Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a key proponent of a New Green Deal

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also known by her initials, AOC, is among the US Democratic House representatives pushing forward the idea of re-creating FDR's iconic New Deal solution to Depression-era economic woes as a pathway to a low-carbon future.

The Green New Deal (GND) has gotten a lot of attention since legislation was proposed in the U.S. Congress in February. The term derives from Roosevelt’s New Deal policies during the Great Depression. The Green New Deal, however, addresses today’s two most urgent problems simultaneously: climate change and rising inequality. This approach may lessen the current appeal of climate denying populism for some. Canadian jurisdictions should consider a similar approach.

The inequality gap between the rich and everyone else has increased continuously since the late 1970s. Since 1978, controlling for inflation, most wages in America have only increased by 6% while executive’s incomes have gone up 937%. The upper 1% now make twice what the bottom half of the population do. Canada is slightly less unequal, but our CEOs earn 300 times the minimum wage -- not enough, of course, to keep some of them from objecting to a $15 minimum hourly wage.

 The polar opposite of simultaneous progress are the policies of Trump and Ford who do all they can to increase fossil fuel consumption and the wealth gap."

Climate change has been underway for at least 40 years. Yet global carbon emissions are still rising despite the efforts of some nations. In Europe and elsewhere, a few have achieved year over year reductions, but Canada and most others have not. The world as a whole has not even started on reducing emissions.

The GND urges rapid progress on both problems, an ambition that is wonderfully out of step with North American politics-as-usual. The norm on this continent as a whole is decades of delay (though B.C. and California have stepped up as did Ontario until recently). The polar opposite of simultaneous progress are the policies of Trump and Ford who do all they can to increase fossil fuel consumption and the wealth gap.

GND policies are labelled as radical merely because they assume that governments should, and can successfully, address both. Addressing the two jointly may actually be easier than taking them on separately. As Van Jones argued a decade ago, more good jobs are created addressing climate than are produced in continuing with a carbon intensive economy. Both America and Canada would gain more jobs building a post-carbon economy than would be lost in completely phasing out all fossil fuels. As a bonus, the jobs would be distributed geographically much more widely than fossil energy jobs. Renewable energy is also owned more broadly – often by homeowners, farmers, communities, utilities, non-energy businesses, coops and landowners.

America’s GND proposal includes an equality-building job guarantee, increased energy efficiency, regenerative soil management, energy storage research, and comprehensive retraining opportunities for those in vulnerable jobs. It even advocates a guaranteed annual income in response to the looming age of artificial intelligence and self-driving vehicles. Indeed, GND House of Representatives legislative sponsor Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said ‘no one should have to fear automation, but all should instead welcome it’.

A key political strength of the GND is that it explicitly opposes blaming job losses on scapegoats (immigrants or other nations). It understands that there is more than enough worthwhile work to do on better health care and education, healthier food, improved infrastructure, new technologies and, above all, on transforming our energy systems. Underfunding these needs are, in effect, needed jobs that never happen.

We will also need to deal with carbon removal from the atmosphere and protecting biodiversity and habitat. Crucially, everything mentioned above is only affordable before we are overwhelmed by the high cost of serious climate impacts.

Finally, the most important political argument for a Green New Deal is this: it can be adopted at any level of governance – globally, nationally, provincially, municipally or regionally. This is crucial because the progress we need only rarely has all governments on side simultaneously and continuously. To succeed globally many cities and nations must relentlessly demonstrate that positive change is possible.

Those who would deny the possibility of reversing inequality and the need to stop climate change must be proven wrong continuously. With most of the world moving forward on both fronts we can decisively reject political claims of harm to the economy or the non-importance of climate change. 


Robert Paehlke is a professor emeritus at Trent University where he taught environmental policy and politics for 35 years. About 40 years ago, he envisioned a magazine that was both scientifically sound and journalistically interesting, and Alternatives was born. “Bob P,” as we call him, sits on the magazine’s editorial board and he contributes articles and blog posts as often as we can trick him into it.

He is the author of Environmentalism and the Future of Progressive Politics (1989), Democracy's Dilemma: Environment, Social Equity and the Global Economy (2004), Some Like It Cold: The Politics of Climate Change in Canada (2008) and Hegemony and Global Citizenship (2014).  

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