10 Years to Save the World: The Green New Deal
by Alp Ünal AYHAN
It is widely known by now that humans cause climate change. UN’s International Panel on Climate Change reckoned that "human influence on climate has been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century (1)" in a 2018 report. The same report also concluded that a reduction of 40-60% of carbon emissions has to be accomplished by 2030 and we should achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This report caused a huge uproar but climate change was known for a long time. Global warming has been researched since the 1800s but a landmark study confirming human-made climate change was published in 1972 (2). The news media and politicians did not consider climate change to be a serious threat at the time. Decades of inaction led to more CO2 emissions and climate change becoming more and more of an urgent issue. This brings us to this day when every year is hotter than the last one, once-in-a-lifetime hurricanes are a regular occurrence, sea levels are rising, ice caps are melting and the top 10% of earners are responsible for 49% of global CO2 emissions (3). The figure I just mentioned is a stark reminder of how we came to this position. The persistent refusal of the rich and the powerful to address climate change for the sake of making more money paved the way to an unprecedented disaster on a global scale with no escape.
The Green New Deal aims to remedy this by mobilizing resources in the right way so that the US economy smoothly and efficiently transitions into a green economy. A Green New Deal was called for by some for decades but first rose to national prominence when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced it in 2019. It is very ambitious and comprehensive, which led proponents to call it brilliantly designed plan and critics to call it a socialist pipe dream that will never realize but we should read it and take a look at what it is and what it proposes to make judgments.
First things first, the Green New Deal is not a bill or an act. It is a resolution in the House of Representatives that outlines what the federal government should do to combat climate change, also described by Ocasio-Cortez as “a vision document.” There are breakaway pieces of legislation from this resolution that tackle various aspects of the crisis the world is facing.
In the first half of its preamble, it explains its motivation and answers key questions such as what is to blame for climate change, why climate change is important, what can be done about it, and why the US specifically needs to step up on climate. In the second half of the preamble, it lays out the concurrent crises the US is facing such as wage stagnation, income inequality, lack of government funds to combat climate change, and points the finger on “systemic injustices.” It also addresses how climate change is a national security threat to the US. At the end of its preamble, it concludes the solution lies in “a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal era.” The climate emergency is seen as an opportunity to create jobs, provide economic security, and combat systemic injustices.
Now that the preamble is out of the way, we can see what it is proposing. While there are a lot of proposals that relate more to the social justice side of these concurrent crises that deserve to be talked about but to keep the article short I will be talking specifically about the proposals that fall under the climate category. The Green New Deal calls for eliminating pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as much as technologically feasible, meeting 100% of the power demand in the US through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources, updating and building buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency, supporting clean manufacturing, getting emissions out of the agricultural sector, overhauling transportation systems in the US to remove greenhouse gas emissions and removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Some more social justice-related proposals include obtaining the consent of indigenous peoples that affect them, providing all people of the US with healthcare; housing and college education, democratizing the Green New Deal mobilization, strengthening labor unions and ensuring a fair and just transition to clean energy jobs from fossil fuel jobs.
All of these sound like good ideas so why is not the Green New Deal being implemented already? That has a lot to do with political polarization. While there are genuine concerns over the cost and implementation of the Green New Deal, much of the talk about it is centered around the politics and financing of it but not the actual problem of climate change and its solutions. Republicans who were exposed to Fox News more than once a week were less than half as likely to support the Green New Deal than Republicans who were not. (4) Fox News is frequently accused of using misleading and inflammatory rhetoric to deter viewers from “progressive” policy proposals or causes.
Will we catch on with the overwhelming scientific consensus and act on climate change? Seems like time will tell, but we have very little time, a huge obstacle to overcome, and a lot of work to do. If we do not stand up and demand the necessary change the earth needs on time it may be too late to save it.
(1) IPCC SR15 Ch1 2018, p. 53.
(2) J. S. Sawyer (1 September 1972). "Man-made Carbon Dioxide and the "Greenhouse" Effect".
(3) Carnegie Science, Published by CargegieEnergyInnovation.org, Retrieved online July 2020.
(4) Gustafson, A., Rosenthal, S.A., Ballew, M.T. et al. The development of partisan polarization over the Green New Deal. Nat. Clim. Chang.9, 940–944 (2019).