On Thursday, February 7, 2019, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced their Green New Deal resolution. The main intent behind the Green New Deal is to address the causes and effects of climate change, as well as implement adaptation strategies. The deal takes on a much broader scope than climate change, however, by recommending reform on a national, social, industrial, and economic scale as a means to achieve lower greenhouse gas emissions and improve overall quality of life. The Green New Deal is a non-binding resolution, so its passage would not create legally enforceable rules. Instead, it would give Congress an outline for policies and legislation that could be pursued in the next 10 years.

The idea of a “Green New Deal” was originally introduced in a 2007 New York Times article by Thomas Friedman, in which the commentator argued that to address climate change and end the country’s reliance on fossil fuels, the United States needed to embark on an ambitious transition to clean technology which would then lead to dramatic economic growth. The phrase is a direct reference to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, which sought to jumpstart the economy to overcome the Great Depression of 1929-1939. By calling the resolution the “Green New Deal,” its proponents are reinforcing the idea that climate change is a direct threat to the nation, and that there is a need for immediate government action on a scale similar to that of the 1930s. The call for federal investments in renewables and efficiency isn’t new. In fact, such investments have been incorporated into many spending packages, including President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009), which set aside $90 billion for environmental programs, such as clean electricity and a smarter grid. But the scale of the clean energy investments envisioned by the Green New Deal is much larger.

The Green New Deal resolution starts by citing the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) report, Global Warming of 1.5 ºC, that came out last fall. The report reiterates that human activity is causing climate change, and that a 2-degree Celsius increase in temperatures will likely result in the loss of half a trillion dollars in economic output by the year 2100 in the United States alone. Troublingly, the U.N. report states the international community only has 12 years (until 2030) to take actions to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 C. The risk of experiencing catastrophic impacts increases markedly past that threshold. To address the losses that climate change will inflict as well as America's responsibility to lower greenhouse gas emissions as one of the world's largest polluters, the deal outlines a 10-year plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions.

To ensure that the United States stops adding net carbon to the atmosphere, the resolution calls for meeting all of the country's power demands with renewable sources, working with the agricultural sector to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and overhauling the transportation and manufacturing sectors to decrease pollution. One of the key proposals for climate change action is the retrofitting and upgrading of buildings. This not only includes making buildings much more energy efficient, but also making them resilient to extreme weather events and disasters. As the frequency of storms, hurricanes, and floods increase because of rising temperatures and sea levels, making sure that buildings are capable of withstanding these weather events as well as mitigating any risks that could occur is of the utmost importance. Extreme weather cost the United States $91 billion in 2018, and a record $312.7 billion in 2017; thousands of lives have been disrupted or lost.

While the Green New Deal has the right intentions, there are still many concerns in the scientific community about how achievable its goals are. While a clean energy transition is clearly underway, the 2030 deadline for net-zero carbon emissions, in particular, seems unrealistic to many scientists, as they don’t think the economy will be able to transition to clean technology infrastructure that quickly. Instead, some scientists have suggested 2050 as being a more appropriate goal.

In addition to tackling climate change, the resolution also addresses other economic and social issues, arguing that a sustainable economy and a healthy, prosperous and equitable society go hand-in-hand. There is a specific emphasis on the elderly, disabled, minorities, and lower-income communities, who are often disproportionately affected by climate change. But the resolution's overall intent is to foster wide-ranging social and economic change, affecting most Americans. To improve overall quality of life and to spur economic growth, the Green New Deal includes reforms such as universal health care, job training and education, “family sustaining wages,” investments in rural areas, and the strengthening of workers’ rights. Some critics, who otherwise support climate action, worry that such an all-encompassing approach will make it less likely for concrete climate legislation to pass.

Currently, the Green New Deal has 67 supporters within the House, including Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), as well as 11 co-sponsors in the Senate. The Senate co-sponsors include 2020 presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). The resolution has attracted no Republican support, however.

Although support for the Green New Deal is growing, its passage is uncertain. The resolution may fail to attract support from moderate Republicans or swing-district Democrats due to its strongly progressive agenda. In fact, it would appear that the decision by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring the Green New Deal to the Senate floor for a vote is meant to force moderate Democrats to either vote in favor of a very progressive agenda, or against climate change action—an awkward political choice for them.

The result may be a delay as the resolution's sponsors decide whether to reduce its scope to ensure passage. The new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, established late last December by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and headed by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), may also want to puts its imprimatur on the resolution. The Committee's mission is to identify measures that would reduce pollution and emissions that contribute to climate change. Although the Committee was not officially established to create Green New Deal legislation, it does has the ability to offer solutions to standing committees.


Author: Nicolette Santos