The Green New Deal is a one-pager for America

It’s meant to spark a conversation, so let’s talk about it!

Buster Benson
Feb 12, 2019 · 9 min read
Original full text of the document

When I read the Green New Deal, a proposal from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey on how to address some of our countries biggest and most urgent problems, it reminded me of the hundreds of one-pagers I’ve written over the years as a product manager at Twitter, Slack, Patreon, and at my own startups. I was writing about problems that could be solved with websites and apps, and they are writing about problems that could be solved with the U.S. government. Other than that they are very similar in structure, tone, and approach!

What is a one-pager? It’s generally a short doc (hence the name) meant to capture a problem and articulate opportunities to make an impact by solving that problem.

Having seen (and written) many so-so one-pagers over the last 20 years, this one is really strong! One-pagers are designed to spark a conversation, not to deliver marching orders. Through that lens, I thought it was extremely readable, but had found that not many people had actually read it… which defeats the point. All I did here was simplify some formatting and remove some “whereas”es, in the hopes that more people pick it up and keep the conversation going. You can of course read the original if you prepare to do that instead. The content is the same, only the delivery is a bit different.

Contents: Problems, Evidence, Beliefs, Goals, Questions, Initiatives and Stakeholders, Next Steps.

4 big problems:

  1. The global climate is changing.
  2. U.S. wages are stagnating.
  3. Life expectancy is dropping in the U.S.
  4. Income inequality is growing in the U.S.

Evidence of these problems:

The global climate is changing:

  • Human activities are estimated to have already caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels (source).
  • Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate (source).
  • A changing climate is causing sea levels to rise and an increase in wildfires, severe storms, droughts, and other extreme weather events that threaten human life, healthy communities, and critical infrastructure (source).

U.S. wages are stagnating:

  • Hourly wages overall stagnating since the 1970s despite increased worker productivity (source).
  • The U.S. had the third-worst level of socioeconomic mobility in the developed world before the Great Recession (source).
  • The erosion of bargaining power of workers in the United States (source).

Life expectancy is dropping in the U.S.:

  • The U.S. has the lowest life expectancy of comparable developed countries: U.K., Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Sweden, Australia, Switzerland, France, and Japan. (source)
  • In the U.S., life expectancy has dropped from 78.8 in 2015 to 78.6 in 2018, even as all of comparable developed countries continue to grow. (source)
  • This drop is mostly due to a spike in mortality amongst white, middle-aged men and women and mortality related to drugs, alcohol, and suicide. All other groups continue to see life expectancy grow. (source)

Income inequality is growing in the U.S.:

  • The top 1% of earners control 38% of the country’s wealth, which is a new high (source).
  • There’s a large racial wealth divide amounting to a difference of 20 times more wealth between the average White family and the average Black family (source).
  • A gender earnings gap that results in women earning approximately 80 percent as much as men, at the median (source).

Beliefs based on this evidence

The Green New Deal then goes on to articulate a few beliefs that the authors have come to as a result of the problems and the evidence for them.

  1. These are interconnected problems — each one can make the others worse, and solving one of them can help solve the others.
  2. Federal Government-led mobilizations during World War II and the New Deal created the greatest middle class that the United States has ever seen, but many communities were excluded from many of the economic and societal benefits of those mobilizations.
  3. A new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal is a historic opportunity to address the problems we face today.

Therefore, let’s make some big goals

  1. Zero emissions: Achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and be a great example for the rest of the world to follow.
  2. Economic stability: Create millions of high-quality, high-paying jobs that ensure economic stability and prosperity for everyone.
  3. Future-proof infrastructure: Build, repair, and upgrade the country’s infrastructure to meet the needs of the 21st century.
  4. Meet basic needs: Make sure everyone today and in coming generations has access to clean air and water, climate and community resiliency, healthy food, access to nature, and a sustainable environment.
  5. Include everyone: Promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous communities, 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.

Stop here for a second

This is a good place to stop and ask questions, because everything after this is only worth reading if you’re on board with everything so far.

Questions for you to consider:

  1. Does it make sense? Are you up-to-date on the evidence for and against it and feel like the problems are real? Can you see how the problems are interconnected?
  2. Why now? Do the 4 big problems seem important to you? Do you agree that a big mobilization of the country similar to the one we embarked on with WWII and the New Deal should be considered, based on the severity of the problems?
  3. Why us? Are these problem that can be solved better by anyone else?
  4. What will happen if we don’t do this? Is doing nothing an option? What would happen if we didn’t try to reverse global warming, address wage stagnation and income inequality, or improve quality of life for everyone?
  5. Could it work? If we did commit to achieving these goals, how likely is it that we would be able to get it done? What would have to be true? What might prevent it from working?
  6. What’s missing? What are our blind spots that might lead to us being wrong about any of the above?

If your answers to those questions leads you to believe that achieving the goals mentioned makes sense, needs to happen now, needs to be done by us, and has a possibility of working, then it’s just a matter of HOW. If your answers don’t lead you to that conclusion, then revisit sections above to see if they can be revised and improved in order to get you there.

Initiatives and stakeholders

This is a giant project, on a scale with the largest ever proposed in history as a unified effort. It will require parallel efforts and owners to identify opportunities, test, and iterate on them quickly and with a mindset for results.

Here are 4 high-level initiatives that will need to kick-off with stakeholders and lots of cross-functional communication. Each has multiple projects within them and these projects have interdependencies and shared impact.

  1. Reduce the impact of climate change (13 projects)
  2. Counteract systemic injustices (6 projects)
  3. Provide economic security and prosperity to everyone (8 projects)

1. Reduce the impact of climate change

Identify all emission and pollution sources and create solutions to eliminate them. Meet 100% of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.

  1. Invest in community-defined projects and strategies that attempt to make communities more resilient to change-related disasters.
  2. Invest in community-defined projects and strategies that attempt to mitigate and manage the long-term adverse health, economic, and other effects of pollution and climate change.
  3. Invest in the research and development of new clean and renewable energy technologies and industries.
  4. Build, repair, and upgrade the infrastructure of the U.S. to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, guarantee universal access to clean water, and reduce risks of flooding.
  5. Build, repair, and upgrade energy-efficient, distributed, and ‘‘smart’’ power grids to make electrical power affordable to everyone.
  6. Build, repair, and upgrade buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification.
  7. Massively expand clean manufacturing, renewable energy manufacturing, and investments in existing manufacturing and industry to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions however technically feasible.
  8. Work with farmers and ranchers to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible.
  9. Overhaul the transportation systems in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible.
  10. Restore natural ecosystems in order to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and reduce pollution.
  11. Clean up existing hazardous waste and abandoned sites to promote economic development and sustainability.
  12. Restore and protect threatened, endangered, and fragile ecosystems through locally appropriate and science-based projects that enhance biodiversity and support climate resiliency.
  13. Promote the international exchange of technology, expertise, products, funding, and services, with the aim of making the United States the international leader on climate action, and to help other countries achieve a Green New Deal.

2. Counteract systemic injustices

  1. Ensure that frontline and vulnerable communities shall not be adversely affected by environmental and social costs and impacts of emissions throughout the project.
  2. Provide direct investments to spur economic development with resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States, with a focus on frontline and vulnerable communities, so those communities may be full and equal participants in the Green New Deal mobilization. Especially for workers affected by the transition.
  3. Prioritize high-quality job creation and economic, social, and environmental benefits in frontline and vulnerable communities that may otherwise struggle with the transition away from greenhouse gas intensive industries.
  4. Ensure the use of democratic and participatory processes that are inclusive of and led by frontline and vulnerable communities and workers to plan, implement, and administer the Green New Deal mobilization at the local level.
  5. Strengthen and enforce labor, workplace health and safety, antidiscrimination, and wage and hour standards across all employers, industries, and sectors.
  6. Obtain the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous people for all decisions that affect indigenous people and their traditional territories, honoring all treaties and agreements with indigenous people, and protecting and enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of indigenous people.

3. Provide economic security and prosperity for everyone

  1. The Green New Deal must be developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses.
  2. Guarantee a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States.
  3. Strengthen and protect the right of all workers to organize, unionize, and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment.
  4. Enact and enforce trade rules, procurement standards, and border adjustments with strong labor and environmental protections to stop the transfer of jobs and pollution overseas and grow domestic manufacturing in the United States.
  5. Ensure a commercial environment where every businessperson is free from unfair competition and domination by domestic or international monopolies.
  6. Provide all people of the United States with high-quality health care, affordable, safe, and adequate housing, economic security, access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and nature.
  7. Provide and leverage adequate capital, technical expertise, supporting policies, and other forms of assistance to communities, organizations, Federal, State, and local government agencies, and businesses working on the Green New Deal mobilization in a way that ensures that the public receives appropriate ownership stakes and returns on investment.
  8. Ensure that public lands, waters, and oceans are protected and that eminent domain is not abused.

Next steps

The Green New Deal is a conversation starter, not marching orders. The next step is to start many more conversations with many more people.

The 3 initiatives and 27 recommended projects are starting points in need of ownership, definition, execution, and accountability, and will continue to evolve as they each begin to identify constraints, opportunities, and learn along the way. They are one proposal to address the problems and to achieve the goals mentioned at the top, but are by no means the only proposal we should consider.

There are several take-aways you can have after reading this, and all are valid:

  1. Jump in and help with one of the projects.
  2. Give feedback about whether the 4 problems are the right ones to try to solve now.
  3. Give feedback about new evidence that supports or contradicts one of the problem statements.
  4. Give feedback about improving the core beliefs that we have about the problems and evidence.
  5. Give feedback about improving the goals for this project.
  6. Give feedback about adding a new initiative, or improving an existing initiative, to better address the goals of this mobilization.
  7. Give feedback about adding a new project, or improving an existing project, to better address the goals of this mobilization.
  8. Give feedback about a completely different approach to all of this.
  9. Do something else.
  10. Do nothing.

What will you choose to do?

Why Are We Yelling?

Learn the life-changing art of productive disagreement.

Thanks to Benjamin Chait and Joe Goldberg

Buster Benson

Written by

Author of Why Are We Yelling?, a book about the art of productive disagreement. I run Previously product at Patreon, Slack, Twitter, and Amazon.

Why Are We Yelling?

Learn the life-changing art of productive disagreement.

Buster Benson

Written by

Author of Why Are We Yelling?, a book about the art of productive disagreement. I run Previously product at Patreon, Slack, Twitter, and Amazon.

Why Are We Yelling?

Learn the life-changing art of productive disagreement.

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