The Green New Deal (GND), a resolution sponsored by House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward Markey, proposes a sweeping reform of the nation’s environmental and social policies. Its bold proposals, while popular among voters, have already soured the faces of congressional leaders. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has dismissed the proposed deal as “a dream, or whatever they call it,” while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to hold a vote on the GND to portray Democrats who support it as naïve and radical. Something these leaders have in common? At roughly 80 years of age, they will never live to see the worst effects of climate change devastate communities across the globe.
In the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) landmark report last year, the panel noted that failing to keep the world from warming 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, as opposed to a more ambitious target of 1.5 degrees, will impose devastating consequences. The extra 0.5 degrees of warming could expose 10 million more people to risks associated with sea level rise, increase the number of people living under water stress by 50 percent, and put several hundred million more people at the simultaneous risk of poverty and climate change-related harm. Right now, the Climate Action Tracker projects that the world is nowhere close to preventing these devastating effects and is in fact on track to warm a catastrophic 3 degrees Celsius.
At the same time, the United States is grappling with economic inequality and widespread social injustice. It is no secret that wages for everyday Americans are stagnating, while the top 1 percent of earners continue to capture most of the nation’s wealth. No less troubling, racial and gender pay gaps show few signs of budging.
In the face of this troubling evidence that environmental, economic, and social well-being are on a rapid decline, the Green New Deal is a welcome call to action. By addressing both the climate and socio-economic crises in one plan, the resolution encourages us to consider the possibility of complete transformation rather than piecemeal reform. Leaders are reasonable to call its feasibility into question, but dismissing it out of hand is equally short-sighted.
What's in the Green New Deal?
The Green New Deal proposes to mitigate climate change, as well promote economic and social equity, through the achievement of several projects by 2030. Some of the most eye-catching ideas include:
Can it all be done?
Commentators have been quick to point out that the GND’s policy ambitions require a great deal of government spending and may be infeasible to accomplish within the proposed ten-year timeframe.
A report recently published in Forbes attempts to clarify how much the proposal might actually cost. Among the deal’s environmental objectives, switching to renewable energy would cost around $200 billion per year, while taking steps to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere may cost about $110 billion annually.
The cost of some of the GND’s proposed economic reforms is even more formidable. Providing universal healthcare could cost around $1.4 trillion a year, and a jobs guarantee program could run annual costs of $543 billion. A universal basic income proposal was also included, which added trillions to the jobs guarantee.
A Bloomberg report estimates that the GND’s most significant policy proposals could cost $6.6 trillion dollars annually, roughly the same amount that the federal government spent last year.
In addition to its jaw-dropping price tag, the technical feasibility of the deal is also questionable. While the GND proposes meeting all US energy demand with renewables by 2030, experts are hoping to reach this goal by 2050. Additionally, the plan proposes a massive switch from traditional automobiles to electric vehicles, something the industry might not be prepared to do in just ten years. Others criticize that the deal does not include policies like the carbon tax, an externality tax on carbon emissions, nor does it address global emissions deals at a time when the USA only represents 14% of total emissions.
It is well worth noting, however, that some of the GND’s individual proposals seem quite reasonable on their own. The annual estimated cost of switching to renewable energy, for example, is less than half of federal defense spending in 2018.
What to do with the Green New Deal?
Despite its impracticability, the Green New Deal makes a valiant effort to focus national attention on a set of issues that are fundamental to the well-being of Americans. It calls upon the nation to rise above its internal divisions and provide to the next generation the simple yet profound guarantees of safety and equality.
We should approach the deal with this in mind and, rather than dismiss it, develop it further. Perhaps what we need is a plan that carries us through more than a single decade - one that proposes realistic, long-term actions we may take to achieve a more sustainable society. Or, rather than an avalanche of sweeping reforms, Congress may want to consider just a few of the GND’s signature proposals, all of which are likely to make a huge difference. First and foremost, we must tackle climate change, as its effects will be irreversible, destabilizing, and further devastate already vulnerable populations.
Whatever we do, we must not ignore the Green New Deal. While the plan itself verges on naïve, the problems it seeks to address are undeniably linked to the long-term vitality of our planet. It is a plea for change that we ignore at our own peril.
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