The right is using every tool it has to stop a world-saving climate agenda. It’s funneled millions of dollars to sow fear and false narratives among the public. And its forces exploit the climate crisis to advance eco-fascism and white nationalism.
Conservatives are terrified of what the fight against climate change looks like: millions of people coming together across all lines of division to demand a just transition to a 21st century economy and an energy revolution that guarantees clean air and water, modernizes national infrastructure, and creates high-quality jobs.
But despite all of their pre-emptive strikes, the embodiment of their worst fears still came along: a Green New Deal.
The who, when, and where of the Green New Deal
Before the call for a Green New Deal, Democrats had nothing close to a plan for climate change.
The last legislative push for emissions regulations fizzled out in 2009, when the American Clean Energy and Security Act failed to make it onto the floor of the Democratic-held Senate. Many considered it to be the last chance for meaningful climate policy; Democrats had unified control of the government, and public support for addressing climate change through legislation was higher than ever. What followed was a series of failed attempts at meaningful reform, including Obama’s Clean Power Plan—which was eventually repealed by the Trump administration—and shaky proposals from numerous states.
But none of these came close to meeting the scale of the climate crisis. As it rapidly became clear we were running out of time to pass a climate agenda transformative enough stop any more irreversible damage, it became just as clear that Democrats were unwilling to take necessary steps to stem the crisis—as underscored by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s anemic 2018 proposal to revive a decade-old committee charged with educating the public on the impact of climate change.
And that’s when the youth stepped in.
Backed by Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led organization organizing around the Green New Deal, descended on Pelosi’s office and staged a sit-in. They went on to do the same in dozens of politicians’ offices nationwide. They demanded an explicit commitment from Pelosi and other leading Democratic officials: pass a suite of policies that won’t just end the causes of climate change, but will move us toward an economy that guarantees justice, dignity, and prosperity for all. This bold action added to a foundation built by years of just transition work by environmental justice and labor organizers and set the stage for the massive surge for transformational climate policy.
But the history of the environmental justice movement—and the role that Black and Native organizers played in its founding—cannot be understated. We can cite the 1962 Memphis sanitation strike; the 1982 Warren County, North Carolina sit-in to protest the construction of a toxic waste landfill; the 1990 founding of the Indigenous Environmental Group; and the 1991 First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, to name a few. The leadership of Black and Native communities spent decades forging the foundation and core principles of the climate justice movement we see today.
What will a Green New Deal look like for me?
The Green New Deal is not only possible. It’s practical. At its core, the Green New Deal is a transformational national project with a singular aim: rapid transition to a forward-looking society of broad opportunity, equal justice, productive prosperity, and environmental sustainability. It calls for plans to move our nation to 100% clean and renewable energy, a just transition for all communities and workers who have been impacted by climate change or depended on fossil fuels, and a job guarantee with a family-sustaining wage for everyone in our society.
But at the end of the day, we all want to know the same thing: How will a Green New Deal help my family now and for future generations?
Here are two ways the lives of working people will be improved under a Green New Deal:
1. Our anxieties about the future will lessen. A transition to a green future means guaranteeing clean air and water for generations to come. It means we no longer have to worry about sending our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren into inevitable devastation and scarcity. It means investing in economic and environmental security nationwide, ensuring working families from rural West Virginia to Detroit have everything they need to thrive.
2. Our economy will no longer leave us behind. A Green New Deal means that economic injustice will never again be our country’s status quo. Accomplishing its agenda means making sweeping investments in American infrastructure, boosting the economy, and creating 10 million new jobs in the first 10 years. It means cutting the type of spending that hurts working families—like funding wars overseas or giving massive tax breaks to billionaires—and ensuring that working families, not Wall Street, are the ones who benefit most from economic growth.
We will have greater control of our own lives. From engineering redlining to excluding domestic and agricultural workers from labor protections, programs born from the last New Deal cemented the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow-era policies. In contrast, the Green New Deal doesn’t just include, but explicitly centers the needs of workers and communities on the frontline of the crisis—communities that tend to be working class, poor, rural and people of color. The Congressional resolution sponsored by Ocasio-Cortez commits to promote justice and equity by “stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of Indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.” That means that, for the first time in decades—if not generations—communities that have been pushed to the margins of power will be at the center of all policies formed.
Why am I seeing conflicting information about the Green New Deal?
As expected, Big Oil and Gas is fighting to turn the public against the Green New Deal—and to continue profiting from unregulated carbon emissions as a result. From the money-soaked climate misinformation machine and campaign donations to anti-Green New Deal politicians, the fossil fuel lobby has an array of tactics to sow nationwide doubt about the Green New Deal.
Here are the facts about three of the more pervasive myths:
Myth #1: It will take away planes and cars: One of the many times Trump took aim at the Green New Deal was this past February, when he claimed it would “shut down American energy” and air travel. The claim took off among members of the right, and was subsequently propagated by U.S. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Florida), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Fox News.
Anyone who’s taken a bus, train, or airplane in the last decade knows that public transportation is inefficient. Commutes are long and tedious; airlines are constantly wasting money each year on empty seats; and many cities such as Cincinnati and Memphis are denied service. Meanwhile, the airline industry alone produces 5.7 million tons of passenger waste and consumes tens of billions of fossil fuels each year.
By investing in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing—as well as clean, affordable, and accessible public transit and high-speed rail—the Green New Deal will overhaul our antiquated transportation system and invest in improvements that help us in the here and now. That doesn’t look like eliminating the airline industry or outlawing cars. It looks like investing in a carbon-neutral transportation system that improves all of our lives. It looks like saving a lot of time and money with innovations like a new electrified high-speed rail that will make short trips between hubs such as Boston and New York easier.
Myth #2: It will require massive personal sacrifice: Taking responsibility for yourself and your effect on the climate is a good thing, but we’re not going to save the planet through individual decisions. Furthermore, the logic of demanding the populations of people “tighten their belts” to abide by a regime of eco-austerity allows the corporations and decision-makers to evade responsibility for fixing a problem they created. You can see the backlash in the massive protests against subway fare hikes in Chile and the yellow vest resistance against rising fuel prices in France. Working people will not be bullied into sacrifice or shamed into austerity to avoid corporate accountability and structural change of our economy.
Accomplishing a Green New Deal requires millions of new living-wage jobs that provide dignity to families and renew our vision of America in the 21st century and beyond. The goal is to create 1 million new jobs each year for 10 years through employment and training programs associated with Green New Deal grants and projects, and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States.
Myth #3: It will bankrupt our country: The wealthiest members of the right always leveraged the fear of scarcity—the false concept of “the more your family has, the less mine will”—to keep us locked in a death struggle over “limited resources” while they hold fast to the vast majority of wealth. They need us to remain complacent in the belief that there aren’t enough resources to go around, so that we don’t unite to demand the dignity and prosperity we deserve.
The myth that America can’t afford a Green New Deal disregards a much larger truth—that the cost of an unmitigated climate crisis will be undeniably larger than any investment we make now. In other words, we can’t afford not to.
But more importantly, the projects put in place will pay for themselves. And workers in unsustainable sectors will be well taken care of, and we will make thousands of new jobs as a result of a greener economy. Accomplishing a Green New Deal will mean that we will have a politics that fights for a path to prosperity for every community left behind by our current winner-hordes-all economy—a politics that will not yield until working people, not Wall Street billionaires, are the ones shaping our future.
The Green New Deal is about more than climate change. It’s about everyday people coming together to leverage our political power against the largest threat to any of our lives. It’s about understanding the potential that a crisis of this scale has for our movement and seizing on the unprecedented opportunity to build a coalition powerful enough to transform the world.
Anyone that says a Green New Deal can’t or won’t work is missing the point. The Green New Deal is a vehicle for progressive ambition looking to transform the economy and the environment to achieve sustainability, equity, freedom, and happiness. It’s a re-imagining of what government does and who it’s for. It’s a demand—and an action plan—for the country of our dreams.