Prospects for a Green New Deal

A frequent criticism of climate change policies like the Leap Manifesto and the Green New Deal which seek to accomplish a number of labour and social justice objectives alongside controlling climate change is that the policies don’t have a logical relationship with one another, framing the effort this way reduces the emphasis on climate change specifically, and taking this approach will create barriers to political success. The Economist‘s online Democracy in America column recently argued:

Such objections are thought unsportsmanlike by the proposal’s backers. The Green New Deal has people excited in ways think-tank white papers on cap-and-trade schemes never did. Boosters argue that it moves the “Overton window” of political dialogue: towards taking serious action on climate change. The little details, like how to pay for universal health care and a federal jobs guarantee can be dealt with later. Perhaps the Green New Deal will galvanise the youth vote, or help elect environmentally minded Democrats. Perhaps it is good politics to yoke environmentalism to other economic policies that could be popular.

Yet it seems rather more likely that the politics of the Green New Deal will backfire for Democrats. Republican strategists have stymied progress on climate change by caricaturing Democratic ideas as pie-in-the-sky efforts that would result in massive tax increases. Their parody now seems reality. The next Democratic nominee may well be someone who has endorsed the idea of the Green New Deal.

There is little wonder that Nancy Pelosi, who cares about climate change but also retains shrewd political instincts, has been so public in her doubting of the proposal. “The ‘green dream’ or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is but they’re for it, right?” she told Politico. The bold plan could make the party unelectable in conservative-leaning states, ensuring that Republicans retain control over one chamber of Congress or even the White House and then stymie all climate legislation—whether sensible or not—for years to come.

There’s certainly a counter-argument. People may care somewhat about climate change, but it’s never their top priority in comparison to personal welfare issues like health, education, or taxes. Also, people have many financial concerns about climate change action. Conceivably, a broad-based policy could tie climate change protection to other tasks of more immediate political interest to people, and mitigate concerns that decarbonization will be economically damaging.

There’s cause to the skeptical about that enthusiasm, however. If a package consists of a bunch of objectives with relatively appealing short-term benefits, along with decarbonization policies which are largely about enduring near-term costs to avoid long-term catastrophe, it’s quite possible that the climate parts will be dropped, diluted, or counteracted. One virtue of an approach that focuses narrowly on decarbonization and climate protection is that it could be made compatible with a range of ideologies and party platforms. That is to say, there may be a lower chance that it will just be scrapped by the next non-progressive government to be elected.

9 thoughts on “Prospects for a Green New Deal”

  1. Perhaps the greatest failing of the political left is mistaking their own enthusiasm for a policy as a strategy for getting it done. That promotes a narrowing of thinking as activists insist that maintaining enthusiasm is the key thing and that asking questions about accepted truths and strategies is disloyal.

  2. The Green New Deal has two problems. The first is that it is only skeletally sketched, with handwaving in lieu of details for the massive economic reorganisation it envisages. The second is that it includes a gratuitous list of progressive measures—including a federal jobs guarantee, a universal basic income, and universal health insurance—only tangentially related to climate policy


    The Green New Deal for Whistler team would like to thank everyone who came out to our first Green New Deal (GND) town hall meeting held last Thursday, June 20, at Maury Young Arts Centre.

    For those who are unfamiliar, “The Green New Deal is an ambitious plan for how we can eliminate poverty and create millions of jobs while tackling the biggest threat of our time: climate change. It involves massive public investment in clean energy, transit and climate adaptation work.”

    The evening was a great success with a larger turnout than expected and some lively discussions about substantive issues. The Whistler event was one of more than 150 town halls across the country organized by The Pact for a Green New Deal (, an umbrella organization comprised of more than 80 civil society, environmental and First Nations groups including Greenpeace Canada,, The Leap, LeadNow, SumofUS, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and more.

    In just a few short months, the GND movement has shifted the political landscape: in Canada both the federal Greens and the NDP have adopted some form of the plan and in the U.S. the leading 2020 Democratic candidates, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, have backed the plan.

    The GND is arguably the most exciting development for progressive movements in decades of activism. If you would like to join our group, or find out more, please go to our Facebook group Green New Deal Canada Whistler.

    On behalf of our team, thanks again to everyone.

    Dave Heighway // Green New Deal Whistler

  4. The veteran Speaker has made a decent start. But given that aoc, as the congresswoman is known, appears to have no interest in leadership positions or other plums within Mrs Pelosi’s gift, she will have to work harder. Indeed, the real challenge of Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s populist ideas—to both parties, but to the Democrats most urgently—is the way they expose the inadequacy of mainstream policy responses to the big problems, including inequality and global warming, she describes.

    On climate, most obviously, Republicans have no basis to call her an extremist. Her diagnosis of the looming disaster is in line with scientific orthodoxy; theirs, a corporate-funded denial routine, is the outlier. Democratic leaders, by contrast, agree with her diagnosis of the problem. Yet they are alarmed by the profligacy of her proposals, which are based on an improbable ambition to decarbonise the energy sector by 2035. Their alarm is justified, yet it would carry more weight if they had more serious alternatives to offer. Republican denial of climate change has led to Democratic complacency on the issue. “This is our World War II,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez said at the Riverside. “And your biggest issue is how are we going to pay for it?” To check her left-wing enthusiasm, and perhaps save the planet, House Democrats need a better answer to that question.

  5. Many entirely non-socialist Europeans will see nothing that remarkable about publicly paid-for health care and education: America starts from an unusual position in such matters. But almost any country would be staggered by a government initiative as all-encompassing as the Green New Deal resolution that Ms Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey, a senator from Massachusetts, have introduced into Congress.

    As well as promising emissions-reduction efforts on a scale beyond Hercules at a cost beyond Croesus, in framing global warming as a matter of justice, rather than economic externalities, it promises all sorts of ancillary goodies, including robust economic growth (which some hard-line greens will have a problem with) and guaranteed employment. It abandons the economically efficient policies that have been the stamp of America’s previous, failed attempts to bring climate action about through legislation, most notably those in the cap-and-trade bill Mr Markey sponsored in the late 2000s. This is hardly surprising; the most popular text on global warming in left-wing circles, Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate”, derides such market-based mechanisms.

  6. The Democrats’ nascent third effort, the Green New Deal (GND) championed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and endorsed by Kamala Harris and other presidential hopefuls, is therefore designed differently. It is intended to have the durability of legislation, but to be so broadly appealing to Democrats it can be passed without Republican support.

    Thus its main innovation: targeting climate change and social inequities together. A blueprint released by Ms Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, one of the architects of the 2009 bill, promises universal health care and affordable housing, as well as extremely steep emissions cuts. This has been viewed as a naive effort to cure all the ills of modern capitalism at a stroke. Yet it is also intended, in theory more pragmatically, to expand Democratic support for emissions cuts by harnessing the two main parts of the party’s coalition: college graduates who want climate-change policy and blue-collar workers whose jobs are threatened by it. Resistance from those workers’ representatives—for example Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate energy committee—was another reason why Waxman-Markey failed. The social policy in the GND blueprint is designed to win them over.

    The enthusiasm the green deal has generated, from the climate activists who invaded Mitch McConnell’s Senate office this week as well as the 2020 contenders, is testament to more than Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s salesmanship. Its emissions targets, which would include decarbonising electricity generation within a decade, are at once vastly ambitious and merely commensurate with what scientists recommend. That makes it hard for anyone concerned about global warming to gainsay the proposal. It has a powerful moral allure. Yet the gravity of climate change also means the world cannot afford another failed effort by America to curb its tide of carbon pollution. And the green deal appears to have no chance of success.

    Only a unified Democratic government—with a filibuster-proof majority or no filibuster to worry about—could entertain passing it. This is not simply because the climate-related proposals in Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s draft are left-wing. In fact, by allowing a possible role for carbon pricing, nuclear power and carbon capture-and-storage, they are more moderate than many activists would like. A bigger problem is that by lumping together climate and social policy the proposal appears to confirm one of the main Republican arguments for inaction on global warming: a contention that Democrats are using the issue as a smokescreen for a left-wing economic agenda. This has hitherto been an exaggeration; Democrats have been pushing carbon pricing, a market-based solution, for a decade. Yet the green deal provides compelling evidence for it, which makes the prospects of Republicans returning to sanity on global warming even more remote.

    It might therefore seem sensible that the deal’s architects are only counting on Democratic votes. Yet moderates such as Mr Manchin—who says the GND is “not a deal, it’s a dream”—seem unlikely to support it. The proposal is already being used to attack such Democrats in rural states with lots of extractive industries. Opposing it would offer them a relatively low-cost opportunity to define themselves against their party. It is therefore hard to imagine anything resembling Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s blueprint passing into law. And if it did, Republicans would unite to overturn it, just as they did in response to Mr Obama’s much less provocative health-care reform. The inconvenient truth for Democrats is that they cannot impose their policies by legislative fiat any more than Mr Obama could do so by executive order.

  7. Hodges’ comments are reflective of a broader acknowledgment — and concern — that talking about things like defunding the police or the”Green New Deal” or ending the detention of people coming across our southern border illegally are a recipe for political disaster in the 2022 midterm elections.

    The current concern is perhaps best reflected in an essay by Kevin Drum, a former staffer for Washington Monthly magazine. Noting that liberals have been aggressively stoking the culture wars in recent years, Drum writes:

    “Despite endless hopeful invocations of ‘but polls show that people like our positions,’ the truth is that the Democratic Party has been pulled far enough left that even lots of non-crazy people find us just plain scary — something that Fox News takes vigorous advantage of. From an electoral point of view, the story here is consistent: Democrats have stoked the culture wars by getting more extreme on social issues and Republicans have used this to successfully cleave away a segment of both the non-college white vote and, more recently, the non-college nonwhite vote.”

    While Drum has been beating the, um, drum on this issue of late, it’s actually James Carville who was the first to warn Democrats that focusing on very liberal policies — and demanding that the general public pronounce support for those issues or run the risk of being labeled “intolerant” — is political poison for the party.

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