The Basics


The Green New Deal is best thought of not as a specific policy or plan, but instead as a way of framing the discourse on government responses to climate change. It is a convenient short form to signal an approach that combines ecological objectives (with an emphasis on decarbonisation) with efforts to tackle inequality (in its economic, racial, and gender forms). Importantly, the approach also emphasizes the role of the state in bringing about change (as opposed to individuals or the market). This, at least, was the original intention of the early proponents of the Green New Deal in the United Kingdom and the United States. As the authors of A Planet to Win have pointed out, there are now numerous “faux Green New Deals” 


How much will it cost?

A right-wing think tank in the US popularized the notion that the US GND Resolution would cost US$93 trillion. This has been debunked. Given that the US GND Resolution was high on vision but low on specifics, it is unreasonable to attach a specific price tag to it. But it is worth noting that one of the most expensive aspects of the proposal was universal healthcare. In other countries where GNDs have been proposed, universal healthcare already exists and the main costs of a GND would be from investments in areas like renewable energy and energy efficiency. The European Green Deal aims to “mobilise” at least 1 trillion euros over the next decade, but just over half of this will come from the EU budget.

The bottom line is that the Green New Deal is not going to be cheap, but it also isn’t going to cost anywhere near as much as unchecked climate change and ecological breakdown.

How will we pay for it?

There are a number of approaches that have been taken to answer this question. First, there are proposals to tax extreme wealth to raise government revenue. As extreme wealth is closely associated with excess consumption and a high contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, this approach can provide a double win – reducing the environmental impact of the wealthiest members of society at the same time as freeing up resources for the GND. Another option would be to tax luxuries, like private jets and super yachts.

A second approach is to divert existing spending from environmental damaging or socially harmful areas such as fossil fuel subsidies and the military.

A third approach is premised on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). According to proponents of this theory, the price tag for the GND in financial terms is irrelevant. Instead, what we should focus on is whether we can mobilize the resources that will be required, which “will require a combination of putting excess capacity to work and shifting already employed resources away from existing production to GND projects.” Proponents of MMT often draw on the examples of WWII and the more recent COVID-19 pandemic as evidence that governments with sovereign control of their currency (read: all “developed” countries, a different response is required for the Global South) can mobilize the necessary resources when faced with a crisis.

Will the GND ban air travel and hamburgers?

Back in February 2018, US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s office accidentally released a draft FAQ that said the GND resolution “set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast…”. This was seized upon by Trump and right-wing pundits who told the public that the Democrats wanted to take away their hamburgers. The truth is that no current iterations of the GND propose to ban meat consumption or air travel. But both are significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions and will need to be addressed in order to limit climate change. Taxing flights and meat is one approach, rationing is another. More broadly, there have been proposals for a rethink of agriculture in the context of the GND.

Why isn’t it enough to put a price on carbon?

Most proponents of the GND don’t outright reject carbon pricing schemes such as carbon taxes and carbon trading schemes, but argue that they “should no longer be the centerpiece of a comprehensive climate strategy”. The reasons for this are complex, but a key one is that the incrementalism of carbon pricing has failed to drive rapid decarbonization. Furthermore, carbon pricing is only half of the equation – as Prof Jessica Green puts it “the state must create public goods, rather than merely prevent public bads”.

Examples of how prominent proponents of a Green New Deal describe it:

“The idea is a simple one: in the process of transforming the infrastructure of our societies at the speed and scale that scientists have called for, humanity has a once-in-a-century chance to fix an economic model that is failing the majority of people on multiple fronts. Because the factors that are destroying our planet are also destroying people’s quality of life in many other ways, from wage stagnation to gaping inequalities to crumbling services to the breakdown of any semblance of social cohesion. Challenging these underlying forces is an opportunity to solve several interlocking crises at once.” – Naomi Klein, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal

“The Green New Deal demands major system change: both economic and ecological system change. It demands structural (governmental and intergovernmental) changes, not just behavioural, community or technological change, in our approach to the financialised, globalised economy and ecosystem.” – Ann Pettifor, The Case for the Green New Deal

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