The Green New Deal: From resolution to reality

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The loud and continuing attention paid to the Green New Deal (introduced Feb. 7 as House Resolution 109) reflects the power of social and traditional media, the vitriol of tribal politics and the large and deepening problems facing the United States.

The GND has attracted significant endorsements from Democratic presidential candidates looking to burnish their credentials with millennial and other activist voting blocs. Conversely, it has stirred intense opposition from conservative intellectuals, the fossil-fuel industry and legislators who proclaim that it’s a sure path to socialistic perdition.

Between these rhetorical goalposts lies a sizable, skeptical middle who ultimately will determine the outcome of the GND debate. Representative of this group include former Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein, who advises us to "take a breath" before deciding to transform vast sections of the American economy. President Barack Obama’s Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz believes the GND is "impractical" and can’t achieve net-zero carbon emissions within 10 years. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly has proclaimed the GND as a "suggestion" while questioning whether its proponents actually know what they’re advocating.

Of the 235 members of Congress that are Democrats, only 70 have endorsed the Green New Deal. With friends such as these, does the GND stand a chance of passage?

Achieving societal-level change in political democracies requires that three major factors converge: 1) a compelling set of independently verified facts that serve as the foundation for value judgments made by citizens and their elected and appointed representatives; 2) a committed cadre of activists to create initial proposals for change and leverage subsequent negotiations; and 3) broader political coalitions formed to align, and make acceptable, change proposals to political decision makers.

Several characteristics of the Green New Deal are adaptable to these requirements. They include:

  • The scientific consensus on climate change is compelling and increasingly shapes public attitudes that support the actions to reduce the impacts of increased greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Major corporations and numerous state and local governments endorse this position, and there is increasing political pressure on Republican senators and representatives to offer some form of climate solutions.
  • Public support has increased for strengthening quality-of-life safety nets related to health care, improved educational opportunities, reducing inequality through wage increases, higher personal taxes upon the most wealthy Americans, expanded family and medical leave, job security and environmental quality.
  • By bundling climate change with major infrastructure investments and economic security, GND proponents have developed a powerful new platform of language and symbols to advance their change agenda. Fundamentally, the GND is proffering a new social contract that treats environmentalism, economic development and social equity as mutually reinforcing rather than disaggregated and competing forces.

The opportunity exists to align the political and economic interests of multiple groups in society. These include business (new investment opportunities), labor (higher-wage job creation in renewable energy technology and other sustainable infrastructures), the elderly (through improved medical care) and millennials (via educational opportunities and commitment to more sustainable economic and environmental policies).

As attested on numerous occasions by military and other security professionals, implementation of policies that strengthen sustainable development also enhances national and international security. Creating coalitions among these and other parties has the potential to translate abstract concepts and proposals into more tangible and practical benefits that will resonate authentically with the voting public and their representatives.

What remains to be done? If the Green New Deal is to avoid a fate of being defined by its critics as a Socialist tract written during a drive-by at Woodstock, a number of specific and practical measures have to be adopted. These include:

  • It is incumbent upon GND advocates to simplify and clarify their proposal. Many politicians that have endorsed HR 109 cannot describe its inner logic or contents, and they cannot expect the general public to do their work for them. Prioritization of its many ideas is in order, as is adoption of more realistic implementation time frames. A failure to implement these steps diminishes the ability to broaden support for the GND.
  • Original GND co-sponsors have to recognize that their Resolution is a starting point, not a stopping point. For the resolution to become a legislative reality, additional voices need to supplement those of currently committed activists. They should include business, labor, environmentalists, investors and other proponents of expanding quality . of life for citizens of all ages. These voices should share the ultimate vision of the GND in establishing a more equitable, just and resilient society, but they should recognize that GND is not a one-vote, all-or-nothing proposition but, rather, a multi-year flight plan aimed at a successful landing that will require adjustments along the way.
  • More complete evaluations of the economic costs and benefits of specific GND proposals is necessary. GND proponents should welcome such assessments given the improving competitiveness of renewable energy technologies, of economic and societal benefits of greenhouse gas controls, the growing innovation opportunities for business in serving new markets and customers and the need to make both education and medical care more affordable.

In the final analysis, the Green New Deal cannot focus solely on the growing crisis of climate change, nor can it be thought of as a political platform or litmus test for the 2020 elections. Appropriately defined and implemented, it has the potential to be a powerful vision for society, one that yields both short- and longer-term benefits that are tangible to voters.

The hard bargaining to achieve this outcome must begin now.