The needed radicalism of the Green New Deal

The Green New Deal resolution of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward Markey is more radical and far-reaching than Franklin D. Roosevelt’s original New Deal.

The non-binding resolution calls for a mass mobilization of American government and society against catastrophic climate change, on a scale as great or even greater than mobilization to fight World War Two.

The mobilization Ocasio-Cortez and Markey call for would mean a closing down or drastic shrinkage of industries that depend on fossil fuels.  This would be a threat not only to the profits of powerful vested interests, but to the livelihoods of millions of good, hard-working people.   

That is why the Green New Deal is also a deal.  It includes social reform and a job creation program  to get buy-in from working people and minorities, who might otherwise

There are two problems with the resolution.  One is that it is too radical to gain political acceptance anytime soon.  The other is that, radical as it is, its proposals may not be enough to deal with the crisis.


If you read my previous post or the text of the resolution, you’ll see that it is largely a wish list of the environmental and labor movements for the past 20 or so years.  Getting these movements on the same page would be a big accomplishment, because they haven’t always been friends.

The environmental movement has sometimes worked to the benefit of the well-to-do, such as subsidies for electric cars and solar panels, while putting the burden of change on the less-well-off, with higher gasoline and fuel prices.  The labor movement has sometimes accepted the argument that it is necessary to sacrifice health, safety and the environment just to protect jobs.

Working people have good reason to be suspicious of promises that, if they give up what they have, they’ll be given something else just as good or better.  This was the promise of NAFTA and the other trade agreements under the Clinton administration and after—that the loss of grungy industrial jobs will be offset by new bright, shiny high-tech jobs.  This didn’t happen.

An expression that occurs repeatedly in the resolution is “vulnerable and frontline communities.”  This refers to the communities left behind by de-industrialization and globalization during the past 30 years.  It also refers to the communities that will bear the brunt of climate change—usually poorer, often minorities, such as the people left stranded in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrine.  The resolution promises they won’t be left behind this time.

Another significant phrase is that “all people in the United States”—rather than “American citizens”— are entitled to jobs with good pay and benefits, medical care, housing and a clean environment.  The wording implies that immigrants, either authorized or unauthorized, won’t be left behind.

There is no mention of nuclear power, for or against.  There is no mention of carbon taxes, cap-and-trade or other market-based solutions.  There is no mention of carbon capture, a possible future technology for removing greenhouse gasses from the air.

There is no mention of the military establishment, which is a major consumer of oil and would be a major competitor of the Green New Deal for tax dollars. There is no mention of a foreign policy of trying to get control of the world’s oil.

There is no mention of what the Green New Deal would cost.  I note these omissions as observations, not as criticisms.  I wouldn’t expect a statement of goals to cover everything.  President John F. Kennedy didn’t make a cost estimate when he proclaimed a goal of putting an American on the moon before the end of the 1960s.


Kevin Drum of Mother Jones doubts the American people are ready for any change that would affect their material standard of living.  Here is his idea of the limits of what the American people would accept.

Here is his second thought:

He is undoubtedly correct that the public is not ready for a policy that would mean huge disruptions in our lives.  It would be like someone in 1938 telling Americans to adopt gasoline and food rationing and create an army able to fight a major war in Europe and Asia.

His program would be better than what the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress are doing, which is trying to reverse progress that already has been made.  But is that enough?

Senator Dianne Feinstein was recorded in a video lecturing idealistic high school students on the limits of the politically possible.  She is like many decision-makers in Washington.  She thinks of political limits as if they were laws of nature, and the actual laws of nature as if they were politically malleable.

If you look, not at what is politically feasible, but what is necessary, then Ocasio-Cortez and Markey, not Drum and Feinstein, are the true realists.

Small, incremental steps may have been enough 20 or 30 years ago.  But climate change is no longer incremental.  It is happening, and speeding up.  As someone said, it is possible to ignore reality, but it is not possible to ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.


Official text of the Green New Deal resolution. [Added 3/24/2019]

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s original draft of the Green New Deal resolution. [Corrected 3/29/2019]

AOC and Ed Markey Introduce Green New Deal Resolution and Let’s Remember – It’s a Deal! by Lambert Strether for Naked Capitalism.

Labor Unions Are Skeptical of the Green New Deal, and They Want Activists to Hear Them Out by Rachel Cohen for The Intercept.

What It Would Take to Build Union Support for the Green New Deal by Sarah Lazare for In These Times.

Green New Deal critics are missing the bigger picture by David Roberts for Vox.

How Much Will It Cost to Address Climate Change? Pennies Compared With the Alternative by Thomas Neuberger for Down With Tyranny!

The Green New Deal Needs WWII-Scale Ambition by Brad Johnson for Jacobin magazine.

Around the Globe, 1.4 Million Climate Strikers Raise a Single Demand by Libby Rainey for The Indypendent.  [Hat tip to Bill Harvey]  Young people are the ones who will live with a changed climate.  They are the ones demanding changed policies.

Green Party’s original Green New Deal proposal.  Jill Stein ran for President on a Green New Deal platform on the Green Party ticket in 2016.  The Green Party’s Green New Deal platform is specific and comes with a price tag—up to $1 trillion a year.

The UK Green New Deal Group.  There’s a Green New Deal movement in Great Britain, too.


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One Response to “The needed radicalism of the Green New Deal”

  1. Mark Elmer Scott Says:

    Now that the anti-science, superstition-based initiative presidency ends, we need several public works science Manhattan projects to make us great again and boost us out of this Grotesque Depression. First we must provide free advertising-based wireless internet to everyone to end land line monopolies. Then we must criscross the land with high speed rail. Because bovine flatulence is the major source of greenhouse gases, we must develop home growable microbes to provide all of our protein. Then we must create microbes which turn our sewage and waste into fuel right at home. This will end energy monopoly by putting fuel in our hands. We must address that most illness starts from behavior, especially from parents. Since paranoid schizophrenia is the cause of racism, bigotry, homelessness, terrorism, ignorance, exploitation and criminality, we must provide put the appropriate medications, like lithium, in the water supply and require dangerous wingnuts who refuse free mental health care to be implanted with drug release devices. CHurches should be licensed to reduce supersition and all clergy dealing with small children should be psychiatrically monitored to prevent molesting. Osama bin Laden and Timothy McVeigh were the ultimate superstition based initiatives. Widen navigation straits (Gibraltar, Suez, Malacca, Danube, Panama and Hellspont) with deep nukes to prevent war. In order to fund this we must nationalize the entire financial, electrical and transportation system and extinguish the silly feudal notion that each industry should be regulated by its peers. Technology mandates a transformation of tax subsidies from feudal forecloseable debt to risk sharing equity. Real estate and insurance, the engines of feudalism, must be brought under the Federal Reserve so we may replace all buildings with hazardous materials to provide public works. Insects, flooding and fire spread asbestos, lead and mold which prematurely disables the disadvantaged. Disposable manufactured housing assures children are not prematurely disabled and disadvantaged. Because feudalism is the threat to progress everywhere, we must abolish large land holdings by farmers, foresters or religions and instead make all such large landholding part of the forest service so our trees may diminish greenhouse gases. We must abolish executive pay and make sure all employees in a company are all paid equally. We must abolish this exploitative idea of trade and monopoly and make every manufactured disposable cottage self sufficient through the microbes we invent. see:


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