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United States

History of the Green New Deal in the USA

It was a New York Times columnist – Thomas Friedman – that first entered “Green New Deal” into the American lexicon back in 2007, although his vision was much more mainstream/market-oriented than present-day Green New Deals. The terminology failed to gain traction in the US, despite the considerable attention that was paid at the time to the need for green investments to be included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The US Green Party adopted “Green New Deal” as the title for their policy platform starting in 2010 (Green Party Presidential Candidate Howie Hawkins has a fleshed out Ecosocialist Green New Deal Budget).

In June of 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a Democratic primary in New York in a stunning upset for the incumbent Joe Crowley. Ocasio-Cortez campaigned heavily on an ambitious climate platform (developed by policy advisor Rhiana Gunn-Wright) called the Green New Deal. She went on to win her seat in Congress in the November midterm elections. Soon after, young climate activists from the Sunrise Movement occupied Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office to demand that she mandate that a new Select Committee on climate change develop a plan for a Green New Deal. Ocasio-Cortez stopped by the protest to offer her support and drew substantial media attention. 51 of the young climate activists were arrested. The protest did not succeed in bringing Pelosi on side – she later famously dismissed the Green New Deal as “The green dream, or whatever they call it” – but it did catapult the Green New Deal into mainstream climate policy discussions. 

In early 2019, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez put forward (with Senator Ed Markey) resolutions on a Green New Deal in the House (109) and Senate (59). Neither resolution advanced, but a number of Democrats have voiced their support. A large number of environmental organizations have backed the proposal and according to polling conducted in 2019, the Green New Deal is also popular with the American public. Republicans have rejected the Green New Deal, falsely claiming that it would ban airplanes, cows and cars, and frequently cite a right-wing think tank’s estimate that it would cost $93 trillion.

President Joe Biden’s climate plan and American jobs plan aim, like the GND, to scale up renewable energy and improve energy efficiency, but the approach relies heavily on tax breaks (rather than direct public investments). Some of the more ambitious aspects of the Ocasio-Cortez/Markey Resolution, such as the job guarantee, are also absent.

In April 2021, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Markey relaunched the GND. Separately, Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a Green New Deal for Public Housing Act.

Two other important initiatives to be aware of:

  1. The Red Deal (part II, part III) created by the Red Nation. Focusing on focusing on Indigenous treaty rights, land restoration, sovereignty, self-determination, decolonization, and liberation, the creators “don’t envision it as a counter program to the GND but rather going beyond it.” 
  2. The Red, Black & Green New Deal – a “multifaceted initiative that is designed to educate, catalyze, and empower Black people to take actions that mitigate the impact of the climate crisis on our families and our communities.”

Subnational Highlights

Fourteen lawmakers in California introduced a state-level Green New Deal proposal in January 2020, but later modified it in the face of the economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some members of municipal government in major US cities have proposed or adopted Green New Deals, most notably Los Angeles.

Green New Deal Cities Hub

Omnibus California Green New Deal Act

Planning for a Boston Green New Deal and Just Recovery (Boston City Councillor Michelle Wu)

OneNYC 2050

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