Green New Deal redefines debate on climate change - Activate World

Green New Deal redefines debate on climate change


Liberal Democrats and activists are pushing the party to back a four-part plan to rapidly wean the U.S. economy off fossil fuels and position climate change as a central issue in the 2020 election. The resolution called the “New Green Deal” was released on Thursday and its branding harkens back to the days of FDR and the original New Deal. It aims to dramatically overhaul the country’s energy and transportation infrastructure to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” in the next 10 years.  

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., New York) and Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass) have introduced a resolution outlining ambitious goals for the effort which also includes upgrading all existing buildings to meet energy efficiency requirements and expansion of high-speed rail to offset air travel. The initiative, introduced as nonbinding resolutions in the House and Senate, is tied to an infrastructure program that could possibly create millions of new “green jobs,” while guaranteeing healthcare, “a family sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security” to every American.

“Climate change and our environmental challenges are the biggest existential threats to our way of life,” said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. “We must be as ambitious and innovative in our solutions as possible.” The resolution will not move in its current form but, some ideas could advance as pieces of more modest legislation to address the climate crisis. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, the chief architect of the initiative, is not part of a new special select committee on climate change created by Speaker Pelosi. She was offered a seat on the committee, but she declined it. 

The Green New Deal (GND) offers Democratic candidates for president a contrast with President Trump, who has repeatedly cast doubt on the human role in climate change and predications by scientists that climate change could cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars a year by the end of the century.  The Trump administration withdrew the U.S. from the Paris agreement limiting carbon emissions and has attempted to roll back former President Obama’s signature climate policy, the Clean Power Plan. 

With the presidential field already taking shape, Democrats hope to take advantage of changing attitudes toward climate change. “This is going to enter the 2020 election cycle as one of the top two or three issues for every candidate,” said Sen. Markey.

The resolution is unlikely to pass in with Republicans in control of the Senate and Republicans promptly attacked the proposal as overreaching and unnecessary. “This Green New Deal…would be a raw deal for American families as the cost of energy skyrockets under their leftist plan,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R. Wyo.), the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.


  • A December Wall Street Journal/NBC News national poll showed that 66% of Americans believe that action is needed to address climate change, with 45% calling for immediate action. 
  • FDR’s vison for the 1932 New Deal in many ways was a “green” New Deal that included a significant social justice component including ways to shape the nation’s waterways and agriculture, to avoid another Dust Bowl. FDR’s social justice idealism was abandoned as the president had to compromise to get things done quickly.
  • Cost estimates require revenues between $700 billion to $1 trillion annually for the Green New Deal. $400 billion will be for the public jobs programs. Estimates for the transition to 100% clean energy start at $200 billion a year. A 2015 Stanford study concluded it is technically and economically feasible to run the US economy entirely on renewable energy by 2050. 

Quests and Actions (Q&A):

  • Climate change will hit the hardest what the resolution calls “frontline and vulnerable communities,” those who have contributed the least to the problem. How can these communities make their voices heard when they lack the means to fund campaigns and hire lobbyists? 
  • The resolution’s preamble notes that the federal government-led mobilizations during World War II and the New Deal era created the greatest middle class the U.S. has ever seen. Is this an historic opportunity to create millions of good, high wage jobs in the United States?
  • Climate change is evident in the increasingly devastating impacts like sea-level rise, drought, fires, and major storms. You can take action by calling Congress and asking them to take action. Find your legislator at Citizens’ Climate Lobby or call the U.S. Capital Switchboard at 202-224-3121. 

Sources:  NYTimes, Stanford NewsVox, Vox, WSJ

Photo by Andreas Gücklhorn on Unsplash