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The Green New Deal is a people-first approach to solving climate change

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to address climate change and close the equity gap leans on progressive models to ensure a fairer economy.

The Green New Deal is a people-first approach to solving climate change
[Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images]

While there’s a large pool to pick from, if you were to pick the two biggest threats to the U.S. (both right now, and for its future) that are the most existential, climate change and economic inequity would be smart choices.

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Even as the Trump administration refuses to contend with either, politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a progressive representative, have made addressing these concerns the cornerstone of their tenures. Last fall, after her election, Ocasio-Cortez began to lay out a plan for a “Green New Deal”–a sweeping set of policies that would create jobs and bridge socioeconomic divides while decarbonizing industries and preserving the environment.

Today, Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), with the support of more than 40 congressional members and grassroots organizations like the Sunrise Movement, released a framework for the Green New Deal.

The framework itself is still very much just that. It sets out five goals, but does not prescribe how they should be achieved. It lays out around 30 potential projects and strategies that could be undertaken to achieve these goals, but again, makes sure to avoid concrete recommendations for how they should be completed.

In short: There’s enough in the framework for a policy to begin to take shape, but not enough to form an argument against it (save from the usual cries of, “How will we pay for it?”). It’s a starting point that leaves enough space for negotiating around the edges, but one that also demands serious attention and commitment to seeing it through.

Ocasio-Cortez and Markey are careful to position the need for the Green New Deal, at the beginning of the resolution, as a universal one. The United States is experiencing several related crises, the policymakers write, including the erosion of access to necessities like good-quality food and water, housing, and healthcare; economic stagnation; and income inequality. These conditions, they write, are on par with the circumstances around the Great Depression and World War II that then lead to a large-scale and transformative economic initiative. Ocasio-Cortez and Markey propose the Green New Deal as an obvious successor to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1930s New Deal, but with the additional and very urgent layer of climate change.

Once they establish the case for consensus around pursuing such a monumental policy, they get into the particulars.

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The possible projects under the Green New Deal Umbrella include: Building resiliency against natural disasters, upgrading infrastructure, converting to 100% renewable energy, and improving building efficiency.

But the framework is careful to recommend that these changes do not happen from the top down. “A Green New Deal must be developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses,” the policymakers write. As an example, Ocasio-Cortez and Markey want to see agricultural policies originate with farmers themselves, and resiliency strategies to be developed with the communities who will be affected by them. For anyone who balks at the fact that the Green New Deal does not feel like a finished policy, that is perhaps the point: It’s designed to evolve and respond according to feedback and the varying needs of the people the policies will touch.

What’s perhaps most exciting about the suggestions in the Green New Deal framework is that they grant legitimacy to equity-creating ideas that have been floating around the progressive fringe for years, and work them into policies that could effectively decarbonize the economy. The framework leans on ideas like public banking, worker cooperatives, universal healthcare–all important tools for supporting people often left behind in the current economy. In reading the projects and goals in the framework, it doesn’t feel impossible that a cooperatively owned solar company could access public funding to carry out installations on the homes of people in vulnerable communities. That’s just one small interpretation of the kinds of projects such a policy platform could support, but it’s one that would create tangible benefits for the lives of everyone involved with it.

There are some notable 0missions and points of contention. The deal doesn’t mention urban density, which many people argue needs to drastically increase via changes to zoning in order to stop the climate crisis. It also barely mentions electrification–of cars, heat, transit–that will also need to happen at a massive scale to transition us to a clean economy. Advocates on the left are upset that it doesn’t completely rule out carbon-capture technology or a price on carbon, which they say are technologies and policies that will prolong the life of fossil fuels. Finally, it takes no position on one of the largest wedge issues in the environmental movement: nuclear power. And there are some enormous aspects that aren’t really about climate change at all: a full, federal jobs guarantee and a right to healthcare. Both are policies that are being discussed as part of the Democratic primary. Now they’ve been tied explicitly to the climate question.

But it’s important to remember, again, that this framework is nonbinding–it’s not on a direct pathway to becoming law. If Ocasio-Cortez and Markey continue to drum up enthusiasm for it, it could become the standard against which new policies are assessed. Ultimately, it’s a strong first step toward addressing climate change and closing the equity gap in the U.S., and it should open people’s eyes to the massive level of work that must be done to actually meet these goals.

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About the author

Eillie Anzilotti is an assistant editor for Fast Company's Ideas section, covering sustainability, social good, and alternative economies. Previously, she wrote for CityLab.

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