What Is the Green New Deal, and How Would It Work?

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In early 2019, the newly elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), along with veteran Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), introduced legislation that would change the world: the Green New Deal. The bill was a reaction to climate change meant to implement economic and environmental policies with the goal of bringing the United States to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Various provisions for sustainable farming practices, public transportation overhauls, infrastructure improvements, healthcare reform and guaranteed income were included in the bill.

The 2019 Green New Deal was met with opposition from multiple directions. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate Majority Leader at the time, claimed that the bill would “take a sledgehammer to America’s working class.” Even some less-critical figures and news outlets were still skeptical. NPR referred to the bill as “a really big — potentially impossibly big — undertaking.”

What’s striking about the bill is that it doesn’t put any of these suggested policies into effect. The 2019 Green New Deal was mostly an acknowledgment of climate change and the idea that these policies needed to be implemented at some point in the future. Ocasio-Cortez told NPR, "It could be part of a larger solution, but no one has actually scoped out what that larger solution would entail. And so that's really what we're trying to accomplish with the Green New Deal."

The idea of a Green New Deal doesn’t start (or end) with Ocasio-Cortez. Activists have tried to bring larger-scale climate initiatives to U.S. policy since the 1970s and 1980s, and the term “Green New Deal” dates back to 2007. But where does this type of policy come from, how has it evolved — and will passing this legislation be as difficult as NPR and others thought it might be? Let’s take a closer look at the Green New Deal to  see what it is and how it would work.