What is the Green New Deal?

Green New Deal Presser Wikimedia commons

by Hannah Bernier

The Green New Deal (GND) is a landmark congressional resolution that seeks to mitigate the worst effects of climate change by drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Edward J. Markey introduced this resolution to the United States Congress in 2019 in response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report in 2018 that reported that global warming must be kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst effects of climate change. This report also predicted that if global warming reaches 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, it will result in a climate refugee crisis, significant ecosystem losses, economic losses of $5 trillion in the United States, and real estate/infrastructure losses of $1 trillion in the US, among other effects. To stop this warming, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by about 50 percent from 2010 to 2030, and the world must have net-zero global emissions by 2050. The Green New Deal acknowledges that because the US has been a large contributor to climate change by emitting a disproportionately high amount of greenhouse gases, it has the responsibility to take decisive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the well-being of its citizens as well as the global community. 

The Green New Deal calls for a 10-year economic mobilization at the scale of the New Deal program led by the federal government to cut net greenhouse gas emissions in the US to zero over the next 10 years. However, this is not the sole goal of the GND: it also serves to increase economic security for all people in the US by providing jobs and social safety nets, as well as addressing and dismantling oppressive systems that hurt frontline and vulnerable communities. The Green New Deal includes a set of broadly-defined goals, including fostering clean manufacturing, encouraging the widespread use of renewable energy, reducing pollutants from agricultural activities, generating millions of jobs with a living wage, providing every US resident with healthcare, economic security, clean water, and healthy food. If passed, the resolution would not be legally binding; it is instead a commitment by Congress to the American people to create and implement policies and programs to aid in this economic mobilization. 

The Green New Deal is not without its critics: many see the plan as unrealistic if not harmful. Though some policymakers and people see the Green New Deal as an opportunity for large-scale mobilization, others find the GND too broad and too vague to be a reasonable starting point for addressing climate change. In March 2019 the resolution was defeated in Congress, yet many individual states, cities, and local jurisdictions have begun to implement Green New Deal policies within their own jurisdictions. For example, in September 2020, Tucson, Arizona’s Mayor Regina Romero and the Tucson City Council declared a “climate emergency” and set a goal to become carbon neutral by 2030. Based on the Green New Deal, the City of Tucson has committed $250,000 to a holistic 10-year Climate Action and Adaptation Plan that includes, but is not limited to, using clean and local energy, electrifying the city’s public transit, implementing massive tree planting programs, committing to zero waste by 2050, and investing in green infrastructure. Tucson is one of the 120 local governments in the US that has declared a climate emergency. Many of these local jurisdictions are committing to the values and ideas proposed in the Green New Deal and implementing their own site-specific initiatives. 

The Green New Deal is markedly different from environmental movements and policies of the past. The US mainstream environmental movement–from John Muir’s call for conservation of public land in the early 1900s to the passage of anti-DDT laws after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring book published in 1962–has for the most part focused on single-issue policies and programs. It has not addressed the larger systems of oppression and exploitation that have caused degradation to land and human health, and only sought surface-level solutions. Also, many policies within the conservation movement disenfranchised Indigenous peoples from their lands and restricted land and resource accessibility to Black people. The Green New Deal is distinct from past (white) environmental movements in that it is holistic, comprehensive, and seeks to dismantle and rebuild systems that exploit people and land. It acknowledges the systemic injustices that have hurt the health and wellbeing of Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and other frontline communities, and has a sustained focus on equity and justice.

The Green New Deal is a chance for the United States to devote significant resources to solving its own dependency on greenhouse gases, and to address its own systemic racism. It is a chance for the country to come to terms with its own reality and to do better at taking care of its people while caring for the entire Earth by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Green New Deal is inherently transformational; it includes a mass mobilization of people and resources to address systemic injustices and unsustainable practices that contribute to and are exacerbated by climate change. 

Resources for further reading

House – Energy and Commerce; Science, Space, and Technology; Education and Labor; 

Transportation and Infrastructure; Agriculture; Natural Resources; Foreign Affairs; 

Financial Services; Judiciary; Ways and Means; Oversight and Reform, and 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Resolution, Congress.gov §. 109 (2019). 


Aidt, Mik. “Climate Emergency Declarations in 1,838 Jurisdictions and Local 

Governments Cover 820 Million Citizens.” Climate Emergency Declaration, 

November 17, 2020. 



Chatzky, Andrew. “Envisioning a Green New Deal: A Global Comparison.” Council on 

Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, October 21, 2020. 


Meyer, Robinson. “The 3 Democrats Who Voted Against the Green New Deal.” The 

Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, March 27, 2019. 



Staff, KOLD News 13. “Tucson Declares Climate Emergency; Council Commits to 

10-Year Plan for Change.” https://www.kold.com, September 11, 2020. 



“Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C Approved by 

Governments.” IPCC Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global 

Warming of 15C approved by governments Comments. Accessed November 19, 2020. 



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