On February 7, 2019, representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and senator Ed Markey released the Green New Deal resolution, a document that has since been widely discussed, endorsed and criticised. This resolution declares 5 goals and 14 projects for tackling climate change and social welfare.
I personally believe this to have been a giant step for the US, known for its particular distaste for taking environmental action, notably in the international arena. I’ll elaborate more on this later in the post, but suffices to say that the world’s second greatest polluter and GHG emitter hasn’t been very keen on taking climate action.
But first things first: let’s clarify the key concepts and players involved in the Green New Deal so we can build our comprehension on a stable foundation.
Key Concepts and Players
New Deal: you probably thought “hum, I’ve heard of a New Deal before…”. That’s right, you have. The New Deal was a US federal program of social reforms implemented by president Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s to address the social calamity left by the Great Depression that followed the crisis of 1929.
Resolution: this is a very important part of the discussion. A resolution — and more specifically in this case, a simple resolution — is a document that does not have the force of law.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: a representative elected in 2018 by the State of New York from the Democratic Party, the youngest woman ever to serve in the United States Congress.
Ed Markey: one of the two senators for the State of Massachussetts — the other one being Elizabeth Warren, a strong contender for the 2020 US presidential elections —, both belonging to the Democratic Party. Markley was elected in 2014.
IPCC: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body from the United Nations created in 1988 for evaluating climate change science.
So the Green New Deal purposely references Roosevelt’s New Deal by addressing not only environmental (“Green“) but also social reforms that the United States must see to if it wants to survive and thrive the coming decades, as well as correcting some social problems that have been eating away at the country’s social fabric — such as access to health care and secondary education, and racism.
The resolution comes after the IPCC released a Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC on October 8th, 2018, listing what effects we can expect if humanity crosses that threshold — that is, having the planet 1.5 ºC warmer than pre-industrial levels — and what we need to do to not cross it.
It may seem like a very little change if we compare this to our understanding of temperature in our daily lives, but an increase of 1.5 ºC in global temperature would mean more severe weather patterns, such as rainfall, droughts, desertification and storms in general (including ciclones), and rising sea levels, to name a few. This intensification of weather-related phenomena can cause floods, loss of ecosystems, loss of farming lands, destruction of urban areas and loss of biodiversity. For humans, this could mean loss of homes, loss of livelihoods (since farming lands that many families depend on would be gone) and diminished access to drinking water, which can cause a large number of migrating masses, straining our already fragile ability to deal with this issue. Needless to say, that’s a recipe for complex social problems.
I would like to take this moment to say that environmental justice is a serious matter. These kinds of migrations are already happening , particularly in some regions of Africa. Generally — and, must I add, logically —, the most affected people by climate change are vulnerable and poor communities (take a look at the tragedy of ciclone Idai for instance, in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi). I’m preparing a more thorough and theoretically based exploration of this subject, but I just want to say that this is already a reality.
The United States has big stakes on climate change; both as a major contributor to it and as country that will suffer from its effects. They have experienced severe droughts (California experienced a drought that lasted 376 weeks, from December 27, 2011 to March 5th 2019 and its most destructive and fatal wildfires in 2018, certainly aided by this drought); hurricanes ( e.g., Katrina, Sandy, Irma and Harvey); floods (the midwest has been particularly affected by them); and extreme weather (such as winter in 2019, which left fatal victims and record-breaking low temperatures), to name a few.
Thus, the Green New Deal, albeit late, opened the way for a larger discussion on the problems climate change entails. It has mobilised various sectors of the US, for either constructive support or backlash, but it is being discussed. Below I will share with you a summary of the 5 Green New Deal Goals and the 14 Green New Deal Mobilization Projects. If you want to read the resolution in its integrity, which I highly recommend, you can access it here.
The Green New Deal Goals
- Net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers
- Create millions of high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all
- Invest in infrastructure and industry to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century
- Clean air and water, climate and community resiliency, healthy food, access to nature, and a sustainable environment for all
- Promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of frontline and vulnerable communities
The Green New Deal Mobilization Projects
- Build infrastructure to create resiliency against climate change-related disasters
- Repairing and upgrading the infra- structure in the United States via sustainable solutions and inclusion
- Meet 100% of power demand through clean and renewable energy sources
- Build energy-efficient, distributed smart grids and ensure affordable access to electricity
- Upgrade or replace every building in US for maximum energy efficiency
- Massively expand clean manufacturing (like solar panel factories, wind turbine factories, battery and storage manufacturing, energy efficient manufacturing components) and remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing
- Work with farmers and ranchers to create a sustainable, pollution and greenhouse gas free, food system that ensures universal access to healthy food and expands independent family farming
- Overhauling transportation systems in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible
- Mitigate long-term health effects of climate change and pollution
- Remove greenhouse gases (GHG) from our atmosphere and pollution through afforestation, preservation, and other methods of restoring our natural ecosystems
- Restore all our damaged and threatened ecosystems
- Clean up all the existing hazardous waste sites and abandoned sites
- Identify new emission sources and create solutions to eliminate those emissions
- Make the US the leader in addressing climate change and share our technology, expertise and products with the rest of the world to bring about a Green New Deal (sorry, I fully support the Green New Deal, but I chuckled reading this one).
We can see that these are some bold goals. The resolution has been criticised for being vague, resembling more of a wishlist than an actual project, but this is all that the Green New Deal effectively is at the moment: a resolution, without force of law. I think it’s natural that it’s a bit vague. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other representatives, as well as the Senate, will have to push separate bills in Congress to try and make the Green New Deal a reality.
In addition, a now taken down draft version of a FAQ about the resolution contained some pretty bad language choices that fuelled the opposition’s discourse for bashing it (having read the FAQ in question I can confidently say some intern has been very much fired). While Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s office did release this FAQ, the actual resolution text doesn’t contain any of the information the opposition says it does. President Donald Trump for instance didn’t waste the opportunity to say that Democrats want to outlaw air travel, take your car from you and give money to people even if they are unwilling to work. Granted, the controversial FAQ document did contain the margin for some of the claims the opposition rushed to bash, but the resolution itself makes no mention of any of this.
Speaking from an international point of view, the United States has not been a very friendly force of cooperation in what concerns environmental action, particularly since the election of D. Trump. In fact, it has hampered international environmental action by removing its participation in the Paris Agreement, which, among other effects, led the way for other conservative leaders to want to do the same, such as Brazil’s President J. Bolsonaro. We cannot afford, as a global society, to have leaders from powerful nations such as the US taking those kinds of actions at this moment. The IPCC report I mentioned earlier is this post states that we now have 12 years to address global warming before the damages are irreversible. Twelve years for global action might as well be 2 minutes.
However, this power of discourse isn’t a prerogative of D. Trump, thankfully. It’s a prerogative the US has — I must add, through exploration, war, imperialism and racism — built for itself as a country. Which is exactly why it can be a good thing. If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez manages to push the bills that would make the Green New Deal (GND) a reality, and if it is effectively implemented, now that would be a force to be reckoned with on the good side. Of course, the GND is more concerned with internal affairs, but the power that this would add to global climate and environmental action cannot be dismissed. The power of influence cannot be dismissed.
When powerful countries such as the United States begin implementing internal policies aimed at sustainability, this can create a ripple effect in which other countries, according to their own social and economic realities but having a reference to look to, begin to do the same. That is the kind of action we are urgently needing for the planet right now. And this is just one of the reasons why people such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are so important to have at this moment; people that will push this agenda. I’m really eager to follow up on the Green New Deal’s discussions and developments. While I know this will be an arduous road filled with both support and aggression, it is a very relevant subject for international environmental politics and for the planet as a whole.
House of Representatives. The Green New Deal Resolution. Available at: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-resolution/109/text
McDonald, Jessica. The Facts on the Green New Deal. Available at: https://www.factcheck.org/2019/02/the-facts-on-the-green-new-deal/
IPCC. Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/
NIDIS. Drought in California. Available at: https://www.drought.gov/drought/states/california
Floodlist. USA – for a Flooded Midwest, Climate Forecasts Offer Little Comfort. Available at: http://floodlist.com/america/usa/flood-midwest-climate-forecasts-march-2019
Friedman, Lisa. What is the Green New Deal? A Climate Proposal, Explained. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/21/climate/green-new-deal-questions-answers.html