The Green New Deal: What is it?
With an upcoming presidential election, the term “Green New Deal” has been thrown around a lot in political campaigns and debates. We’ve heard how much we need a Green New Deal and how it is the only way we can save the planet and its people. But what really is the Green New Deal (GND)? In this article I will discuss how the Green New Deal came to be, what it proposes, and some of its strengths and weaknesses.
For many, the Green New Deal is seen as an aspirational and radical plan to avoid planetary destruction and tackle climate change. First introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) in February 2019, the GND is, simply put, a non-binding 14-page proposal with actions that the government must follow if they want to diminish the effect of global climate change. Since the proposal is non-binding, nothing on it becomes law even if it is adopted by the government. The term “Green New Deal” comes from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal- a series of public programs intended to respond to and provide relief, reform, and recovery from the Great Depression.¹ By including the term “green,” it is being emphasized that we, as a country, can no longer go about our business without being sustainable and environmentally conscious.
As climate change continues to take its toll on many, we will continue to see an increase in extreme natural disasters such as wildfires and droughts, and we will continue to see a threat to human life, especially the lives of minority and poor communities. As of 2018, the United States alone has contributed 14% of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, coming in second after China (28%).² Historically, the US has been considered to be a leading country, so if it wants to remain that way, it must also take a leading role in achieving low CO2 emission rates and a sustainable future.
As Lisa Friedman in a New York Times article states, “the goals of the Green New Deal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change while also trying to fix societal problems like economic inequality and racial injustice.”³
The Green New Deal calls for the federal government to refrain from using fossil fuels to diminish the effects of climate change, a 10-year mobilization to reduce carbon emissions, and new high-paying jobs in clean energy industries.⁴ The GND proposes that instead of fossil fuels, we source 100% of our energy from renewable and clean sources such as hydroelectric, wind, and solar by 2030. It also proposes to implement an “Economic Bill of Rights,” which according to the Green Party will “ensure all citizens the right to employment through a Full-Employment Program that will create 20 million jobs by implementing a nationally funded, but locally controlled direct-employment initiative.”⁵
By taking a look at the actual Green New Deal resolution, it is evident that its goal is not only a sustainable future but also a just one. As stated in the proposal, one of the GND’s goals is to:
“promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.”⁶
The GND also emphasizes that the decisions taken moving forward must be taken with consideration, consultation, and collaboration with frontline and vulnerable communities, for we must work to meet the needs of marginalized and historically neglected communities.” Through its goal of achieving justice, equity, zero carbon emissions, and a just transition to clean and renewable energy sources, the GND paves the way for an ideal and perhaps utopian-esque future.
As great as the Green New Deal sounds, there has been major opposition, especially by the current administration of President Donald Trump. Due to the Green New Deal’s proposals, it is clear that this will be costly. But will it cost $100 trillion as Trump claims?⁷ Researchers have estimated that the cost of transitioning from coal, nuclear, and natural gas to renewable energy will cost more than $5 trillion.⁸ For many, the cost of this transition is what is pushing them away from renewable energy. For those who are not being directly impacted by climate change and climate injustices, seeing this price tag may make them wonder “is this worth investing in?” and “how would we even pay for it?” To put that into perspective, Trump’s proposed border wall along the Mexican-US border is estimated to cost $11 billion⁹ and the proposed military budget for 2020 is $718 billion along with another $69 billion for war funding¹⁰. While this does not total to the $5 trillion needed to successfully implement all aspects of the Green New Deal, it is clear that by cutting down racist expenses for a border wall, and allocating a budget for a new economy, we could achieve a just transition.
Another setback that the Green New Deal has is that most of its proposals will not be achieved immediately. There will be many times of uncertainty before we can fully reap the proposal’s benefits. For example, the GND guarantees that 4.2 million clean-energy jobs will be created. However, this will not happen unless the 1.5 million jobs that are fueled by fossil fuels are taken away.¹¹ Studies have found that green investments generally create more jobs than they eliminate, since there is new infrastructure that must be built to help a carbon-free economy rise.¹²
With this many people losing their jobs, many will also face the risk of losing their health care and homes. But the GND acknowledges that this transition from fossil fuels will be a difficult task to achieve, which is why the proposal also covers ways to protect the American people that will suffer the most during this transition. Part of the Green New Deal proposes steps towards protecting those who will be affected by the loss of their jobs, ending unemployment, and fighting against the exploitation of people of color and the poor by providing universal health-care, strengthening workers’ rights, affordable housing, and taking on democratic and participatory practices alongside marginalized communities¹³.
Whether we want to admit it or not, carbon fueled industries are an integral part of our economy, and this transition will tear down a big portion of our current economy’s basis. However, as demonstrated in Figure 1, these industries, such as agriculture, electricity, and transportation, are some of the most harmful to our environment. As the GND wants us to realize, there are better ways to achieve a successful economy than to rely on harmful practices that will continue to destroy our planet’s capacity to sustain life. The Green New Deal will require us to make drastic changes to our energy production, economy, and personal lives. We will need to rethink transportation and infrastructure while making transitions into the right direction.
Figure 1. Pie chart depicting the total percentage of greenhouse gas emissions released by each economic sector in the US in 2018.
The Green New Deal not only proposes a just and equitable transition, but it asks our current and future leaders to acknowledge the problems we are currently facing. As the climate crisis continues to worsen and environmental injustices rise, we need much more than someone saying “we need to do something about it”; we need that something. The Green New Deal is that something. Although the plan may not be achieved by 2030 (according to its proposed timeline), we at least have an option on the table. The GND has opened up policy discussions between Republicans and Democrats, putting pressure on the Republican Party to come up with their own plan for cutting down greenhouse gas emissions.¹⁴
In my opinion, the most impressive part outlined in the GND is that, unlike many environmentally conscious resolutions, it acknowledges the injustices done towards black and brown bodies in the US. Throughout the proposal there is an implicit call for reparations.¹⁵ Not only is acknowledgement of the historical marginalization of people of color being asked for, but this resolution assures that communities of color and the poor and working-class are taken into account in all decisions made and makes sure that they do not lose out during this transition.
While there are major trade-offs encountered in this proposal, experts ultimately believe that they will save “trillions on potential catastrophe by spending trillions to prevent it.”¹⁶ Though the GND will be expensive, as acknowledged by Representative Ocasio-Cortez, the plan will pay for itself as the new carbon-free economy grows. These are matters worth considering given the scale of our climate problem. Currently, as we sit in the middle of a pandemic, it has become clear that we need a plan like the Green New Deal – a plan that will protect unemployed workers, provide universal healthcare, and fight for the lives of marginalized communities.
- Stanford University, and “New Deal”
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- Friedman, L.
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- “Long-Term Implications of the 2020 Future Years Defense Program”
- Diep, F.
- Diep, F.
- Ocasio-Cortez, A.
- Friedman, L.
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- Friedman, L., & Gabriel, T.
Burnett, J. (2020, January 19). $11 Billion And Counting: Trump’s Border Wall Would Be The World’s Most Costly.
Coleman, A. R. (2019, March 14). How Black Lives Matter to the Green New Deal.
Diep, F. (2019, January 24). Will the Green New Deal Work? Here’s What the Research Says.
Each Country’s Share of CO2 Emissions. (n.d.).
Friedman, L., & Gabriel, T. (2019, February 21). A Green New Deal Is Technologically Possible. Its Political Prospects Are Another Question.
Friedman, L. (2019, February 21). What Is the Green New Deal? A Climate Proposal, Explained.
Green New Deal. (n.d.).
Retrieved from https://www.gp.org/green_new_deal
Long-Term Implications of the 2020 Future Years Defense Program. (2019, August 09).
Retrieved from https://www.cbo.gov/publication/55500
Loris, N. (n.d.). It’s Not Just About Cost. The Green New Deal Is Bad Environmental Policy, Too.
New Deal. (2020, April 22).
Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Deal
Ocasio-Cortez, A. (2019, February 12). Text – H.Res.109 – 116th Congress (2019-2020): Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal.
Stanford University. (2019, April 03). Strengths and weaknesses of the Green New Deal.