Explainer: What’s the big deal with the Green New Deal?

TEditor’s Note: Next week, when the US Senate returns from its week-long recess, the Republicans are expected to push for the Green New Deal to be voted upon. This deal, introduced as a resolution by Senator Ed Markley and Representative Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez, is a climate policy that has been lauded by scientists and sociologists alike.

As India marches towards polling dates, understanding the Green New Deal is crucial for Indian voters as well, so that we are able to push for climate action to be taken seriously in our political scenario.

This is the first part of a two-part piece that touches upon climate policy and how the global youth are pushing for innovative policy approaches.

The Green New Deal has been through a complicated policy lifecycle. From dispelling rumours, garnering mixed House support, and giving it a confusing name, the Democrats sponsoring this bill may have done no special favours to the Green New Deal.

Amidst all the noise in the press, here’s an explainer to simplify the Green New Deal.

What is it?

The Green New Deal (GND) is a 10-year plan to overhaul the American economy, labour laws and most importantly, change environmental policy to stop fossil fuel funding to political campaigns and extend special provisions to marginalised groups.

The idea of the GND has been tossed around for many terms in the past, but as a result of active pressure from the Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led consortium of climate change activists lobbying for a top down reformation, the initial plan for the Green New Deal has been unveiled last December to mixed public reactions. More on the public understanding and reaction later.  

The GND proposed by Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (from the Bronx, New York) in December 2018 starts off by highlighting the goals of a Committee to be set up for the GND. House Democrats modified the proposal significantly (disappointing the initial drafters of this policy) to look like this.

That’s about it. It’s going to be a committee of 15 members deciding the regulations for major industries and sectors comprising nine Majority and six Minority representatives—meaning nine Democratic nominees and six Republican, as the House stands. The Committee will be set up under Nancy Pelosi (speaker of the House of Representatives) and so far, it is controversial.

The committee only has the “authority to develop a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilisation plan” and draft legislation to dictate the execution of it.

Why is it called the GND?

The New Deal, a series of top-down reforms from 1933-36 in the Franklin D. Roosevelt era is a precedent to the GND. The New Deal was a series of reforms post the Great Depression to provide relief to the unemployed, recovery to the markets and reform to a sagging economy. The policies are today widely criticised for not being inclusive nor completely effective (but it did enough to reaffirm faith in the short term so that governmental social policies were eventually more effective). The GND follows upon the footsteps of this New Deal, calling for top down change in systemic problems that exacerbate global warming, climate change action, income inequality as a consequence of poor public policy on the former factors, and more.

Does everyone agree on it?

Unsurprisingly, no. The real issue is in comprehending a proposal of such significant magnitude and scope. Nobody seems to have a good enough idea of what’s going on either. Moreover, the opposition is having a field day (or rather, two months) with the bill.

Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ billionaire CEO (potentially running for the 2020 presidency), created a stir after his CNN-hosted town hall, by dissing the standout parts of the GND. He has, in the past, publicly opposed Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, for her “radical” policies like free public healthcare and other welfare initiatives, citing cost to the government as impractical. Current President Donald Trump seems to have gravely misunderstood the proposal too, contending with cow-flatulence and a ban on air travel as the goals of the Plan.

No party wholly agrees with the deal and with 84 House and 11 Senate co-sponsors, the journey for any sort of agreement has been slow. Some Republicans, too, have been willing to support and sponsor this bill because they believe it’s a non-partisan issue. Few have initiated efforts to address parts of the problem by advocating for a carbon tax. Others believe it’s very radical in its ambit to overhaul both energy and economic systems of an entire country, and then create enough jobs and active skill force to maintain the new systems. There is significant doubt as to how these changes to a nation’s infrastructure can be paid for, and increasing taxes seems to be the solution the GOP has assumed because the bill fails to provide a clear, alternative model. They do, in their helpful FAQ section reference how the USA was able to finance itself through World War II, and that extreme measures would be necessary to fund the GND, if it goes beyond ideation into actual reform.

Why is it so partisan to vote on the GND’s plan

  1. It was introduced by the Justice Democrats and Sunrise Movement with Progressive Democrats fostering the Deal. They lie towards the socialist spectrum end of the Democrats, making them a threat to the party identity of not only the GOP, but also the Democratic Party.
  2. Many leaders on both sides of the party divide are funded by fossil fuel and conventional energy industries. The GND calls for an immediate end to these campaign funds to members drafting environmental (and related) policy matters. Clean energy is the only alternative to carbonising energy that the GND looks to overhaul in its entirety. Lobbies to support existing power grids and industries will be looking to deter the GND from the very conception, to popularising the idea among the public as it could affect their market shares in a trillion dollar industry. 
  3. Denouncing the Committee gives more leverage to the GOP to keep discounting climate change as a legitimate voter’s issue or something that matters to a common conscience because of its ensuing loss of traditional jobs and industries, increase in everyday prices due to carbon taxes, etc.
  4. The Clinton era saw a similar committee to explore and understand the effects of climate change to the American economy and people, though their goals were limited to identifying the problem areas alone, hardly to solve any of them. The soft-line approach the Democrats have been content with assuming while being the flag-bearers of climate change in the country is being called out by various public welfare groups. The Sunrise Movement, for one, has planned a number of protests and demonstrations in front of influential Democrats’ offices to question them about their stance on the GND. House leader Nancy Pelosi was the first to have to answer to this group.
  5. The Republicans have encouraged the GND to make rounds of the public news cycle to raise doubts to clinch the 2020 vote for the GOP by portraying the Democrats as radical and extreme and out of touch with the people’s expectations.The GOP on the whole does NOT support the GND and if they allow a mobilisation of their voter base to a side that approves of the GND, the platform of the party is compromised in the long term.
  6. With youth leaders taking over this climate change conversation, incumbents from both parties have felt the need to change their stance for climate change into one that addresses income inequality to environment to campaign funding ethics to a federal high skill jobs guarantee, an extremely precarious line to walk for individual politicians. Given how little they know about this Deal, it’s safe to say they have been spooked by the possibility of backlash in either stance they support. Staying on the majority side is simple an easier choice than gambling away political capital over a Deal proposed by “radical” socialists.   
  7.  While the deal affects a  majority of the American population with reforms in agricultural practices and industries (banning cow farts is the equivalent tern for these resolutions) to lower greenhouse gas emissions, to reconstructing every building in the face of America, to attempting to fix a slew of un-socialist systems, the GND proponents have clearly failed at marketing it better. With no context provided as to why a systemic overhaul is necessary to retrain and reallocate current jobs, the bill doesn’t seem quite as urgent nor a cornerstone of any future Presidential ballot. Kamala Harris, a Democratic candidate for 2020, alone has sided with the deal. The local people just don’t believe in or choose to overlook their proximity to climate change and all its effects. Who can blame them? The Green New Deal clearly didn’t have a plan to launch itself- the story behind how the term for this bill was coined is proof enough.

If anything, the Green New Deal is ambitious. In its scope, reach, and the promises it makes to correct long-standing institutions like agriculture, energy, fossil fuels, transportation, politics and lobbying in America. Whether it can come to light at the end of the day is another question altogether, an ambitious one given the Republican Senate. 

#GreenNewDeal haters’ plan to address Climate Change: pic.twitter.com/ahuDXnxcDG— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) March 19, 2019

The Leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell has now announced a vote on the GND in the Senate, to test how much agreement there is on the proposal. The Senate consists of 100 voting members and the proposal would require a simple majority to pass.

Here’s what it boils down to

Why it includes social and economic aspects to it is very succinctly put together by Rhianna Gunn-Wright, Policy Head for the GND on this Twitter thread. It’s also helpful to read the FAQs in the official document for the Selection of the New Committee (for the Green New Deal). The reason it looks ambitious is because it tries to cover up years for historical broken systems exacerbating income inequality, provisions for minorities (excluded in the original New Deal), healthcare costs due to changing climate as well as a loss in jobs due to rapidly overhauled systems. It tries to avert a larger crisis for the USA while trying to pioneer Green New Deals for the world.

i’m clearly not on twitter much, and this is gonna be a thread so bear with me 😂 but i’ve been seeing a lot of coverage accusing the green new deal of being a “wish list” of progressive policies for including anything unrelated to climate. it’s just not true. 1/— Rhiana Gunn-Wright (@rgunns) February 9, 2019

Activists are still working on building consensus and urging local Representatives in the House to vote for the bill. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez will go on a tour too. The investment to have the country take this bill seriously is astronomical. Partly to blame is the bill in itself.

Is it ambitious? Extremely. Is it still worth the cost to wage this battle? Probably commensurate to the economic prosperity enjoyed by the USA for centuries while creating a problem and thwarting  early measures to nip it in the bud.

Suradha Iyer is a writing analyst at Qrius

Alexandria Ocasia-CortezClimate ChangeEd MarkleyGreen New Deal