the support that it needs. So instead of directing all of our tax dollars to the GMOs and the industrial food economy, you can imagine how well the local food economies will do if we start to put some of our support actually into that economy. It’s been having to fight tooth and nail to survive, but when you begin to support it because it provides security, and the quality of food that we really need, that industry is really going to take off.

Q: Where does the federal government fit into local food systems? The food economy is Milwaukee is very different from the one in San Francisco.  How can the federal government support all of those systems?

A: What we’re suggesting is a job creation program that actually puts resources into the hands of local communities. So the federal government directs those resources to the local communities, but the local communities themselves decide. They decide what kinds of jobs are sustainable, and I think it’s pretty clear that food is a common denominator and everybody needs it. Even in the areas where agribusiness is thriving, local people don’t have the fruits and vegetables, and the foods that they really need.

Q: How can the federal government phase out our reliance on meat raised on CAFOs?

A: I think it really comes down to what we as taxpayers decide to do with our tax dollars.… There are these systems that are very entrenched right now, that rely on our tax dollars, rely on subsidies that are harmful to our water systems, to the land, they are polluting and when you raise animals on CAFOs, the nutrients in the animal change, they also require antibiotics which is very dangerous. They are force fed so they’ll be fat… All these traditions really degrade the nutrition, and they can be quite harmful. They lose their omega 3s and instead gain a lot of saturated fats, which are problematic.  So we are subsidizing a food system that makes us sick.  The food that comes out of this system is high fat, high calorie. We need to align our health with our food system.

Q: What do you see as the most promising advances we’ve made in clean technology?

A: I think it’s pretty clear that the biggest bang for the buck right now is in conservation. So, for example, power and heat systems that reduce energy loss at the source are helpful. But in addition, reducing energy loss at the point of utilization is really critical. So we need the whole spectrum of efficient devices as well as insulation and weatherization. That alone could save us a huge amount of energy and put a lot of people to work, weatherizing our homes, government buildings, schools, businesses etc. So there’s a lot to be done just at the very simple technologies of insulation, weatherization efficiencies. Add to that solar hot water, heat, and solar energy production. Wind, of course, is also very important.

Q: Do you have any policies that will induce small businesses or individuals with limited cash on hand to make large upfront investments in green energy? 

A: Yes and there are some very good programs around the country and I’ll name two of them.  One was in the Bay Area, basically the city subsidized the cost of solar installation and then allowed the renters/users to pay them back through the cost differential in their energy prices. That sounds like an obvious way to go. It will take some resources to do that, but that’s what the Green New Deal is about. It’s all about making those resources available, providing money to jumpstart these good programs. Another one, called the Feed-In Tariff, what’s used in Europe. It provides a payment to the source that provides their excess energy that they’re not using, so they’re making an income right away.

Q: How do you respond to voters whose interests are aligned with your policies but worry that a vote for you is one less vote for Obama and could lead to a Romney presidency.

A: Here’s what I’m really worried about. If you go into the voting booth and you vote for either Wall Street-sponsored candidate, you are giving a mandate for four more years of these policies, which are not just taking us in the wrong direction, they are accelerating in the wrong direction… Obama embraced the “Drill, baby drill” policies of George Bush. He has built more oil pipelines than any other president, he’s opening offshore oil, the Arctic wilderness, the Gulf, our national parks, more mountaintops for coal – he’s become Dick Cheney basically on the environment.  If Romney were in power, people would be mobilized to fight for what we need. What I worry about is when there’s a Democrat in power, people go to sleep or they’re told to be quiet. I want to win the White House and turn it into a Green House.