What Is a Green New Deal?

What is a Green New Deal?

A Green New Deal is a big, bold transformation of the economy to tackle the twin crises of inequality and climate change. It would mobilize vast public resources to help us transition from an economy built on exploitation and fossil fuels to one driven by dignified work and clean energy. 

The status quo economy leaves millions behind. While padding the pockets of corporate polluters and billionaires, it exposes working class families, communities of color, and others to stagnant wages, toxic pollution, and dead-end jobs. The climate crisis only magnifies these systemic injustices, as hard-hit communities are hit even harder by storms, droughts, and flooding. Entrenched inequality, meanwhile, exacerbates the climate crisis by depriving frontline communities of the resources needed to adapt and cope.

Climate change and inequality are inextricably linked. We cannot tackle one without addressing the other. A Green New Deal would take on both.

To tackle the climate crisis at the speed that justice and science demand, a Green New Deal would upgrade our infrastructure, revitalize our energy system, retrofit our buildings, and restore our ecosystems. In so doing, a Green New Deal would cut climate pollution while creating millions of family-sustaining jobs, expanding access to clean air and water, raising wages, and building climate resilience. To counteract inequality, those benefits would go first and foremost to the working class families and communities of color that have endured the brunt of the fossil fuel economy.

What would a Green New Deal achieve?

  • Millions of family-sustaining jobs: Whether replacing lead pipes, weatherizing homes, expanding railways, or manufacturing wind turbines, millions of workers will lead the transition to a new economy. The jobs created must be high-road, union jobs: with family-sustaining wages and benefits, safe working conditions, and training and advancement opportunities.

  • Climate sanity: A Green New Deal would help us swiftly transition to a clean energy economy. By investing in smart grids for renewable energy distribution, encouraging energy-efficient manufacturing, and expanding low-emissions public transit, a Green New Deal would significantly reduce climate pollution.

  • Clean air and water: A Green New Deal would replace lead pipes, clean up hazardous waste sites, and reduce toxic air and water pollution from oil, gas, and coal. Those benefiting the most would be the communities of color and low-income families who today endure disproportionate exposure to toxins.

  • Lower costs: A Green New Deal would help working class families slash their energy bills and reduce their transit costs by offering more energy-efficient homes, access to affordable wind and solar power, and more reliable options for affordable public transportation.

  • Community resilience: Communities need greater resources to ensure safety and growth amid rising climate risks. A Green New Deal would help climate-exposed communities build bridges that can withstand floods, restore wetlands that buffer hurricanes, and shield coastlines from sea level rise.

  • Greater racial and economic equity: The disproportionate benefits of a Green New Deal would go to the working-class families and communities of color that have endured disproportionate economic and environmental hazards for decades. A Green New Deal must counteract systemic racism and economic exploitation by giving hard-hit communities priority access to new job opportunities, cost savings, pollution cleanup projects, and climate resilience initiatives.

What policies are part of a Green New Deal?

A Green New Deal is not a single law, but a suite of economic policies to deliver better job opportunities, less climate pollution, cleaner air and water, and more resilient communities. Here are three examples.

  • Infrastructure Renewal: We have a major, job-creating opportunity to repair, upgrade, and expand our country’s neglected roads, bridges, energy grid, and water systems. This is not only a matter of fixing what’s broken – it’s a chance to build a cleaner, more affordable, and more resilient infrastructure system that supports workers and frontline communities for coming generations. Specific projects in a Green New Deal infrastructure overhaul would include: expanding access to light rail and low-emissions public transit, replacing lead pipes, building a smart grid for increased wind and solar power, replacing stormwater systems to prevent flooding and toxic runoff, and restoring wetlands and other natural buffers that protect communities. Each project must fulfill high-road standards: 
    • Create family-sustaining jobs: Each project should be required to pay workers prevailing wages, hire locally, offer training opportunities, and sign project labor agreements with unions.
    • Tackle pollution and climate change: Priority should be given to projects that build resilience or reduce climate and local pollution, and the materials used should be climate-resilient, energy efficient, and produced via clean manufacturing.
    • Level the playing field: Priority should be given to projects that benefit low-income families and communities of color, with community benefit agreements used to ensure support for community-defined priorities.
    • Help communities, not corporations: This infrastructure transformation should be large in scale, driven by public funds, and spent on public infrastructure, so that tax dollars support the resilience of communities, not the profit margins of CEOs.

  • Weatherize America: Each time that a homeowner, business, or local government decides to weatherize a building, it supports jobs, slashes energy bills, and cuts climate pollution. A nationwide Green New Deal plan to weatherize buildings from coast to coast would create hundreds of thousands of retrofitting jobs, save families billions of dollars, and move us closer to climate sanity. We could achieve these goals with new national energy efficiency standards for public and private buildings, with public investments to help energy utilities implement the standards. The building weatherization projects enabled by this funding should be required to pay prevailing wages and focus training opportunities in working class communities. New national standards for more energy-efficient appliances and industrial processes would create even more high-road jobs in manufacturing and engineering, while further cutting energy costs, toxic emissions, and climate pollution.

  • Buy Clean: Each year the federal government spends billions of our tax dollars to buy goods, from steel for bridges to paper for offices. As part of a Green New Deal, a new “Buy Clean” law would ensure that these government purchases help fuel the transition to a clean energy economy and the creation of good jobs for those who need them most. Buy Clean standards would require, for example, that tax dollars be spent on goods manufactured with clean and efficient practices that protect our air, water, and climate. These standards also would require that government contractors pay family-sustaining wages, hire and train local workers, and locate job opportunities in working class communities and communities of color.

Isn’t a Green New Deal pretty hypothetical?

None of this is hypothetical. It’s already happening. From coast to coast, broad local coalitions are leading the way in pushing state-level Green New Deal policies that create good jobs, cut climate and local pollution, and counteract racial and economic inequity. As Donald Trump desperately tries to divide us, unions, environmental groups, and racial justice organizations are joining forces to chart the path for a Green New Deal. Their local successes offer momentum, and a model, for a nationwide mobilization under a new administration. Here are just a few examples:

  • Weatherization in Illinois: One month after Trump’s election, the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition succeeded in getting the Future Energy Jobs Act signed into law, after two years of organizing and advocacy by unions, green groups, consumer associations, and environmental justice organizations. Among other things, the law sets new energy efficiency standards and invests in weatherizing buildings across the state. The gains for Illinois offer a glimpse of what a nationwide weatherization plan could offer: the creation of over 7,000 new jobs in the state each year, reduced air and climate pollution, and $4 billion in energy savings for Illinois families, with priority access for low-income households.

  • Buy Clean in California: In 2017, California enacted a landmark Buy Clean law – the handiwork of a statewide coalition of labor and environmental allies. The law states that when California spends taxpayer dollars on steel, glass, and insulation for infrastructure projects, the state must prioritize companies that limit climate pollution throughout their supply chain. Thanks to the law, California will now leverage its spending to encourage climate-friendly manufacturing and local job creation – a sample of what a much larger, nationwide Buy Clean law could achieve.

  • Infrastructure Renewal in Pittsburgh: The unions, community groups, and environmental organizations that make up Pittsburgh United's Clean Rivers Campaign have been pushing for job-creating green infrastructure projects that could drastically reduce flooding in some of Pittsburgh’s vulnerable neighborhoods. They are one of many local coalitions across the country calling for, and often securing, public investments in green spaces to absorb rainwater, replacement of lead pipes, more resilient roads, and other critical infrastructure upgrades. Such fights help lay the groundwork for a national infrastructure renewal plan to simultaneously boost community resilience and create good jobs.