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Deal or no Deal? — Green New Deal splits the Democratic Party

Ambitious has certainly been a word used to describe the “Green New Deal,” a 14-page resolution to tackle climate change authored by Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Since its release to the public in early February, it has received both progressive support and vehement backlash. While quick rejections from Republicans were predictable, the document has also sparked a divide among Democrats. Although the resolution’s undoubtedly radical emission reduction goals are necessary to address the urgency of climate change, the proposal may hinder its own success by alienating more moderate individuals due to its inclusion of social goals such as “guaranteed high-wage jobs, housing, paid vacation and health care.”

Some believe the climate crisis necessitates the Green New Deal’s proposed restructuring of American society, but if enacting emissions-reducing environmental policy is the ultimate goal, packaging it with what many Americans view as radical social policy is simply not practical in the current political climate. As David Leonhardt for the New York Times wrote, “the plan doesn’t merely argue that clean energy can create good-paying jobs (which it can). It includes a needlessly long wish list of progressive economic policies.”

While it may seem ideal to push the government towards sweeping change that will benefit all areas of society, the realities of America’s political system require a more pragmatic approach that can attract the greatest number of supporters and unite Democratic politicians around a common goal: fighting climate change.

The Green New Deal is not legislation but rather a congressional resolution that outlines a 10-year agenda to eliminate the usage of fossil fuels and create new environmentally-friendly infrastructure. Along with this transition to 100% renewable and zero-emission energy sources, the document also proposes public investment in wind and solar power, high-speed rail, smart power grids, and energy-efficient buildings. Proposals for similar legislation have been around for over a decade, but few are as radical as this current iteration. However, the radical nature of the Green New Deal is bolstered by the fact that scientists have recently warned that climate change is much more pressing than we might have previously believed. For instance, a United Nations report estimating that Earth is on track to experience climate-based disasters such as food shortages, fatal heat waves, and mass die-offs of coral reefs as soon as 2040.

The Green New Deal is not alone in the scope of the change it deems necessary to address climate change, and some experts even believe its goals may be feasible. John Holdren, a professor at Harvard, stated that an aggressive transition to non-carbon energy begun today could achieve zero emissions by midcentury, the deadline urged by scientists in the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. All in all, while the Green New Deal’s goals are demanding, experts believe the trillions of dollars that the government may have to shell out to deal with potential catastrophes make them worth consideration.

However, the Green New Deal has been dismissed by leading figures in the Democratic party. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker, called the proposal a “green dream,” and, although others have applauded it, she dismissed it as one of many proposals on the table, saying that the Congress must “operate in a way that’s evidence-based, current in its data.” Senator Dianne Feinstein expressed a similar point of view, calling the resolution “impractical.” Even Rep. Paul Tonko (D-New York), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce’s Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, said that although he supports the “goals and principles” of the Green New Deal resolution, he did not endorse the broader plan to radically remake the U.S. economy to combat climate change.

While some of the dissent can be attributed to the radical age gap between more seasoned politicians like Feinstein and newcomers such as Ocasio-Cortez, the Green New Deal would be much more effective if it contained its scope to tackling climate change and left the largely unrelated economic policies to separate resolutions. Although more progressive Democratic presidential candidates such as Sens. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.)., have endorsed the deal, the legislation needs broader approval in order to come to fruition. It is essential to have the support of party leadership to get anything done in Congress, meaning that the Green New Deal cannot afford to alienate people like Pelosi, even if it has support from citizens and younger members of the party. Keeping the conversation confined to addressing the Earth’s changing climate would have been much more effective than tacking on social policies that are easy targets for Republican accusations of socialism.

The packaging of environmental policy with radical social policies such as providing all people of the United States with “economic security” and “affordable, safe, and adequate housing” may dangerously impede unity around the resolution and detract from prioritizing addressing climate change. And, with the impending dangers of Earth’s warming temperature, there is no time to waste. Scientists say if emissions remain unchecked, climate effects could be so severe that they might destabilize governments, produce massive refugee crises, cause Earth’s sixth mass extinction of plants and animals, and raise sea levels high enough to flood many of the planet’s coastal cities. Our planet will be one of more frequent heat waves, heavier rainstorms, and intensified droughts.

As Axios reports, there is growing consensus—among most oil and gas executives, sectors of corporate America, scientists, the United Nations, Democrats, economists, environmentalists, and youth activists—that some sort of policy change is necessary. Ultimately, the Democratic party will have to reconcile the rift between progressive New Deal supporters and more moderate politicians if progress is to be made.

Photo: “Green New Deal