The introduction of the first comprehensive Green New Deal legislation is a small step toward the goal of saving the planet, but it also marks a metamorphosis of the politics of climate change.
The resolution, which Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) will introduce in the House alongside Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts in the Senate, will outline the scope, goals, and projects of a Green New Deal. The resolution recognizes that the goals of a Green New Deal should include eliminating carbon and other forms of pollution while securing a just transition for all communities and workers, creating millions of good jobs, and fostering greater community resilience. The resolution proposes a ten-year mobilization that includes 100 percent clean and renewable power; investments in infrastructure, energy efficiency, an innovation; and an overhaul of the transportation sector. Finally it recognizes that good climate policy requires good economic and social policy. That means provisions for a job guarantee, universal health care, labor protections, Indigenous rights and the expansion of democratic and participatory processes, among a number of other requirements.
Markey’s involvement is a marker of how both the ambitions of climate change activists and the severity of the crisis have grown in tandem over time. In 2009, then-Congressman Markey introduced a cap-and-trade bill that passed the House but never made it to the Senate floor for a vote. The climate community was unbowed by the failure of that bill, because politics don’t change the punishing arithmetic of the greenhouse effect, which demands more and more aggressive action the longer we wait to take it. Ten years later, Markey is back, but his proposal bears almost no resemblance to the smaller measures he once endorsed.
The pressure is now on Congress to turn this vision into pragmatic laws to address metastasizing ecological crises–and fast. In the weeks and months to come, in response to a growing body of scientific literature, more members will introduce more Green New Deal bills. The party is realigning around a new climate consensus. Where economists once divined the right price per metric ton of carbon from spreadsheets, politicians now plot to bring the full might of the federal government to bear on the climate crisis and create millions of good green jobs and modern infrastructure in the process.
The success or failure of this project will turn on the candidates vying to challenge Donald Trump in 2020, so it’s critical that they view Green New Deal politics as a way to distinguish themselves from their peers in a crowded primary field . More than a few candidates, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Mike Bloomberg have taken their cues from Sunrise and are already voicing support for Rooseveltian approaches to climate change. Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) even says he will make climate his top priority if he joins the race.
The resolution, drafted by leaders in the progressive movement, is a benchmark. It gives campaigners a substantive organizing hook to hold candidates accountable, so they can’t tap into the Green New Deal zeitgeist without embracing the actual goals outlined in the resolution.
But politics is more than just draft legislation. Candidates need to talk about the Green New Deal, and how to implement it, in a way that resonates with the public. And if the history of cap-and-trade is any indication, our political leaders will mess this up if they only understand the Green New Deal as a hodgepodge of legislative provisions.
Here are five rules for Democratic candidates who want to win (and avoid getting dunked on) when they campaign on a Green New Deal.
Talk It Up
Any serious Democratic candidate must signal that mustering the full force of the U.S. government and economy to respond to the climate crisis is not only a moral imperative but a top priority in line with universal healthcare, a fair minimum wage, anti-corruption, criminal justice reform, and voting rights. For too long, Congress and the federal government have advanced incremental changes that do not match the scale and urgency of the climate crisis.
A Green New Deal is the bold economic mobilization that science tells us is required to eliminate fossil fuels and other pollutants from our economy by mid-century. Falling short of that goal commits us to a world of greater economic, social, and environmental insecurity. Building a legislative consensus will take time and effort, but it will never happen if the eventual Democratic nominee doesn’t adopt a strong climate agenda, and prime the party to take swift action when progressive forces regain governing power, hopefully in 2021.
Bring It Home
The climate crisis, pollution, and social inequality touch every aspect of our economy and people’s lives. Yet the impacts are often as scary to some as the policies to solve them are to others. Candidates should portray a Green New Deal as an engine of American prosperity, a project whose tangible benefits will generate immeasurable ambition, rather than try to outmode opponents by setting lofty goals and aggressive deadlines, as if tackling climate change were like homework or dieting.
Candidates and opinion-makers can do this by describing a Green New Deal as a remedy for personal and local issues that people experience every day: air and water pollution and high energy costs in low-income and minority communities. Mass transit inadequacies, congestion, and sprawl in urban and suburban communities. Stagnating economic growth and shrinking union jobs set against dwindling wildlife and agricultural yields in rural communities. The loss of culture and community by encroaching sea levels in coastal towns and aggressive expansion of fossil fuel industries on public and Indigenous lands.
A Green New Deal will fundamentally change how we use energy, technology, land, air, and water in the public interest. The industries that fueled the previous American century are now the industries that threaten our continued existence. Champions of a Green New Deal must give people confidence that this transformation is not only possible but will put America on a path toward greater well-being, environmental stewardship, technological innovation, and industrial reinvigoration, and will create green, family-supporting, union jobs and a modern climate-resilient society.
The Green New Deal is a vision for a just, sustainable, fair, and secure life.
It’s the Economy
We’ve learned that we can’t keep these conversations confined to the environmental space anymore. The economic system that brings us pollution, environmental degradation, and the climate crisis is the same system that breeds income and wealth inequality and racial injustice. If the issues are linked, the solutions should be too.
The climate crisis is an economic crisis. At its core, a Green New Deal is an economic stimulus intended to create millions of livable-wage and family-supporting jobs, grow the economy, and redefine meaningful work and opportunity. We will have to build and manufacture our way out of this crisis with new energy and water infrastructure, new buildings and retrofit projects, and new technology. The Green New Deal of the 21st century should support and revive the labor movement that helped build America and sustain democracy in the 20th century.
The climate crisis is a social justice crisis. It is a racial justice crisis. It is a gender crisis. Indigenous peoples, communities of color, low-income families, migrants, and women around the world suffer the worst impacts of pollution and the climate crisis. Defining a Green New Deal should be an inclusive, transparent, and democratic process that considers the priorities of environmental and social justice groups. And it should be rooted in a just transition for workers and frontline communities most impacted by the climate crisis and the shift away from fossil fuels.
A Green New Deal is a broad economic renewal founded on sustainability, democracy, and justice to create a system that works for all. Building a large tent is pointless if you don’t invite people in.
What’s a pay-for?
We will pay for a Green New Deal like we pay for everything else: with public money appropriated by Congress. We must reject the false assertion that we have to find each dollar before we spend it—that’s not how federal budgeting actually works, and it’s definitely not how Congress thinks about tax cuts, defense spending, or financial bailouts.
Weather-related disasters have cost the U.S. over $350 billion in just the past two years. Putting climate policy in a straightjacket of austerity will ultimately rob public coffers of the trillions of dollars that will be required for adaptation and recovery over the next few decades.
A carbon price–such as a tax, fee, or cap-and-trade system–should not be the centerpiece of any Green New Deal, and is not needed to fund it. Putting a price on carbon might be useful way to set a floor price for oil and penalize pollution, creating important disincentives to extracting and using fossil fuels. But it is not the only tool in policy-maker’s toolbox, and must be designed carefully so that it does not pass the burden onto working families or allow the continuation of fossil fuel extraction, production, and pollution.
The original New Deal created the foundation upon which America thrived after WWII. Green New Deal investments will do the same for the next, more equitable century of American prosperity, while reducing the racial inequalities the original New Deal fostered and perpetuated through today.
Play Up The Popularity
If one thing is clear, it’s that a Green New Deal is popular. In polling commissioned in 2018 by 350 Action, Data for Progress, and Sunrise Movement, we found broad-based support for Green New Deal Policies such as 100 percent renewable energy and a green jobs programs. This was popular across age demographics and geography. Support for candidates running on these issues also went up.
Americans reject the false choice between environmental protection and jobs. In fact, according to an analysis of the 2016 American National Election Studies, almost 60 percent of Americans think that protecting the environment will create jobs, while only 22 percent think the opposite. A slim majority is even willing to increase taxes on pollution as part of a Green New Deal.
And most recently, a survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that 81 percent of Americans support the idea of a Green New Deal, including 88 percent of Independents and 64 percent of Republicans. They also found more than 60 percent support for a carbon tax and renewable energy standards, and more than 70 percent support for regulation of carbon dioxide and funding renewable energy sources.
The Latinx community, in particular, takes the climate crisis more seriously. Latinos and latinas are more concerned about global warming than other voters by a 22 point margin—and are far more likely to think it should be a high priority for Congress.
The data shows the Green New Deal has broad support, particularly among demographics that will be key to winning back the White House in 2020.
An Unavoidable Conversation
The climate crisis is the greatest collective-action problem in the history of humankind. It is an avoidable disaster with an unavoidable remedy. The eventual Democratic nominee should be the candidate who has the most compelling vision for a Green New Deal that transitions our economy off fossil fuels, redefines the meaning of good work, and provides a just transition for low-income, minority, and frontline communities. The 2020 candidates won’t be able to get through this primary treating climate change like a second-tier issue. Now that we know what a good plan looks like, we’re waiting to see theirs.
Greg Carlock is a Washington, DC-based researcher in climate-action policy and Green New Deal research director at Data for Progress. The views expressed here do not reflect those of World Resources Institute.
Julian Brave NoiseCat is a policy analyst at 350.org, correspondent at Real America with Jorge Ramos, and freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Guardian, The Nation, The Paris Review, and many other publications.