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Illustration by Tom Abi Samra

Is the U.S. Taking the Climate Leadership Back?

An analysis of the Green New Deal and its implications on the U.S. response to climate change.

The proposed withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement created a stir about the future of climate change policy worldwide. In recent years, China has led the way as the new leader in climate change, while President Trump has taken steps backwards by reviving coal, revoking environmental regulations and approving pipelines. However, a bottom-up approach from state governments, as well as the private sector, has continued climate action in the U.S. The recent midterm elections might change the course of the federal government in taking action to combat climate change. In particular the Green New Deal is a comprehensive plan of action to get the U.S. back on track in fighting climate change. While it currently stands as a non-binding legislative resolution, it can heavily influence the approach to climate deals moving forward.
The Green New Deal is a congressional resolution which lays out a set of proposed economic goals and policies in order to tackle climate change and economic inequality. This resolution was announced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and calls for the U.S. to eliminate pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and invest in technologically feasible clean manufacturing. In order to achieve the goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, creating new jobs in renewable energy, ensuring that every U.S. American has access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food and access to nature, the Green New Deal calls to launch a ten year mobilization to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This plan outlines meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable and zero emission energy sources.
The Green New Deal is quite ambitious and this has led many to critique it. For example, Stuart Varney of Fox News, claimed the Green New Deal is “economic nonsense”. One such goal which attracted criticism is to transform every building in the U.S. to conform to clean energy standards. This was met with skepticism from Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks and a potential independent candidate for president, who argued that it is unrealistic and that 2,000 to 3,000 buildings a day would have to be reconstructed. Other critics argue that the Green New Deal is not just unrealistic but also a socialist takeover. Given the political climate in the U.S., and specifically the political polarization between the Democrats and Republicans on the issue of climate change, it will be a challenge to approve this resolution in Congress. Additionally, the resolution is nonbinding and so, even if Congress approves it, the goals and policies listed in the resolution will not be implemented as law.
While achieving all the targets of the Green New Deal might be unrealistic, taking strides toward the goal is progress nonetheless. One of the goals of the Green New Deal is to overhaul transportation systems to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible through investment in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, transportation accounted for 28 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. If the U.S. aims to halve this, it would result in the equivalent of an elimination of 911 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. Thus, even if the goals of the Green New Deal are ambitious, we should not completely disregard its intentions as even accomplishing half of its aims would show significant progress toward combating climate change and moving toward a green economy.
The Green New Deal does not come off as practical but it perhaps serves a rather political purpose instead of the conceived economic agenda. The plan seeks to create millions of U.S. jobs through clean energy which brings large political benefits to the Democrats. Bundling social and environmental policy together in this way is a good way to gather political support, for instance. However, the fact that the deal is too unrealistic might undermine this intent of the Democrats. The deal cannot and should not be taken as a “socialist takeover,” but rather as an ambitious plan of action that has brought back much needed discourse on climate change in the U.S.
The Green New Deal seems largely symbolic, yet is a great stride toward putting the U.S. in the driver’s seat, taking action against climate change. It reemphasizes the intent of the Democrats in fighting climate change and gives domestic and international actors something to look forward to for the 2020 elections. Despite the success or failure of the Green New Deal, it has started an important discourse on getting the U.S. back on track – major progress in itself.
Rashtra Raj Bhandari is a columnist. Email him at
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