What To Know About The Ambitious Climate Change Plan Ocasio-Cortez Is Pushing For

by Seth Millstein
Rick Loomis/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez isn't wasting any time: A week after making history by becoming the youngest woman ever elected to the House of Representatives, the Democratic Socialist is pressuring Democratic leadership to pursue a Green New Deal once the party takes control of the House in January. But what exactly is Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal plan, and how does it work?

Her proposal is very detailed, and you can dig into all of its nuances on her website, but the general goal is to address climate change and economic inequality all in one. The Green New Deal plan seeks to make the United States carbon-neutral and transition completely to renewable energy within 10 years, and to do so in a way that provides economic opportunities for disadvantaged and marginalized Americans.

The term "Green New Deal" is at least a decade old, and has been used by various people and organizations to mean different things. The Green Party's proposal for a Green New Deal, for instance, has four policy planks, only one of which relates directly to climate change or the environment. There's an organization of economists and environmentalists who call themselves The Green New Deal Group, and they propose fighting global warming both by investing in renewable energy and restructuring international financial systems. The United Nations issued a report titled "A Global Green New Deal" in 2009 as well.

What these proposals all have in common is the suggestion that climate change and economic injustice are linked, and as such, that the two issues must be tackled simultaneously. In general, Green New Deal advocates believe that economic policy changes are needed to properly fight climate change — and likewise, that investments in renewable energy will have the effect of helping rectify existing economic inequalities.

Ocasio-Cortez's plan fits this basic mold as well, as she's proposing substantial changes to both energy and economic policy in the United States. On the energy front, Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal seeks to decarbonize U.S. industries, upgrade buildings to make them energy efficient, make the United States completely reliant on renewable energy, and more. On the economic front, the congresswoman-elect wants to implement a job guarantee program, and ensure that the transition to green energy is implemented in a manner that provides employment opportunities to "historically impoverished, low income, deindustrialized or other marginalized communities."

One technical note: Ocasio-Cortez is not proposing one piece of legislation or another — at least, not yet. Rather, she's proposing the creation of a new congressional committee, the Select Committee on a New Green Deal, to collectively craft and release legislation to accomplish these goals. Rep. Ro Khanna has rallied behind Ocasio-Cortez's proposal, as have incoming members Deb Haaland, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Antonio Delgado.

Whether Democratic leadership will take her up on this proposal is an open question. Nancy Pelosi, who's widely expected to become the next speaker of the House, said in a press release that she plans to reinstate the Select Committee on Climate Change once Democrats take control of the chamber in January. However, some of Ocasio-Cortez's like-minded activists feel that this isn't enough.

“The old committee was toothless,” Varshini Prakash, whose activist group the Sunrise Movement recently staged a sit-in outside Pelosi's office, told the Grist. “It had no funding and no ability to put forward legislation — its purpose was to make connections and raise awareness. The time for messaging to the public about climate change is over, we need action.”