Opinion: What’s the deal with the Green New Deal?

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Opinion: What’s the deal with the Green New Deal?

Sunrise Movement National. Photo by Nelson Klein.

Sunrise Movement National. Photo by Nelson Klein.

Sunrise Movement National. Photo by Nelson Klein.

Sunrise Movement National. Photo by Nelson Klein.

Alexa O'Brien

“Moderate” positions are anything but moderate when the problem we face comes with its own deadline. The planet does not care if realistic solutions to warming are bipartisan or not. As climate activist Bill McKibben puts it, “This is a fight between human beings and physics, and physics is completely uninterested in compromise.” The Green New Deal is the only proposal that rises to the challenge. It is our hope that five minutes from now, you will be scrolling back up the page to use this link to tell your representative to sign on today:


Setting the stage

In November 2018, the Trump Administration released the Fourth National Climate Assessment. This report reaffirmed the scientific consensus that the majority of global warming over the last 50 years can only be explained by human activity and that this warming presents a significant threat to American infrastructure, health, food security, economic stability and the livelihoods of millions of people.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 Special Report also confirmed these findings and specified that without large-scale intervention, global temperatures are set to reach 1.5 ºC above pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 2052. To be clear, the findings of the IPCC represent a source of conservative estimates, as they were charged with the monumental task of reconciling the data and conclusions of over 6,000 papers. With that said, the IPCC predicts that we will likely reach 3ºC of warming or more by 2100 if we stay on our current trajectory.

At the 1.5ºC threshold, the IPCC expects us to be facing serious consequences. Among these are the heightened incidence of heat-related illness (e.g. stroke, exhaustion) and increased incidence of vector-borne diseases (e.g. Zika, West Nile). Increased drought intensity and duration are anticipated, with some areas also expected to see more and more wildfires. In Tennessee alone, we are expected to see an increase from our current average of 10 “dangerous” heat days (105ºF+) per year to 55 by 2050. That’s almost two months out of the year that are predicted to be dangerous solely based on temperature for the entire state. However, that extreme number seems quaint compared to some other states. Texas is predicted to have 115 and Florida is predicted to have 130 dangerous days per year by 2050.

One United Nations official called the findings of the IPCC report “a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen.”

Enter the Green New Deal.

The resolution lays out a 10-year plan to achieve 100% clean and renewable energy by 2030, prioritizing job creation and security, infrastructure transitions, healthcare for all and economic justice. The proposal is guided by the understanding that climate change is not simply an issue that affects our environment. Climate change exacerbates racial and socioeconomic disparities, it threatens our families’ safety, and will leave millions of Americans incapable of achieving stability.

The Green New Deal is a resolution, not a bill. It doesn’t have the teeth to establish any laws or carry out a specific plan. Supporting the Green New Deal means backing ambitious change aimed at combating the coming onslaught of climate-related disasters with regulatory action, new jobs and community-centered transitions.

But if the scientific community agrees that massive changes are needed and if the Green New Deal is the only policy proposal to date that offers the types of bold transformations that could realistically help us reach those goals, then why is it receiving so much pushback?

It’s too radical!

92 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans support a Green New Deal

If radical means “supported by the majority of registered voters and backed by 85 House Representatives and 12 Senators,” then sure, it’s pretty radical.

Despite the fact that belief in and concern over climate change are at record highs in America, political commentators and many legislators (including some moderate Democrats) have called out the proposal for being too polarizing. According to critics, it’s simply not popular enough to pass. However, polling indicates that the policy receives strong bipartisan support among registered voters. According to a Yale Program on Climate Communication study, 92 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans support a Green New Deal. In fact, 36 percent of people who voted for Trump in 2016 favor a Green Jobs Guarantee.

It’s too expensive!

The Green New Deal would require substantial upfront costs, though it must be noted that anyone attempting to put a precise price tag on the program is doing so unscientifically, as the resolution is devoid of specifics and only outlines the broad goals that its authors and cosponsors want to accomplish through future bills. However, for the sake of argument, according to an extreme estimate by Forbes contributor Milton Ezrati, government spending would need to increase by about $25 trillion over the next 10 years to transition to a completely green economy.

Even with a $25 trillion investment, the costs of not intervening are much higher. By 2100, the National Climate Assessment predicts costs of $141 billion per year from heat-related illness, $118 billion per year from coastal property losses, $155 billion per year in lost wages in outdoor industries, and $26 billion per year in deaths related to bad air quality caused by climate change. Based on these estimates, the damages from climate change in just these four categories will amass to $35.2 trillion by that time – and will continue.

Above all, opponents of the Green New Deal fear deficit spending. Spending money for a comprehensive program like this, they say, puts our economy at risk of hyperinflation. But proponents of Modern Monetary Theory disagree. Stephanie Kelton, Professor of Public Policy & Economics at Stony Brook University writes, “Inflation isn’t triggered by the amount of money the government creates but by the availability of biophysical resources that money tries to go out and buy — like land, trees, water, minerals and human labor.” That is to say, inflation isn’t caused purely by the amount of money the government creates, but rather by that amount of money relative to the productivity of the economy. The Green New Deal is built around the production of new technologies and products — setting up the economy to absorb spending while creating new jobs.

However, that added cash means little for growth if the masses are not able to meaningfully participate in the economy. That’s why the components of the resolution aimed at reducing wealth inequality – universal healthcare, a living wage, massive job creation and affordable housing – are necessary for economic growth.

It doesn’t make sense that Green New Deal advocates alone must be on the defensive about cost. Detractors must also answer to the costs of complacency.

Opponents of the Green New Deal who focus on the costs of implementation are exercising a narrow view of the whole economic picture. The transition to a 100 percent renewable economy will be expensive, but we must also reckon with the current state of affairs, which leaves many Americans in financial ruin. In 2017, median annual income was $31,786 despite the average American working 51 hours per week, with 76 percent of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck and 40 percent unable to afford an unexpected $400 expense. Medical bills are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the US, and 1 in 5 Americans are unable to afford their prescription medications. When compared to our current healthcare system, single-payer model is predicted to save the American people more than $3 trillion over 10 years. It will also end uninsurance and underinsurance for good. Freeing America from the strain of our current healthcare system and creating thousands of family-sustaining jobs will make us healthier and more productive, and will allow people to spend new money elsewhere into the economy.

It doesn’t make sense that Green New Deal advocates alone must be on the defensive about cost. Detractors must also answer to the costs of complacency. Any rational cost-benefit analysis of the proposal must consider both the question “What are the costs of the Green New Deal?” as well as “What are the costs of not pursuing the Green New Deal?”

It’s too vague!

In discussions with our friends and classmates across campus, one question has arisen nearly every time we’ve introduced the concept of the Green New Deal ー “So what exactly is it going to do?” And they’re often disappointed when we tell them that we don’t quite know yet.

Open-ended tasks are definitely not Vanderbilt students’ forte. We want clear directions and detailed rubrics. But, in the case of this proposal, we’re being given an opportunity to shape future legislation in ways that match our communities’ needs. By presenting these ideas in resolution format, as opposed to a bill, the progressive caucus is saying “We don’t have all of the answers yet, but if you help us, we will create solutions together.”

As students, we’re in a unique position. By the time that we are 35, our planet may have warmed 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels.

Supporting the Green New Deal is about proclaiming that our society needs to commit to drastic changes and commit to them now. It is about requiring that anyone running for office makes climate change a priority. It is about demanding that our legislators value their constituents over the profits of their donors. It is about holding our government accountable to the values espoused in this proposal. It is about ending an era where saying “I believe in climate change” is an acceptable substitute for real policy.

Our future and our legacy

As students, we’re in a unique position. By the time that we are 35, our planet may have warmed 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels. A large number of us will be new parents and, just as current first-years have never known a time when America was not at war, our children will grow up never knowing a time when the world was not embattled with the climate crisis or when conflicts over food security, water and a stable place to live were out of the ordinary.

Our question for you is, will you think back to this moment? Will you wish you had demanded more?

The Senate is likely to vote on the resolution during the week of Feb. 25-Mar. 1. We strongly encourage you to call/tweet/email your senators to tell them to vote “Yes” on S.Res.59, which is the Green New Deal Resolution.

You can join Sunrise Movement Nashville’s efforts. Find us on social media:




Télyse Masaoay and Henry Utset are seniors in the College of Arts and Science. Télyse can be reached at telyse.s.masaoay@vanderbilt.edu and Henry can be reached at henry.utset@vanderbilt.edu.


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