A Primer on the Green New Deal—the Plan to Literally Save the PlanetPhoto by Astrid Riecken/Getty Politics Features Green New Deal
The Green New Deal is a brilliant turn of phrase that succinctly summarizes a vastly complex policy platform intended to save the world, and it is a policy that will surely rise in prominence in the lead-up to the 2020 election, as Representative John Lewis just joined five other incoming members in support of the aggressive plan. In case you have been living under a rock, or you only get your news from TV, climate scientists issued their most dire warning yet last month. Unless mankind does something truly revolutionary in the next ten years and dramatically changes our entire economy to not be reliant on fossil fuels, the planet will become incredibly hostile to life in twenty years, and horrific scenes like this from the California wildfires will be much more commonplace:
The fire caught up to Jolly on Pearson Road, blasting her car with heat. She reached for the stethoscope slung around her neck and flinched as the metal burned. Her steering wheel was melting — the plastic stuck to her hands.
As her car caught fire and began to fill with black smoke, she called her husband. “Run,” he told her.
Jolly fled for safety to the car ahead of hers, but it too was abandoned. She ran on.
The rubber on her shoes melted into the asphalt. The back of her scrubs caught fire, blistering her legs. She tried another car, but it wasn’t moving.
This is not up for debate. If you stand opposed to the scientific recommendations based on these findings, then you are in favor of certain planetary destruction. There is no middle ground here. Our time to address the most serious threat to humanity’s existence is quickly running out.
The good news is that the scientists who issued that cataclysmic warning believe that the technology does exist and will exist to address the problem. Where their pessimism comes in is our collective political will to do something about it. Not only do we have a political and economic establishment completely unwilling to do something about the 100 companies responsible for 71% of carbon emissions since 1988, but us as voters have yet to prioritize our future over the profitability of those 100 companies. Everyone must change, and we all must get behind aggressive policies if we are to stave off certain planetary disaster.
Which is where the Green New Deal comes in.
What Is the Green New Deal?
The New Deal was a series of programs implemented by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s. Facing widening inequality and a poorer class which grew in size each and every day, the federal government created an aggressive group of policies designed to help out farmers, the unemployed, the elderly, and young people. Social Security is one remnant of this largely successful government policy (and the fact that socialism is literally in the name of “Social Security” is proof that America has not always been the hyper-capitalist nation we see around us today).
The Green New Deal is a 21st century version of the New Deal, but tilted towards completely changing our economy so as to not be reliant on fuel that is poisoning the planet. It’s pretty simple: we can have the economy we currently “enjoy,” or we can have a habitable planet, but we can’t have both. The Green New Deal aims to create a new 21st century economy centered around four main principles (credit to Data for Progress for providing a longer summary of which I am summarizing).
1. Shift to a Low-Carbon Economy
This includes changing 100% of our energy sources from fossil fuels to clean(er) and renewable energy sources like wind, hydroelectric, solar, geothermal, renewable natural gas and nuclear power by 2035, with the goal of getting to zero net emissions from energy by 2050. We can obtain this goal by doing things like making buildings more energy efficient, which will also have the benefit of lowering energy costs for the businesses operating in those buildings. Passenger vehicles are another area where an aggressive emissions policy could be achieved, as Tesla is proof that the technology to replace the 20th century internal combustion engine exists. The Green New Deal aims to bring emissions from buildings and passenger vehicles down to zero by 2030.
Getting fossil fuels out of aviation, heavy duty vehicles and rail transit is a bit trickier, and so the goal to get fossil fuel emissions down to zero in those areas is set for 2050.
2. Clean Air and Water Are Human Rights
That this has to be said is really all the proof you need of how inadequate capitalism is at addressing some fundamental rights of humans. Oil and gas companies spout tons of pollution into the air, and at one point, Republicans really cared about this topic (George H. W. Bush’s bill to combat acid rain is one example which comes to mind, Richard Nixon’s creation of the EPA is another). Instead, we live in a bipartisan dystopia where American citizens in Flint, Michigan cannot get access to clean water, but Nestle (who is right next door to Flint) can bottle it for profit.
According to Data for Progress, “Forty-two percent of the U.S. population—over 130 million Americans—live in areas that still have not attained national Ambient Air Quality Standards as ozone and particulate matter pollution are still too high.” The Green New Deal aims to combat these problems by reducing fossil fuel combustion and using new technologies to cut methane leakage by 50% before 2025. Additionally, to address the issues that cities like Flint are having, the Green New Deal will invest in infrastructure upgrades that remove lead pipes (yes, America is still transporting water through pipes made of poison), guaranteeing access to affordable drinking water (part of Flint’s problem is that clean water is expensive, which is just an insane sentence for a being made of 80% water to type), and fully enforcing the 2015 Clean Water Rule to protect two million new miles of waterways.
3. Restore the American Landscape
We love to talk about how beautiful our country is, and it is, but then we give it all away to oil companies, logging interests, and any other number of businesses whose profits are wholly dependent on destroying the world around us. The Green New Deal aims to reinvest in our natural beauty, which not only has cosmetic benefits, but climate ones as well. By restoring 40 million acres of public and private land by 2035, the Green New Deal aims to use the Earth’s natural carbon reducers (forests) to remove 600 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere—offsetting as much as 45% of economy-wide emissions by 2050.
Wetlands are another natural resource we have taken for granted, as they provide a wealth of food, recreation, and tourism benefits to the populace, as well as protecting us from storm surges. These have been decimated by oil interests, and the Green New Deal aims to restore five million acres of wetlands by 2040.
Speaking of restoring land, farming. It’s kind of a big deal in this country. Farmers have been hit hard by climate change, as the entire globe has lost over a third of arable land to erosion and pollution in the last 40 years. The Green New Deal aims to reverse that trend by expanding sustainable farming and soil practices to 30% of American land by 2030 and to 70% of it by 2050. If it reaches its goal by the midway point of the 21st century, American agriculture could curb half of its current agricultural emissions simply by adhering to practices which suck carbon out of the atmosphere.
Lastly, fossil fuel interests have horribly polluted this country. We’ve all seen the clips of people lighting their water on fire, and instances like the 2014 Elk River Chemical spill which poisoned 300,000 West Virginians’ water are far too common. The Green New Deal would launch an initiative to clean up an estimated 450,000 “brownfield sites” (areas that largely cannot be reused thanks to how polluted they are), most of which sit next to low-income and minority neighborhoods. Pollution is very much a class issue.
4. Urban Sustainability
Roughly 86% of this country lives in urban or suburban areas. Any plan to create a new, sustainable economy must place a hyper-focus on these growing areas, as that is where plenty of new carbon emissions and pollution will come from. The Green New Deal has five proposals to create sustainable living practices where most of us live.
— Create a public fund to support green infrastructure, stormwater management and disaster preparedness.
— Expand public green spaces (think of areas like Central Park in New York City or Boston Common) as well as doubling the size of dedicated public recreational lands and waters, including National and State parks.
— Invest in low-carbon bus transit, electrified light rail, and increase access to safe pedestrian and bicycle travel (for every billion vehicle miles, 1,011 cyclists are killed, compared to just 26 drives).
— Zero waste by 2040—this can be accomplished through recycling and composting, instead of just tossing everything into landfills.
— Capture 50% of wasted methane by 2040 (methane enters the atmosphere through livestock manure, organic trash in landfills, and sludge from wastewater treatment facilities)—this can be transformed into a carbon-neutral energy source instead of letting what is ostensibly free money float into the atmosphere and heat the Earth.
While the New Deal had plenty of warts (for example, the Social Security Act of 1935 excluded about half the workers in the economy because they were not white), its impact on income inequality was ultimately a net benefit. Social Security lifted senior citizens out of abject poverty, and programs like the Tennessee Valley Authority provided a wealth of new investment in dilapidated areas, helping to create economic prosperity that lasts to this day.
We are experiencing many of the exact same problems that America struggled with in the 1930s, and a robust investment in a new jobs program is exactly what this country needs. This jobs program should focus on decarbonizing our economy, because unless we reverse course on our current climate trajectory, many of the cities served by a new jobs program will find at least parts of themselves under water by the end of the century (like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Boston, New York City, Atlantic City, Honolulu, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Diego, Los Angeles, Charleston, Virginia Beach, Savannah and Seattle).
While it’s easy to succumb to fatalism with this massive threat and the collective shoulder shrug from our political and economic elites in response, the policies outlined above—which scientists say are adequate to address the threat we face—are popular. Data for Progress notes that the Green New Deal’s proposal to create ten million new green jobs is supported by 55% of the population. Policies like the renewable electricity mandate, EPA regulation of carbon dioxide, and vehicle fuel efficiency standards have over two-thirds Americans supporting them, and most Americans believe that protecting the environment will create new jobs. The political will is there amongst the electorate. We just need to impose it on our politicians.
Now, I can hear a question from all the deficit-scolds and fiscal conservatives reaching a crescendo, so I will end this column by addressing their concerns.
Can We Afford the Green New Deal?
Here’s some simple math for you folks:
— The New Deal of the 1930s cost about $650 billion in today’s dollars.
— Jill Stein’s 2016 Green Party campaign estimated an annual cost of $200 billion to transfer the United States to 100% renewable energy.
— United States total GDP for 2017 was $19.39 trillion.
— The U.S. ranks 31st out of 35 countries in tax to GDP ratio (meaning that we collect a lower percentage of taxes from our GDP than 30 other developed countries).
— The UN report said that two degrees Celsius of warming would cost the Earth $54 trillion by 2040 (it would be $69 trillion if the Earth warmed 3.6 degrees Celsius).
— The GDP for the entire world in 2017 was $75 trillion.
So my question to fiscal conservatives is, per your own logic, how can we afford not to enact the Green New Deal?
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindlin.