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Green New Deal. You've Heard The Phrase. Here's What It Means

J. Scott Applewhite
Environmental activists occupy the office of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi as they try to pressure Democratic support for a sweeping agenda to fight climate change on November 10, 2018


Green New Deal is hot right now. It’s not a policy, or even a bill–it’s more of an idea.

Forty-five congress members have expressed support for it, lead by newly elected House member, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. So what is everyone so excited about? Alexander Kaufman has been covering the Green New Deal for the Huffington Post, and he talked to The Allegheny Front’s Reid Frazier for our podcast, Trump on Earth.

Reid Frazier: What is the Green New Deal and where did this idea come from?

Alexander Kaufman: The Green Deal is a general policy stance that says that in order to scale back emissions at the pace that scientists across the world say we need to, to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to enact these very aggressive policies to phase out fossil fuels and to guarantee jobs to people in the industries that will be affected by it. So it is simultaneously a large scale industrial plan that aims to prevent catastrophic climate change and aims to reduce growing inequality.

RF: Can you tell me how firm are the details of what could be in a Green New Deal?

AK: There are some core tenets to what the Green Deal is, at least if you talk to the people who are the most vocal proponents of it. One thing is 100 percent renewable energy. The other goal is to do 100 percent renewable energy within about a decade. You know some people say 2030, other people say that’s not just realistic, and so we should push for 2035. But that’s the kind of timeframe that we’re looking at for that.

The other aspect of it is potentially using a federal jobs guarantee which is something that FDR had considered in the New Deal but wasn’t able to accomplish and which is something that has actually been proposed by a number of different Democratic senators who are running for president. That policy has not been explicitly tied to green jobs necessarily.

But if you look at polling and if you talk to some of the people who are pushing for a Green New Deal, they say that is one of the most important things, because we need to be able to guarantee that people who are impacted by this radical overhaul of the way that the economy functions need to be guaranteed that they will have good paying jobs that they can continue to feed their families with.

RF: As we saw in France recently when they tried to enact a carbon tax or gas tax, there were “Yellow Vests” riots that were partially about people not wanting to pay more. How important do you think bringing the language of FDR’s New Deal into this policy idea? 

AF: If you look at polling, for instance, there was a big poll from the Yale Climate communications program that showed that while only about 80 percent of people said they had not heard of a Green New Deal, when it was described, it had overwhelming support between the different parties.

You had more than 90 percent of Democrats supporting that and you had 57 percent of conservative Republicans, with 64 percent of Republicans overall saying that they would support something like that.

So while there is a threat that, once these types of policies are being championed by people that are perceived as very partisan or perceived as very ideological, that support will wane. What that shows is that people do want these things and that people understand that the government taking a really significant role in enacting a policy like this is a safe way to make the kinds of changes that need to be made to avoid what is coming down the pipeline right now.

RF: Let’s talk about some of that criticism that may be coming. Dave Roberts over at Fox described the likely backlash against the Green Deal as a giant smear campaign funded by, effectively, “unlimited fossil fuel wealth.” What types of things do we expect to come out of the Republican Party and also more moderate Democrats?  You can expect a lot of skepticism. 

AF: There has not been full throated support from Democratic leadership for something like this, in part because they are beholden not necessarily to the Kochs of the world or to the Exxons of the world, but certainly to the building trades like the I.B.E.W and the longshoreman’s union who really depend on fossil industry for very lucrative jobs.

It’s notable that the renewable energy industry is not organized. Overwhelmingly, it is non-union labor that builds a lot of the wind turbines and a lot of the solar panels in the United States. And in the years between when a lot of the fossil fuel infrastructure jobs were unionized and now, labor laws have steadily declined. So it’s a hard sell to workers who can expect $25-$35 an hour for a pipeline project, to tell them actually, “we need to terminate all of these projects as quickly as possible in order to avoid the climate cataclysm that’s that’s coming our way. And we need you to, instead, take jobs in another industry that is not guaranteed to be unionized at this point in time” and which will be conceivably more difficult to unionize than the fossil fuel jobs. So that’s a big problem for the Democrats.

RF: Will require some sort of fundamental change in how people live their lives or how society structured? It’s almost certainly like not going to be a seamless transition. 

AK: Quitting fossil fuels will require a dramatic change. Fossil fuels are really entwined in almost every every aspect of our lives. The plastic that we use, the cars that we drive, the airplanes that we take to go from place to place. But there’s a lot of hope among people that if you were to really aggressively invest in these new industries, that while it would certainly change the way that the country functioned, you would be able to address a lot of the social inequality issues that we live with today.

In theory, you could easily have a young mother go and get a job in this booming and federally backed clean energy industry, so that she doesn’t have to work three different low-wage retail or food service jobs and still not be able to make rent or provide healthy food to her kids.

You could see radical changes like that. You will also see people [affected] who have been very wealthy and who have been very powerful in this country because they have profited off this dirty and really lethal, at this point, industry for many years.  So enacting something like this will undoubtedly shift a lot of different power structures in the country right now.

Read this story and more from our partner Allegheny Front.