What's the 'Green New Deal' and why do environmentalists want it?

Reps.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, right, and IIhan Omar
Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY., right, with Rep.-elect IIhan Omar, D-Minn. Both are pushing Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal plan.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais | AP

A growing contingent of congressional Democrats — including Minnesota Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar — is pushing for a Green New Deal.

The proposal calls for a new House select committee to draft broad legislation that would make the United States economy carbon-neutral and remove greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere and oceans.

"The Green New Deal is a recognition that the scope and scale of our response to preventing damage to our climate has not been enough," said Brett Benson of MN350, a climate activism group supporting the plan.

This proposal likely faces gargantuan roadblocks in Congress — from wealthy oil-industry lobbyists to climate-science-denying members of Congress to moderate Democrats who don't believe the plan is necessary.

However, scientists can't seem to sound the climate alarm bells loud enough. The United Nations international climate science panel released a report last month showing that deadly consequences of climate change will become widespread as soon as 2030 without rapid action.

That's what the Green New Deal aims to address. Here's a look at the basics:

Who's pushing the plan?

Democrat Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York is leading the way in advocating for a Green New Deal. Her desire for more urgent action on climate change has already had her butting heads with older Democrats and protesting outside House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's office.

Ilhan Omar and a few other sitting and incoming representatives are backing her plan, as are several environmental groups like MN350 and the Sunrise Movement.

What would the Green New Deal do exactly?

Ocasio-Cortez's website outlines these seven goals that Green New Deal legislation would accomplish within a decade of its enactment:

• 100 percent of national power generation from renewable sources;

• Building a national, energy-efficient, "smart" grid;

• Upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety;

• Decarbonizing the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries;

• Decarbonizing, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure;

• Funding massive investment in the drawdown and capture of greenhouse gases;

• Making "green" technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely carbon neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal.

Is it just about being 'green?'

Not exactly. The plan addresses other issues that might not seem directly related to climate change.

For example, Ocasio-Cortez's proposal calls for a job-guarantee program to be included in any Green New Deal legislation. It also calls for universal health care and basic income programs, as well as labor union involvement.

Her draft also acknowledges that climate change disproportionately harms low-income people and communities of color, and says any Green New Deal legislation must account for the disparities.

The Green New Deal's vast scale is similar to its namesake — President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal economic program to pull the U.S. out of the Great Depression.

Benson said it's a fitting title for this moment, too.

"I love the title because it harkens back to a time when there was a clear recognition that we have major problems," he said, "and we gotta be pulling all the levers that are at our disposal to fix the problem."

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