In early February, DSA member and U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unveiled her plan for a Green New Deal. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi responded with condescension. “The green dream or whatever they call it,” she quipped, “nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?”
Actually, we do know what it is, and we’re for it with good reason. The Green New Deal represents our best opportunity yet to establish serious U.S. climate policy that can help us avert ecological disaster and ensure a habitable planet. It’s also a program to build the power of the working class, the only force on Earth with the will and the strength to protect whatever gains we might make from capitalist rollback efforts.
The Green New Deal bill put forth by Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% to 60% by 2030 and achieve net-zero global emissions by 2050. This is required to keep the planet below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and spare us from severe storms, raging wildfires, rising sea levels, and all the chaos they entail.
The Green New Deal bill’s objective is to meet all of the U.S. power demand with renewable and zero-emissions energy. This will require a massive coordinated effort to develop, upgrade, and replace our infrastructure, from building new energy-efficient power grids to outfitting existing buildings for maximum sustainability. It means investing in zero-emissions vehicle manufacturing, public transit, and high-speed rail. And it will require overhauling our agriculture and food systems, publicly funding research and development in ecology and energy, and restoring and protecting fragile ecosystems.
It’s no walk in the park. But if there were ever a time to accept a mission so difficult, it’s now, with climate Armageddon looming. And it is entirely feasible, so long as we can muster the political will to place the well-being of the global majority over the financial appetites of a handful of capitalists who prefer things just the way they are.
As ambitious as all of it sounds, the scope of the Green New Deal is wider yet. The bill calls for the creation of millions of high-wage union jobs to make the necessary transitions.
This proposal would likely amount to a de facto job guarantee, as it could bring the nation up to full employment, functionally guaranteeing a job to anyone who wants one. But the bill goes one step further and makes the job guarantee explicit. It sets as a goal “guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States.”
This Green New Deal bill is an opening gambit. The project it lays out can’t be accomplished by a single piece of legislation, and though it must be undertaken immediately, it must also be measured in decades. Ocasio-Cortez’s bill calls the Green New Deal a “national mobilization” — as when a nation mobilizes for war. But in this case, as with the original U.S. New Deal, lives will be improved rather than destroyed. And the war will be waged not against another nation, but against a common threat to the people of all nations.
Education and training will be required to prepare the workforce for this heroic effort. The bill calls for the provision of those, too, free of cost to all. And how can we ensure that our people are healthy and stable enough to participate fully in this monumental collective undertaking? The bill affirms the right of all people to high-quality healthcare and safe, affordable housing. For good measure, it identifies economic security for everyone as a necessary component of a Green New Deal. In practice, this will mean breaking capitalist power over the working class.
The Green New Deal isn’t just about saving the world; it’s also about remaking the world. And it’s easy to make the case that the second task is just as necessary as the first. After all, the market-driven, profit-motivated, and drastically unequal society we have now has led us to the brink of annihilation.
The Green New Deal says, “Let’s rescue ourselves and the planet, and let’s also ensure that we never come to the brink again.”