The year of the Green New Deal

Offering hope for a better future over the rage in vogue on the right, motivating young people to vote and getting more citizens to organize in their communities is how we will win.


Daring ideas are like chess pieces moved forward. They may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.” ― Johann Wolfgang Goethe

From the moment it was made public in early February, the Green New Deal (GND) was dismissed by many commentators as unrealistic. There were some who didn’t seem to understand that H. Res. 109, initially brought by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York’s 14th district and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, is more of a call to action than a legislative roadmap to deal with the growing threat represented by climate change.

At 14 pages, the resolution smartly highlights education and retraining for workers in polluting industries, making it clear that they won’t be left behind in a green economy, along with other ambitious goals including the central one, cutting fossil fuel emissions to zero in the U.S. by 2030. At the same time, millions of jobs are to be created in sustainable new industries, especially in the areas of transportation and producing energy.

The text also highlights the struggles of traditionally marginalized communities, who are too often victimized by environmental injustices that usually compound the everyday ones they face on the basis of their identities.

It was obvious from the beginning that such a resolution wouldn’t pass in a Republican controlled Senate, just as most, if not all, other legislation from the now Democrat controlled house won’t make it through the upper chamber. Still, this hasn’t stopped left leaning Democrats, many of them new members, from working on other big policy ideas like Medicare for All, and shouldn’t stop smart lawmakers from writing legislation to create a clear path to the GND prior to the 2020 U.S. national elections, where such proposals could form a major part of a broad progressive platform.

Rather than its ambition inhibiting it, and despite the widespread criticism it received, the GND as a broad idea, scaled back to promote more localized action, is spreading across borders and throughout the world, hardly a sign of the failure it’s been made out to be, especially by right leaning media.

Leading the pack on the municipal level in terms of trying to making the GND a reality in the U.S. are two of America’s largest cities, New York and Los Angeles.

New York City’s plan, OneNYC 2050, as explained in a press release from the mayor’s office, “is not only taking steps to adhere to the Paris Climate pact, it is frontloading the most significant greenhouse gas reductions for the coming decade, before it’s too late.” 

The plan calls for further reductions of 30% above the 40% reduction already achieved by the city in recent years by 2030. One of its most important demands is that all new buildings in the city be energy efficient, eliminating the glass towers that are not just inefficient but also objectionable in my view on aesthetic and social grounds.

Not to be outdone by the city, at the state level in New York, two plans, one proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, called the Climate Leadership Act, and the much more ambitious Climate and Community Protection Act, which mandates the entire economy of New York state be carbon neutral by 2050, are being considered by state legislators.

As exemplified by Cuomo’s plan, one of the main problems facing Green New Deal(s), not only in the U.S. but in Europe and elsewhere, is the risk of co-option by the same centrist forces who have talked a good game on climate for many years while doing very little to address the underlying causes of the growing crisis (and all too often taking money from and subsidizing the industries, from fossil fuel to food production to the all too little mentioned military industrial complex, that are the main drivers of it).

In Los Angeles, surely one of the most traffic heavy cities in North America, the plan is to replace 80% of fossil fuel powered vehicles with electric or other no emission vehicles by the mid-2030s.

This won’t solve the stress of the daily commute for many, but it will mean less unhealthy particulate matter and other chemicals in the air, an especially important change for the young, whose lungs are still developing. 

As LA Mayor Eric Garcetti told the Washington Post of the city’s initiative, which also includes the kind of job focused planning as its national predecessor, “[The] Green New Deal is a perfect articulation of our philosophy and our strategy. So it was, I thought, a brilliant way to summarize what we held as our core values of healing the environment helping the economy.”

Across the United States’ northern border, where warming is already occurring at twice the rate of the rest of the world,  Canadian progressives and environmentalists have been quick to embrace the idea and most of the goals of the original GND proposed by AOC and Markey.

A letter titled the Pact for a Green New Deal, the text of which provided the title to this,  has garnered more than a quarter of a million signatures from Canadians worrying about or feeling the impacts of climate change who not only want to ensure that a green transformation occurs but also that it’s just and draws on the knowledge of the country’s Indigenous peoples, whose wisdom has been cast aside throughout the country’s history.

In the words of the pact, “We know that when the state perceives an emergency, rapid transformations occur. Banks are saved, auto companies are bailed out. We have the ability to build a 100% renewable economy based on public ownership and dignified, well-paying work and know that the federal government, in collaboration with all other levels of government and Indigenous Nations, has the capacity to pull this off. But we also know that only the people – in a deep, wide, and democratic process – can give it the legitimacy and true diversity it needs to succeed.”

The grassroots campaign comes at a strange time in the country’s politics, when a seemingly resurgent Conservative Party is promising to end whatever restraints are already in place and go even further in exploiting dirty tar sands oil production and growing other extractive industries if they win a federal election to be held no later than October 21st of this year. While the socially democratic NDP and Green Parties are moving in the right direction, the Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau whose record is decidedly mixed and mainly rhetorical, will surely offer empty proposals of its own, splitting the vote on this most important, indeed existential, issue.

The quick spread of the Green New Deal beyond America’s borders shows the left’s greatest strengths: grassroots organizing coupled with internationalism. If an idea or new policy proposal approaches consensus in one place, it will usually become an aspiration for progressives in other countries, even places where the left is under siege. Whether it’s called a Green New Deal or a Green Industrial Revolution as it is in the U.K., offering hope for a better future over the rage in vogue on the right, motivating young people to vote and getting more citizens to organize in their communities is how we will win.


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