This article is one of a series of summaries of progressive federal policy ideas written by Think policy fellows. Think does not have a position on any of the proposals mentioned in this summary as we are focused on state-level policy, rather we offer these descriptions as helpful tools for candidates and elected officials who may be interested or face questions on these topics. 

The Green New Deal is a non-binding congressional resolution that presents a sweeping 10-year plan for tackling climate change, creating jobs and achieving various social goals. These goals include ending oppression, reducing income inequality, and assuring that all Americans have adequate health care, clean water, healthy food, and adequate housing. Conservatives claim it is a massive socialist takeover of the economy.  You can read the resolution here.

More specifically, the goals stated in the resolution include:

  • Achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers;
  • Creating millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all Americans;
  • Investing in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century;
  • Securing the following for all Americans: clean air and water, climate and community resiliency, healthy food, access to nature, and a sustainable environment;
  • Promoting justice and equity by stopping oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.

To accomplish these goals, the resolution calls for:

  • Major new investments in energy, water, and transportation infrastructure including upgrading all existing buildings;
  • Spurring massive growth in clean manufacturing;
  • Working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and ensure universal access to healthy food;
  • Building resilience against climate disasters and mitigating long-term health and economic effects of pollution and climate change by providing investments in community-defined projects and strategies;
  • Protecting and restoring natural ecosystems;
  • Ensuring that the Green New Deal mobilization creates high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages, hires local workers, offers training and advancement opportunities, and guarantees wage and benefit parity for workers affected by the transition
  • Guaranteeing all people of the United States a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security;
  • Providing all people of the United States with high-quality health care; affordable, safe, and adequate housing; economic security; and clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and access to nature.

Variations of the Green New Deal have been around for many years, and various individuals and entities have their own versions of it.[1]

The costs of implementing the plan presented in the congressional resolution are not clear but it is definitely expensive. The resolution does not include cost estimates. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), the House sponsor of the resolution, says it will cost a minimum of $10 trillion over 10 years and proponents argue that the cost of not adopting the plan (i.e. not fighting climate change) will be much higher. The number most frequently cited by opponents comes from American Action Forum, a non-profit center-right think tank.  The American Action Forum estimates the cost to be between $52 and $93 trillion over 10 years. 

Supporters of the Green New Deal resolution include: SEIU, many environmental organizations (600+ organizations), liberal groups such as the Justice Democrats, and Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg. Opponents include the AFL-CIO and United Mine Workers of America; many centrist Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and senators Diane Feinstein (CA), Joe Manchin (WV), Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), and Doug Jones (AL); and virtually all conservative elected officials and leaders.[2] Other organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund have not fully backed the resolution. Some of the Democratic presidential candidates and other Democratic officials have nuanced views, reluctant to give full-throated support to such a massive and expensive plan but eager to support meaningful measures to counteract climate change and achieve the resolution’s other goals. Such presidential candidates include Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, and Andrew Yang. Centrist Democrats believe that the sweeping resolution is neither realistic nor politically wise and fear it will drive away many moderate voters, particularly in crucial suburban swing areas. Such Democrats in the House offered an alternative to the Green New Deal that recognized the climate crisis but does not call for zero-emissions until 2050.

Proponents of Green New Deal argue the following benefits:

  • Cheaper in the long-run: While the Green New Deal will be an immense investment, in the long run, the effects of unabated climate change — climate disasters, mass migration, etc —  will cost more financially. 
  • Create new jobs in alternative energy: To move the country away from fossil fuels, the alternative energy space will create millions of good-paying jobs and help rebuild communities in rural America. The job guarantee in the Green New Deal speaks to this.
  • Avoiding irreversible climate change: UN scientists warn that there is just about a decade of time left to lower emissions before climate change impacts are unavoidable. Proponents go so far as to say this is necessary to save the planet.
  • Decreasing mortality from pollution: Tens of thousands of people die each year due to air pollution. A transition to clean power will reduce pollution and prevent unnecessary deaths.

Opponents of Green New Deal lodge the following attacks:

  • Too expensive: Sticker price shock. Investing trillions of dollars over 10 years and completely shifting from an economy reliant on fossil fuels to one independent from carbon emission is infeasible.
  • Destroys American jobs: By achieving zero-emissions, millions of jobs in the coal, oil, and natural gas industries would be eliminated.
  • Not a concrete plan: Because of the lack of specific steps or an outline for exactly what needs to be done to achieve the goals, many argue that without a plan the GND won’t get off the floor.
  • The practicality of Trump signing any such deal: Pundits on both sides of the aisle argue that even if such a resolution passed Congress, Trump would never sign any Green New Deal. 
  • Too short of a timeline: Even with a dramatic shift in resources toward alternative energy, opponents claim that it is unrealistic to cut carbon emissions so dramatically by the Green New Deal’s timeline.

[1] Presidents including Clinton and Obama targeted greenhouse emissions and other aspects of the “Green New Deal”  through their versions of climate and energy policies

[2] In North Carolina: While both Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Richard Burr (R-NC) have openly opposed the resolution, most state senators have not publicly commented on the resolution. The exception being Erica Smith (D) who has included the Green New Deal in her online platform.