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The Green New Deal Must be All-Encompassing

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The Green New Deal, introduced on February 7 by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Markey, is a long-awaited victory for the US climate movement. Finally there’s a plan to transform the US economy at the speed and scale needed to avoid disastrous warming, while securing prosperity and justice for millions of Americans—especially those most vulnerable to climate change and most impacted by centuries of historic harm and marginalization.

Weaving together climate policy with economic and racial justice prompted some liberals to fret that the resolution is “a needlessly long wish list.” The New York Times editorial board agrees that “decarbonizing the economy is ambitious…and urgent,” but insists “step-by-step measures” like national electricity standards and “an infrastructure program” will make for a better political approach. In other words: to stop climate change, go one reform at a time and focus on energy and infrastructure. Justice, equity—admirable goals, but not practical.

Climate science itself has rebutted this gradualist argument again and again. We’re heading towards a catastrophic 3.3 degrees Celsius of warming. The IPCC is saying directly to policymakers that the economic transformations needed to keep global average warming below a safe threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius will “require rapid and far-reaching transitions” in major sectors that are “unprecedented in terms of scale.”

An unprecedented economic transition that fails to address persistent inequities is immoral and inefficient. The IPCC finds that “eradicating poverty and reducing inequality can support limiting warming to 1.5°C.” On the other hand, doing nothing to reduce inequality while climate change worsens risks sparking a vicious cycle: disadvantaged communities will suffer disproportionately, then recover slowly and incompletely, leaving them even more vulnerable to the next crisis-fueled disaster.

That’s why including a job guarantee and Medicare-for-All in the Green New Deal resolution is both good ethics and effective policy design. As economists JW Mason, Sue Holmberg, and Mark Paul note, we’re “looking at [changes involving] five or ten percent of GDP, sustained over many years” with “major effects on labor markets and income distribution.” Policies that guarantee economic security and reduce inequality make it easier to transition and build capacity fast enough, mitigate the damage of climate impacts across society, and head off the potential backlash against environmental policies (see: France’s Yellow Vests).

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