Politics

What’s actually in the Green New Deal?

House Resolution 11

The actual resolution is not that long—just 14 pages. But because it has to be written to the guidelines for submitting a congressional resolution, it’s formatted in a way that’s not all that convenient to read. Plus, it includes a good deal of the “whereas” and “resolved” language that too often clutters measures before Congress, making it not all that thrilling to read, despite its brevity. 

1) Climate change is happening, and it’s the government’s responsibility to address it.

The resolution opens by pointing out all the effects of climate change that the United States is already experiencing and, most importantly, by recognizing that it the responsibility of the federal government to address what is a genuine existential crisis. The text refers to another document, the “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C” released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That report shows that human activity is the primary factor behind climate change, and that climate change is driving a growing list of disasters, including severe storms, wildfires, and rising sea levels.

Because all these things represent a threat to both the lives and the health of American citizens, as well as to infrastructure and other resources, it is absolutely in the government’s scope to take action. The resolution then goes into some of these threats in more detail, noting items such as the sharply rising costs of addressing disasters and the increasing risks to coastal communities. It also discusses the direct health effects, along with the threat climate change poses to nature and public infrastructure. And the resolution recognizes that, for more than a century, the United States has played an out-sized role in bringing on this global crisis. So we must step up to fight, if there’s to be any hope.

The resolution then looks at what it calls “related crises,” those issues that are intricately bound-up with the system that has created climate change. Those thinking that this is “just an environmental thing” are likely to get confused here, because the resolution touches on everything from national security to transportation infrastructure to crippling inequality. The list of issues is lengthy, but it’s not a grab bag of random items from a progressive agenda. These are all things related to climate change, including indigenous communities threatened by pollution and abuse, and rural communities failing as industry and jobs move away.

But don’t mistake the things in this section for the goals of the Green New Deal. They’re not.

2) So what should the government do about it?

The actual list of prescriptions provided by the resolution isn’t that long—though again, it can seem daunting. On the fifth page of the bill is a fairly simply set of broad goals for addressing the climate crisis.

  • Achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in a way that’s fair to all communities and workers.
  • Create good jobs that spread prosperity and provide economic security.
  • Invest in infrastructure and industry within the United States to address these issues.

Those are definitely big-ticket items, but they’re not free ponies and government-granted unicorns. They’re just a recognition that a program that addresses climate change while ignoring the effects the program itself has on workers and communities is a bad program.

By specifying these goals—a fair program that creates good jobs and invests in the nation—the resolution hopes to also “Secure for all people of the United States … clean air and water, climate and community resiliency, healthy food, access to nature, and a sustainable environment.” That’s a pretty good list. Because this is a systemic problem, addressing it brings systemic benefits.

But the benefits here are just that: benefits that come from addressing the climate crisis. The intention of the Green New Deal isn’t to spawn a thousand committees and hash out ten thousand bills on every subject. It’s to recognize that addressing the climate crisis fairly has a big upside. In other words, the Green New Deal isn’t replacing the ADA, setting new standards for organic food, or expanding OSHA. It’s just recognizing that dealing with these issues will have a strong, positive impact on many communities—including those who currently disproportionately face the effects of pollution. 

3) The “Green New Deals”: the heart of the plan.

On page 6 of the resolution begins the section that lays out the goals of the Green New Deal. And despite all the spin from all directions, those goals are pretty clear. 

All of them fall within a “a 10-year national mobilization,” and they look like this:

  • Build resiliency against climate change-related weather, and work with the communities most effected.
  • Repair and upgrade the infrastructure to reduce greenhouse gases, ensure access to clean water, and reduce the risks of flooding.
  • Move the United States to 100 percent “clean and renewable” power by deploying new capacity and upgrading power distribution.
  • Upgrade buildings to be more energy-, water-, and materials-efficient.
  • Promote clean manufacturing.
  • Work with farmers and ranchers to improve sustainability.
  • Overhaul transportation with clean vehicles, public transportation and high speed rail.
  • Address health effects of climate change and related pollution.
  • Reduce greenhouse gases by restoring natural ecosystems.
  • Restore and protect biodiversity to support climate resiliency.
  • Clean up existing hazardous waste and abandoned sites.
  • Identify pollution sources and create solutions to eliminate them.
  • Make the United States the international leader on climate action.

That’s it. Does it say “Get rid of cows”? It does not. Does it say “Free money for everyone, even if they just want to lounge around”? No. It is not promising to cure cancer or anything else that people seem to be finding in the Green New Deal. It’s all about climate change, and what it takes to fix climate change.

This isn’t the sum total of the Green New Deal. But this section—a baker’s dozen of “green new deals”—is the heart of the proposal and of the document. It’s important enough that I’m including it again, in full, at the end of the article so you can read the actual text of the resolution and see what’s really being proposed. These goals are genuinely brief enough that you could carry them in your pocket for reference.

One thing that becomes obvious when reading the text of this section is that goals are frequently described as “reduce or eliminate,” and the phrase “as much as technically possible” is freely applied. This is an important document that sets high goals, but it is also a document that deliberately works within the realm of the possible.

4) Things to consider while saving the world.

Once the list of the Green New Deals (and that is what the resolution calls them) is spelled out, the text continues along the lines of the things that need to be addressed while meeting the targets proposed. To describe them as “play nice” is too trite and too trivial, but it gives a sense of what this section is about. The intention of this section is just to hammer home again that meeting the goals of the Green New Deal should be done in a way that’s transparent, inclusive, and collaborative. It needs to include communities at risk, labor unions, other organizations, scientists, and business in its planning.  

The resolution also insists that the public should have “an appropriate ownership stake” in both the achievement of the goals and the benefits. In other words, the results of a national mobilization to save the whole of civilization, apple pie, and apples should not end up just another way for some mega corporation to make trillions. What comes out of this will belong to the nation. The results of the Green New Deal would not be just a nicely scrubbed atmosphere and a lot of shiny new infrastructure, but also a boost in education and a new generation of jobs, especially in those communities most impacted by climate change. That includes, but isn’t limited to, indigenous communities, communities of color, and depopulated rural communities. 

Does this section also include things like “good health care for every American”? It does. But that’s not one of the Green New Deals. It’s just a very good idea. That’s how the document closes out: with a list of standards that should be met by projects involved in the Green New Deal—good safe jobs, support for labor unions and other worker organizations, and protection against business monopolies and unfair practices. And this is where you finally get that unicorn.

Sorry, no unicorn. Just checking to see if you were still with me.

5) It’s a plan to address climate change.

That’s what it is. Look again at the goals that the resolution spells out. Which of them could be easily removed while still pretending to make an adequate response to the climate crisis?

The Green New Deal isn’t all things to all people. It’s not a healthcare plan, or guaranteed minimum income, no matter how good both those things would be. It’s also not a detailed proposal on exactly how to build power plants, or just where to run train lines, or how farmers should do their jobs. It’s not meant to be.

It’s a recognition that climate change is an energy issue. Climate change is an infrastructure issue. Climate change is an economic issue. Climate change is a labor issue. And addressing it means considering those things as we consider greenhouses gases.


After-school reading: the actual text

Here’s the part where you stop getting my spin on the resolution and just get the resolution. This is the same list as back in section 3, but unfiltered by my interpretation and compression of what the text actually says. This time around, I’ve changed nothing but the formatting, because the wording is something that keeps getting twisted.

Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that— it is the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal—

The goals described … should be accomplished through a 10-year national mobilization that will require the following goals and projects:

  • Building resiliency against climate change-related weather, including by leveraging funding and providing investments for community-defined projects and strategies; 
  • Repairing and upgrading the infrastructure in the United States, including
    • by eliminating pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as much as techno

      logically feasible;

    • by guaranteeing universal access to clean water

    • by reducing the risks posed by flooding and other climate impacts

    • by ensuring that any infrastructure bill considered by Congress addresses climate change

  • Meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources, including
    • by deploying new capacity
    • building or upgrading to energy-efficient, distributed, and ‘‘smart’’ power grids and working to ensure affordable access to electricity
  • Upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification;
  • Spurring massive growth in clean manufacturing in the United States and removing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing and industry as much as is technologically feasible, including by expanding renewable energy manufacturing and investing in existing manufacturing and industry
  • Working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible, including—
    • by supporting family farming
    • by investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health
    • by building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food
  • Overhauling transportation systems in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible, including through investment in—
    • zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing
    • clean, affordable, and accessible public transportation
    • high-speed rail
  • Mitigating and managing the long-term adverse health, economic, and other effects of pollution and climate change, including by providing funding for community-defined projects and strategies
  • Removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and reducing pollution, including by restoring natural ecosystems through proven low-tech solutions that increase soil carbon storage, such as preservation and afforestation
  • Restoring and protecting threatened, endangered, and fragile ecosystems through locally appropriate and science-based projects that enhance biodiversity and support climate resiliency.
  • Cleaning up existing hazardous waste and abandoned sites to promote economic development and sustainability.
  • Identifying other emission and pollution sources and creating solutions to eliminate them
  • Promoting the international exchange of technology, expertise, products, funding, and services, with the aim of making the United States the international leader on climate action, and to help other countries achieve a Green New Deal

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