The Green New Deal, proposed earlier this year, is a non-binding resolution that primarily plans to battle the detrimental effects of climate change, but also advocates for methods to lower economic inequality amongst Americans. This resolution, promoted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), has already begun a national debate regarding the future course for combating global warming. In fact, the debate concerning the Green New Deal will likely become a litmus test for the Democratic Party’s contenders for the presidential election in 2020. Due to the current political climate and implications that this resolution would have in the United States, many questions have risen concerning the underlying effects that this resolution would have in American politics and its possibility of even being accomplished. In this blog post I will try to examine how disagreements regarding the Green New Deal in the Democratic Party will affect the Democratic Party as a whole, but more importantly, the Presidential election? Furthermore, are the claims and demands of the Green New Deal resolution even feasible in the first place, or are they simply a poetic hypothetical solution to a more complex and difficult problem.
A major issue regarding the Green New Deal is that the demands it highlights to fight global warming are too radical and most likely impossible to achieve in the short time frame it has stated. For example, the resolution calls for “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources [in 10 years]” (Zachary B. Wolf, “Here’s what the Green New Deal actually says, CNN, 2019). This is an extremely ambitious goal, one which likely is not achievable. Indeed, environmental researchers, such as Jeff Jenkins a postdoctoral environmentalist from Harvard’s Kennedy School, believe that this an unattainable goal claiming, “where we need to be targeting really is a net-zero carbon economy by about 2050, which itself is an enormous challenge and will require reductions in carbon emissions much faster than have been achieved historically…2030 might be a little bit early to be targeting” (Danielle Kurtzleben, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Releases Green New Deal Outline, NPR, 2019). Moreover, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy account for roughly 72% of the United States energy sources for electricity and renewable resources account for only about 20% — it will require nothing short of a miracle to completely change to clean renewable energy sources in only 10 years. Another key environmental goal in the resolution is “upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, [and] safety” (Zachary B. Wolf, “Here’s what the Green New Deal actually says, CNN, 2019). Essentially, it calls for the transformation of all buildings in the United States into “green” buildings. This is a task that seems impossible considering the unaccountable amount of buildings in the United States that would require renovations to meet the “green” standard that this resolution calls for. Also, this project would result in billions of dollars to fund the project and raises concerns in the American public in needing to grant government too much power in order for them to complete this mission.
Politically, the Green New Deal introduces a new element to discuss leading into the 2020 presidential campaign. In the Green New Deal, the goal of “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”, may resonate with most Democrats and potentially persuade many Americans to vote Democrat in the upcoming election (Zachary B. Wolf, “Here’s what the Green New Deal actually says, CNN, 2019). Nevertheless, this policy could also frighten many people due to the extreme power given to government and the amount of money needed to carry out this policy, which may cause swing states to vote Republican. Another controversial policy is that the resolution calls for “providing all people of the United States with — (i) high-quality health care; (ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing; (iii) economic security; and (iv) access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and nature” (Zachary B. Wolf, “Here’s what the Green New Deal actually says, CNN, 2019). This, in effect, allows for the centralization of power in government since they would partially or completely control the energy sector, the transportation system, the farm economy, capital markets, and the health care system (David Brooks, How the Left Embraced Elitism, The New York Times, 2019). Again, the concentration of government control on the health care system is enough to get some Americans and most Republicans to be against this resolution. Furthermore, this consolidation of power in government could be unappealing to the many Americans that are increasingly becoming anti-elitist due to their poor experiences with government in the past. This view has been expressed before by Ben Page and Marty Gilens in their book American Democracy? What went wrong and how to fix it in which they explained that Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election because of his disconnect from the political elites, yet Hillary Clinton lost due to her extensive involvement with political elites; consequently, people became distrustful of her. In addition, this may also prove to work in a negative effect against the Democratic party because not all Democrats support the Green New Deal. With the upcoming presidential election, the Democratic Party should focus on consolidating power rather than introducing new proposals that could perhaps divide certain groups in the party, thus allowing President Trump and the Republican party to outnumber them in the upcoming election.
Overall, most Americans can agree that climate change and economic inequality are serious problems that plague our future. However, the Green New Deal is not the answer for these problems. Its extreme solutions and abundance of power it gives to the federal government make it difficult to first pass the resolution and secondly to achieve the goals of the resolution. The divisions it may cause in the Democratic Party will prove to be catastrophic for the party when it will requires a strong party alliance in the upcoming election. Lastly, the resolution’s appeal to elitism will cause great resentment from the ever growing anti-elitist sentiment in the United States and will allow the Republican party to present the Green New Deal as a socialist scheme in order to fuel the public’s anti-elitist feeling to receive more votes.
The idea that the Green New Deal’s extensive economic and social goals would require government intervention in Americans’ lives at a scale that many voters would resent is an interesting one. It’s true that much of this country has a strong tradition of anti-elitist sentiment, which your analysis traces this resistance back to. Hochschild’s book Strangers in their Own Land analyzes this resistance as part of the red state paradox: the idea that voters in traditionally Republican states tend to vote against their own environmental and social interests, even though these states are many of the most impacted by environmental and social issues. Assuming this trend continues, voters in red states are obviously unlikely to support the Green New Deal.
The Deal has undeniable flaws, including the evidence that suggests its goals are too ambitious. However, I believe a huge part of the issue is that the Republican party isn’t proposing a viable alternative.Climate change is on track to be a central issue in the 2020 presidential elections, and if Republicans’ only cohesive proposal in this area is “no” to the Democrats’ major proposal, this is a problem. I also think your point that the Green New Deal risks dividing the Democratic party is important. It is already clear that not every Democratic Congress member fully supports the deal. Concerningly, Republicans like Mitch McConnell are characterizing the entire Democratic party as completely supportive of the deal, as part of a strategy trying to accuse the Democratic party of turning “socialist” in order to alienate centrist voters. Regardless of the Deal’s merit, it would certainly be bad for American democracy if it is used to push the Democratic party further left, while the Republican party continues shifting further right. This would increase polarization in the US’s already-divided political system.