It’s clear that we’ve reached a point of no return; we have, as the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned, but 12 years to save our planet. Half-measures or small tweaks are no longer sufficient. For this reason, climate activists have pushed for a new approach to end the compartmentalization of climate change as a pet issue and reconfigure progressive politics in a way that recognizes the link between climate and each of the major crises we face as a country.
This activism resulted in the proposed Green New Deal, introduced into Congress by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey in March 2019. The GND envisions something along the lines of FDR’s New Deal, while also transforming the economy to rely 100 percent on renewable energy sources. This vision has dramatically reframed the terms of the climate debate and is now the gold standard by which all climate change proposals are measured.
Of course many critics have dismissed the Green New Deal as a pipe dream: unrealistic and far too expensive. Yet looking at it this way confuses an “expense” for an investment. Not only would the GND rid us of polluting energy sources, it would create a plethora of jobs in green energy in their place, save money for homeowners by retrofitting buildings, and all of this would be underpinned by an economy that supports those affected by the transition. The estimated costs of not acting, for agricultural workers, for rural communities and communities of color—those often at the greatest mercy of climate change—for the places and the lives that would no doubt be lost to climate catastrophes, are incalculable. FDR’s New Deal incurred similar fears in his day, yet is remembered now for having created a vast physical infrastructure of dams and other public works still in use, millions of jobs through the Works Progress Administration, and helped pull the United States out of the depths of Depression. The moral imperative for a Green New Deal is clear, and despite the naysayers, so is the economic one.
The question we must then ask is: Can we win the skeptics to our side? We might have a better chance if we could outline the Deal with greater specificity. How can we pay for it? How will it improve the lives of ordinary Americans? And how does it become politically viable? To answer these and other questions, with the support of the Open Society Foundations, we looked to some of the most influential experts and proponents of the Deal. Yes, the Green New Deal would be transformative. Yes, it would fundamentally alter the foundations of the American economy. But these steps are necessary if we are to turn the tide on something far more costly.