Do We Need the Green New Deal?

Some Democratic candidates say it could be the only way to save the planet.

Wednesday night, a month after enough ice melted off Greenland in a single day to flood Florida with five inches of water, 10 Democratic presidential hopefuls will join CNN to discuss their plans for the climate crisis. All have gone on record supporting some version of the Green New Deal, a plan for getting every sector of the economy — electricity, transportation, agriculture, infrastructure — off fossil fuels while guaranteeing Americans health care, housing and jobs.

The debate: Is the Green New Deal a left-wing wish list, a catalyst for crucial dialogue or our best hope for averting catastrophe?

Mass extinction. Millions more refugees. The breakdown of the global food supply. These are just some of the calamities world leaders hoped to pre-empt in 2015 when they made a pact in Paris to try to keep the global temperature from rising this century more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and certainly well below the 2-degree threshold beyond which some damage would be irreversible. As the journalist David Wallace-Wells told the podcast “Longform,” a 2-degree increase risks 153 million premature deaths from air pollution alone.

But four years after the agreement, temperatures are on track to rise at least 3 degrees by 2100. Last October, a United Nations report warned that the 1.5-degree target would require effectively eliminating carbon emissions by 2050, possible only through “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”

Enter the Green New Deal. Seven months ago, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey introduced a nonbinding resolution to eliminate the country’s carbon emissions in one decade, not three, by mobilizing “every aspect of American society at a scale not seen since World War II,” in a way that would create “economic prosperity for all.”

The ambitious goals of the Green New Deal will require the contributions and sacrifices of millions of workers who will need to have their employment, health care and housing ensured, says Rhiana Gunn-Wright, the 29-year-old Rhodes Scholar who has been called the architect of the Green New Deal. A federal jobs guarantee, for example, secures the labor force needed to construct renewable energy projects, while unlinking health care from employment frees people to move between and for those jobs.

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