The Green New Deal
What the Green New Deal does and doesn't say, its costs, plans, and goals, and alternative and opposing climate solutions.
What Is the Green New Deal?
The Green New Deal, introduced in early 2019 by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward J Markey of Massachusetts, is a congressional resolution that lays out sweeping ground plans and ambitious goals for tackling the climate crisis. It is a nonbinding resolution, which means if passed, nothing in it becomes permanent legislation, but instead it will serve as a general guidebook for tackling fossil fuels and climate change in the US over the next few decades.
While this resolution may be new, the term “Green New Deal” certainly is not, first appearing in a 2003 SF Chronicle news article about an environmental conference and circulating ever since with variations of “Green New Deal” proposals from the Green Party, Think Tanks, and other organizations and individuals popping up since. The idea of a Green New Deal became widespread and popular when the Sunrise Movement, a youth climate activist organization, created a Green New Deal Strategy and held a sit-in outside the office of Nancy Pelosi, the soon-to-be speaker of the House of Representatives, demanding action on climate change. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez joined these youth protesters, lending her support to their proposal, and began laying the groundwork for what would become today’s Green New Deal.
The Green New Deal’s goals and objectives are based in climate change reports, particularly a 2018 United Nations report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and a November 2018 Fourth National Climate Assessment Report, both of which warned that global warming at or above 2°C will lead to mass migrations, huge declines in the USA's annual economic output, increased wildfires, extinction of 99% of the world’s coral reefs, extreme heat waves, and a variety of other deadly and disastrous outcomes. These reports stated that to keep global temperature rise beneath 1.5°C, greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by 40-60% by 2030 and by 2050, we must achieve net 0 emissions.
The Green New Deal, like the New Deal of the 1930s, looks to completely overhaul our current economy, creating a new one based in clean energy, high paying and good quality jobs, and equity. The Resolution has a two part objective: (1) to avoid the worst effects of climate change by reducing, and eventually eliminating, greenhouse gas emissions through a ten year mobilization plan, and in doing so to (2) fix societal problems such as racial injustice and economic inequity. It is a plan that acknowledges the disproportionate effects of climate change on indigenous people, low income communities, and communities of color, and, therefore, the need to focus on the betterment of these communities and furthering economic and racial equity in the fight for our climate.
The Green New Deal’s 10 Year Mobilization Plan
The Green New Deal calls for a 10 year mobilization plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and get us to net 0 emissions by 2030, and outlines a number of necessary measures to achieve this goal. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it calls for a new, reimagined national electric grid that makes use of technology to increase efficiency and consistency and is powered by clean, renewable sources, the upgrading of every building in the US to be more energy efficient, the removal of greenhouse gases from manufacturing as much as possible, investment in clean technology and industry, and a transformation of our nation’s transportation system by investing in electric vehicles and high speed rail. It also emphasizes the need to work with other nations to promote clean technology, funding, and expertise and to collaborate with farmers and ranchers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector by doing things such as investing in sustainable farming practices and technologies, small scale agriculture, and responsible land use techniques. In addition to taking measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this resolution calls for the restoration and protection of damaged and endangered ecosystems with scientific, locally-based initiatives to increase carbon capture (eg: restoration of forests and wetlands which act as carbon sinks) and demands the launch of projects to build resilience against climate change related disasters such as fires and hurricanes.
In laying out these plans to eliminate fossil fuel emissions, the Green New Deal also provides solutions to economic and racial inequity by requiring the government to provide new job training and economic development particularly in low income communities that rely on the fossil fuel industry for work, promising the creation of high-quality, high-paying union jobs that provide training and advancement opportunities, guaranteeing high-quality health care and livable wages, and working with frontline and vulnerable communities (aka low-income communities of color) to locally plan, implement, and monitor the Green New Deal’s mobilization plan.
Cost of the Green New Deal
While there is no doubt that the Green New Deal will cost an enormous amount of money, perhaps trillions and trillions of dollars, it is impossible to pin down an exact dollar amount for it. For example, according to a 2011 study issued by the Electric Power Research Institute, it was estimated that modernizing the electric grid across the entire United States could cost as much as $476 billion but reap $2 trillion in benefits. Vermont’s recent initiative to achieve 90% renewable energy by 2050 is further evidence that the economic costs and rewards of the Green New Deal cannot be definitively determined. While this statewide project is estimated to cost around $33 billion, it has already sparked significant job growth in clean energy sectors and is expected to spur cost savings for consumers. While there is no doubt that the massive, transformative measures the Green New Deal calls for will be extremely expensive, it is also clear that the economic growth from clean energy jobs and savings from curbing the most destructive effects of climate change such as massive fires, floods, and hurricanes will be hugely beneficial to our economy.
Confusion and Falsehoods around the Green New Deal
Much of the confusion surrounding the Green New Deal and what it does and doesn’t say can be attributed to its botched initial rollout. Only days after Rep. Ocasio-Cortez introduced the Green New Deal, her staff accidentally published an incomplete Green New Deal summary that included provisions NOT endorsed by the candidates including economic security for “all who are unable or unwilling to work.” Republicans immediately used this accident to jump on the Green New Deal, labeling it an extreme leftist piece of legislation. To read for yourself what the original Green New Deal document actually has to say, click here.
In addition to the unfortunate initial rollout of the GND, a number of false claims and misleading statements about the Green New Deal have added to the confusion surrounding what it does and doesn’t say. For example, this resolution will not take away “your airplane rights” as Trump claimed, require Americans to confiscate cars and “ride around on high-speed light rail, supposedly powered by unicorn tears” as Sen Tom Cotton, republican of Arkansas stated, or make ice cream and cheeseburgers a thing of the past because “livestock will be banned” as John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming and Chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works alleged. What the Green New Deal actually calls for are investments in green transportation methods such as high speed rail and electric cars to reduce transportation sector emissions, not the confiscation of cars and airplanes, and collaboration with farmers and ranchers to reduce agricultural sector emissions using technology and sustainable land management techniques, not the elimination of the meat and dairy industries across the US.
Alternative Climate Change Solutions
While Biden has described the Green New Deal as “a crucial framework for meeting the climate changes we face,” he has chosen to create and support his own, slightly different plan for addressing the issue. Biden’s plan, like the GND, is rooted in two main ideas: (1) that the US needs to embrace much larger goals and ambitions on an immense scale if we are to truly address the issue of climate change and (2) that our economy and the environment are inextricably linked. While Biden’s plan includes many of the same ambitions and goals of the GND such as massively expanding clean energy technology and industry across the US, it is a much more moderate and less progressive resolution, excluding many of the social welfare proposals of the Green New Deal such as guaranteeing jobs for every American with a family, paid medical leave, and paid vacations. The timeline of Biden’s plan also differs from that of the Green New Deal; while the GND aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2030, Biden’s plan aspires to create a carbon pollution-free energy sector by 2035 and net zero emissions by 2050. Despite the differences between Biden’s plan and the GND, what matters most is that they are both resolutions that recognize the severity and immediacy of the climate crisis and aim to avoid the worst consequences of global climate change by steering our country towards a fossil fuel free future. Biden’s opponent Donald Trump, on the other hand, still denies the existence of climate change, a scientifically proven and physically apparent environmental phenomenon.
While recent polls show that only about 39% of Republicans believe the government needs to do more about climate change (compared to 90% of democrats,) there are a handful of Republican statesmen and activists voicing alternative conservative solutions to climate change. For example, the Baker-Schutz Plan, introduced by former Reagan cabinet members James Baker and George Shcutz, calls for reduced regulations on the energy sector, especially nuclear and hydropower, and gradual increases in taxes on fossil fuels to encourage expansion in clean energy industries and a shift away from fossil fuels. While a number of Republicans have voiced support for this plan, a majority of Republicans remain indifferent, and some even skeptical, about the issue of climate change, and currently no large-scale, conservative alternative resolution to the Green New Deal exists.
How Can You Help Get the Green New Deal Passed?
The number one thing you can do? VOTE. Together we can elect senators, representatives, governors, and a President that recognize the urgency of climate change and support the GND or similar large-scale climate resolutions (like Biden’s Plan.) Click this link to read about some of the candidates endorsed by the Sunrise Movement, the youth activist organization that popularized the idea of a Green New Deal! If you aren’t old enough to vote (like myself,) there are still other ways to help. One fun way to inform people about the GND and encourage them to vote is by hosting a phone bank with your friends or peers; here are some guidelines for doing so! Mailing ballots, working at poll stands, and spreading the word about the GND via social media, emails, talking to friends and family, etc are a few other ways you can help. Whatever your personal political views are, I hope that you learned a bit about the Green New Deal from this article as well as a few alternative climate solutions. Feel free to ask any questions or make (kind & respectful) remarks in the comments, and thank you for reading!
Lisa Friedman, “What is the Green New Deal,” New York Times, last modified February 21, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/21/climate/green-new-deal-questions-answers.html
“Recognizing the Duty of the Government to Create a Green New Deal,” Congress.gov, introduced February 7, 2019, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-resolution/109/text
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