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What is the Green New Deal?
The Green New Deal is an ambitious attempt to fight climate change, but is it destined to hit the political skids?
- Recent protests by the Sunrise Movement have taken the Green New Deal from forgotten policy to trending hashtag.
- The Green New Deal aims to move the U.S. to 100% renewable energy within a decade.
- Proponents also hope to catalyze a top-down restructuring of the U.S. economy and advance social justice issues.
In October of last year, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report, titled 'Global Warming of 1.5°C'. The report's authors believed that humanity could still limit global warming to 1.5° above pre-industrial levels, if we could curb carbon emissions by 49 percent of 2017 levels by 2030 and then achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
Is such a goal achievable? Theoretically, yes, but it would require a massive undertaking by governments and the private sector the world over.
A month later, the Sunrise Movement, an advocacy group of young people tackling the issue of climate change, staged a sit-in protest at Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi's office. Freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also made an appearance to show her support for the protestors.
Both Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise Movement advocate for what is called the Green New Deal, a phrase that has since caught the public's attention. What is this Green New Deal, and can it provide the United States an answer to the impending dangers of climate change?
A short history of the Green New Deal
A man holds a placard reading 'Go Solar' during a rally calling for action on climate change on November 29, 2015, in Rome a day before the launch of the COP21 conference in Paris.
(Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images)
Like its namesake, President Fredrick D. Roosevelt's New Deal, there's nothing truly new about the Green New Deal. The concept has been floating around at least 2007, when Thomas L. Friedman used it in an op-ed for The New York Times. He later expanded the idea into a book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, which was read by President Barack Obama.
Obama would include aspects of a Friedman's thesis in the 2009 stimulus package. Of the $800 billion spent as part of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, $90 billion was set aside for green initiatives such clean electricity, renewable fuels, smart grids—a move Politico called "a prototype Green New Deal."
Around the same time, commentator Van Jones used the phrase to describe a push for a green economy that could simultaneously increase jobs and teach labor skills, and British economist Richard Murphy founded the Green New Deal Group. The United Nations called for a global green deal in 2009.
The idea lost immediacy as other political battles pushed to the forefront of the cultural wars, but it would reemerge as part of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein's 2016 campaigns.
After the Sunrise Movement's sit-in protest, Ocasio-Cortez created a draft for a proposal for a Select Committee for a Green New Deal, which 40 lawmakers acceded to support. Since then other lawmakers, politicians, and climate hawks have also championed the deal.
The new(ish) green deal
The Green New Deal has never been a unified movement. As its history shows, it's a set of general goals promoted by a loose-knit association of progressives and advocacy groups. What follows is an overview of the Green New Deal as synthesized from Ocasio-Cortez's select committee proposal, the Green Party's proposal, and the Sunrise Movement's list of goals.
The Green New Deal's primary goal is to transition the United States' economy to 100 percent renewable energy within 10-12 years.
To meet this goal, greenhouse gases would need to be eliminated from industry, agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation; current electric grids would also need to be replaced with smart grids; and residential and commercial buildings would need to be retrofitted for sustainable energy efficiency. Among other changes.
This target alone is a staggering enterprise, as renewable energy accounts for only 18 percent of the total power generated in the U.S. (Though, this figure represents double the contribution from 2008 and costs for such technologies continue to go down.)
"It's going to require a lot of rapid change that we don't even conceive as possible right now," Ocasio-Cortez told 60 Minutes. "What is the problem with trying to push our technological capacities to the furthest extent possible?"
Green New Deal proponents see the government, not private industry, as the driving force for this rapid reindustrialization. In her committee proposal, Ocasio-Cortez argued the necessary scale of such an investment is too large for the private sector and incentivizing companies won't produce necessary results within the mandatory timeframe.
Through a massive economic investment, the government would offer green businesses low-interest loans, prioritize green research for grants, and promote green technology as a major U.S. export. In the words of the Green Party, the U.S. government would remodel our "gray, old economy" into one that is "environmentally sound, economically viable and socially responsible."
More New Deal than green deal?
Michigan artist Alfred Castagne sketches WPA construction workers. The WPA was one of the largest New Deal agencies, employing millions of workers.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
But the Green New Deal borrows more from FDR's legacy than a pithy name. Its supporters aim to use it as a catalyst to radically restructure of the U.S. economy and its social structure. They envision to eliminate poverty, reduce income inequality, and advance social justice.
"Obama grafted his green agenda onto a response to an economic emergency, while Ocasio-Cortez and other left-of-Obama activists are arguably trying to graft their economic agenda, including a government job guarantee and even universal health care, onto a response to a climate emergency," wrote Michael Grunwald at Politico.
Converting the U.S. economy to renewable technology would create millions of jobs and an imperative need to educate the workforce. To meet this commitment, the Green New Deal would guarantee citizens the right to a job and education, enshrining alongside this guarantee the right to a living wage, safe workplace, and fair trade in deal.
Proponents hope the national funding needed to meet such a commitment will funnel into historically disenfranchised communities and begin breaking down deeply entrenched social barriers.
The Green New Deal also calls for a rebalancing of democratic norms, and its various forms have proposed a multiplex of ideas. These include:
- Universal health care
- Universal basic income
- A right to affordable housing
- Restoration of Glass-Steagall
- Revoking corporate personhood
- Abolishing the Electoral College
- Repealing the Patriot Act
- Reestablishment of strong labor unions
- Breaking up of "too big to fail" banks and end of bailouts
- Relieving debt for students and homeowners
- Reducing U.S. military funding and overhauling the military-industrial complex
No doubt one of the appeals to the Green New Deal is its sweeping approach. If your political alignment is left, center, or even right-of-center, chances there's an aspect of the deal you can get behind.
A path forward?
An environmental activist wearing a face-mask depicting US President Donald Trump takes part in a demonstration in front of the United Nations building.
(Photo: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images)
Despite being galvanized by popular support, Green New Deal has many political headwinds to overcome.
Messaging. As David Roberts notes at Vox, the Green New Deal currently enjoys popularity. He points to a Yale Program on Climate Change Communication survey, which shows a majority support among American voters, even moderate Republicans. But Roberts is quick to point out that the poll's wording promotes a proponent's worldview and does not contain negative language like "taxes," "increased costs," and "spending."
"In the real world, if the GND looks like it has any chance of becoming a reality, it will face a giant right-wing smear campaign," he writes. "And keep in mind, the right-wing machine does not have to win that messaging battle. It just has to fight it, furiously, enough to make the GND controversial, to polarize the issue and freeze it in the same paralysis that grips the rest of US politics."
Unequal representation. A historical study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page looked at 40 years of U.S. government decisions. They found that the more elite and special interest groups favored a political change, the more likely that proposal would be passed. For the average voter, the correlation was a flat line.
In his TED talk, Harvard professor Larry Lessig cites Gilens and Page to show the necessity for us break down government by special interest and provide equal voting power for all citizens. And few special interests are as entrenched as the fossil fuel industry.
"We will get nothing from this government till we get this," Lessig said. "You want this government to address the problem of climate change, we will not get climate change legislation until we address this fundamental inequality in this broken democracy."
While the Green New Deal seeks to fix such democratic concerns (e.g., ending the Electoral College and congressional lobbying), it may be an attempt to build the cart while riding the horse to market.
Scope. The deal's biggest hurdle may be its most attractive quality: its extensiveness. As high concept becomes political reality, aspects of the deal will need to be revised, reworked, and dropped altogether. This process will create division lines among proponents, fracturing much-needed support.
"Occupy Wall Street movement fizzled out in large part because of its ridiculously fissiparous list of demands and its failure to generate a leadership that could cull that list into anything actionable," writes Atlantic senior editor David Frum. "Successful movements are built upon concrete single demands that can readily be translated into practical action: 'Votes for women.' 'End the draft.' 'Overturn Roe v. Wade.' 'Tougher punishments for drunk driving.'"
To avoid Occupy's fate, the Green New Deal will need to whittle itself down to something approachable to a majority of lawmakers and palatable to their constituency, a move that may prove unappealing to firebrands like Ocasio-Cortez. If it can't, Green New Deal proponents may need to cede to less comprehensive bills, like the recently introduced Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which has already garnered some bipartisan support.
Trump. Of course, all of this ignores the elephant in the White House. President Donald Trump's skepticism over climate change, his removal of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, and his buddy-buddy relations with the fossil fuel industry all but guarantees Green New Deal policy will be a nonstarter for the next two years.
Add to that the Republican control of the Senate with moderate Democrats' worries over reelection in contested districts, and Green New Deal has no realistic path forward. For the moment, it is high-level framework with which to build 2020 platforms. And the longer we argue over solutions, the less time we have to implement them.
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.
- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
David Schmidt, a geology professor at Westminster College, had just arrived in the South Dakota Badlands in summer 2019 with a group of students for a fossil dig when he received a call from the National Forest Service. A nearby rancher had discovered a strange object poking out of the ground. They wanted Schmidt to take a look.
"One of the very first bones that we saw in the rock was this long cylindrical bone," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "The first thing that came out of our mouths was, 'That kind of looks like the horn of a triceratops.'"
After authorities gave the go-ahead, Schmidt and a small group of students returned this summer and spent nearly every day of June and July excavating the skull.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"
Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about 8.2 feet long.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a Triceratops prorsus, one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the Tyrannosaurus rex. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made headlines after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.
Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the New York Times.
Morrison Formation in Colorado
James St. John via Flickr
The Badlands aren't the only spot in North America where paleontologists have found dinosaurs. In the 1870s, Colorado and Wyoming became the first sites of dinosaur discoveries in the U.S., ushering in an era of public fascination with the prehistoric creatures — and a competitive rush to unearth them.
Since, dinosaur bones have been found in 35 states. One of the most fruitful locations for paleontologists has been the Morrison formation, a sequence of Upper Jurassic sedimentary rock that stretches under the Western part of the country. Discovered here were species like Camarasaurus, Diplodocus, Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Allosaurus, to name a few.
|Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons|
As for "Shady" (the nickname of the South Dakota triceratops), Schmidt and his team have safely transported it to the Westminster campus. They hope to raise funds for restoration, and to return to South Dakota in search of more bones that once belonged to the triceratops.
Studying dinosaurs helps scientists gain a more complete understanding of our evolution, illuminating a through-line that extends from "deep time" to present day. For scientists like Schmidt, there's also the simple joy of coming to face-to-face with a lost world.
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "You don't ever think that these things will ever happen."
In ancient Greece, the Olympics were never solely about the athletes themselves.
Because of a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases, the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2021 Olympics will unfold in a stadium absent the eyes, ears and voices of a once-anticipated 68,000 ticket holders from around the world.
Events during the intervening days will likewise occur in silent arenas missing the hundreds of thousands of spectators who paid US$815 million for their now-useless tickets.
After 48 years teaching classics, I can't help but wonder what the Greeks – who invented the Games nearly 3,000 years ago, in 776 B.C. – would make of such a ghostly version of their Olympic festival.
In many ways, they'd view the prospect as absurd.
In ancient Greece, the Olympics were never solely about the athletes themselves; instead, the heart and soul of the festival was the experience shared by all who attended. Every four years, athletes and spectators traveled from far-flung corners of the Greek-speaking world to Olympia, lured by a longing for contact with their compatriots and their gods.
In the shadow of dreams
For the Greeks, during five days in the late-summer heat, two worlds miraculously merged at Olympia: the domain of everyday life, with its human limits, and a supernatural sphere from the days superior beings, gods and heroes populated Earth.
Greek athletics, like today's, plunged participants into performances that pushed the envelope of human ability to its breaking point. But to the Greeks, the cauldron of competition could trigger revelations in which ordinary mortals might briefly intermingle with the extraordinary immortals.
The poet Pindar, famous for the victory songs he composed for winners at Olympia, captured this sort of transcendent moment when he wrote, “Humans are creatures of a day. But what is humankind? What is it not? A human is just the shadow of a dream – but when a flash of light from Zeus comes down, a shining light falls on humans and their lifetime can be sweet as honey."
However, these epiphanies could occur only if witnesses were physically present to immerse themselves – and share in – the spine-tingling flirtation with the divine.
Simply put, Greek athletics and religious experience were inseparable.
At Olympia, both athletes and spectators were making a pilgrimage to a sacred place. A modern Olympics can legitimately take place in any city selected by the International Olympic Committee. But the ancient games could occur in only one location in western Greece. The most profoundly moving events didn't even occur in the stadium that accommodated 40,000 or in the wrestling and boxing arenas.
Instead, they took place in a grove called the Althis, where Hercules is said to have first erected an altar, sacrificed oxen to Zeus and planted a wild olive tree. Easily half the events during the festival engrossed spectators not in feats like discus, javelin, long jump, foot race and wrestling, but in feasts where animals were sacrificed to gods in heaven and long-dead heroes whose spirits still lingered.
On the evening of the second day, thousands gathered in the Althis to reenact the funeral rites of Pelops, a human hero who once raced a chariot to win a local chief's daughter. But the climactic sacrifice was on the morning of the third day at the Great Altar of Zeus, a mound of plastered ashes from previous sacrifices that stood 22 feet tall and 125 feet around. In a ritual called the hecatomb, 100 bulls were slaughtered and their thigh bones, wrapped in fat, burned atop the altar so that the rising smoke and aroma would reach the sky where Zeus could savor it.
No doubt many a spectator shivered at the thought of Zeus hovering above them, smiling and remembering Hercules' first sacrifice.
Just a few yards from the Great Altar another, more visual encounter with the god awaited. In the Temple of Zeus, which was erected around 468 to 456 B.C., stood a colossal image, 40 feet high, of the god on a throne, his skin carved from ivory and his clothing made of gold. In one hand he held the elusive goddess of victory, Nike, and in the other a staff on which his sacred bird, the eagle, perched. The towering statue was reflected in a shimmering pool of olive oil surrounding it.
During events, the athletes performed in the nude, imitating heroic figures like Hercules, Theseus or Achilles, who all crossed the dividing line between human and superhuman and were usually represented nude in painting and sculpture.
The athletes' nudity declared to spectators that in this holy place, contestants hoped to reenact, in the ritual of sport, the shudder of contact with divinity. In the Althis stood a forest of hundreds of nude statues of men and boys, all previous victors whose images set the bar for aspiring newcomers.
“There are a lot of truly marvelous things one can see and hear about in Greece," the Greek travel writer Pausanias noted in the second century B.C., “but there is something unique about how the divine is encountered at … the games at Olympia."
Communion and community
The Greeks lived in roughly 1,500 to 2,000 small-scale states scattered across the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions.
Since sea travel in summertime was the only viable way to cross this fragile geographical web, the Olympics might entice a Greek living in Southern Europe and another residing in modern-day Ukraine to interact briefly in a festival celebrating not only Zeus and Heracles but also the Hellenic language and culture that produced them.
Besides athletes, poets, philosophers and orators came to perform before crowds that included politicians and businessmen, with everyone communing in an “oceanic feeling" of what it meant to be momentarily united as Greeks.
Now, there's no way we could explain the miracle of TV to the Greeks and how its electronic eye recruits millions of spectators to the modern games by proxy. But visitors to Olympia engaged in a distinct type of spectating.
The ordinary Greek word for someone who observes – “theatês" – connects not only to “theater" but also to “theôria," a special kind of seeing that requires a journey from home to a place where something wondrous unfolds. Theôria opens a door into the sacred, whether it's visiting an oracle or participating in a religious cult.
Attending an athletic-religious festival like the Olympics transformed an ordinary spectator, a theatês, into a theôros – a witness observing the sacred, an ambassador reporting home the wonders observed abroad.
It's hard to imagine TV images from Tokyo achieving similar ends.
No matter how many world records are broken and unprecedented feats accomplished at the 2020 games, the empty arenas will attract no gods or genuine heroes: The Tokyo games are even less enchanted than previous modern games.
But while medal counts will confer fleeting glory on some nations and disappointing shame on others, perhaps a dramatic moment or two might unite athletes and TV viewers in an oceanic feeling of what it means to be “kosmopolitai," citizens of the world, celebrants of the wonder of what it means to be human – and perhaps, briefly, superhuman as well.
The ancient Greeks wouldn't recognize some aspects of the modern Olympics.
Vincent Farenga, Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
A new brain imaging study explored how different levels of the brain's excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters are linked to math abilities.
- Glutamate and GABA are neurotransmitters that help regulate brain activity.
- Scientists have long known that both are important to learning and neuroplasticity, but their relationship to acquiring complex cognitive skills like math has remained unclear.
- The new study shows that having certain levels of these neurotransmitters predict math performance, but that these levels switch with age.
Why do roughly one in five people find math especially difficult?
You might blame teaching methods, which some argue explains why the U.S. lags behind other countries in standardized math test scores. You could point to math anxiety, which affects about 20 percent of students and 25 percent of teachers, according to surveys. And there are also medical conditions that make math difficult, such as dyscalculia, a learning disability that disrupts the normal development of arithmetic skills.
But another explanation centers on neurotransmitters. In a new study published in PLOS Biology, researchers explored how the brain's levels of GABA and glutamate relate to math abilities over time in students of varying ages. The results showed that levels of these neurotransmitters can predict students' performance on math tests. However, this relationship seems to flip as people get older.
GABA and glutamate are responsible for regulating brain activity. In the mature brain, GABA is the brain's main inhibitory neurotransmitter, helping to block impulses between nerve cells in the brain, which can calm feelings of stress, anxiety, or fear. GABA is made from glutamate, the brain's major excitatory neurotransmitter that helps send signals throughout the central nervous system.
Researchers have long known that these neurotransmitters play crucial roles in learning, development, and neuroplasticity. That is partly because they are thought to help trigger developmental windows (or "sensitive periods") during which neural systems become more plastic and better able to acquire certain cognitive skills.
"Importantly, sensitive periods vary for different functions, with relatively simple abilities (e.g., sensorimotor integration) occurring earlier in development, while the sensitive period for acquiring more complex cognitive functions extends into the third decade of life," the researchers wrote.
GABA, glutamate, and math
Still, the exact relationship between GABA, glutamate, and complex cognitive functions has remained unclear. The new study explored that relationship by focusing on associations between the neurotransmitters and math abilities, which "provides a unique cognitive model to examine these questions due to its protracted skill acquisition period that starts already from early childhood and can continue for nearly two decades," the researchers wrote.
For the study, the researchers measured levels of GABA and glutamate in the left intraparietal sulcus (IPS) of 255 students, ranging from primary school to college. The participants completed a math test as their brains were imaged. About a year and a half later, the participants repeated the same process.
"The longitudinal design allowed us to further examine whether neurotransmitter concentration is linked to MA [mathematical abilities] as well as predict MA in the future," the researchers wrote. "Crucially, adopting this design allowed us to discern the selective effect of glutamate and GABA in response to natural (i.e., learning in school) rather than artificial environmental stimulation, thus allowing us to test the knowledge gained from lab-based experiments in high ecological settings."
The results suggest that GABA and glutamate play an important role in math abilities, but that the dynamic switches with age. For the young participants, higher GABA levels in the IPS were associated with higher scores on math tests. The opposite was observed among older students: higher glutamate levels correlated with higher scores. Both results held true on subsequent math tests.
Although the study sheds light on how neurotransmitter levels at different stages of development contribute to learning some cognitive skills, like math, the researchers noted that acquiring other skills may involve different processes.
"Our findings may also highlight a general principle that the developmental dynamics of regional excitation and inhibition levels in regulating the sensitive period and plasticity of a given high-level cognitive function (i.e., MA) may be different compared to another high-level cognitive function (i.e., general intelligence) that draws on similar, albeit not identical, cognitive and neural mechanisms," they wrote.