A Green New Deal for the US and beyond

Mark Engler argues that the deal would shift the US from obstructing multilateral negotiations to assisting other countries in their transition to carbon-neutral economies.

Before the US elections last November, very few mainstream politicians in the country had ever uttered the phrase ‘Green New Deal’. Now, supporting it is rapidly becoming a necessity for high-profile Democrats hoping to convince the party’s base that they should be the candidate to challenge Donald Trump.

We have a reinvigorated climate movement to thank for the change.

In the week after the midterm elections, some 200 young people – members of the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats – staged a sit-in that occupied the offices of incoming Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. The activists, 51 of whom were ultimately arrested by Capitol police, demanded that the party embrace a bold plan to transition the US economy away from fossil fuels within the next decade.

The demonstration attracted extra attention when newly elected Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – a 29-year-old socialist whose win was itself a key movement victory – decided to join the young people.

Granted, protesting in your own party leader’s office is an unorthodox first move for a new congressperson. But it is exactly the type of unapologetic action we need if we are going to listen to actual scientists, rather than oil-industry-funded ‘experts’ who like to play at being climate specialists on TV.

Presidential aspirants and representatives wishing to avoid being targeted next have rushed to voice their support. As climate journalist David Roberts reports, the push for a Green New Deal ‘has thrust climate change into the national conversation… and created an intense and escalating bandwagon effect’.

The core demands of a Green New Deal are the swift decarbonization of the US economy, massive investment in green technology, and support for communities hardest hit by climate change. It would contain a green jobs guarantee, providing full employment for the renewable-energy transition – a measure that, coincidentally, polls as wildly popular.

The proposal is also internationalist, seeing the US shift from obstructing multilateral negotiations to assisting other countries in their transitions to carbon-neutral economies.

To be fair, ‘Green New Deal’ rhetoric has surfaced before, and Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus package included substantial investments in renewable energy. Yet the current drive is a sharp break, in both substance and swagger, from a decade ago. Back then Democrats focused on devising a cap-and-trade carbon-pricing proposal watered down enough to appease business leaders and centrist officials – only to see these same neoliberals balk at a final agreement.

The Green New Deal, in contrast, is not about contorting to fit the current limits of political discussion. It is meant to transform the public debate. And rather than miring itself in images of drought and doom, it envisions how a mobilization comparable to a Manhattan Project or a moon landing could transform our society in countless positive ways – offering well-paid work, affordable housing, lush public spaces and reliable transit that just happens to be very green.

Before, Washington could imagine no such plan. ‘Now,’ as Roberts remarks, ‘a real response to climate change is on the table. It is an option. It has a name.’

The name bears repeating, in many more offices, and in many more unruly occupations.