Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC, is the Democratic Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district, having beaten out Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley in mid-2018 with 75% of the vote. And while AOC was only inducted into the US House of Representatives on the 6th of January this year, it has not stopped her from receiving wall-to-wall coverage over the past few months for her support on a number of different proposals from abolishing ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement), to Medicare for all. However, her recent proposal of a “Green New Deal” has attracted special interest on all sides of the political spectrum, and it will be the focus of this article.
In order to do this proposal justice, it is first necessary to take a look back at the context of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s original New Deal in 1933. This came at one of the worst troughs of the Great Depression with unemployment nationwide at around one third of the non-farmer workforce, and national income having been roughly cut in half from 1929-33, per the Teaching Eleanor Roosevelt Glossary. Added to that, good portions of those listed as ‘employed’ were either employed part-time or with shorter hours, leading to rampant under-employment, as well as unemployment.
Combine this with deflationary pressure and inequality in both the geographical areas and the sectors that were hit hardest- for instance areas that specialised in manufacturing or construction- and you have both an economic and social crisis.
Figure 1 shows the extent of this economic crisis with the statistics for real GDP per capita in 2011US$ in the USA, UK and Canada. There is a clear downturn in all three countries from 1929 onwards from which, only the UK could be said to have fully recovered by the start of WWII in 1939. This is most evident in the USA with real GDP per capita in 2011US$ dropping from around $10,500 in 1929, to around $7300 in 1933, or in other words, a roughly 30% fall in real GDP per person in the span of four years.
The New Deal then, was born of this context and chaos. In a country where the suicide rates rose from 14 to 17 per 100,000 people, as per the Teaching Eleanor Roosevelt Glossary, and the economy as a whole was on its knees. This is important, because it captures the sense of emergency, desperation and the catastrophe that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is trying to evoke in her Green New Deal and to be sure, climate change and global warming is real. And more importantly, if real action is not taken by the world’s economic superpowers then it will pose an existential threat to life on Earth. Figure two illustrates this perfectly, showing the continual usurpation of the hottest year on record by a subsequent one since 1880. Note specifically how this ‘usurpation’ has sped up in recent years, in just the more recent eight years, five of them have broken the previous record.
This should worry anyone and unfortunately, it will only get worse whilst ever President Trump is in office. For further proof one only has to see his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement and recent Twitter activity, which constantly casts doubt on the reality of climate change, despite a resounding consensus amongst scientists.
Finally, it is worth considering the Green New Deal itself. The full text can be seen here. But, broadly, the proposal has five main goals:
- Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050
- Create millions of high wage good jobs
- Invest in infrastructure and industry
- Secure a sustainable environment for all
- Promote justice and equity
Make no mistake, this would be a massive undertaking and the bill itself does not hide that fact, explicitly stating that its implementation would require a “10 year national mobilization,” emphasizing both the time commitment (this won’t happen overnight) and the scale of the task, with the phrase “national mobilization” being explicitly linked to the immediacy and urgency of war economies. The proposals of the bill itself include meeting 100% of all power demand in the United states through “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources,” as well as the upgrade of “all existing buildings in the United States,” and the overhaul of public transport services.
Additionally, threaded throughout the whole bill is references to the rights of families to secure a living wage, the rights of worker to unionize and the importance of placing “frontlines and vulnerable communities” at the heart of the proposal so that is truly does benefit every sector of the economy.
Now, I’m sure the question everyone will have at this point will be: How could any country afford such a massive undertaking? A better question however, would be, how can the world afford not to? In fact, as per the Union of Concerned Scientists, the US was contributing 15% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion as of 2015, or in numeric terms, just shy of 5,000,000,000 (five thousand million) metric tones.
In fact, Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s bill explicitly references the damage that climate change could do, stating that a rise in global temperatures of just two degrees Celsius over pre-industrialized levels could cause:
- Mass migration
- Damage to $1,000,000,000,000 (one billion dollars) worth of US infrastructure
- The loss of 99% of all coral reefs on Earth
- Rampant wildfires
- 350,000,000 (three hundred and fifty million) people being exposed to deadly heat stress by 2050.
It even states directly that climate change would pose “a direct threat to the national security of the United States,” which hopefully by now seems understated if anything.
Now clearly this is ambitious. It even goes further than even the aforementioned Paris Climate Agreement that only aims to keep global warming to below two degrees above pre-industrial levels this century with countries simply required to do their “best efforts.” But in reality this simply does not go far enough and moreover, the Green New Deal is popular!
In fact, a recent survey from the Yale Program on Climate Communication (Figure 3) showed that 81% of registered voters would either “strongly” or “somewhat” support it. Democrats, as expected, enjoy the lion’s share of this with 92% who were surveyed responding positively, but more notably, even 64% of Republicans supported the outlined policy goals.
Now, I started this article with the headline claim that “the world” needs Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal and so far you should be aware of why the United States needs such a deal, however, the question still remains as to how would the rest of the world benefit? Well, the United States tends to be a leader on the world stage and where they move, other nations tend to follow. This is especially true for Britain, desperate to preserve that “special relationship” that none other than Winston Churchill celebrated. So, if the United States made such a radical move to combat climate change it would send a clear message to the rest of the world that it is firstly, achievable and secondly, desirable.
In fact, it would work wonders to shift the discussion on climate change away from whether or not it is real, and instead move the solution into centre stage around the world. Additionally, its is highly likely that political parties would move to adopt similar polices in a bid to seize the moment and bandwagon off the success, and it may even amplify existing voices that currently have been shunned to the side lines.
One great example of this is the Green New Deal group in the UK that has been meeting since 2007 and publishing since 2008. Now I will readily admit that I had no idea of this group’s existence before researching this article, but their recommendations such as creating a “renewable energy revolution,” along with “thousands of green-collar jobs” are certainly worth thorough discussion in the public mainstream, and this would give them exactly that chance. And there is no reason as to why this would have to end in the UK, hopefully the passage of such a deal would lead to a domino effect the world over and the looming spectre of climate change could be banished once and for all.
I would caution, of course, that none of this would come easy and a long, drawn-out political fight lies ahead. But I truly believe that we will win this and more accurately, we have to. If I am equally honest, there is no way that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal would pass through a Republican-controlled Senate, let alone the President above that.
A good way to prove this is that Republican Senator Ted Cruz, in both a speech at CPAC and on Twitter claimed that the main takeaway from this proposal was that the Democrats wanted to kill all the cows in the United States (In case you needed a fact check here: False. The point was that the US could never have 0 greenhouse gas emissions because of things like farting cows).
But that is no reason to lose hope. Indeed, if politics belongs to the future then there is already an abundance of hope, just look no further than the Sunrise Movement (pictured right). They are “building an army of millions of young people to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process,” according to their website, and the tide seems to be turning increasingly away from the old status quo, as it must.
In sum, people already support this proposal, the effects of it would be incalculably positive and the world desperately needs it, in fact the recent IPCC report in 2018 warned that we had only around 12 years to limit the effects of climate change. It seems that the further we wait and delay, the more apt the likening to the crisis of the Great Depression becomes.
Finally, in the hope of ending all of this on a brief positive, it is worth considering a quote from the French poet Hugo Victor,
“Armies cannot stop an idea whose time has come. No army can stop an idea whose time has come. Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come. There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.”
The time for an idea on climate change has certainly come.
About the Author: Matt Hemmins is a 2nd year History and Economics student at the University of York. He is particularly interested in politics and looking at ways to improve and revise traditional economic theory. His Twitter handle is @HistoryMatters7.