Since the recent midterm elections, public interest in the New Green Deal (GND) has skyrocketed in Washington and across the country. But, what is the GND and why is it causing such a stir?
The Green New Deal (GND) is a set of goals and proposed actions aimed at creating national economic and social change. The Sunrise Movement, started by young activists, created a political firestorm in November of last year by occupying Nancy Pelosi’s office demanding newly elected Democrats support a plan for a Green New Deal. The GND takes direct aim at oil companies and the politicians who profit from them. The GND’s goals also have a short timeline. The think tank, Data for Progress, states the GND’s goals must be “100% clean and renewable electricity by 2035,” “zero net emissions by 2050,” and “100% net-zero building energy standards by 2030.” That doesn’t leave much time for major restructuring, but then maybe there isn’t much time to spare.
Transform to a Low Carbon Economy
Scientists have been warning the world about climate change for decades. Why the recent urgency and upsurge in public interest? Two main catalysts for the GND were likely the 2016 presidential election and the October 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The 2016 election and the resulting administrative changes have caused a renewed public involvement with national policy. The IPCC report warned that even a half degree of global warming will have catastrophic consequences. It also urges action fast, saying, “Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050.” While these warnings about emissions are certainly concerning, the restructuring that would need to happen to make these changes is widespread.
A reduction of CO2 emissions to ‘net zero’ by the 2050 deadline, will require a huge economic transformation. A recent article in Vox described the GND as, “a massive program of investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure, meant to transform not just the energy sector, but the entire economy.” A big target for emissions change is the building sector. According to the non-profit Architecture 2030, the energy consumption for things like heating, cooling, and lights in buildings is currently at a rate of 49% of the national total. Buildings also account for 47% of greenhouse gas emissions in the country. Those numbers don’t even figure in the production of building materials and construction.
Another clear focus for emissions reduction is the transportation sector. Americans will have to say goodbye to fossil-fuels and say hello to renewable resources. In order to affect a successful transportation transformation, massive investment has to be made to restructure the way Americans travel. Currently, there are over 200 million cars on the road in the United States, most of which consume gasoline and emit pollutants. Change requires not only promotion of renewable fuel sources, but fuel stations will need to be retrofitted to supply them. Public transportation will also need an overhaul.
The GND demands a switch to a low-carbon economy, but in a socially responsible way. The climate change and environmental pollutants affect populations disproportionately. Methane-producing landfills and contaminated Superfund sites are often located in lower-income neighborhoods. Higher-income neighborhoods are usually built in areas less prone to flooding and landslides. While those in the top tax brackets can afford to migrate to safer ground, low-wage earners have fewer options for escaping natural disaster. The more hazardous jobs are generally avoided by the wealthy and left to people who have to be less selective. To address this dichotomy, the GND proposes federally guaranteed jobs for all job seekers and an increase in minimum wage to $15 per hour. Not only will the increased wage help to minimize the income gap, but those federally-guaranteed jobs would be mostly in the “green sector,” supporting the GND goals of improving climate change infrastructure, providing mass transit, and reforesting.
Restore the American Landscape
Restoration is the third arm of the far-reaching proposals of the GND. In addition to reducing toxic emissions, efforts to restore the planet’s natural filters on those toxins are on the agenda. Supporters of the Green New Deal want to, “reforest 40 million acres of public and private land by 2035.” Trees and forests are key because they’re one of the largest natural carbon sinks, sequestering carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. Restoring millions of acres of wetlands and promoting sustainable farming practices are also on the GND to-do list. The Clean Water Rule, enacted in 2015, has never been fully enforced. By giving the rule some teeth, the GND would shoot for cleaning up 2 million miles of streams and tributaries and 20 million acres of wetlands.
Most of the opposition to the Green New Deal comes in the form of financial concerns. To effect rapid change in infrastructure requires massive public investment. Federal funds must be made available to pay for jobs, improve infrastructure, promote sustainable fuel sources, and capture methane. But it wouldn’t be the first time the feds stepped up and helped the country out of a crisis. If the name “Green New Deal” calls to mind the initiatives started by FDR in the 1930’s that’s because a lot of the proposals mimic the original “New Deal.” Roosevelt put into place sweeping changes to pull the country out of the Great Depression. Those changes resulted in programs like Social Security, minimum wage, and the FDIC. Even though the New Deal was hampered by America’s involvement in the second World War, it brought about positive change in the economy. Proponents of the GND hope increased federal investment could do the same for the new world’s problems.
Nobody has claimed that the Green New Deal isn’t expensive or ambitious. The real question might not be whether or not we can afford it, but whether we can afford not to make changes.