The Green New Deal has its origins long before the newest, youngest and most diverse U.S. Congress in history took their oaths of office at the start of 2019. However, the concept is getting more traction and entering the national consciousness thanks to the progressive Democrats, giving it the potential to become the most influential policy to come out of the United States in more than a century.
But what does this policy entail? The truth is, it would not be just one simple law — it would be a culmination of policies forming a political philosophy that could tilt the agenda towards a more progressive, environmentally sound social agenda for the country, with implications for the world.
This article seeks to explain what the Green New Deal is and why, from its nascency among leftists and environmentalists, is garnering more and more support in mainstream circles.
"The New Deal"
Breaking it down into its composite elements, it's important to understand the historical context of the New Deal, a policy pushed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (U.S. president from 1933-1945). It has power over the psyche of U.S. citizens.
It began as nothing more than a campaign slogan that communicated a simplified message of interventionist economics in which the government would take responsibility for economic development through targeted spending, but in the end, it changed the face of the United States for generations.
Before this policy was enacted, the U.S. had suffered its deepest and longest economic depression in its history, leaving scores of the population destitute within the context of a country living under a regime of severe income equality. People were broke, starving, and losing their land and livelihoods.
The New Deal regulated the financial industry, increased public works via government spending, gave farmers and tenants protection from landlords, guaranteed labor rights, and created a social safety net to protect the most vulnerable citizens.
The generation of U.S. citizens that lived through that time and later through World War II, was dubbed the Greatest Generation. Their struggle and the overcoming of that struggle gave U.S. citizens and identity, and idea which still has significant sway over self-perception of U.S. history and lore.
Why “Green”? Why Now?
The U.N. has warned that the world has less than 12 years to avert the worst effects of climate catastrophes. To be clear, the world is already experiencing climate change in the form of more intense storms, more severe droughts, and other extreme weather conditions, but according to the dates, it will get much, much worse.
Action from the world, especially the United States, which has historically contributed up to 27 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the biosphere, has been much too slow. We're in a situation in which corporate profits supersede people's individual dignity and the integrity of land, water, and other natural resources, leaving them up to plunder. In this context, evironmentalism, the environment, becomes an afterthought, and a liability.
Another sad fact, as reported by the Atlantic, is that the United States actually increased its carbon emissions in 2018.
At the same time that the environmental pictures is becoming dire, income inequality in the United States has skyrocketed to levels not seen since the Gilded Age when robber barons interested only in self-enrichment left people vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
What is the Green New Deal?
The person most credited with making the Green New Deal part of the national dialogue and who has become its face it, is the 29-year-old freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She frames her banner climate policy through the lens of “American exceptionalism,” saying, “This is going to be the New Deal, the Great Society, the moon shot, the civil-rights movement of our generation.”
While the specific policy measures are still being worked out, the concept is to take the force of government on a grand scale and use it to create jobs, industry, inventions, and interventions, all with the aim of creating a truly sustainable model built on ecological principles.
It's a philosophy that runs contrary to the traditional philosophy of finance that posits neverending consumption for economic growth regardless of the rampant, irreversible destruction of land, forests, habitats, and animal species. It also rejects the dominance of the "free market" and the "invisible hand" which has failed both the environment and the people who live in it.
The proposal also aims to have the United States become a completely fossil free country within 12 years, which some have called a radical proposal. Regardless, many of the new progressive Democrats in the U.S. Congress are pushing for these policies in practical ways:
“Only Radicals Have Changed the Country”
Ocasio-Cortez posits that the Green New Deal would require massive change on a rapid schedule, but the U.S. economy, just like the vast majority of countries in the world, is dependent on fossil fuels, and changing the status quo and the technology of today based on current norms would undoubtedly affect quality of life.
In order to address this challenge, proponents of the policy, focus the government’s role in creating new technologies to address both the questions related to quality of life that arise and economic activity.
Investment is required by the government comparable to the amount of money spent developing military technology throughout the 20th century, and with as much single-mindedness as the creation of the atomic bomb during World War II. Essentially, progressives liken it to being in a war with time when it comes to the environment, and the United States should start acting like it.
The capitalistic model however refuses to make the investments or risks required to make such a rapid change. In an interview on 60 minutes, Ocasio-Cortez proposes increasing the tax rate on top earners:
“People talk often about the infrastructure investment that has to happen, and new technology,” Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff. “But there’s also an industrial plan that needs to happen to build entirely new industries. It’s sort of like the moonshot. When JFK said America was going to go to the moon, none of the things we needed to get to the moon at that point existed. But we tried and we did it.” The Green New Deal, he added, “touches everything — it’s basically a massive system upgrade for the economy.”
Extreme times call for extreme measures, and the United States under Trump, has become nothing if not extreme. The blowback against the Trump administration and the slow realization that the United States has regressed to the point where a small oligarchy, the new robber barons, control many media outlets and are pushing policies that have crushed the so-called American dream for so many. Right-wing elements are already mobilzing against the idea but so far, their criticism are on the fringe. The Green New Deal enjoys broad support, because it may be the last chance the United States has to act for the environment before major catastrophes ensue.