Since the rise of neoliberalism and neoconservatism from the 1970s onward, the American political Overton window has shifted dramatically to the right. Because of this, policies like a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent on the wealthiest Americans are viewed as “radical” when, in fact, the top rate in the 1950s during Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency was higher than that at a whopping 90 percent. These bold ideas have been reintroduced to the political mainstream through the support of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a former Bronx bartender turned congresswoman. Additionally, she has used her time in office to introduce and tirelessly advocate for ambitious new proposals — most significantly, the Green New Deal.
If you only watched Fox News, you would think the Green New Deal is some scary government takeover of major parts of the U.S. economy that also bans cows and cars. Even avid CNN and MSNBC watchers might not know much about the Green New Deal beyond whether or not Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer support it. So what actually is this “controversial” idea?
As defined by New Consensus, the visionary policy team spearheading the proposal, the Green New Deal is a “sweeping economic mobilization to build a clean and just economy.” It has five main goals: the achievement of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, the creation of millions of jobs and promotion of economic prosperity, the investment in U.S. infrastructure and industry, the securing of a sustainable environment for all, and the promotion of justice and equity among those communities most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The New Consensus is currently crafting specific policy proposals to achieve these goals, but the main focus right now is to shift the political discourse around climate change towards better policy.
As it stands, the Green New Deal is just a framework for how the United States could get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an objective body dedicated to providing the world with a scientific view of climate change and the political and economic consequences it can have, released a report in 2018 stating that if the global temperature rises by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, the results will be catastrophic. The report details how the Earth is “already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice” and more. But a temperature increase above 1.5 degrees celsius would make changes irreversible. To stay under this threshold, human-caused emissions would need to reach net-zero globally by 2050.
Unlike most other members of Congress, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has actively treated human-caused climate change with the urgency it warrants. This has led her to be one of the leading champions of the Green New Deal. Last November, AOC — to which she is commonly referred — and activists from the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led political movement that advocates political action on climate change, staged a sit-in in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office to petition for a select Congressional committee for the Green New Deal. In February, AOC and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a Green New Deal resolution as another push to improve the quality of discourse around climate change, which will hopefully lead to more robust climate-related policy. While doing all of this, she has relentlessly promoted the agenda to her millions of followers on social media.
The follow-up to these events was deeply disappointing. Speaker Pelosi did revive a committee on climate change, but to the dismay of activists, it has many weaknesses. For instance, the committee does not have subpoena power, which would be key to bringing in scientists and other experts to testify about the climate crisis. In March, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brought the Green New Deal resolution to the floor for a stunt vote — a rushed vote to try and kill an issue quickly. 57 senators (all Republicans and four Democrats) voted “no” and 43 senators (all Democrats) voted “present.”
As with any new idea, money is already being used to influence politicians to oppose the Green New Deal and turn citizens against it. According to MapLight.org, a watchdog organization that investigates the influence of money in politics, congressional opponents of the Green New Deal resolution received an average of $9,863 dollars in campaign donations from employees of big oil and gas companies.
To say the least, none of this is encouraging. To top it all off, the top Democrats on the House Energy Committee recently revealed a “bold” alternative to the Green New Deal that would get the United States to net-zero emissions by 2050. This “plan” completely misses the whole point of the Green New Deal, which deliberately sets the United States’ net-zero goal at 2030 because waiting until 2050 would leave no room for any unforeseen circumstances. Assuming the United States reaches net-zero by 2030, this would also give other countries a path to follow before the 2050 deadline.
As said before, the Green New Deal is intended to act as more of a vision for America than a direct piece of policy. It is also important to remember that the original New Deal was much a product of political imagination during one of the darkest times in American history. The Great Depression required Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress to experiment with policy in order to find out what worked and what did not. It required political courage by politicians to stand up to big businesses, and for people to mobilize to demand that the government work for them. The Green New Deal will require the same action. It will require experimentation to see which climate policies are most effective (investment in green energy, carbon taxes, new regulations, new executive agencies, etc.). It will require that politicians reject the influence of the big oil and gas companies who have put their short-term profit-making over the long-term effects that the climate crisis is having on the world. It will require all of us to organize and demand our government and politicians save us from a heat-related extinction event while making sure that no one is left behind in the transition to a cleaner, carbonless economy.
There is no doubt that some legislative package or set of policies that resembles a Green New Deal would be one of the most ambitious projects the United States government has taken on since the Great Depression. However, large problems demand large-scale action. Climate change is already decimating landscapes and communities, putting coastal cities underwater, changing weather patterns, hurting the economy, damaging infrastructure, and adversely affecting humanity in other regards. What happens in the next few years will determine the future of the human race and the planet. The rise of politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and activist groups like the Sunrise Movement who have already pushed the political discourse towards the right direction should give us hope for the future. But hope will not be enough. The spark of opportunity has been ignited, and it is up to us to nurture the Green New Deal into an unstoppable people-powered force that saves humanity from itself and creates a better, fairer world in the process.
Categories: Domestic Affairs