Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez advocates for the Green New Deal along with Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts in front of the Capitol Building in February of 2019. The Green New Deal is a ten year plan that would facilitate a just transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2030. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The Green New Deal. It’s something we’ve all heard, whether it be thrown around by adults in heated political conversations or off the lips of Democratic presidential candidates. It’s both praised and put down by Democrats and Republicans alike. In an era that’s increasingly aware of the urgency of the climate crisis, the Green New Deal (GND) does more than represent a cultural shift towards prioritizing the needs of the environment. 

A proposal introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez on February 7, 2019, implored the federal government to create a Green New Deal based on the “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5º C” by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the November 2018 Fourth National Climate Assessment report. 

According to the Sierra Club, a grassroots environmental organization known for its climate justice advocacy, the Green New Deal is a “big, bold transformation of the economy to tackle the twin crises of inequality and climate change.” It seeks to address more than one large scale societal problem.

There are many misconceptions about the Green New Deal, many spread by Republicans who oppose the concept. President Trump claimed the Green New Deal will take away your “airplane rights” at a rally   held in El Paso Texas. Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas said in an interview with Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio host, that the proposal would act to confiscate cars and require Americans to “ride around on high-speed light rail powered by unicorn tears.” Additionally, Senator John Barrasso, a Republican of Wyoming and chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works in a press release, warned that ice cream, cheeseburgers and milkshakes would go extinct because under the Green New Deal, “livestock will be banned.” Even among the Democratic party there is division about the program. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, told Politico in early 2019 that the Green New Deal “will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive.” Pelosi stated, “The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it right?”

Let’s start with the history, specifically the history behind the name.  

The New Deal was a series of programs, public work projects, financial reforms, and regulations proposed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration to energize the economy during the Great Depression. Between 1933 and 1939, a series of bills created economic relief and sweeping reforms in industry, agriculture, finance, waterpower, labor and housing. The New Deal was unlike anything seen before because it tackled social problems that arose from decades of denial from many different angles. In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, economics Professor, David F. Weiman, reflects on a world without the New Deal. He writes, “The New Deal shifted responsibility for social welfare and economic development from city halls and state capitols to Washington.” 

Much like this, the Green New Deal pushes for federal involvement in climate mitigation, which at this point in time is largely non-existent. Both because of the current administration’s priorities, as well as the complex relationship between state and federal government, there isn’t any significant climate policy in the US currently, other than the Paris Climate Accords, which President Trump is hoping to remove the US from if he gets re-elected in 2020. The Paris Climate Accords is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that aims to substantially decrease greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to limit global temperature increase under 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

There are five components to the Green New Deal, which are described in detail on the Sunrise Movement’s website, which is an American youth-led group dedicated to pursuing radical political action on climate change. The components are as follows:

  •  Achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers;
  • Create millions of good, high-wage jobs; and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States;
  • Invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century;
  • Secure clean air and water, climate and community resilience, healthy food, access to nature, and a sustainable environment for all;
  • Promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing the historic oppression of frontline and vulnerable communities.

Bella Esbeck, a junior at Lincoln High School, works with the Portland chapter of the Sunrise Movement, called Sunrise PDX. The first major press coverage that the group got nationally was when a sit-in was organized in November of 2018 at the office of the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Over 250 protesters showed up, with 51 getting arrested by capitol police. The demands the protestors made did not go completely unmet: Pelosi offered to reinstate the Committee on the Climate Crisis and noted that an infrastructure bill that was going to be voted on could address many of the concerns put forward by Sunrise. 

Esbeck, while speaking about her involvement with Sunrise, said, “We’re on a mission to make climate change an urgent priority across America and make the Green New Deal the law of the land.” She described the community involvement that makes Sunrise so important. It has united people from all backgrounds, genders and ages, who support the Green New Deal that demands bold climate action from their governments. 

In a podcast interview with Ezra Klein of Vox, Varshini Prakash, one of the founders of the Sunrise Movement, spoke about the organization’s ideas on the GND. She said, “What I explain to people is that the Green New Deal is not only about tackling the climate crisis. It’s also about providing people with tens of millions of good jobs.” The Green New Deal isn’t just several pieces of meaningful climate legislations; “It’s about alleviating inequality between different groups of people. It’s about ensuring we have clean air and clean water,” she said. 

The lack of knowledge about the Green New Deal is in part due to its nature. It’s unclear because of its scope: it’s meant to include a variety of bills aimed at different sectors and parts of society. The GND represents a greater, cultural shift towards prioritizing the health of the environment over anything else. The scope of this project is immense; Rep. Ocasio-Cortez told NPR that, “in 10 years, we’re trying to go carbon-neutral.” While this approach may be extreme, many people in the climate science community, as well as supporters of the Green New Deal, agree that saving the world, and more specifically humanity, from the effects of climate change requires aggressive political action.