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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal: A Solution for the Future?
Published in Theory on 15.03.2019
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently reanimated the topic of climate change in the US public debate. The Democrat and Member of the House of Representatives waived pointing out the disaster on the horizon once again. Instead, she and cosponsor Ed Markey introduced a resolution to congress demanding a
Green New Deal. The foreseeable reaction of the Trump administration aside, her Green New Deal gained public attention. It is supported by a larger group of Democrats including Bernie Sanders. US media and social players discuss it as a possible solution for US climate issues. But is this Green New Deal what the Left should have hoped for?
Overview & History
The term Green New Deal generally refers to an economic policy which is to push
New agendas. Green, because it addresses issues of climate change. And new as in economic equality and social justice. Journalist Thomas Friedman first introduced the concept of a Green New Deal in early 2007.1 In June last year, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez already hinted at her recent actions:
We need a Marshall Plan for renewable energy in the United States. The idea that the Democratic Party needs to be moderate is what's holding us back on this.2 On 7th February this year, she introduced a more concrete version of a Green New Deal: She submitted a resolution to the House of Representatives, alongside Senator Ed Markey doing so for the Senate.3
What's in it for us? A Closer Look at the Resolution
This resolution's central demand is: Congress should find that
it is the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal. According to the resolution, this Green New Deal should be realised through a 10-year period of national mobilisation. The method of policy-making should entail transparent and inclusive consultation. Amongst others, the 10-year mobilisation would include:
- Addressing immediate effects of climate change by providing help and money to those affected;
- setting up infrastructure programmes; lowering the negative impact of agricultural activity; building public transport, including high speed rails; implementing educational measures for everyone so that people will be equal participants in the Green New Deal mobilisation;
- directing investments to spur economic development;
- preventing the transfer of jobs and pollution overseas; growing domestic production.
This list can generally be seen as a catalogue of instruments mostly capable of tackling climate change. Especially remarkable is the foresight demonstrated by the demand for universally accessible (higher) education: Educated and informed people should be in the best position to positively shape the future. However, the Green New Deal resolution still leaves open some questions and even includes problematic proposals.
The most important question regarding the matter would certainly be the one of energy supply. The resolution aims at transforming the US energy sources completely to zero-emission within the ten years of mobilisation. In the wording of the resolution, this would be achieved by
dramatically expanding renewables. However, in all models provided by the IPCC, a successful energy policy that prevents climate change from becoming a threat to human civilisation requires a higher than current share of nuclear energy.4 One does not know whether Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez realised that and if it were just tactical reasons in terms of support for her resolution to keep renewables in the Green New Deal. Nevertheless, Ocasio-Cortez withdrew a paper advocating against nuclear power from her website. Moreover the resolution's cosponsor Ed Markey said that the Green New Deal was open to whatever works.5
Further, the resolution is more or less silent on concrete measures for the agricultural sector. It mentions that sustainable
family farming as well as sustainability in general should be supported. It does not explicitly address the issue of animal products, which is a huge factor when it comes to agriculture and its environmental impact. But not only in regard to agriculture, the resolution seems to turn back time: investments in general should be directed so as to deepen and diversify industry and business in local and regional economies.
Finally the resolution is pervaded by a nationalist keynote. This finds a climax when it demands international cooperation but with the aim of making the US the international leader on climate action.
Embrace it, Criticise it, Improve it
Though some of these more questionable positions or issues left open may be a sacrifice of negotiating and anticipating support for the resolution -- some are seemingly based on wrong convictions. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal lacks the ultimate trust in and support for innovative technologies like nuclear fusion.6 It is too domestically focused on the US society. But radically breaking out of the scheme of national states is necessary to solve global problems. If one of the wealthiest and most influential states on earth is capable of implementing this Green New Deal, it is still only a fraction of the efforts needed for aversing a climate catastrophe.
Lastly, the biggest environmental catastrophe in human history will not be prevented if we just go back to the small and inefficient structures of family farming and
local economies. All our resources will be needed for this project -- and they can only be exploited to utmost efficiency if we take a global, more central perspective. We can only be sure to have one attempt to save the world from a climate catastrophe. We cannot afford 194 national states to have their own try on climate change, not to talk about countless regional and other communities.
All this, however, does not mean that we should fight a proposal like the Green New Deal. It eventually raises awareness for the issue of climate change and may make disillusioned people start to believe in concrete utopias. We should rather embrace its impact on public discourse and give it a bump in the right direction where necessary.
H.Res.109 --- 116th Congress, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-resolution/109/text; S.Res.59 --- 116th Congress, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-resolution/59/text ↩