The Green New Deal -- An Ecosocialist Study Guide

Sunrise Movement "Dear Democrats - Step Up or Step Aside"
Sunrise Movement "Dear Democrats - Step Up or Step Aside" Photo: Sunrise Movement
Ted Franklin | System Change Not Climate Change | January 30, 2019

(Updated March 6, 2019)

This study guide began as a reading list for the Ecosocialist Reading Group of the East Bay chapter of Democratic Socialists of America.  These are some of the key readings for anyone who wants to understand the ecoleft's take on the Green New Deal. Because the struggle over the Green New Deal--what it is, what it should be, and whether any part of it will be adopted---has just begun, this guide may be updated from time to time.The latest version can always be found at https://tinyurl.com/y3obgkup.

What is the Green New Deal?

There is no agreed upon definition.  Left journalist Kate Aronoff offers, “Like the first New Deal … the Green New Deal isn’t a specific set of policies so much as a values framework under which any number of policies can fit.”

Like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal has moved swiftly from obscurity to daily mention in the mainstream media, not the least because of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s highly publicized promotion of the concept upon her arrival in Washington, D.C. and the occupation of congressional offices by Sunrise Movement soon thereafter.

Ocasio-Cortez arrived in Washington with a proposal to create a congressional Select Committee on the Green New Deal with subpoena power, authority to draft legislation, and a bar to appointment of any members who have taken contributions from fossil fuel companies. AOC formally put forward her proposal as a proposed addendum to the House Rules for the 116th Congress.

Over 40 of her fellow legislators backed AOC’s proposal. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that a special committee on climate would be appointed but without subpoena power, authority to draft legislation, or a bar on members who have received campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry.

In January 2019, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (D.Mass) introduced a proposed joint resolution calling on Congress to develop and enact GND legislation.  

Many ecosocialists and climate activists have offered support for the Green New Deal.  Some have offered criticisms and suggestions for how the Green New Deal could be improved.  Most are inclined to see the battle for the Green New Deal as the first big opportunity for radical climate politics to reach a mass constituency.

Congressional Proposals

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Proposal for a Select Committee for a Green New Deal, Ocasio2018.org (Nov 2018)

No single person has played a more prominent role in driving discussion of the Green New Deal into the public square than AOC. Her GND proposal was not a specific piece of legislation but a call for the creation of a House committee that would be empowered to develop a proposal for a GND by January 1, 2020 and legislation by March 1, 2020. The political heart is section 6 which defines the scope of the plan for a GND and the legislation to implement it.  If you are short on time, read section 6.

Representative Ocasio-Cortez (Resolution House of Representatives) and Senator Markey (Resolution US Senate), Joint Resolution (Feb 7, 2019)

The AOC-Markey Resolution is a mission statement rather than a piece of binding legislation. It does not purport to be a complete plan for a Green New Deal, but it is more fleshed out than the original Select Committee proposal that AOC put forward in November 2018.  The Joint Resolution calls on the United States to generate 100 percent of its power demand through renewable sources like wind and solar by the year 2030. It also projects legislation to provide Medicare for all, a jobs guarantee program, and a universal basic income.

Declared 2020 presidential candidates Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are all on the bill, as is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is expected to make an announcement about running.

Comments from the Climate and Environmental Justice Movement

Climate Justice Alliance, A Green New Deal Must Be Rooted in a Just Transition for Workers and Communities Most Impacted by Climate Change, Press Statement (Dec 10, 2018)

The Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) is an alliance currently linking 68 community organizations, movement networks, and support organizations throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico to unite under Just Transition strategies. CJA’s inter-generational constituencies are rooted in Indigenous, African American, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander, and poor white communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

Indigenous Environmental Network, Talking Points on the AOC-Markey Green New Deal Proposal (Feb 2019)

The Indigenous Environmental Network is "an alliance of Indigenous Peoples whose Shared Mission is to Protect the Sacredness of Earth Mother from contamination & exploitation by Respecting and Adhering to Indigenous Knowledge and Natural Law."  Group members have been prominent participants in direct actions at international climate events such as the United Nations Climate Change Conferences in Copenhagen and Paris. IEN's response to the Feb 2019 GND Resolution begins with these words:

The Indigenous Environmental Network applauds the Green New Deal resolution for its vision, intention, and scope. With this resolution, Representative Ocasio-Cortez (Resolution House of Representatives) and Senator Markey (Resolution US Senate) have begun a critical process to change the national conversation in regards to addressing the climate crisis at hand. From sea level rise to loss of land to food insecurities, Indigenous frontline communities and Tribal nations are already experiencing the direct impacts of climate change, and we are encouraged to see these congressional leaders take charge to help Indigenous communities and Tribal nations protect their homelands, rights, sacred sites, waters, air, and bodies from further destruction.

However, while we are grateful to see this support by the Representative and Senator, we remain concerned that unless some changes are made to the resolution, the Green New Deal will leave incentives by industries and governments to continue causing harm to Indigenous communities. Furthermore, as our communities who live on the frontline of the climate crisis have been saying for generations, the most impactful and direct way to address the problem is to keep fossil fuels in the ground. We can no longer leave any options for the fossil fuel industry to determine the economic and energy future of this country. And until the Green New Deal can be explicit in this demand as well as closing the loop on harmful incentives, we cannot fully endorsee the resolution. We remain supportive of Representative Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Markey’s aspirations and hope to be constructive partners in actualizing the goal of generating radical change in the fight to protect the sacredness of Mother Earth.

Justine Calma, Something Old, Something New; the Green New Deal Is touching up its (grass)roots, Grist (Jan 9, 2019)

Calma reports, “Newcomers like Ocasio-Cortez may be leading the charge, but grassroots leaders who have spent years advocating for low-income families and neighborhoods of color most impacted by fossil fuels say their communities weren’t consulted when the idea first took shape.”

“For all the fanfare,” she writes, “there isn’t a package of policies that make up a Green New Deal just yet. And that’s why community-level activists are clamoring to get involved, help shape the effort, and ensure the deal leaves no one behind.”

Joint Press Release, 626 Groups Urge Congress to Phase Out Fossil Fuels, Build Green Economy (Jan 10, 2019)

The joint press release of the 626 groups supporting the Green New Deal includes this link to the letter itself which includes a list of the 626 sponsors.  “NYC DSA Ecosocialist” is on the list, but that’s about it for DSA.  The New Republic has noted the absence of eight environmental organizations in an article entitled Some of the Biggest Green Groups Have Cold Feet Over the “Green New Deal” (Jan 15, 2019). 

Dharna Noor, Over 600 Groups Call for a Green New Deal: an Interview with Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network (video and transcript), The Real News (Jan 10, 2019)

Tom Goldtooth of Indigenous Environmental Network says that a Green New Deal must reject corporate takeover and center indigenous and frontline communities.

Kelsey Hill, Indigenous Leaders Support a #GreenNewDeal, Lakota People’s Law Project (Dec 19, 2018)

Kelsey Hill presents an Indigenous perspective on the Green New Deal perspective and calls on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to appoint Deb Haaland, one of the first two Native women elected to Congress this past November, to the Climate Change Select Committee.

Comments from the Left

Richard Smith, An Ecosocialist Path to Limiting Global Temperature Rise to 1.5°C, System Change Not Climate Change (Nov. 26, 2018), Real World Economics Review (forthcoming March 1, 2019).

Richard Smith is a cofounder of System Change Not Climate Change and an active member of DSA’s Ecosocialist Working Group and the New York City chapter of DSA. He is the author of Green Capitalism: The God that Failed and is working on a forthcoming book on China’s not-so-green, communist-capitalist future.

Matt Huber (DSA Ecosocialist Working Group Member), Building a “Green New Deal”: Lessons from the Original New Deal, Verso Books (Nov 19, 2018)

In this article Matt Huber offers four lessons from the original New Deal that contemporary activists and policymakers must learn.

Wayne Price, A Green New Deal vs. Revolutionary Socialism, Anarkismo.net (Jan 2, 2019).

Wayne Price criticizes Richard Smith’s article An Ecosocialist Path to Limiting Global Temperature Rise to 1.5°C and the Green New Deal from an anarchist perspective.

Max Ajl, Beyond the Green New Deal The Brooklyn Rail. (Nov 2, 2018)

Max Ajl calls AOC a “Teddy Kennedy-type liberal” and critiques the Green New Deal and ecosocialism from “the left.”

Ted Franklin (East Bay DSA member), The Green New Deal Goes Viral:  What’s Next Is Up to Us, System Change Not Climate Change (Dec 6, 2018)

“By offering an ambiguous, but potentially expansive, charter for political action, the Green New Deal invites a conversation over what kind of transformation of our economy and society would enable us to meet the targets set by the scientists while getting us off the disastrous political course of Trumpism.”

David Roberts, The Green New Deal, explained, Vox (Updated Jan 7, 2019)

Roberts reports regularly on climate politics for Vox.  This article provides some of the background on how the GND became a political meme.

Kate Aronoff, With a Green New Deal, Here’s What the World Could Look Like for the Next Generation, The Intercept (Dec 5, 2019)

Kate Aronoff has written on the politics of climate change for Jacobin, the Intercept, In These Times, and many other publications. In this piece, she speculates on a future that would require a Green New Deal that goes far beyond the imagination of Democratic Party leaders.

Stan Cox, The Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal?  It’s Malignant, Counterpunch (Jan 17, 2019)

Assuming that the Green New Deal is already a fixed set of policy proposals, Stan Cox takes an axe to the naïve assumption he attributes to Green New Dealers that energy consumption can rise according to business as usual.

Richard Heinberg, Could a Green New Deal Save Civilization?, Common Dreams (Jan 17, 2019)

Richard Heinberg, founder of the Post Carbon Institute, argues that “what’s required is not simply to provide jobs to the un- or underemployed while building large numbers of wind turbines and solar panels; we will all need to live very differently and make some sacrifices. Given the already dangerously high and increasing level of economic inequality in the country, it would make sense to ensure that sacrifices fall mostly on those who are currently well-off, while the benefits of job creation are targeted toward those who are already feeling the pinch.”

Labor Perspectives on the Green New Deal

Sean Sweeney, The Green New Deal's Magical Realism, New Labor Forum (Feb 19, 2019)

Sean Sweeney, PhD, is the director of the International Program for Labor, Climate and Enviroment at the Murphy Institute, School of Labor and Urban Studies. Sweeney defends it against the charge it is unrealistic.

Labor Network for Sustainability, 18 Strategies for a Green New Deal: How To Make the Climate Mobilization Work (Feb 2019)

According to the authors of 18 Strategies, "The Green New Deal projects a broad vision of creating a climate-safe America through an economic and social mobilization on a scale not seen since the New Deal and World War II. That mobilization can provide a historic opportunity to create millions of good, high-wage jobs, virtually eliminate poverty, provide unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security, and counteract systemic injustices. So far discussion about the Green New Deal has rightly focused on values and goals. But there are many practical problems that will have to be solved as well. The LNS discussion paper '18 Strategies for a Green New Deal: How to Make the Climate Mobilization Work' lays out how the Green New Deal can realize its goals."

Rachel M. Cohen, Labor Unions Are Skeptical of the Green New Deal, and They Want Activists to Hear Them Out, Vox (Feb 28, 2019)

Rachel Cohen provides one of the more comprehensive overviews of labor officials' initial reactions to the Green New Deal. Cohen writes, "As advocates of the Green New Deal work to gin up more support for the resolution, they face the challenge of parsing out bad-faith criticisms from legitimate critiques by those whose livelihoods would be impacted by a transition to green jobs. The way they straddle that line and respond to those concerns could make all the difference in getting the critical mass of support needed for the Green New Deal to pass."

Dimitris Stevis, Labour Unions and Green Transitions in the USA: Contestations and Explanations, Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces, York University (2019) 

Stevis is a professor at Colorado State University.  Written before the recent Green New Deal discussion began, this study contains invaluable information about U.S. Labor's complex relationship with initiatives to address climate change and analyzes Union responses sector by sector.

 

Specific Proposals for the Green New Deal

Metro Detroit DSA, Make Detroit the engine of a green new deal, The Detroit Socialist (Jan 5, 2019)

Metro Detroit DSA calls for a takeover in response to GM’s announced closure of the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly (Poletown) plant.

Eric Ruud (East Bay DSA member), Nationalize California's Pacific Gas & Electric, Jacobin (Nov 2018)

“California’s massive, deadly wildfires aren’t just a consequence of climate change — they’re a result of the profit model in utilities. We need to nationalize PG&E and the entire national power grid.”

Peter Gowan, A Plan to Nationalize Fossil Fuel Companies, Jacobin (Mar 2018)

“Market-based solutions can't attack climate change. Let's try nationalization.”

Greg Carlock, Emily Mangan, and Sean McElwee, A Green New Deal; A Progressive Vision for Environmental Sustainability and Economic Stability, Data for Progress (2018)

This version of the Green New Deal comes from Data for Progress, a new thinktank aligned with corporate-progressive Democrats (Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tammy Baldwin).  The stated aim of Data for Progress is to push the Democratic Party in a “more progressive” direction.

The Green Party, The Green New Deal (2012)

No organization owns the franchise on the Green New Deal, but the Green Party has long posted on its website this historical antecedent of the current Green New Deal proposals. The Green Party’s GND platform rests on four “pillars”: an Economic Bill of Rights (which includes Medicare for All), a Green Transition; Real Financial Reform; and a Functioning Democracy

Other Resources

New York City DSA Ecosocialist Working Group, The Green New Deal: a Dossier (Updated periodically)

 

Comic Relief

Thomas L. Friedman, A Warning from the Garden, The New York Times (Jan 19, 2007) 

Yes, it’s true.  Thomas Friedman did talk about a “Green New Deal” way back when. His version included “more of everything: solar, wind, hydro, ethanol, biodiesel, clean coal and nuclear power.”