By Melanie Mason
The Green New Deal (GND) has been making headlines since young activists took it upon themselves to push for legislation to combat the climate crisis through a comprehensive plan for zero emissions. The Green New Deal aims to establish a massive program of investments in clean energy jobs and infrastructure that would completely transform the energy sector and reshape the entire economy. The name of the legislation is reminiscent of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s original New Deal in the 1930s, which was designed to stabilize the US economy, and provide jobs and prosperity to its citizens. While the GND shares many of its principles, the overarching driver is the climate crisis, a challenge that is both global and unprecedented in scale.
Over the past several months, various events led to the strides in the GND that are making headlines today. The GND is becoming a major player in the upcoming 2020 presidential election. For the first time in a decade, environmentalists are hopeful that effective policy is in our future.
A Half Degree Makes All the Difference
In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report revealed that global temperatures are 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The IPCC was established in 1988 to assess climate change based on scientific research and a report is released every 5-7 years with the most up-to-date developments. The UN convention on Climate Change requested a new report from the IPCC in 2016. Ninety-one experts and review editors from 40 different countries contributed to this massive report.
In order to fully comprehend the significance of the report’s findings, we need to educate ourselves on why it is vital to maintain the global temperature increase below 1.5°C . The IPCC report states if we can keep it to this level, adaptation will be less difficult. Our world will suffer fewer negative impacts on intensity and frequency of extreme events, on resources, ecosystems, biodiversity, food security, cities, tourism and carbon removal.” The report compares specific climate change impacts that will come with a 1.5 degree global temperature increase versus a 2 degree increase. Half of a degree may sound small, but the difference would be immense. For example, with a global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees C, we’d lose 70-90% of our coral reefs. At the 2 degree increase, that number jumps to 99-100%.
The IPCC special report calls for “rapid and far reaching” solutions throughout every industry and every city. The human population needs to decrease carbon dioxide emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III (https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/). It is clear that our current policies have not gotten us to where we need to be. This is where eight hundred passionate and angry activists come in.
Enter An Army of Youth
In December 2018, eight hundred people from the Sunrise Movement arrived in Washington D.C. They call themselves an army of young people fighting against the climate crisis. They marched on Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office to demand a green new deal committee. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), the charismatic and grass-roots made congresswoman from the Bronx, joined them in person to push new members of Congress to sign on to the GND Committee. Fortymembers of Congress, notably Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders and Jeff Merkkeysigned on.
The idea of a a Green New Deal has actually been around for about a decade, yet politicians have been unable to put it into action. Obama included a green new deal in his 2008 campaign. Several others have attempted to pass similar policies but haven’t been able to get very far.
The Legislation Is Written
In February 2019, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey partnered to write the legislation for the GND.
AOC is currently the youngest woman ever in the House of Representatives, bringing a bright and youthful energy. Her strong presence in Congress, the community of NYC, and on social media have helped bring the GND to the forefront of conversation and policy reform. Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts has been working to push environmental protection policy for over ten years. The pair were able to outline the framework for the GND focusing on three main principles: (1) decarbonization (2) a federal jobs guarantee along with a revamping of the economy and (3) social justice.
Decarbonization calls for generating 100 percent of energy from renewable sources. Federal jobs will be created through investment in sustainable industries. According to a 2018 analysis by Oil Change International, the government spends $20 billion per year on direct and indirect subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. These funds will be redirected to renewable energy industries such as wind and solar, as well as to research of new technologies.
Social justice programs will aid those who have been unfairly affected by the climate crisis and will play a key role in the decarbonization of the economy. Programs to help those in need This isis an important component that was left out of the original New Deal of the 1930s. The original New Deal consisted of policies that put minorities at a disadvantage by making it harder for them to find employment. Minority and poor communities who have suffered from environmental injustices such as contaminated water and pollution from fracking will benefit from a federal jobs guarantee, universal health care and universal basic income. People who were harmed because they didn’t have a voice will be elevated to find stability. This will help build resilient communities that can protect themselves.
Like the original New Deal, the GND will develop over time, with enactments added as part of an ongoing process. The idea is to have constant deliberation at local and state levels that will unfold a plan over at least a decade. The initial legislation lays out some projects and initiatives, such as investing in community scale solar projects, creating a renewable energy administration and a job guarantee for everyone capable of working, but the specific details will need to be worked out as the plan evolves and solidifies.
As of Spring, 2019 more than 100 politicians from Congress had endorsed the GND. FDR’s New Deal was popular with both Democrats and Republicans because there were massive projects that benefited every congressional district. If the GND can accomplish the same, more representatives will support it because it will directly affect their constituents and their communities.
New York, New York
New York intends to be a leader on the Green New Deal journey. Both the Governor and the Mayor plan to launch the most ambitious programs in the country. Mayor DiBlasio sees the City’s plan as the model for cities around the world.
The City’s Green New Deal began on March 14th, 2019, when the Mayor announced a comprehensive resiliency plan that advances $500 million in capital projects to protect Manhattan’s shoreline. On April 18th, the New York City Council passed what city officials are calling “the most ambitious energy efficiency legislation in the country,” and which requires 50,000 residential and commercial buildings to meet the city’s goal to reduce overall emissions 80 percent by 2050. The seven-part Climate Mobilization Act calls for both energy retrofits in older buildings and construction specifications, including the inclusion of renewables, in new projects.
On the State level, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the inclusion of the GND in his 2019 executive budget by saying: “Climate change is a reality, and the consequences of delay are a matter of life and death. We know what we must do. Now we have to have the vision, the courage, and the competence to get it done. . . While the federal government shamefully ignores the reality of climate change and fails to take meaningful action, we are launching the first-in-the-nation Green New Deal to seize the potential of the clean energy economy, set nation’s most ambitious goal for carbon-free power, and ultimately eliminate our entire carbon footprint.”
Political Pushback and Economic Realities
Some politicians are not so supportive of the GND. Republicans call the GND radical. Common concerns include financing, fear of having to make sacrifices, and getting public and political support. Nancy Pelosi called the legislation a “green dream” that unrealistic and unachievable as currently defined. Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that the legislation needs to be comprised of realistic initiatives and not “things that are pie in the sky.” Some politicians and consumers worry that no matter what the U.S. does, the actions of other countries will still impact climate consequences in U.S., while others remind them that it is the U.S. itself that withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Unfortunately, the human population is in a dire situation and we only have 12 years to work with. Democrats in favor of the GND are pushing for a head-on approach. Economists call for putting a cost on carbon in order to better explain the benefits of the GND and gain greater support from the business community. The cost associated with the projects outlined in the GND pose a challenge and will need to be worked out through innovative funding mechanisms, but as Kate Aronoff, writer for the Intercept points out,: it will be more expensive down the road once climate consequences have progressed even further. “By 2100, heat-related deaths could cost the U.S. $141 billion. Sea-level rise could rack up a $118 billion bill, and infrastructure damages could cost up to $32 billion. Along the same timeline, the report’s [IPCC] authors found, the financial damages of climate change to the U.S. could double those caused by the Great Recession [of 2008].” The Environmental Defense Fund estimates the social cost associated with carbon to be around $40 or higher per ton.
“The time is now . . . That should be exhilarating for anyone who wants to secure a livable and prosperous world”
-David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Warming
The GND offers the potential to make great strides in addressing the climate crisis. As more cities and states embrace its concepts, and as 2020 political candidates continue to announce, ideas will become clarified and initiatives will crystallize. GreenHomeNYC will be following this journey as it unfolds. Be sure to follow along!