What Is the Green New Deal?
Every four years the federal government is required to release a National Climate Assessment report. The first report was released under the Obama administration in 2014 and led to bold policies to tackle climate change. The second U.S. Climate Report, 1,656 pages, released at the end of 2018 confirms the realities we are seeing throughout the world: It states unequivocally that “climate change is here now, and the damage it is causing to human health, the environment, and to the economy is devastating and will continue to worsen the longer we burn fossil fuels”. Climate change is the real national emergency that we face today.
On February 7, 2019 Senator Ed. Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced a Green New Deal (GND) resolution that lays out goals, aspirations and some specifics for addressing the climate change problems defined clearly by both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (for more info on the IPCC read EarthConnection’s previous blog) and the U.S. Climate Report. The GND calls for transitioning the United States to use 100% renewable, zero-emission energy resources, including the investment in electric cars and high-speed rail systems, and implementing the “social cost of carbon” that has been part of the Obama administration’s plans for addressing climate change within ten years. The resolution consists of a preamble, five goals, fourteen projects, and fifteen requirements and establishes that there are two crises: a climate crisis and an economic crisis of wage stagnation and growing inequality and that the GND can address both. The GND has two major priorities: justice and investment.
The resolution states that “frontline and vulnerable communities” who have contributed least to climate change are those who will suffer the worst effects. Therefore, the document asserts that “environmental justice” must be at the heart of any plan to address climate change since vulnerable communities most often do not have the means to make their voices heard.
Public investment aimed at creating jobs is central to the GND. The preamble notes that “the Federal Government-led mobilizations during World War II and the New Deal era created the greatest middle class that the US has ever seen” and frames the GND as “a historic opportunity to create millions of good, high-wage jobs in the United States.” The resolution also calls for universal health care and preventing monopolies. GND projects include a focus on community-level resilience and development as well as directing political power and public investment down to the state, local and worker level, safeguarding environmental and labor standards and prioritizing family-wage jobs.
The GND is not a bill. It will never be voted on as it stands. It is a starting point; a place to begin a conversation that becomes more critical daily. There is a distance between aspirations and reality, but there are elements addressed in the GND that are essential to future legislation. Models for structuring the GND are only in the initial stages of discussion.
One of my favorite quotes by George Bernard Shaw states the following:
Imagination is the beginning of creation.
You imagine what you desire,
you will what you imagine, and
at last you create what you will.
The GND is a document which challenges every citizen to look at global realities and reflect on what kind of society and what kind of world we want, not only for ourselves, but for future generations. It requires us not to react, but to think. It is not necessary to adopt everything in the GND, but to look at the principles inherent in the document and determine what is the most effective way of creating a more just society for all.
It is the youth today who are mobilizing and challenging adults and governments in every country. Fifteen-year old Greta Thunberg from Sweden recently addressed world leaders at a United Nations climate summit in Poland. To the assembly she said:
I speak on behalf of Climate Justice Now.
Many people say that Sweden is just a small country and it doesn’t matter what we do.
But I’ve learned you are never too small to make a difference.
And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to. But to do that, we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be.
You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake.
You are not mature enough to tell it like is. Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet.
Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money.
Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.
The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act.
You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.
Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.
We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, and we need to focus on equity. And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself.
We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again.
We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time.
We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.
There is currently momentum growing for a School Strike for Climate to take place around the globe. It is being organized by young people, many still in high school. The future generation is speaking loudly and clearly. Are we willing to listen?
March 1, 2019