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The Sustainability Institute at Penn State’s Sustainability Blog

What’s the deal with the Green New Deal?

This evening, Rhiana Gunn-Wright, a political scientist who helped author the Green New Deal, is coming to Penn State to speak about how students can join in the fight against climate change and help in a meaningful way. In preparation for Gunn-Wright’s visit and as a general reference, it is important for the public to understand the Green New Deal (GND) proposal and its impacts. Most people have heard of the Green New Deal, but sometimes don’t know the concrete policy outlined in the plan. What are the steps that need to be implemented? How will this affect our economy and society? And when will we start seeing positive change? In this article, we will parse through the proposal in order to better understand what the Green New Deal’s goals are, what the plan is, and how it will affect the country.   

There are numerous Green New Deal proposals across the world, each dedicated to addressing the problems of climate change and leading the world to lower emissions, and stemming catastrophic warming. However, the Green New Deal addressed in this article is a proposal authored in February of 2019 by US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward J. Markey with collaborators including Gunn-Wright. The goal of the proposal is to outline a comprehensive plan for addressing climate change. This includes phasing out fossil fuels and cutting greenhouse gas emissions in a way that benefits the economy by creating jobs in the renewable energy sector. The GND was voted down in the Senate in March of 2019. However, with the US government taking preliminary steps to address climate change, such as the bill signed into law by President Biden in August, it is likely that policymakers will attempt to pass the Green New Deal again in some capacity or try to implement parts of the plan in other policy 

So, what are the major components of the Green New Deal? 

The overarching goal of the plan is to achieve net-zero emissions and run entirely on renewable energy by 2050. Based on recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Fourth National Climate Assessment report, the GND recognizes the government’s responsibility to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs and economic security for all citizens of the US, invest in infrastructure and industry that addresses modern challenges, and secure a quality of life for all people of the US that includes clean air and water, community resilience, healthy food, access to nature, and sustainable environments. The plan also recognizes the duty of the US government to promote justice and equality by addressing current and previous oppression of marginalized communities. 

How do representatives plan on achieving these goals? 

The proposals outline a series of actions to be implemented through a 10-year mobilization plan that includes: 

  • Building community resilience to natural disasters, many of which are expected to increase in severity and frequency as global temperatures rise 
  • Upgrading infrastructure in the US to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, ensure access to clean water, and reduce climate risks.  
  • Addressing climate change in every subsequent infrastructure bill passed by congress 
  • Meeting 100% of US power demand with renewable, zero-emission sources by expanding the renewable energy sector and upgrading US power grids to support the transition 
  • Updating US infrastructure to be more efficient and less wasteful 
  • Address and remove pollution from the agricultural sector while still supporting family farming by building sustainable food systems 
  • Preserving and expanding native ecosystems and biodiversity 
  • Cleaning up waste and pollution  

These are only some of the tenants laid out in the GND, the whole text of the proposal can be read here. The proposal stresses the importance of using these solutions to bolster the economy and create jobs by directing investments toward sustainable companies and sectors and ensuring the right of employees in these areas to fair wages and benefits. The sentiment of the proposal is that the challenges of climate change can be addressed without damaging the economy and putting people out of work. In fact, strategies can be implemented to bolster the economy and create jobs while working toward solving the problems of climate change.  

Policy is a major way to implement change in the US, and it is likely that government help will be needed to transition the country into a sustainable, fair, and just society. In order to help with that, citizens should be educated on the positions of representatives that they vote for. Text of all proposals that enter Congress, such as the GND, is available at congress.gov. Additionally, tools such as Vote Smart, Vote 411, and Ballotpedia can be used to help voters research ballot measures, candidates, and policymakers. Stay tuned for Rhiana Gunn-Wright‘s talk to learn more about how you can join the fight against climate change.  


Text – H.Res.109 – 116th Congress (2019-2020): Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal. | Congress.gov | Library of Congress 

Biden signs Democrats’ sweeping bill to tackle climate change, lower health-care costs – The Washington Post 

Fourth National Climate Assessment (globalchange.gov) 

What Is the Green New Deal? A Climate Proposal, Explained – The New York Times (nytimes.com) 

The Green New Deal: Ocasio-Cortez and Markey introduce resolution – Vox 

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