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Progressive Democrats tout ‘Green New Deal’: so what is it?

February 18, 2019

The last time anything major related to climate change hit the Senate floor was in 2009. Now, 10 years after the Clean Energy and Air Act, the “Green New Deal” is being touted as its successor. Unlike the CEAA, however, the Green New Deal calls for not just clean air and energy, but an entire suite of transformations to the U.S. energy sector, job market and economy.

On Feb. 7, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., unveiled the plan with Democratic Massachusetts senator Ed Markey. The deal seeks to get the U.S. to rely on 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2030, as well as guarantee universal health care coverage and a living wage.  It also emphasizes helping minority communities who experts — including 300 who contributed to a government report on climate change released in November — say will be among those most affected by the effects of climate change.

It’s already been derided by critics from both sides of the aisle, from, which called it “impractical,” to President Trump himself, who recently said it “sounds like a high school term paper that got a low mark.”  But Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive Democrats are pushing forward, and whatever pundits’ opinions of the GND, it’s starting a conversation.

“The concern amongst Americans about climate change is at an all-time high, so this really is an opportune political moment to have a national dialogue about climate action,” said Jill Hopke, a DePaul journalism professor who focuses on environmental communication. Hopke pointed to a recent Yale University survey which found that 6 out of 10 Americans are “alarmed” or “concerned” about global warming. Another Yale survey, which was conducted before the draft text of the resolution was released, found that 64 percent of Republicans also support the policy goals of the GND as summarized by the researchers.

But right now, one of the biggest issues with the GND is that it’s vague. As a resolution and not a bill, it doesn’t have the force of law, functioning instead as a plan for future action. “In it of itself, it does not have any impact on actual policy. We have to wait for the details of what exactly can they pass,” said professor Hugh Bartling, an associate professor in DePaul’s Public Policy Studies department.

When those details are ironed out, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he is considering putting it up for a vote — something people weren’t expecting in the senate, according to Bartling.

“His rationale is to put a lot of Democratic congressmen on record of supporting this,” he said. He also emphasized that the newly-created House Select Committee on Climate Crisis did not give the GND subpoena power, which means it is not clear what type of actual legislation will come out of it.

In its present form, the resolution begins by listing the amount of money climate change may ultimately cost the United States: more than $500,000,000,000 in lost annual economic output by the year 2100, according to an October report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“There is always the discussion of [the] cost of taking action, but this resolution is also trying to bring in the conversation of the cost of inaction, and the staggering cost we are already facing as a nation,” Hopke said.

Mark Potosnak, department chair of the DePaul Environmental Science and Studies department, said action must be taken soon.

“We have done enough, but we are hitting that point … of no return,” he said. “If we don’t change our ways in a 10-year time period, [there will be] a dramatic impact on all systems.”

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