The origins of the term “Green New Deal” — an idea founded on the premise that the greenhouse gas emissions (especially carbon dioxide) associated with human industrial activity are responsible for potentially catastrophic “climate change” — can be traced back to Richard Murphy, a British tax scholar and political economy professor, who in 2007 collaborated with a number of newspaper editors, economists, and environmentalists to form a “Green New Deal Group.” This group proposed massive public expenditures to fund: (a) the development of a zero-carbon-emission transportation infrastructure wholly reliant on renewable (wind, water, and solar) energy sources; (b) the wide-scale insulation of homes to make them more energy-efficient; and (c) the establishment of training programs to develop a national corps of workers to carry out these objectives. To raise the money required in order to enact this initiative, Murphy advocated a combination of tax hikes on wealthy people and corporations, “straightforward deficit spending,” and the implementation of quantitative easing – a strategy whereby the government would establish a green infrastructure bank that would issue bonds which the government, in turn, could buy back. On July 21, 2008, Murphy’s “Green New Deal Group” published a report detailing its specific recommendations.
In a similar spirit, on October 22, 2008, the United Nations Environment Programme’s executive director, Achim Steiner, unveiled a “Global Green New Deal” initiative designed to simultaneously strengthen the world economy and curb climate change by creating jobs in a wide array of “green” industries. The following year, the United Nations drafted a report explicitly calling for a “Global Green New Deal” to promote government stimulus spending on renewable energy projects. Such objectives gained significant popular momentum in the United Kingdom when the ruling Labour Party in 2010 established a green infrastructure bank, as Richard Murphy had proposed. But when the conservative Tories swept into office later that year, they sold the bank and cut subsidies for renewable energy and energy-efficiency programs.
Among the first to introduce the concept of a “Green New Deal” in the United States was New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who in January 2007 wrote: “[W]e will only green the world when we change the very nature of the electricity grid — moving it away from dirty coal or oil to clean coal and renewables. And that is a huge industrial project – much bigger than anyone has told you. Finally, like the New Deal [of FDR], if we undertake the green version, it has the potential to create a whole new clean power industry to spur our economy into the 21st century.”
In 2008, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama added a Green New Deal to his campaign platform. In April of that year, the self-identified revolutionary communist Van Jones — who in 2009 would become President Obama’s “Green Jobs Czar” — made clear his desire to incrementally socialize, by stealth, the U.S. economy: “Right now we say we want to move from suicidal gray capitalism to something eco-capitalism where at least we’re not fast-tracking the destruction of the whole planet. Will that be enough? No, it won’t be enough. We want to go beyond the systems of exploitation and oppression altogether … until [the green economy] becomes the engine for transforming the whole society.”
A few months later, in February 2009, Jones proclaimed that America’s new “green economy” would emphasize “gender equity,” in contrast to “the pollution-based economy” wherein women “are making 70 cents to the dollar” as compared to men. Moreover, he charged that the United States was built on land that had been “stolen” from “our Native American sisters and brothers,” who were “bullied and mistreated and shoved into all the land we didn’t want, where it was all hot and windy.” But under a “renewable energy” system (i.e., solar and wind power), he explained, there would be retribution, as Native Americans would “now own and control 80 percent of the renewable energy resources.” “Give them the wealth!” Jones shouted. “…We owe them a debt!” “A clean energy revolution,” he emphasized, would merely be the first step toward wholesale societal transformation: “[W]e gonna change the whole system! We gonna change the whole thing!”
But when the cap-and-trade legislation known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act died in the Senate in 2010, talk of a Green New Deal became suddenly scarce in American political circles.
Then, in 2012 and again in 2016, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein revived the idea by making a Green New Deal a central part of her campaigns. Moreover, the Green New Deal became part of the Green Party’s official platform.
Around that same time period, the tenets of a Green New Deal mentality found an ideological home in Canada. Most notably, in 2015 an array of Canadian “eco-socialists” and leftists such as Naomi Klein and David Suzuki – along with left-wing environmental groups like 350.org – authored a socialist green-energy plan called the “Leap Manifesto,” which called for: making Canada 100 percent dependent on renewable energy sources by 2050; enacting “a universal program to build and retrofit energy efficient housing” and “green” public transportation projects; developing “a more localized and ecologically-based agricultural system”; guaranteeing all people a “universal basic annual income”; raising existing taxes; and adding a tax on carbon-dioxide. Among the Leap Manifesto’s “initiating organizations” were such far-left groups as Black Lives Matter–Toronto, Greenpeace Canada, and Climate Justice. Moreover, dozens of socialist organizations endorsed the plan. Among these were the International Socialists, the Socialist Project, and the Socialist Caucus of Canada’s New Democratic Party.
In an October 2018 campaign appearance, Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made reference to a “Green New Deal” that would aim to make the U.S. 100 percent reliant on renewable energy sources (wind, water, solar) by the year 2035. “There’s no debate as to whether we should continue producing fossil fuels,” she said. “There’s no debate. We should not. Every single scientific consensus points to that.” In another campaign speech that same month, Ocasio-Cortez likened the fight against climate change to America’s battle against Nazi Germany:
“So we talk about existential threats, the last time we had a really major existential threat to this country was around World War II…. We had a direct existential threat with another nation, this time it was Nazi Germany, and the Axis, who explicitly made the United States as an enemy, as an enemy. And what we did was that we chose to mobilize our entire economy and industrialized our entire economy and we put hundreds if not millions of people to work in defending our shores and defending this country. We have to do the same thing in order to get us to 100 percent renewable energy, and that’s just the truth of it.”
“The Green New Deal we are proposing will be similar in scale to the mobilization efforts seen in World War II or the Marshall Plan,” Ocasio-Cortez said on yet another occasion during her campaign. “It will require the investment of trillions of dollars and the creation of millions of high-wage jobs. We must again invest in the development, manufacturing, deployment, and distribution of energy but this time green energy.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s comparison of the Green New Deal to the Marshall Plan was highly reminiscent of a 2016 article titled “A World at War,” in which the author, 350.org founder Bill McKibben, drew numerous parallels between World War II and the fight against climate change. For example, McKibben wrote: “And just as FDR brought in experts from the private sector to plan for the defense build-out, she [Hillary Clinton] could get the blueprints for a full-scale climate mobilization in place even as she rallies the political will to make them plausible. Without the same urgency and foresight displayed by FDR—without immediate executive action—we will lose this war.”
At a climate-change town hall meeting in December 2018, Ocasio-Cortez said that the Green New Deal “is going to be the Great Society, the moonshot, the civil rights movement of our generation. That is the scale of the ambition that this movement is going to require.”
In a January 2019 interview on CBS This Morning, host Anderson Cooper asked the newly elected Ocasio-Cortez if her Green New Deal would mean “everybody having to drive an electric car.” The congresswoman replied: “It’s going to require a lot of rapid change that we don’t even conceive as possible right now. What is the problem with trying to push our technological capacities to the furthest extent possible?” Emphasizing that her energy plan would require wealthy people “to start paying their fair share in taxes,” she proceeded to suggest that tax rates of “60 or 70 percent” on top earners would be fair and appropriate. When Cooper subsequently observed that Ocasio-Cortez was proposing “a radical agenda,” the legislator replied: “Well, I think that it only has ever been radicals that have changed this country. Abraham Lincoln made the radical decision to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. Franklin Delano Roosevelt made the radical decision to embark on establishing programs like Social Security.” Cooper then asked, “Do you call yourself a radical?” To that, Ocasio-Cortez said: “Yeah. You know, if that’s what radical means, call me a radical.”
Operationally, the Green New Deal, as described by Ocasio-Cortez, would eliminate all fossil fuels from the U.S. electric grid by 2030, thereby forcing Americans to use much more expensive and much less reliable energy sources such as wind (which costs twice as much as power derived from coal, natural gas, and oil) and solar (which costs three times as much). The plan would also mandate trillions of dollars in public expenditures on government-approved “upgrades” and “retrofits” of all existing homes and businesses in the United States — e.g., installing insulation, weather stripping, thermal windows, and storm doors to make the buildings more “energy efficient” — and implementing zero-carbon standards for all new building construction. This facet of the Green New Deal is particularly significant, in light of the fact that buildings produce about 40 percent of all annual carbon emissions in the United States.
It is noteworthy that although Ocasio-Cortez and some other Democrats likewise began promoting a “Green New Deal” during the 2018 campaign season in the United States, it was not until December 2018 – well after Election Day – that their plan was actually fleshed out in the form of a tangible document. Remarkably, their Green New Deal was drafted during a single December weekend by young millennial staffers employed by Ocasio-Cortez and three like-minded progressive organizations – the Sunrise Movement, Justice Democrats, and the New Consensus. According to Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff: “We spent the weekend learning how to put laws together. We looked up how to write resolutions.”
Before the end of December 2018, 40 House Democrats had joined Ocasio-Cortez in openly declaring their support for the Green New Deal. These were: Jared Huffman, Barbara Lee, Jackie Speier, Ro Khanna, Judy Chu, Ted Lieu, Mark Takano, Mike Levin, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Joe Neguse, John Lewis, Mike Quigley, Tulsi Gabbard, Danny Davis, Chellie Pingree, Deutch Ruppersberger, Jamie Raskin, Jim McGovern, Lori Trahan, Joe Kennedy III, Katherine Clark, Seth Moulton, Ayanna Presley, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Chris Pappas, Annie Kuster, Deb Haaland, Nydia Velazquez, Carolyn Maloney, Adriano Espaillat, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jose Serrano, Earl Blumenauer, David Cicilline, Steve Cohen, Peter Welch, Gerry Connolly, Pramila Jayapal, and Mark Pocan.
As of February 2019, other notable supporters of the Green New Deal included every Democrat who was already campaigning for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Julian Castro, Amy Klobuchar, and Bernie Sanders.
In a January 2019 analysis of the Green New Deal’s call for the elimination of fossil fuels, the Heartland Institute points out that “when there is more carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, plants generally grow faster, which means there’s more food available to feed the world’s growing population of people and animals.” Aside from that, adds the Institute, “regardless of what we do in the United States, the rest of the world is going to continue increasing its fossil fuel use, more than offsetting any CO2 reductions we might make. Even if we were to commit economic suicide and pass the radical Green New Deal, total global CO2 emissions would still increase by billions of tons by 2030.” In short, any carbon-cutting measures taken by the United States would be doomed to irrelevance.
In addition to doing away with fossil fuels, the Green New Deal would seek to raise the living standards of low-income people by guaranteeing that they could be trained and hired for federal “green jobs” paying them at least $15-per-hour to implement the aforementioned upgrades, retrofits, and construction projects, thereby helping those people make a “just transition” from their previous occupations to the new “green economy.” The premise underlying these training/hiring policies is that some form of economic reparations or wealth transfer should be put in place to counteract America’s historical discrimination against “low-income communities, communities of color, indigenous communities, [and] the front-line communities most affected by climate change, pollution, and other environmental harm.”
And the Green New Deal’s redistributionist measures would not stop there. Scholar Tim Huelskamp, who describes the plan as “the most radical socialist proposal in modern congressional history,” explains that its provisions extend far beyond matters that are even remotely associated with energy efficiency, the environment, and climate. That is, the Green New Deal seeks to remake the entire American economy:
“[T]heir real desire is to accomplish the Left’s longtime goal of moving the United States toward full adoption of socialism. This isn’t just a theory. Significant provisions of the Green New Deal reveal its true purpose of imposing socialism on an unprecedented scale. The plan would create a ‘basic income program’ and federal jobs guarantee providing a ‘living wage’ to everybody who says they want one. It would impose a federal-government-run, single-payer health care system with bureaucrats and liberal politicians in Washington, D.C. in charge of every American’s health care. It would encourage the Federal Reserve to unleash inflation and create a system of government-owned banks to ‘create’ tens of trillions of dollars needed to fund these immense programs. None of these proposals has anything at all to do with climate change.”
As the Heartland Institute noted in January 2019, the Green New Deal “is appropriately named after the original ‘New Deal,’ the big-government power grab imposed by President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s.” “Under FDR,” says Heartland, “Democrats tripled taxes in seven years, and the government imposed an endless array of regulations, mandates, and even a secret police force to enforce them. The economy limped along for the entirety of the 1930s, with an average unemployment rate of a whopping 17 percent and Americans more dependent on government than ever.”
On February 7, 2019, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, in an effort to bring the notion of a Green New Deal to the forefront of public debate, formally submitted, to Congress, a Resolution titled “Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal.” Emphasizing the urgency of the need to enact such an initiative, this Resolution stated that:
Clearly, a number of the forgoing complaints are matters related more to economics than to environmental or energy concerns.
On February 5, 2019 — two days prior to formally unveiling her Green New Deal Resolution — Ocasio-Cortez released a backgrounder that laid out all the major provisions of the Resolution. It included a subtle but enormously consequential change from previous descriptions of the Green New Deal. Instead of seeking to entirely eliminate fossil-fuel use in America by 2030, the goal would now be to develop a “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” economy by that point in time. As the climate activist website Generation Yes explains, this means “reducing the volume of greenhouse gas emissions that human activity releases into the atmosphere until our total output is no greater than the emissions we remove, through activities like planting carbon forests, reducing deforestation and using technologies like carbon capture and storage.” “We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years,” said Ocasio-Cortez’s backgrounder, “because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.” The long-term objective, however, was to “transition off of nuclear and all fossil fuels as soon as possible.” Carbon taxes and cap-and-trade measures might possibly be part of a Green New Deal, the backgrounder added, but only “a tiny part” at most.
Ocasio-Cortez’s Resolution was replete with additional ambitious goals, as the backgrounder made plain:
To ensure that America’s transition to a green economy would be implemented with “justice and equity for front-line [poor and nonwhite] communities,” the Resolution called for “prioritizing” all “investment,” “training,” and “economic and environmental benefits” for members of “these communities.” In other words, massive sums of taxpayer money would be used to train and hire poor people and nonwhites — in preference to middle-class whites — to perform the tasks mandated by the Green New Deal.
In addition to environmental and energy matters, the Green New Deal would “build on FDR’s second bill of rights by guaranteeing” a number of major benefits:
In a Washington Post interview in July 2019, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s chief-of-staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, acknowledged that the Green New Deal had not been devised to protect the environment, but rather to implement socialism. “The interesting thing about the Green New Deal,” he said, “is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all. Do you guys [reporters] think of it as a climate thing? Because we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.”
By March 14, 2019, 11 U.S. Senators and 90 U.S. House Members had officially signed on as co-sponsors of the Green New Deal. Among those 101 individuals were 2020 presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, and Bernie Sanders. Five additional presidential hopefuls — Jay Inslee, Andrew Yang, Julian Castro, Peter Buttigieg, and Beto O’Rourke – had likewise come out in favor of the Resolution, as had Representatives John Lewis and Ilhan Omar.
On March 26, 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – who had characterized the Green New Deal proposal as “a radical, top-down, socialist makeover of the entire U.S. economy” – put the measure up for a vote, so as to make his Democratic colleagues go on record with their respective positions on the Resolution. But by that point, the Democrats — well aware that their deeply flawed, radical proposal had become a public-relations nightmare — refused to back up their previous bluster and praise for the Green New Deal. Indeed, not a single Senate Democrat voted in favor of beginning debate on the Resolution. Instead, 42 Democrats as well as Independent Bernie Sanders voted “present,” so as to avoid either supporting or rejecting the initiation of such debate. By contrast, 53 Republicans voted “No,” as did one Independent (Angus King) and three Democrats (Doug Jones, Joe Manchin, and Kyrsten Sinema).
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