Shades of Grey in the Green New Deal

Bryan Liu '22

With global temperatures projected to rise significantly within the next decade, scientists scramble to answer growing climate concerns amidst a polarized America. In 2018, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) attributes a surge in wildfires, mass migrations, and irreversible climate-related damages to an increase in carbon emissions, stating, “by now, it is more than obvious: half a degree matters” [1].


According to the UN’s framework convention of climate change, the world has sustained over 650 billion dollars worth of damages within the last five years. But despite ample evidence and major long-term impacts regarding the climate crisis, the American federal government consistently fails to reach bi-partisan compromise and take decisive action. The Republican party as a whole has historically ignored the problem, and while Democrats claim to acknowledge the issue, neither side had started on a comprehensive solution prior to 2018. Yet, as climatologist Hans-Otto Pörtner warns, “if drastic measures are not taken, the planet will enter an unprecedented climate future” [2]. 


Dissatisfied with inaction, young activists demanded ‘drastic measures’ and outlined groundwork for the Green New Deal, a proposal to resolve the climate crisis, after the 2018 midterm elections. The protests caught the attention of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), who adopted the term and finalized a joint resolution for congressional approval.


The Green New Deal is a road map designed to help decarbonize the US economy within the next decade while protecting the working class from complete economic overhaul. Armed with reports from UN researchers and federal agencies, the fourteen-page resolution addresses the  issue in two parts: first, what steps are necessary for America to replace fossil fuels with clean energy? And second, how does the government ensure financial stability through such a momentous transition?


New Consensus policy director Rhiana Gunn-Wright emphasizes that we must rethink public infrastructure and private industry. Unfortunately, it’s too late to incrementally abstain from fossil fuels; rather, the Green New Deal prioritizes “eliminating pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as much as technologically feasible” [3]. While the Green New Deal itself wouldn’t directly create new programs, the nonbinding resolution would set the stage for future projects and reforms. Moving away from fossil fuels requires establishing a new framework for jobs, markets, and an entirely different economy. 


Globalization depends on burning coal, oil, and gas; the Green New Deal requires the United States to completely overhaul transportation, manufacturing, and production almost overnight. Environmental journalist David Roberts remarks that, “people don’t seem to get it, zero emissions means zero oil business, no natural gas business, no coal business, the number zero means it all has to go” [4].


However, decarbonizing comes with its own set of challenges. The Green New Deal includes provisions that will guarantee employment, public investment, and quality healthcare to ensure a safe transformation from complete economic overhaul that will cost millions of fossil fuel workers their jobs, healthcare, and homes, but multiple parties still remain skeptical. In March 26, 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel criticized the bill, calling it a “destructive socialist daydream”: it would be near-impossible to provide “economic stability to all those who are unable or unwilling to work” [5]. In the process of reformation, policy makers can lawfully kill two birds with one stone by opening up the economy to correct racial discrimination, income inequality, and housing. 


The goal is to emerge better and more equipped to handle climate change, but federal procedure towards achieving sustainable energy comes with a price. Conservative estimates put the Green New Deal at over a trillion dollars, and an evaluation by the Mercatus Center valued total expenditures to be approximately 32 trillion dollars. Supporters argue that the adverse effects of continued climate change could easily add up to meet the costs of the resolution, but opponents are quick to criticize a severe lack of funding and unrealistic expectations. Representative Ocasio-Cortez admits that the plan is “overly ambitious” but posits the plan will pay for itself [1]. 


In the wake of unprecedented natural disaster and habitat destruction, climate change is an undeniable issue. The government must recognize the severity of the climate crisis. The Green New Deal may be optimistic at best, but it is the only comprehensive plan of its kind to acknowledge the problem. It is likely that the Green New Deal will remain controversial; however, in the face of tremendous environmental adversity, the resolution is a much needed first step towards decarbonization.