Idealism and Environmentalism: The Green New Deal

American politicians Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey, champions of the controversial environmentalist bill, the Green New Deal (Image Credit: Senate Democrats, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)

If you’ve lost track of what’s going on in US politics (very excusable), you might have missed out on yet another issue that is dividing people. I’m not talking about the Mueller report, or gun legislation, or health care. I’m talking about the Green New Deal, named after the New Deal, a compilation of programs and projects that gave Americans jobs after the Great Depression and built quite a lot of infrastructure. The newest “Green” version is meant to do the same following the Great Recession that America has been suffering the aftershocks of since late last decade. An initiative sponsored by Democrats, the Green New Deal has come under fire from both sides for a wide range of reasons. While the movement for action against climate change is a global phenomenon, I am going to give a brief synopsis of what the Green New Deal represents in the US, and why it has been the subject of so much controversy.

How we got to the Green New Deal

The Sunrise Movement is a group of political activists that are championing the Green New Deal. Founded in 2017 and inspired by the election of he-who-must-not-be-named in 2016, the organization is a youth led movement that backed young, progressive candidates such as the now famous Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Following their success in the 2018 mid-term elections, they turned their eye to legislation. With the amount of concern young people are showing about climate issues (with droves turning up at events like Climate Day), supporting environmental legislation makes sense. Meanwhile, there is bipartisan support for investment in America’s infrastructure which is in shockingly poor form. In addition, while the US economy is thriving on paper, in practice things are a bit more complicated. There are a lot of reasons for this I am not going to get into, but basically the number of working poor are on the rise while the rich become richer. As someone who has lived in Europe for 6 years now, I feel the need to also explain that the Great Recession left deeper marks in America than in places here such as Norway. While the US stock market has recovered, you could use many other economic indicators to measure how the US is doing which paint a much less rosy picture (see the struggling GDP per person and stagnating wage growth).

So, we have a politically motivated younger generation looking for jobs that actually pay enough to live off of, watching as the bridges and roads they use fall apart, facing climate change. They succeed in getting people that represent them into the House of Representatives (yay democracy) who suggest policy reform. Enter the Green New Deal.

Who does and doesn’t support the deal

Democrats led the charge on writing the Green New Deal with the aforementioned Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sponsoring the bill, alongside US senator Ed Markey. The bill focused on eliminating the US carbon footprint by 2030 and creating jobs at the same time, with language focusing on not just environmental but social problems. Support from the Sunrise Movement and big names such as Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren legitimized the bill and made it a big talking point. On the other hand, other famous democrats such as California’s Dianne Feinstein did not support the bill (leading to this viral video of children asking for her support which she rebuffs). On the other side of the aisle, unsurprisingly, Republicans were not on board. So the bill gets proposed. Then the Senate blocks it.

The legacy of the Green New Deal

While many found Feinstein’s reaction to the bill jarring, she has a point that while the bill is full of inspirational language about creating environmental jobs, there is not really an outline for a plan for how to pay for it. Having said that, investing in infrastructure is going to be expensive and has to be done to keep the economy rolling. The bill is also almost aggressively vague, and whilst it does highlight a wide range of issues that the US faces, both environmentally and socially, its proposed solutions are so wide-ranging and idealistic they come across as naive.

Rare spotted owls are rarely seen at American polling booths

Rare spotted owls are rarely seen at American polling booths (Image Credit: Emily Brouwer, National Park Service, CC BY 2.0)

It is also important to note that the Deal is focused on climate change and comes from non-scientists. Therefore, it does not address the myriad of other environmental issues that future generations will face. Saying that, addressing stopping climate change would help with a lot of other environmental issues. This bill has a distinct human focus to it too, tying together reform that is focused on producing green energy and creating jobs. This makes sense as politicians are employed by humans, not the rare spotted owl. The bill does mention that all people should have “access to nature.” This is again vague, and while protecting mountains and rivers is indeed important, my money is on people wanting to see some charismatic species hopping about in them. So, I would like to think in some way the writers of the bill also indirectly want to protect the species found in nature.

I do not know if Ocasio-Cortez thought the bill would pass, but I think it is more of a move to draw attention to the amount of support out there for a deal of this type. It also is already making Climate reform a top talking point for the 2020 presidential election, and while idealistic, isn’t that what we should be aiming for? In a losing battle to climate change, I think we should have goals that are idealistic. No one is giving out gold stars for getting an A on reaching a target we set for ourselves.

Even if the Green New Deal did not get passed, it shows something more important. Young people are motivated and politically active. They are interested in seeing legislation that reduces anthropogenic impacts on the environment while also providing jobs to people in the US, and the number of young voters is growing. We will have to wait and see if and which parts of the Green New Deal turn into actual legislation, but laying out goals attainable or not is an early step to making a real plan to fight climate change.


Edit: See John Oliver’s piece for more on the Green New Deal

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