The Green New Deal and Why It's Happening Now

How It Boosts the Economy

Green New Deal
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 Illustration by Youst/Getty Images

The Green New Deal is a plan to fight climate change. It would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cutting them in half by 2030. That's what it would take to limit global warming to less than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. It's the Paris Agreement’s most ambitious climate goal.

To achieve its goal, the plan calls for the United States to switch to 100 percent renewable energy in a decade. In 2017, only 11 percent of the nation's energy consumption came from renewables, according to the Energy Information Administration. Another 9 percent is generated by nuclear power. Although it's not renewable, it also doesn't emit carbon dioxide.

At its core is the recognition that the oil and carbon-based energy system must be changed to reduce further emissions. Technology must be introduced to absorb existing CO2 levels. And it all must happen within the next 10 years. Otherwise, levels could exceed a tipping point that leads to hothouse earth.

The name reflects President Franklin D. Roosevelt's national New Deal effort to combat the Great Depression. It created 47 programs to create jobs, support farmers, and boost manufacturing.

Details of the Plan

The Green New Deal has seven goals to fight climate change:

  1. Shift 100 percent of national power generation to renewable sources.
  2. Build a national energy-efficient "smart" grid.
  3. Upgrade all buildings to become energy efficient.
  4. Decarbonize manufacturing and agricultural industries.
  5. Decarbonize, repair, and upgrade the nation's infrastructure, especially transportation.
  6. Fund massive investment in the drawdown and capture of greenhouse gases.
  7. Adopting these goals would make "green" technology, industry, expertise, products, and services a major U.S. export. As a result, America could become the international leader in helping other countries transition to completely carbon-neutral economies.

    The Green New Deal adds some goals to address income inequality. The effects of climate change are worse on low-income people.

    For example, droughts raise food prices. Low-income households spend a greater percentage of their earnings on food and can least afford higher prices.

    The Green New Deal funds new jobs, including installing solar panels, retrofitting coastal infrastructure, and manufacturing electric vehicles. It would make universal health care available. It also advocates a universal basic income. This is a government guarantee that each citizen receives a minimum income. It pays enough to cover the cost of living.

    Surprisingly, the Green New Deal does not include a carbon tax or a cap and trade program. These programs raise the cost of carbon fuels, like gasoline. That could hurt lower-income families more, especially those in rural areas who rely on an automobile. It was one reason the "yellow vest" protesters in France opposed a gas tax. They felt it was another sign that the very wealthy ignored their needs.

    Why It's Needed

    In October 2018, the United Nations international climate science panel released an alarming report. It found that the effects of global warming could become irreversible by 2030 without rapid action. The West Antarctic ice sheet could melt, raising sea levels another 4 inches. Without the ice sheet to reflect back the sun's rays, oceans would absorb even more heat. That would melt more ice, worsening the heating cycle.

    At least 100 million people would die from increased heat waves, drought, and infectious diseases. The heat would also kill off 90 percent of the world's coral reefs.

    To avoid this fate, the U.N. report said the world must cut greenhouse gases by almost half by 2030. To stop further warming, greenhouse gases must be reduced to 350 parts per million. Carbon dioxide levels are already above 400 parts per million.

    Since the 1880s, the earth’s average temperature has risen 2.1 Fahrenheit. That's 1.2 degrees Celsius. Warming is occurring at a faster rate than at any other time in the Earth's history.

    Why the Green New Deal Is Happening Now

    Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, made the New Green Deal a cornerstone of her 2018 campaign. She said, “This is going to be the New Deal, the Great Society, the moon shot, the civil-rights movement of our generation."

    Congress is paying attention to Ocasio-Cortez' success. She beat an incumbent who outspent her by 10 times. They are more willing to listen to her and her supporters.

    The Green New Deal was first introduced in the 2016 presidential election by Jill Stein, the candidate for the Green Party. It committed to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, costing $200 billion. It would create a Renewable Energy Administration to create up to 20 million new green-centered jobs. That would cost $400 billion a year. It also included free education through college.

    It paid for these programs in three ways. First, by cutting the defense budget by 50 percent. Total U.S. military spending is $890 billion a year. Second, it advocates a $60 per ton carbon fee, generating $360 billion a year. More progressive taxation on the super wealthy would raise $130 billion annually. It proposes a 70 percent tax on income above $10 million.

    The research group Data for Progress also outlines a Green New Deal. It is broad in scope yet detailed. It includes clean air and water, reforestation and wetlands restoration, and zero waste by 2040. It would create 10 million new private and public sector jobs. Its research shows that most Americans support the Green New Deal's jobs program.

    Green New Deal in Congress

    In December 2018, a Green New Deal was launched by Congressional Democrats. The proposal calls for a new House select committee to draft a bill that executes the Green New Deal goals.

    In 2016, a bipartisan group of House members formed the Climate Solutions Caucus. The caucus is affiliated with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which supports a carbon fee. It has 90 members.

    In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency used its powers under the Clean Air Act to limit carbon as a pollutant. The Trump administration terminated the Clean Power Plan.

    In 2009, Democrats proposed a cap and trade policy. The Waxman-Markey bill was defeated in the Republican-controlled Senate.

    In 2009, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act jump-started the alternative energy industry in America. It provided $17 billion in renewable energy tax cuts and $5 billion to weatherize homes.

    The Deal goes beyond the 2007 Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Pelosi formed it when she was first elected speaker in 2007. Republicans eliminated it when they took the majority in 2011.

    In 2009, the American Clean Energy and Security Act was approved by the House of Representatives. But the bill never passed the Republican-controlled Senate.

    In 2005, the federal government mandated food-based biofuels. It raised food prices, causing riots in 2008. Ethanol and biodiesel seemed cleaner than fossil fuel, but their production destroyed ecosystems that absorbed carbon.

    Supporters

    There are 43 members of Congress who support the proposal for a Select Committee for a Green New Deal.

    There are hundreds of groups that support the Green New Deal. One of the most visible is the Sunrise Movement. It focuses on stopping climate change. Another supporter is MN350. It goes further, arguing that climate change must be reversed to be effective.

    Opponents

    Republicans will oppose the Green New Deal. For example, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-CO, told POLITICO, “Green New Deal? Sounds like a lot of red ink.” Republicans will argue that it will increase the debt. But they have overseen growing deficits, some of which resulted from Trump's tax cut. There are even moderate Democrats who don't believe the plan is necessary.

    Physicist Christopher Clack estimates constructing new generation would cost at least $2 trillion. Others warn that it would plunge the world into a second Great Depression.

    Economic Impact

    Businesses can create a profitable competitive advantage by adopting Green New Deal goals. States, like California and Hawaii, have already set goals to become carbon-free. Nations are seeking to meet their goals under the Paris Climate Accord. So have 20 states and 50 major cities. As the price for wind and solar energy falls, companies that source renewable energy will be ahead of those that don't.