On Feb. 7, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward J. Markey introduced a resolution in the House and Senate, respectively, titled ‘Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal.’ This resolution, colloquially known as the Green New Deal (GND), revolves around the much-debated issue of how the government needs to deal with the effects of climate change. The resolution details what types of projects the authors believe the government should invest in and highlights the effects of climate change on “frontline and vulnerable communities.”
The GND lays out a vision for how the United States can deal with climate change and its intersections with other issues of much political debate, such as healthcare, housing and education. The resolution states the need for the government to provide funding to counter effects of climate change and for technology to mitigate the worst potential pollution and global warming effects. It also specifies the necessity of economic security and prosperity, access to nature and clean water, healthcare as a right, labor rights and the rights of indigenous communities.
All of the Democratic 2020 hopefuls who have announced their intentions to run for president have signed onto the Senate bill as co-sponsors. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Feb. 12 that he would bring the resolution to a vote soon. Those who have read the resolution may be wondering—what exactly are they voting on?
“For me, at its core, the Green New Deal is two things,” Professor of Economics and Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mark Paul explained. “It’s trying to come up with a comprehensive response to climate change. To date there’s been no plan on the left, right or center about how we should actually decarbonize our economy and ensure that we meet our climate goals. The second aspect of the Green New Deal is acknowledging the fact that our economy is broken for the vast majority of Americans, and that climate and inequality are inexplicably linked.”
According to both Paul and Professor of Political Science Frank Alcock, there are three ways the government can combat climate change and help the environment more broadly: they can impose smart rules and regulations, provide incentives for individuals and corporations to invest in cleaner and greener technologies or they can invest government funds.
“Rhetorically, [the Green New Deal] is channeling [Franklin Delano Roosevelt] FDR’s New Deal, that helped bring the country out of the depression,” Alcock said. “The idea is we would do something on that scale, but it would be intentionally greening.”
The GND is based on an earlier version of a Green New Deal that Jill Stein of the Green Party has been promoting for many years. The Green Party’s GND contains a rights-based framework, advocating for the right to a clean environment for all.
“For me, some of the frustration is [the bill] doesn’t say very much,” Alcock said. “It’s another re-articulation of a vision for where we want to be. The actual bill that [Ocasio-Cortez] has filed is a resolution, so in and of itself Congress would simply be expressing its intention. It has some of that rights-based framework, but also articulates a number of very ambitious goals.”
The concern of critics, even those who agree with the goals laid out in the GND, is that there is no framework laid out in the bill for actual policies that need to be applied to accomplish these goals.
“In terms of a roadmap for how to get there, instead of telling you where you want to be, there’s not much there,” Alcock said. “I don’t think there’s any one single elixir. If there is one thing I would like to accomplish, it would be putting a price on carbon, which is a nice way of saying a tax.”
Paul concurs with Alcock’s belief in pricing carbon. Paul claims that the most important form of government incentive is “getting the prices right.”
“That is basically the idea that we need carbon pricing, in order to change relative prices,” Paul said, “so that carbon-intensive goods are more expensive, compared to goods and services that have a small carbon footprint.”
Both professors agree that to meet the terms of the GND as proposed will take many years. Paul is currently working with the Roosevelt Institute to try to determine how to build consensus around a GND.
“I’m in the midst of co-writing a report on the Green New Deal for the Roosevelt Institute,” Paul explained. “It’s on the economics of a Green New Deal, and it fleshes out ‘What is a Green New Deal?’ and ‘What do the economics of it look like?’ including how we’re going to pay for it. It also will provide some basic policy ideas for the types of environmental policies that should be included to actually achieve decarbonization of the U.S. economy. I’ve also been working with a number of senators to advise them, and members of Congress, about environmental policy and how we are going to build consensus around a Green New Deal.”
While the policy planning may take time, there is continuous work to do to advocate for GND-type policies on the local, state and federal levels.
“I think some of the biggest things New College students can do is make your voices heard,” Paul said. “Reach out to your representatives: it is critical. Get involved with similar-minded activist groups to demand change from our elected officials. I think that making sure that we vote and hold elected officials accountable. Florida, for instance, is filled with elected officials that either deny climate change or take large sums of money from fossil-fuel companies. I think we should demand that they stop doing that, particularly because we are in one of the most climate-vulnerable states in the country.”