The Green New Deal: Reactions and Division

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, chief proponent of the Green New Deal, at a January rally in New York. // Credit: Getty Images / John Lamparski

You’ve certainly heard the name Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in tweets, countless news articles, and even from the mouth of the President of the United States. But what exactly is her Green New Deal?

In the face of rising concerns over climate change, various Democratic lawmakers set out to draft environmentally minded policy. Prominent supporters of the bill besides Ocasio-Cortez include independent Senator and 2020 prospect Bernie Sanders, Ro Khanna, and even former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The document asserts a lofty police goal of making the U.S. carbon neutral in just 10 years. Given the current dependence on fossil fuels, this is certainly a lofty, perhaps unachievable policy. Nevertheless, the deal’s proponents have outlined specific steps they would take to make it there. These mechanisms include new forest growth, energy-efficient power plants, and infrastructure improvements. Automobiles contribute a major portion of fossil fuel emissions; these could be drastically reduced if the U.S. had a public transport system on par with major European countries. Accordingly, proponents support revitalizing inter-city train networks and pushing research on electric cars. No one policy change can mitigate the effects of climate change. Thus, the Green New Deal takes many approaches in hopes that some will succeed.

The document does not stop at explicitly environmental proposals; it seeks to create a more just, safe society as a whole. The policy outlines education, healthcare, and housing as rights. This alone has already caused uproar on the right. President Trump said the deal “sounds like a high school term paper that got a low mark.” Why are Republicans so afraid of a policy that offers infrastructure and healthcare improvements? The answer lies in the fact that Republicans receive an overwhelming portion of fossil fuel industry donations. Naturally, they are loathe to hop on board with policies that would threaten their benefactors, even if the deal offers a much needed alternative to finite resources. Other Republicans likely oppose the policy to pander to their supporters who harbor an inexplicable resentment for freshman Representative Ocasio-Cortez, who is a frequent target of attacks from Fox News and other conservative media.

The policy proposal has caused internal divisions within the Democratic party as well. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi dismissed the idea, asking “the green dream, or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?” Establishment Democrats should be weary of criticizing the young branch of their own party. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez enjoys widespread support from youth, a demographic that Democrats can’t afford to alienate. This negative commentary is especially unwarranted when Pelosi and other critics of the policy offer no alternative. Ignoring scientists’ repeated warnings of climate change is a recipe for disaster; if establishment Democrats think the Green New Deal is unrealistic, they should write what they see as a more pragmatic policy and let the lawmaking process decide between them.

The Green New Deal is a prime example of the continuing divide between the center and left wings of the party. The upcoming 2020 election will only further highlight this distinction. Unity is certainly important, but not at the cost of abandoning party values. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is putting her reputation on the line by making the Green New Deal her signature policy point. Only time will tell whether or not it pays off.