What’s the Deal: FDR to The Green New Deal (January)

In January, 2020 the Rights Writers were asked to discuss an issue in the context of US political discourse (including public opinion, if desired) – is any relevant legislation being debated? How are different branches of US government engaged with your topic? Consider particularly the 2020 presidential race.

In the midst of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt almost immediately after being elected in 1932 began a project that forever changed America: the New Deal. With the New Deal, Roosevelt and his administration oversaw the passage of banking reform laws, emergency relief programs, work relief programs, and agricultural programs. This legislation evolved into what was known as the Second New Deal, growing to include union protection programs, the Social Security Act, and aid for tenant farmers and migrant workers. However, FDR and his administration had some unintended consequences for minority groups, particularly the Black working class.  Despite its deeply complicated impact, the New Deal has deeply shaped our contemporary political discourse and pushed our government to a far more expansive role.

It seems that such large-scale legislation such as the New Deal is reserved for moments of crisis. FDR acted to save a crumbled global and domestic economy and a world still recovering from World War I. FDR knew that the problems plaguing America needed much more than a mere bandage; the issues constituted a need for fundamental changes in the government.

Collage of photos depicting the New Deal
Source: Wikimedia Commons

We are now witnessing a crisis that has been building for generations: climate change. We face not only financial instability and great inequality but also the deterioration and warming of our planet.  This time, we face the fate of our planet. In 2018, the UN reported that we have 12 years left to stop irreversible damage to our planet. Similar to FDR, many policymakers are responding to this generation’s crisis but with an even bolder vision: the Green New Deal. To solve issues of poverty and health care, there is a fight to put sustainability and environmental protection alongside conversations of human rights.

So, what exactly is the Green New Deal? Though it seems like this is new legislation just now being proposed by a much more progressive freshman Congress, it was in fact first proposed in 2006 by the European Greens, an incredibly progressive European party, during the global market crash. The European Greens fought to address climate change and embraced an economic bill of rights. Moving from European politics to American politics, the Green New Deal became central to the Green Party with Jill Stein 2012 run for President. Now, the Green New Deal has more than the Green Party’s support. It has now been introduced by the Democratic Party members Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts. Spearheaded by the progressive wing, the Democratic Party’s version of the Green New Deal that is defined by the following goals over a ten year period of mobilization:

With the current 2020 Democratic primaries underway, every candidate has proposed a plan to combat climate change. The majority of candidates even support the Green New Deal, including frontrunners Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg, Even those who do not pledge their full support for the Green New Deal have embraced certain calls to action. For example, all major candidates have made it a priority to reach net-zero emission.      

So what is the Republican strategy for combating climate change? After all, scientists and the American people largely see it as a crisis. Consider that 97% of climate scientists confirm that human-caused climate change is happening and immediate action should be taken, According to Pew Research, “about two-thirds of U.S. adults (67%) say the federal government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change.” Well, the answer is that there is not really a unified agenda from the Republican Party, with some members outright denying the problem even exists. One suggestion, coined as the Republican Climate Resolution comes from the House but has not really gained much traction in the party. The proposal makes broad suggestions to commit House resources to explore solutions, but the lack of concrete suggestions leave it as mostly a statement with little impact and tangible influence.

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The current administration has not only been stagnant in addressing the climate crisis but has regressed in many ways. In 2017, President Trump decommitted the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. Climate change needs not just national action from our federal government but larger global and international support. By pulling from this international effort, the Trump administration has further hindered the immediate need to address rising global temperatures.

It is 2020, a new year and a new decade, and the country is more divided than ever. The Green New Deal was first brought up over a decade ago, and how have things changed since then? As it has resurfaced, it has grown into a mass movement with ordinary Americans joining in, from climate walkouts and fervent youth activism. Now, the Green New Deal is in the center of major party discussions. This energy is being pushed into perhaps the most influential presidential election in decades. While it is interesting to speculate, legislation surrounding climate change seems unpredictable at the moment. What will happen if a Democrat wins the presidency without Congressional support? Is it possible to advance a meaningful climate change agenda in a nation extremely divided by party lines? What if Trump remains in office but Democrats take control of the Senate? These are questions and scenarios that those invested in climate rights are thinking deeply about.

Climate change has been a question at each of the Democratic debates, and Presidential candidates with any hope of winning the election need real and meaningful plans of action. Despite questions of its feasibility, the Green New Deal has pushed human rights in the center of this conversation, including provisions on health care and affordable housing. Even as a framework alone, this is incredible progress of itself.

For more information on the specifics details of the Green New Deal, click here.

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