Since its release earlier this year, the Green New Deal has stirred up opinions across the political spectrum. It brings together longstanding debates about climate change, inequality, and the role that the government should play in society.

What is this bill and why is it so divisive? Like a lot of political issues, it’s complicated. Let’s dive in and explore some of the factors at play.

The Origins

The Green New Deal is a set of policy changes that seek to reduce the effects of climate change by reducing carbon emissions while creating new jobs in the process.

It was introduced in February 2019 by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a freshman congresswoman from New York who quickly made a name for herself on Capitol Hill with bold statements and bold ideas.

Some of the plan’s proposed changes include building an energy-efficient “smart” grid and eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, manufacturing, and other industries. It also calls for creating high-wage jobs in renewable energy in an effort to reduce economic inequality.

“Even the solutions that we have considered big and bold are nowhere near the scale of the actual problem that climate change presents to us,” Ocasio-Cortez told NPR in February.

Although Ocasio-Cortez is most closely associated with the Green New Deal, the idea was part of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and was perhaps first mentioned in Thomas Friedman’s 2007 book Hot, Flat, and Crowded.

From a technical perspective, it introduced in Congress as a nonbinding resolution, which means that Congress has no duty to act on any of its recommendations.

On the Left

The Green New Deal has proven to be a dividing line for Democrats who are struggling to decide whether to align with the broader liberal vision articulated in the plan. Much like Medicare for All, it’s forcing candidates to choose whether they accept a more progressive vision of the future, just as FDR’s New Deal brought sweeping progressive reforms to the U.S. in the 1930s.

Taking steps to address climate change means putting pressure on companies and others who are likely to be donors, particularly for presidential candidates. It could also alienate moderate voters who are not as likely to support government-supported efforts to reduce inequality.

2020 Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Kirstin Gillibrand are all co-sponsors of the Green New Deal, according to Axios.

Beto O’Rourke and Jay Inslee have introduced their own climate change plans that share many of the same goals but may come without the stigma attached to the Green New Deal. The issue will continue to be a focal point as the 2020 campaign continues.

On the Right

The Green New Deal exposes a growing rift in the Republican party between those who believe in climate change and those who do not. President Trump maintains that climate change is a hoax and seeks to roll back

Republicans in Congress do not want to be seen as going against the President, making it difficult for the Green New Deal to gain bipartisan support.

Putting the specific issue of climate change aside, conservatives also note that the Green New Deal will increase the government’s role in society and cost billions, if not trillions, of taxpayer dollars. This runs against the long-held conservative notion that the government’s role in our day-to-day lives should be as small as possible.

This gets at the heart of the difference between Republicans and Democrats and makes the Green New Deal a lightning rod for a broader debate about the relationship between a government and its citizens — one of the longest-standing differences in American politics.

The Future

Although climate change remains a pressing issue, it seems unlikely that the parties will be able to come to any sort of bipartisan agreement on the Green New Deal, especially if President Trump does not support the plan.

At a time when polarization is high in Congress and among the public, it seems that anyone who wants to move the needle on climate change will need to find a way to separate it from some of the underlying economic and social issues raised in the Green New Deal.

Will anyone be interested in doing that? Only time will tell.

You can read the full text of the Green New Deal resolution here.


Grassroots Pulse covers public policy and political issues aimed at engaging highly-active policy makers, donors, and grassroots leaders at the forefront of the political process in America today.

Image credit:  Photo by Stijn te Strake on Unsplash