‘Green New Deal’ is actually an old idea

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, December 5, 2018

In 2016, an aspiring politician was trumpeting a “Green New Deal” to address climate change.

The person making those calls, though, wasn’t Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who was only 26 years old at the time and still working as a waitress and bartender.

It was Jill Stein, the then-Green Party presidential nominee. A central plank of her campaign was a clean energy jobs plan that would provide employment and a livable wage for up to 20 million people.

In recent weeks, the “Green New Deal” has attracted a fresh wave of headlines thanks to efforts by the youth-driven Sunrise Movement and Ocasio-Cortez, a rising star in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

But the recent media coverage has largely ignored the fact that the “Green New Deal” isn’t, well, all that new. To those who have been active in the Green Party for more than a decade, it’s actually pretty old.

“I would like to correct the misconception that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez … is the face of the Green New Deal,” Edward Bodily, co-chairman of the Green Party of Utah, said in an email to E&E News. “The Green New Deal arose out of the Green Party and has been the Green Party platform for over a decade.”

The Sunrise Movement, a grassroots effort led by people in their 20s, has stepped up its activism in recent weeks (Climatewire, Dec. 3). The group is backing Ocasio-Cortez’s calls to revive a select committee on climate change in the House, which would draft legislation for a “Green New Deal” to accelerate the country’s transition to renewable energy.

At first glance, the group’s demands are original, if not lofty. But upon closer inspection, the language used by Sunrise and Stein is strikingly similar.

In a recent interview with E&E News, Sunrise co-founder Varshini Prakash endorsed a “rapid wartime economic mobilization that gets us to a 100 percent renewable energy economy” (Greenwire, Nov. 21).

Stein used almost identical language two years earlier.

“We need an emergency wartime-scale mobilization to create 100 percent clean renewable energy by 2030,” Stein said in a 2016 interview with The Washington Post.

When asked about the feasibility of that ambitious goal, Stein said she views climate change as a “national emergency” similar to World War II. She cited the example of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when the U.S. economy rapidly transitioned to focusing 25 percent of gross domestic product on wartime production.

Bodily said young activists shouldn’t be borrowing this wartime rhetoric without giving due credit. Most weren’t even alive during WWII.

“I am glad that people are picking this up and running with it, but I feel that all of this talk about the ‘Green New Deal’ like it’s the brainchild of Ocasio-Cortez … isn’t fair use,” Bodily said. “It’s co-opting the work of others without giving credit where credit is due.”

But Winona LaDuke, who ran for vice president on the Green Party ticket in 1996 and 2000, told E&E News that she’s just glad the issue is receiving more attention.

“I welcome them to the table,” said LaDuke, who currently serves as executive director of Honor the Earth, a nonprofit dedicated to environmental justice for indigenous people. “I have spoken about this for many years, the idea of a transitional economic plan that would create an economy with which we can live in a catastrophic climate.”

‘The right rallying call’

To be sure, Stein wasn’t even the first one to use the term “Green New Deal.” That distinction belongs to Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist.

“The right rallying call is for a ‘Green New Deal,'” Friedman wrote in January 2007, adding, “If we are to turn the tide on climate change and end our oil addiction, we need more of everything: solar, wind, hydro, ethanol, biodiesel, clean coal and nuclear power — and conservation.”

Friedman’s call was heeded by President Obama, who incorporated a “Green New Deal” into his 2008 platform, as Grist reported this summer.

The British tax scholar Richard Murphy also independently wrote of a “Green New Deal” around the same time as Friedman, according to Grist. Murphy wasn’t immediately available for an interview.

Andrew Stewart, a member of the Youth Caucus of the Green Party, said he had a mixed reaction to the latest resurgence of the term “Green New Deal.”

“I think that the fact we’re seeing the discussion of the ‘Green New Deal’ is a very productive and impressive development,” Stewart said. “It has been a long-term project going back even earlier than the Stein campaign.”

But, he added, “it’s a classic example of what happens when a third party puts forward and incubates a progressive project that later gets absorbed and promoted by one of the mainstream parties. … I haven’t really seen anything that is necessarily attributing it or giving us credit.”

Prakash, the co-founder of Sunrise, said in an email, “To be clear, the ‘Green New Deal’ has been championed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jill Stein, and dozens of other politicians and we don’t take credit or ownership over it.”

Ocasio-Cortez did not respond to a request for comment.

Millennial magic?

To be sure, there are key differences between what Stein envisioned and what progressives are proposing now.

“The primary difference,” Stewart said, “is the Democrats have solutions that are effectively a market-based logic of greening capitalism, whereas ours was much more focused on a robust and larger expansion of public works and the public sector.”

Another distinction between Stein and progressives today: the level of support they’ve received.

When Stein mounted two bids as the Green Party presidential candidate, many pundits dismissed her as a minor-party candidate who wouldn’t pull many votes away from the Democratic or Republican nominees. She ultimately received 0.36 percent of the vote in 2012 and 1 percent in 2016.

This summer, though, Ocasio-Cortez came out of the woodwork to unexpectedly trounce Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), one of the House’s Democratic leaders, in the primary. She now towers as a near-celebrity among progressives, with around 1.44 million followers on Twitter — much more than Stein’s 260,000.

And lawmakers are taking Ocasio-Cortez’s demands seriously. Nearly 20 members of the new Democratic Congress have endorsed her vision for a “Green New Deal,” including Rep. Ted Lieu of California (Greenwire, Nov. 21).

So what accounts for this disparity? One potential explanation is the rise of millennials. The Pew Research Center projects that millennials will soon surpass baby boomers as the biggest adult generation in the country — as well as the biggest eligible voting bloc.

Young people haven’t been Stein’s biggest fans. “She’s human eczema,” Teen Vogue politics columnist Lauren Duca said on Twitter last year. Vice, the youth-centric digital media and broadcasting company, published a profile of Stein titled “Everybody Hates Jill.”

By contrast, many 20-somethings helped staff Ocasio-Cortez’s successful campaign to unseat Crowley this summer. Some of the same people are now taking Capitol Hill by storm as part of Sunrise — and fueling the group’s outreach efforts through social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram.

Prakash said it’s important to remember that millennials have a special interest in ensuring access to a safe climate — both for themselves and future generations.

“It’s fundamentally about the future that our generation wants to grow up in,” Prakash said in a recent interview. “We see this fight as being about our right to access good jobs and a livable future.”