Climate change is a very real thing that can have devasting global effects if nothing is done to address it, making this an important topic for many current (and new) voters. Several U.S. politicians have created plans on how to address it through legislation, including New York’s 14th Congressional District Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. These two politicians each formulated a plan on how to tackle the issue of climate change and the problems it causes in the United States (and beyond). AOC proposed the Green New Deal while Biden created the Biden Plan. Let’s delve into these plans and compare what each proposal entails.
The Biden Plan
In the first 2020 presidential debate, Biden stated point-blank that he did not support the Green New Deal, a congressional resolution that lays out a set of proposals for dealing with climate change. He claims to support the “Biden Plan,” which itself refers to the Green New Deal as a “crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges.” It would be inaccurate to claim Biden supports the Green New Deal in its entirety, but his plan to deal with climate change shares several common elements with it.
On Biden’s campaign website, the Democratic presidential nominee addressed the issue of climate change through the “Biden Plan,” a thorough, comprehensive set of actions he plans to enact to build a “modern, sustainable infrastructure and an equitable clean energy future.” The plan will make investments in a new foundation for sustainable growth, the domestic auto industry, a zero-emissions public transportation system, a carbon pollution-free power sector, sustainable housing, clean energy technological innovations, “climate-smart” agriculture and conservation efforts, and environmental justice. For any new jobs that come out of these investments in tackling climate change, Biden said he will ensure these jobs are filled by diverse, local, well-trained workers, especially if they are women and/or people of color. Biden’s proposal will “ensure national infrastructure and clean energy investments create millions of middle-class jobs that develop a diverse and local workforce and strengthen communities as we rebuild our physical infrastructure.”
Biden embraces two basic truths the Green New Deal has put forth as core to his climate plan: 1) The United States needs to embrace “greater ambition on an epic scale to meet the scope of this challenge; 2) our environment and economy are completely and totally connected.” The Biden Plan would require an investment of $1.7 trillion over the next ten years or so. This is significantly lower than the 100 trillion dollars that Trump claimed the U.S. would have to pay during the presidential debate.
You can read more of Biden’s plan for a clean energy revolution and environmental justice here.
The Green New Deal
New York’s 14th Congressional District Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez — or AOC, as she is more commonly called — and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts first introduced the Green New Deal in February 2019. The 14-page proposal lays out a set of policies that primarily addresses how to lower greenhouse gas emissions produced by American companies, create high-wage jobs for Americans in the process, and set a foundational framework for environmental justice and resiliency against climate change-related natural disasters. Contrary to popular belief, the Green New Deal is merely a set of nonbinding proposals and if it were to pass, nothing outlined within its pages would become law.
The Green New Deal started with findings from two major climate change reports by the United Nations and federal scientists that stated: 1) human activity is the primary cause of observed climate change over the past century; 2) climate change is causing sea levels to rise, instances of wildfires to increase, and severe storms, droughts and other extreme disasters to occur which could threaten communities and critical infrastructure; and 3) global warming at or above 2 degrees Celsius beyond reindustrialized problems will produce a large number of problems that not only cause irreversible damage to the planet but also induce steep economic costs. Compared to the Biden Plan, the Green New Deal wants the United States to reduce carbon emissions within 10 years by sourcing all of the country’s electricity from renewable and zero-emissions power, digitizing the nation’s power grid, upgrading all buildings in the country to be more energy-efficient and investing in electric vehicles and high-speed rail.
The Green New Deal takes it one step further beyond addressing climate change by stating the plan also tackles social issues such as poverty, income inequality, and racial discrimination. For example, the Green New Deal claimed that “climate change, pollution, and environmental destruction exacerbated systemic racial, regional, social, environmental, and economic injustices…by disproportionately affecting indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.” It also calls on the government to provide job training and new economic development in communities that currently rely on jobs in fossil fuel industries. Additionally, the plan emphasizes the idea that clean air, clean water and healthy food are basic human rights.
Currently, there is no official estimate for how much the Green New Deal will cost if it is passed. Many experts have tried to estimate how much it will cost — some believing it to be in the trillions — but overall, the Green New Deal did not specify an exact cost. However, AOC and supporters of the Green New Deal have stated that while implementing the Green New Deal may be costly at first, it will be a worthwhile investment that will save the government trillions of dollars in the long run through clean, sustainable practices and infrastructure — all of which will help the country avoid future environmental damages that would prove to be more costly than the Green New Deal itself over time.
The proposal suggested the federal government invest in policies and projects that would eventually change the way we design buildings, travel and eat. For example, the livestock industry, specifically with cows, largely contribute to the addition of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The proposal seeks to collaborate with American farmers and ranchers to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gases from the agricultural sector, “as much as is technologically feasible.” Contrary to opposing beliefs that have arisen against the Green New Deal, it explicitly said nothing about getting rid of cows altogether and excluding meat and dairy from people’s diets. The Green New Deal purposefully stays away from endorsing or rejecting specific technologies or sources of energy to encourage broader support.
Similarities and Differences
In general, both the Biden Plan and the Green New Deal seek to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and highlighted the importance of clean, safe drinking water and community-driven projects that promote social and environmental factors in areas disproportionately impacted by climate change. However, the Green New Deal placed a ten-year mobilization deadline while the Biden Plan sets a more general goal of no later than 2050.
Additionally, the biggest difference found between the two plans is that the Biden Plan promises to rejoin the Paris Agreement, an international agreement made in 2015 that aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The Green New Deal, on the other hand, does not mention the Paris Agreement whatsoever.
Trump’s Stance on Climate Change
The Trump administration has implemented many policies that may potentially produce a negative effect on the environment and climate. For starters, Trump signed an executive order to expand offshore oil and gas drilling and to open more leases to develop offshore drilling. The Department of the Interior proposed its largest oil and gas lease of over 78 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil drilling could have catastrophic effects for the environment and local communities, including but not limited to disruption of wildlife habitats, air and water pollution which can hurt local communities, dangerous emissions that contribute to climate change and oil spills.
Additionally, his administration approved the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. The Dakota Pipeline crosses beneath the Missouri River, which is north of the Standing Rock reservation. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has raised concerns about how the pipeline would greatly contaminate the drinking water of communities downstream. Furthermore, there may be additional potential effects on their burial and prayer sites if the pipeline resumes construction.
One of Trump’s most notable moves regarding environmental policy is his intent to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, a move that has caused an outburst from environmental advocates. The U.S. is the only country to pull out of the pact. If the US abandons its Paris pledge and this leads other nations to weaken their efforts, it could mean the difference between meeting the Paris limit of 2 degress Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and missing it.
The U.S. had pledged to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions by about a quarter by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. However, the country is not on track to achieve that goal and negative environmental effects could be further exacerbated if Trump continues to rescind environmental protection policies. During his four years of presidency, Trump and his administration have successfully reversed 72 environmental policies to date and 27 policies are still in progress, leading to a total of 99 rollbacks. The largest number of rule reversals fall under the category of air pollution and emissions, and the second largest being drilling and extraction of oil and natural gases. These rollbacks could significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade, leading to thousands of additional deaths from poor air quality each year according to energy and legal analysts. You can read more about the environmental policy rollbacks here.
Climate change has been a pressing issue for years, but now it is more pressing than ever. Every day is one day closer to potentially irreversible damage if climate change is not only acknowledged but actively fought against—and it’s time for the United States to start taking a bigger, active role in the fight.