Green New Deal: A Blueprint to Framing the Climate Crisis
Green New Deal: A Blueprint to Framing the Climate Crisis
Climate change is now recognized as an imminent global threat, and accordingly, the traditionally segregated spheres of political science and environmental studies have merged in hopes of addressing this issue through policy. The “Green New Deal” serves as a meaningful piece of legislation in the framing of the global climate crisis, despite it’s minor legal implications if passed. This is especially relevant for the United States and Canada, who are falling behind their Western counterparts in Europe in many environmental regards. The framework set forth in American congresswoman Oscario-Cortez’ “Green New Deal” Resolution provides a good blueprint for state actors to address climate change with effective policy if implemented.
Climate Change as a Global Crisis
‘Global warming’, ‘climate change’, and ‘climate crisis’ are terms that have become media buzzwords, but despite their prominence, it can be difficult to decipher what the terms truly mean. Another such concept is the figure “1.5℃”, which was popularized in 2018 by the International Panel on Climate Change’s report. The study suggested that this is the amount of global average temperature warming that the world should aim to stay within in order to maintain a decent climate for human life on Earth. This limitation does not leave much room for overshoot, as the science also claims that “Global warming is likely to reach 1.5℃ between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate” (IPCC, 2018, p. 6). It is important to realize that this increase is a global average, meaning that some geographical locations may see a warming of up to 5℃, which would be devastating to certain ecosystems and those living in it. With this, the report calls on state actors to understand their responsibilities in this matter, ultimately to preserve a livable world for the future.
While the IPCC report certainly made waves on the ecopolitical scene, it does not analyse or critique state’s responses to climate science in a way that might pressure actors to stay within the prescribed warming. This task has been shouldered by other organizations, such as Germanwatch, an NGO that produces a ‘Climate Change Performance Index’ (CCPI) annually with hopes of influencing environmental policies to develop in accordance with scientific suggestions like those outlined by the IPCC Report. The organization’s most recent report finds that much of the Global North have not made sufficient political progress on this matter. In ranking countries based on a calculation of “aggregated performance regarding … “GHG Emissions”, “Renewable Energy” and “Energy Use”, as well as on “Climate Policy”, North America performs quite dismally (CCPI, 2019, p. 7). Canada sits at 34.26%, and the US at 18.82% of a possible 100% score (CCPI, 2019, p. 7). Similar classifications have been replicated by other institutions and studies, outlining a clear need for North American countries to take initiative and address climate change in their policies to the same degree that many of their European counterparts are, if not more seriously.
History of the Green New Deal
The GND seeks opportunity from crisis--framing social, economic, and environmental issues as intertwined dialogues that must be considered as such. To date, the movement has largely focused on a global scale in addressing climate change through international action, as exemplified by the United Nations Environmental Program’s 2010 Global Green New Deal. The document states that “ensuring the correct mix of global economic policies, investments and incentives can achieve the more immediate goals of stimulating economic growth, creating jobs and reducing the vulnerability of the poor and the long-term aim of sustaining that recovery.” (Barbier, 2010, p. 9). Though informative, the approach presented is heavily economically-driven, which is critiqued by green revolutionaries and ecosocialists alike, who do not believe that any system that functions within capitalist bounds can properly address this crisis (Aşici & Bünül, 2012, p. 296).
Green New Deal Resolution
On February 7, 2019, a resolution entitled ‘Green New Deal’ was introduced by representatives of the Democratic Party to the American people, and to a great extent, the rest of the world. Although the proposal has since been voted down, the content remains relevant. The document cites the aforementioned IPCC Report as the basis for its legislative content, but takes a unique approach in its policy recommendations. The purpose of the proposal is detailed as means to achieve net-zero GHG emissions through just transition, create jobs & economic security, invest in green infrastructure/industry, while simultaneously securing human wellbeing, and promoting justice & equity (Oscario-Cortez, 2019, p. 5). The report, perhaps most significantly, positions climate change as a “direct threat to the national security of the United States” due to the impending impact on “economic, environmental, and social stability of countries and communities around the world” and “by acting as a threat multiplier” (Oscario-Cortez, 2019, p. 4). The framing of the climate crisis is twofold here--as a pervasive risk and as a social issue. This differs from past legislation seeking to address the climate crisis by centring social reform as a necessity, and holds that actions should be developed in accordance with progressive social ideals.
Aside from support from leftist politicians and activists, experts in the field of environmental politics have spoken in favour of this policy. Barbier, who wrote the UNEP’s Global GND report, has weighed in on the 2019 American GND resolution, commending the effort; “the US Green New Deal represents the first time a major Western economy has proposed a comprehensive ten-year plan for a green transition” (Barbier, 2019, p.6). The article also reassures economic concerns of those who view the Green New Deal as a welfare policy, promoting investment in green initiatives, thus posing a unique opportunity for sustainability measures to be capitalized upon.
Framing the Climate Crisis
Given the momentum that environmentalist movements to address the climate crisis have accumulated over the past few decades, there has also been an increase in the variance of people’s conceptions of the issue. Somewhat conflictingly, over the same period of time political activity has generally decreased, and ideological polarization has increased (Dalton, 2015, p. 530). The trends in leftist thought have largely “shifted from a mobilization strategy to an institutionalization strategy”, paving the road for a piece of legislation like the Green New Deal to gather a fanbase of sorts (Dalton, 2015, p. 532). Additionally, global warming and climate change have, to some extent, become a partisan issue, which means that there are varying dialogues presented to the public on the topic. An expert on the topic of framing climate change in the socio-political context, George Lakoff, claims that the majority of people consuming media regarding climate crisis do not understand the science behind such news, which poses a significant discrepancy in ability to properly communicating the issue (2010, p. 76-77). Further, popular social narratives “work in the interest of powerful classes or elites in society”, and “that framing can, in principle, be made to work for any social group or interest” (Hansen, 2018, p. 30). Accordingly, information about climate change is presented in certain lights as a means to further certain agendas, and the GND Resolution is no exception.
The way that the Green New Deal resolution frames the climate crisis is heavily dependant on scientific evidence and social consideration in acting to combat negative repercussions. In this case, the Green New Deal is purposefully presented in a progressive style of framing, relying on empathetic response and the “ethic of excellence” to appeal to the public (Lakoff, 2010, p. 75-76). Climate becomes personal, where the direct human cost from global warming and the potential social benefits are explored in detail, outlining the relationship that the audience has with the deal. The role of activism is very important in this sense, as traditional bureaucratic proceedings tend to take more time to move policy forward to implementation than grassroots movements. Lakoff comments that “the social movement approach is idealistic of necessity. Idealism mobilizes” (2010, p. 80). This sentiment highlights the advantages of framing policy matters in such a way, engaging the population in social movements in order to create a receptive political sphere for progressive legislation such as the Green New Deal.
The influence of the Green New Deal can be seen throughout the modern ecopolitical social movement, whether in reference to the concept at large or the policy itself. The uniquities that the framework provides by bringing together notions of justice and environment set out a tangible means for states that do not currently have sufficient policies implemented to address climate change. The climate science behind the resolution, its legislative history, the content presented, as well as the way the climate crisis is framed through the policy, all work together to make the document in question a foundation for the political narrative moving forward. Despite the Green New Deal’s failure to pass support in the American House of Representatives, the ideology it popularized and brought into the mainstream has started an important conversation. It is only a matter of time before concepts that are integral to the Resolution will be brought forth in other policy proposals, until the climate crisis is being combated on a global scale.
Aşıcı, A., & Bünül, Z. (2012). Green New Deal: A Green Way out of the Crisis? Environmental Policy and Governance, 22(5), 295-306.
Barbier, E., & United Nations Environment Programme. (2010). A Global Green New Deal: Rethinking the Economic Recovery. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.
Barbier, E. B. (2019). How to make the next Green New Deal work. Nature, 565(7737), 6.
Climate Change Performance Index. (2019). Results 2019. Germanwatch, NewClimate Institute & Climate Action Network. Retrieved from https://germanwatch.org/sites/germanwatch.org/files/CCPI2019_Results_WEB.pdf.
Dalton, R. (2015). Waxing or waning? The changing patterns of environmental activism. Environmental Politics, 24(4), 1-23.
Hansen, A., & Taylor Francis. (2018). Environment, Media and Communication (Second ed., Routledge Introductions to Environment: Environment and Society Texts).
IPCC. (2018) Summary for Policymakers. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. [Masson-Delmotte, et al. (eds.)]. Geneva, Switzerland: World Meteorological Organization. Retrieved from www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/summary-for-policy-makers/.
Lakoff, G. (2010). Why it Matters How We Frame the Environment. Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture, 4(1), 70-81.
Oscario-Cortez, A. (2019). Resolution: Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal. Washington, D.C.: 116th Congress. Retrieved from ocasio-cortez.house.gov/sites/ocasio-cortez.house.gov/files/Resolution%20on%20a%20Green%20New%20Deal.pdf.