It was early 2018 and the hunt for a three-word slogan was on. Democrats’ disastrous electoral defeat nearly two years earlier had electrified the party’s left wing, and propelled Medicare-For-All into the mainstream debate. Yet, even as the Trump administration took a flamethrower to nearly every major federal greenhouse gas regulation, the debate over climate change seemed to be moving at a much lower pace than the warming itself.
Then, one day in May, I noticed something. Randy Bryce, the mustachioed ironworker running to flip then-House Speaker Paul Ryan’s seat in Wisconsin, described his vision for a climate policy focused on clean-energy infrastructure as a “Green New Deal.” Days later, I saw it again, this time on the campaign website of some little-known twentysomething from near my neighborhood, about whose long-shot bid for Congress my old colleague Ryan Grim and his Intercept colleagues kept writing. Then I saw it again on another campaign site. And another.
Three’s a trend in journalism. I counted at least five. So I wondered, could this be the “Medicare-For-All for climate change?” The thing activists I spoke to regularly had pined after for so long? I started working on a story that examined the origins of the term Green New Deal, which went back more than a decade.
By June, the story was ready to go. Then, the day before it was set to publish, the results of New York’s federal primary came in. That woman from the Bronx and Queens won the biggest upset in recent memory. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was going to Washington, the first of the Green New Dealers. I had a bunch of unused material from my interview with her for the other story, so I wrote it up that night, declaring that Ocasio-Cortez would likely be the leading Democrat on climate change.
Last Thursday, that proved true. The freshman congresswoman and Sen. Ed Markey, a veteran lawmaker who led Democrats’ last effort to pass a cap-and-trade bill in 2009, released a six-page joint resolution outlining the core tenets of a Green New Deal. (You can read my breakdown here, or google any of the many others.)
It’s a sweeping document filled with ambitious, idealistic goals. After just two days, 67 House Democrats and 11 senators are cosponsoring the resolution. But it’s run into some controversy. Ocasio-Cortez’s office released the resolution to reporters on Wednesday night with a separate FAQ that appeared to contradict some aspects of the resolution, taking stances on nuclear energy and farming emissions that didn’t appear in the official legislation. Ocasio-Cortez said Saturday “a draft version that got uploaded + taken down,” but questions remain.
The politics of this matter. The resolution is, above all, a political statement. It’s also a map. For years, the Democratic Party was adrift on climate change. Its legislators patted themselves on the back for saying they believed in science. Yet nearly every bill proposed to deal with emissions focused on tweaking markets to give polluters a gentle nudge. The introduction of the first Green New Deal legislation ever is, if nothing else, acknowledgement that whispering “stop” at a racing train won’t untie us from the tracks.
In what seemed like a dismissive remark published Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the Green New Deal “the green dream, or whatever.” At a press conference later that day, Ocasio-Cortez embraced the term. “I think it is a green dream,” she said. It’s one she’s got a whole lot of people chasing.
Need more but don’t want to read? I went on the podcast Trump On Earth to talk about the Green New Deal last month. You can listen here. I also went on Cheddar to talk about the resolution on Thursday. You can watch that here.
Welcome back to the newsletter. You may have noticed that I haven’t sent one since November. I got busy, felt depressed, and kind of lost interest. I also couldn’t stand the name. It was a bad pun. I know. I think I made a mistake in trying to format it the same way every time.
I’m relaunching the newsletter today with a new name, Melting Point. It came courtesy of my good buddy Damon Beres. I’m going to do my best to keep it relevant, timely and fun.
Thank you for reading. If you want to reach out with any questions or ideas for things to include in this newsletter, email me anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org.