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.
Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET on Monday as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.
A vertical map might better represent a world dominated by China and determined by shipping routes across the iceless Arctic.
- Europe has dominated cartography for so long that its central place on the world map seems normal.
- However, as the economic centre of gravity shifts east and the climate warms up, tomorrow's map may be very different.
- Focusing on both China and Arctic shipping lanes, this vertical representation could be the world map of the future.
The world, but not as we know it<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1Nzg1NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTkwMjIyNn0.qmQfwUdjQka8JX6q4KGANagleiuucpWay5ytMenZxUU/img.jpg?width=980" id="b95e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ac088ec55c0585a93a9a310faab9a4c7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A Chinese 'vertical world map,' showing the world in a different perspective from the one we're used to.
Image: Prior Probability<p>Europe is tucked away in a corner, an appendage of Asia dwarfed by neighboring Africa. North America is stood on its head, facing the rest of the world from the top of the map — cut off from South America, which cuts a solitary figure at the bottom. Africa is justifiably huge, but equally eccentric. </p><p>The eye scouts elsewhere for a place to land: not the Indian Ocean, which dominates the middle of the map, but some terra firma. Antarctica and Australia are too small, mere stepping stones for the land mass of Asia. Ultimately our gaze is drawn toward China, the lynchpin of this unfamiliar world. </p><p>Managing to leave both poles intact, this "vertical" world map is about as far away as you can get from the classic Mercator projection – which slices up both, giving center stage to a puffed-up Europe. Perhaps this new map will become more familiar soon: It may do more justice to the world of the near future, dominated by China and determined by shipping routes across the iceless Arctic. <br></p>
China's 'ten-dash line'<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1Nzg1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTI4MzQyNn0.sBe0oFTif4Jef1vWh1kAnUylU_QMPXT5xQjm-5aA3sA/img.jpg?width=980" id="a3b81" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="80fc6e4f5c9c1c978f698be2c8de5484" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
'China without any part left out': includes Taiwan and the islands and atolls in the South China Sea, surrounded by a ten-dash line
Image: Global Times<p>While there's no indication that this map represents the Chinese government's "official" worldview, it is no secret that China has a thing with maps – and more specifically, the country's representation on them. </p><p>In China, the country's current economic success is seen as a redress of the unequal treatment meted out by western superpowers in the 19th century. China's world dominance is a return to a more natural state of world affairs, many feel. Cartographic rectifications are a symbolically significant corollary of that sentiment.</p><p><a href="https://www.citylab.com/equity/2015/12/china-cracks-down-on-politcally-incorrect-maps/421032/" target="_blank">Fines are regularly imposed</a> on companies – domestic and foreign – that fail to represent China to the fullest extent of its external borders, disputed though they may be by others (e.g. India, Taiwan and any of the countries with claims overlapping China's in the South China Sea). But the People's Republic's cartographic obsession doesn't end at China's territory itself. It also includes the country's position on the world map. <br></p>
The Kingdom at the Middle of the World<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1Nzg2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTkwODEzMX0.SGrAZBH6iJVggFYSaIahzv9GvfEh17y1SwUNINbVicQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="1774c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="99790d80a909d17a948f7c5d463d7d98" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Early Japanese color copy of Ricci's world map
Image: public domain<p>China's name for itself is <em>Zhōngguó</em>, which means 'Central State' or 'Middle Kingdom', reflecting its ancient self-image as the civilized center (<em>Huá</em>) of the world, with wild tribes (<em>Yí</em>) at the edge. That view is not unique to China. Vietnam, for example, at certain times also styled itself as the "central state" (<em>Trung Quóc</em>) – considering the Chinese in turn as the uncouth outsiders.</p><p>It may be surprising to recall, but Europeans themselves once considered their own continent a relative backwater, viewing Jerusalem as the true center of the world. That changed with the Age of Discovery, which placed Europe at the center of an ever-expanding world. Maps reflected that worldview, and largely continue to do so. That's why today's standard world map still has Europe at its center – with China off toward the periphery on the map's right-hand side. </p><p>The most notable feature of the very first major modern world map produced in China, the <em>Kunyu Wanguo Quantu</em> (1602), is that it places China firmly at the center of the world. Produced for the Chinese emperor by Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci, it was the first map ever to combine that perspective with modern western knowledge: it was the first Chinese map to show the Americas, for instance. </p><p>That representation may not have taken off elsewhere, but it will be instantly recognizable to Chinese students, as it's the standard format for world maps in China's schools today.<br></p>
America on its head<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1Nzg2My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMzQ5NTc0MH0.EqadI2Yp-2dPwi3VccFZelIDK4V9t0ZOfTfHjdB6wVw/img.jpg?width=980" id="97104" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2b66e8de389b3d736bc28e019e445cd0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Upside down you turn me: North America on its head, in Chinese characters
Image: Prior Probability<p>For those used to "classic" Eurocentric world maps, Europe's marginalization may come across as a bit of an upset. America's new position on the horizontal Chinese world map is less jarring: It merely moves from the left- to the right-hand side of the picture. But then there's this vertical world map, which deals a similar blow to the American land mass: divided in two and pushed to the upper and lower edges of the map.</p><p>Unfamiliar? Sure. Shocking? Perhaps. Wrong? Not really. First off, no world map is totally right, since it's mathematically impossible to transfer the surface of a three-dimensional object onto a flat surface without some distortion. And since the world is a globe, where you center that map is a matter of purely subjective choice.<br></p><p>Those choices have historical reasons. Mercator's map was not specifically designed to put an inflated Europe at the center of the world. That was just a side effect; its main purpose was to aid shipping: Straight lines on the map correspond to straight lines sailed on the seas.</p>
By 2050, a completely melted Arctic could enable the Transpolar Passage, shortening trade routes between Asia and Europe and boosting business for Alaskan ports like Nome and Dutch Harbor.
Image: The Maritime Executive<p>The vertical world map, showing the relative proximity of China (and the rest of Asia) to Europe and (even the East Coast of) North America, has a similarly maritime <em>raison d'être</em>, or it will have by mid-century. <a href="https://www.maritime-executive.com/editorials/the-arctic-shipping-route-no-one-s-talking-about" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Experts project</a> that by 2050 (if not sooner), the Arctic will be sufficiently ice-free to enable the so-called Transpolar Passage, i.e. shipping straight across the North Pole. </p><p>That would shave more than three weeks off a traditional sea voyage between Europe and Asia, via the Suez Canal – and even be significantly faster than other northern alternatives like the Northwest Passage (via Canada) or the Northern Sea Route (hugging the Siberian coast). Since ships would not need to go through locks or pass over shallow waters, it would also remove current restrictions on tonnage per ship. <br></p><p>The only country seriously preparing for such a future: China. None of the other Arctic powers is giving the Transpolar route any strategic thought. On the other hand, China's Arctic Policy document, released in January 2018, already matter-of-factly refers to the Transpolar route as the 'Central Passage' – one of several 'Polar Silk Roads' that China seems to want to develop. And they already have the world map to go with it.</p>
The Labour Economics study suggests two potential reasons for the increase: corruption and increased capacity.
Cool hand rebuke<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMTIyNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjY1NTYyOH0.0MCPKN3If94mYCNf3mMNrnTvJXjXN_bKLhgk9203EXk/img.jpg?width=917&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=453" id="1627b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6d76421ba1ea0de4b09956b97e80c384" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A chart showing prison population rates (per 100,000 people) in 2018. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Who profits with for-profit prisons?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="97ac37e6c7f6f22ec130ea2d56871701"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/dB78NV2WpWc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The Labour Economics study suggests that privately-run prisons do convicts a few favors at the moment of sentencing. However, proponents of private prisons often point to other benefits when making their case. Specifically, they argue that private prisons reduce operating costs, stimulate innovation in the correctional system, and reduce recidivism—the rate at which released prisoners are rearrested and return to prison.</p><p>In regard to recidivism, the research is mixed. <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0011128799045001002" target="_blank">One study</a> compared roughly 400 former prisoners from Florida, 200 released from private prisons and 200 from state-run facilities. It found the private-prison cohort maintained lower rates of recidivism. However, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1745-9133.2005.00006.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">another Florida study</a> found no significant rate differences. And two other studies—one from <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0011128799045001002" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Oklahoma</a> and another out of <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0734016813478823" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Minnesota</a>, both comparing much larger cohorts than the first Florida study— found that prisoners leaving private prisons had a greater risk of recidivism.</p><p>The research is also inconclusive regarding cost savings. <a href="https://www.hamiltonproject.org/assets/files/economics_of_private_prisons.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A Hamilton Project analysis</a> noted that such comparisons are difficult because private prisons, like all private companies, are not required to release operational details. In comparing what studies were available, the authors estimate the costs to be comparable and that "in practice the primary mechanism for cost saving in private prisons is lower salaries for correctional officers"—about $7,000 less than their public peers. They add that competition-driven innovation is lacking as the three largest firms control nearly the entire market.</p><p>"We aren't saying private prisons are bad," Galinato said. "But states need to be careful with them. If your state has previous and regular issues with corruption, I wouldn't be surprised to see laws being more skewed to give longer sentences, for example. If the goal is to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals, increasing the number of private prisons may not be the way to go."</p>
What exactly does "questions are the new answers" mean?
- Traditionally, intelligence has been viewed as having all the answers. When it comes to being innovative and forward-thinking, it turns out that being able to ask the right questions is an equally valuable skill.
- The difference between the right and wrong questions is not simply in the level of difficulty. In this video, geobiologist Hope Jahren, journalist Warren Berger, experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats, and investor Tim Ferriss discuss the power of creativity and the merit in asking naive and even "dumb" questions.
- "Very often the dumb question that is sitting right there that no one seems to be asking is the smartest question you can ask," Ferriss says, adding that "not only is it the smartest, most incisive, but if you want to ask it and you're reasonably smart, I guarantee you there are other people who want to ask it but are just embarrassed to do so."