The Green New Deal hit the US with the force of a Katrina-sized hurricane when it was unveiled last week – and yes, the comparison is fitting. The GND, as it’s being called, aims to eliminate the carbon emissions fueling climate change and the resulting extreme weather events and disease it causes over the next ten years.
Here’s a rundown of the GND and what it means for us and our kids.
First, what’s in the GND? The GND is a resolution, not a proposed law. It does not suggest specific legislation. Instead, it sets an exciting goal that calls for the US to reach “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2029. In doing so, it aims to redress a wide variety of social ills, starting with guaranteeing all Americans “a job with a family sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security.” A “high quality education” and adequate housing and health care are key goals of the GND, too.
Why Is It called a “New Deal”? The reference is to the New Deal President Franklin D. Roosevelt created in the 1930s to bring the US out of the worst depression in its history. FDR’s New Deal not only put people back to work but established a host of federal agencies and programs designed to protect farmers, the unemployed, youth, and the elderly. Several of those programs, including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), as well as the Social Security System and the Securities and Exchange commission, endure today.
How would the GND impact children’s health? The GND advocates an immediate transition away from burning the fossil fuels whose emissions are the primary source both of climate change and dirty air. That would be good news for all kids, but especially for the millions who suffer from asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Less air pollution would also mean fewer “code red” or “code orange” air quality days, so kids could play outside more. In the long term, reducing the extreme weather events associated with climate change would protect children from threats associated with hurricanes, wildfires, and floods. It would also help stop the spread of infectious diseases, poison ivy, and the ticks that cause Lyme disease.
How would the GND benefit the environment? This past year, rampant forest fires and severe hurricanes destroyed millions of acres of forests. Climate change has made it possible for voracious pests like the pine bark beetle to extend their range northward, killing additional millions of acres of trees. Every year, oil spills pollute lakes, rivers and streams. Fracking for natural gas emits horrible air pollutants and contaminates the drinking water of hundreds of communities. Phasing out coal mining, fracking and oil drilling would improve air and water quality. Reversing rising global temperatures could stop the spread of many pests and illnesses like Lyme disease, which have been on the rise as ticks extend their range into what were once cold climates.
How would the Green New Deal get us off dirty energy and onto cleaner energy sources? The GND suggests a multi-step plan that begins with efficiency. Specifically, it would upgrade all existing buildings to “achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability.” New energy would be achieved by “Meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources” like solar and wind. The GND also advocates investing in “clean, affordable, and accessible public transportation,” and expanding high-speed rail to reduce the need for polluting air travel. It would spur “massive growth in clean manufacturing” while “removing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing and industry as much as is technologically feasible.” Helping farmers and ranchers eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions (i.e., the methane cows and pigs emit when they belch and fart) is on the list, too.
Who’s going to pay for it? The sponsors of the resolution, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) view the GND as an investment, not an expenditure. “We will finance … the Green New Deal the same way we paid for the original New Deal, World War II, the bank bailouts, tax cuts for the rich, and decades of war–with public money appropriated by Congress.” That said, in all likelihood, individual programs would be paid for by some combination of re-allocated federal program budgets and private entrepreneurial investments, like those Elon Musk made to create the Tesla electric car and John Mackey made when he established the Whole Foods grocery chain.
Anything as ambitious and creative as the Green New Deal is bound to generate detractors and naysayers, and the GND is no exception. But with sixty-nine percent of Americans saying they are “somewhat worried” or “very worried” about climate change, according to a December survey by Yale University in Connecticut and George Mason University in Virginia, it would seem that a majority of Americans want government to do much more than they’re doing to rein in this catastrophe-in-the-making.
The Green New Deal is a great start with lots of enthusiasm that activists can get behind. Let it inspire us all to think about what can be!