Monday, March 18, 2019

What is the Green New Deal? What are the main points and do they offer solutions?

By Christine Sheller

On February 28, 2019, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced the Green New Deal resolution.  It contains goals, aspirations, and specifics of their idea, environmentally and economically in a more specific way than previously.  It is close to an “official” Green New Deal.

David Roberts, writing for, writes that it is a “high-wire act”- it aims to please a diverse range of interest groups, (for example, environmental justice, labor, and climate).  Hopefully it can lead to official legislation.

The resolution consists of a preamble, five goals, 14 projects, and 15 requirements.  The preamble states two crises:  a climate crisis and an economic crisis (namely wage stagnation and growing inequality), and that the GND (Green New Deal) can address both.

The goals include achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, creating jobs, providing for a just transition, and securing clean air and water.  The projects include decarbonizing electricity, transportations, and industry; and restoring ecosystems, upgrading buildings, and electricity grids.

The Green New Deal resolution features 2 large priorities.  In the mainstream culture, technology and markets have taken main stage.  Like Roberts states, there is nothing inherently wrong with those things, except that they should be “servants” not “masters.”

Priorities in the GND include justice and “paying for it,” according to Roberts.  First of all, ordinary people matter.  Everything is secondary to people.  There is the fact that climate change hits the “frontline and vulnerable communities” hardest, and they have contributed least to the problem.  A problem with this is that they do not have the means to fund campaigns and hire lobbyists.  This is why progressives must stand for the voices of those without power.  This includes future generations.

Three out of five of the resolution’s goals are focused on justice.  For example, “promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression to frontline and vulnerable communities.”  (Roberts, David.  “here’s now an official Green New Deal.  Here’s what’s in it:  a close look at the fights it picks and the fights it avoids,”,  VOX, Feb. 7, 2019)

Now, out of the 12 GND projects, the first three are focused on community-level resilience and development.  Approximately two thirds of the GND requirements, direct political power and public investment down to the state, local, and worker level.  This safeguards environmental and labor standards and prioritizes family-wage jobs.

Second, there is the investment issue.  The GND goes directly to public investment, and it is aimed at creating jobs.  Much like the New Deal era, as they say in the preamble, “the Federal Government-led mobilizations during WWII and the New Deal era created the greatest middle class that the US has ever seen.”  Creating jobs is the second of the five goals; investment in US infrastructure and industry is third.

The first GND requirement is “providing and leveraging, in a way that ensures that the public receives appropriate ownership stakes and returns on investment, adequate capital (including through community grants, public banks, and other public financing), technical expertise, supporting policies, and other forms of assistance to communities, organizations, Federal, State, and local government agencies, and businesses working on the Green New Deal mobilization.”

Another requirement is that there would be funding for education and job training for frontline communities in transition, investing in research and development, and investing in community ownership and resilience.

“Public investment with the returns going back to the public- it’s not a GND without that.”  (Roberts.  VOX.)

A few things are avoided.  One is “paying for it.”  Politicians and activists have different ideas.  GND wants to leave that for later.

Second, GND doesn’t address “clean vs. renewable energy.”  Many climate change activists/supporters prefer a future in which all electricity is provided by renewable energy.  But there are others who disagree that that is realistic or economical in a 10-yr. time frame.  They believe that renewables will need to be supplemented with nuclear power or fossil fuels with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).  However, there are environmental groups on the left that push for the GND to explicitly prohibit them.  So the writers of the GND left that out, probably wanting to avoid a fight.  They state that the GND calls for the US to “meet 100 percent of our power demand through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.”

Third, the GND does not take a position on carbon pricing.  There are some who think it is not the smartest political priority, and that “other policy instruments with more proven records are equally important.” (Roberts, VOX)  Again Roberts takes the position that it was a good decision to not take a position on this in the GND.

Fourth, the supply-side policy was not mentioned either, which calls on government to directly restrict the supply and distribution of fossil fuel- at the mine, well, or import terminal. 

Roberts, asserts that the four omissions- postponed fights- signal a movement that is able to build the broadest possible left coalition.

Last, Roberts presents a few policies that were left out of the GND, which he thinks should have been addressed. 
They are:  density and space and electrification.  Only a small paragraph was devoted to this in the GND.  Density and space addresses the big climate challenge: cars.  “It reduces urban air pollution, urban noise, and the urban heat island effect, while increasing physical activity and social contact, all of which improves the physical and psychological health of urban communities.” (Roberts, VOX)  It also addresses the housing crises in growing cities that price a range of different people out of the “walkable urban cores,” including poor people, students, and longtime residents.

Second of the policies left out:  electrification.  Roberts points out that the US vehicle fleet needs to be electrified as fast as practicably possible.  Also, millions of buildings in the US use natural gas for heat, and need to find a zero-carbon alternative, quickly.  This is a big job, and will create a lot of work.  The GND resolution did call for upgrading of all existing U.S. buildings and build new buildings, to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability. It does note “electrification” specifically as well.

Roberts says that he thinks that “most of the resolution consists of goals and policies that anyone who takes climate change seriously will find necessary.”  (Roberts; VOX)

There are several specific things which are very strong, including guaranteeing family-sustaining wage, strengthening and protecting rights of workers, enacting and enforcing trade rules which stop transfer of jobs overseas, eradication of monopolies, and affordable healthcare for all.  That is a summary of what Roberts listed.

Like stated before, this resolution is not legislation.  It is serious, however, and it is important.  It rallies the progressive movement.  Two years are what the resolution asks for, for time to bring legislation.  There will be a lot of bargaining ahead, Roberts says.  Also, progressive movement has brought to the mainstream US politics a program “to address climate change that is wildly more ambitious than anything the Democratic Party was talking about even two years ago.”

I think it is appropriate to end with a quote.  Ocasio-Cortez said at a press conference February 7, “We are going to transition this country into the future and we are not going to be dragged behind by our past.” (Roberts, VOX)

Source:  Roberts, David. “here’s now an official Green New Deal.  Here’s what’s in it:  A close look at the fights it picks and the fights it avoids.”  VOX.  Feb. 7, 2019.

Christine Sheller is editor and coordinator of Iowa Peace Network.  She holds an M.Div. from Bethany Theological Seminary. 

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