The Green New Deal, brought to the House of Representatives by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D) and Rep. Markey (D) is, undoubtedly, a revolutionary resolution — whether or not you agree with the information and plans put forth. The short, approachable, and jam-packed plan argues for sweeping changes to the way the United States approaches climate change and environmental issues, framing them as not just environmental, but social and economic problems. Considering that these are the three prongs of sustainability, it seems imperative to focus on and work on all three facets together.
Upon reading the Green New Deal, two main themes stuck out to me: 1) pushing the United States to become a leader in climate change action, and 2) rooting these proposed developments in the local and vulnerable communities. These ideas are so exciting to me, as I support policy action focused on combating climate change. Doing so by providing agency – or the ability of a person to act and speak up in accordance with their beliefs – to marginalized communities, valuing indigenous knowledge, and encouraging community engagement could support economic and social mobilization. It is well-known and researched that indigenous communities hold knowledge that holds certain keys to climate change issues. Around the world, indigenous peoples live with and on land that stores a disproportionately high amount of carbon, acting as carbon sinks. This illustrates the ability of indigenous people to care for land and adapt to changing circumstances. Similarly, community engagement has been shown to support climate change efforts while maintaining consideration for economic and social factors. Overall, the multi-faceted approach to climate change and social issues in this resolution show a deep commitment to the problems at hand.
Nestled in the middle of the piece sits a concise section on agriculture. Agriculture must be included in any wide-reaching climate legislation, as it is responsible for 10% of all United States greenhouse gas emissions. Not only does agriculture impact the climate significantly, but climate change is expected to reduce yields in Africa, Asia, and parts of South America, according to a UN Food and Agriculture Organization report. Given the significant relationships between the environment and the United States agriculture industry, Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s ideas, while simple, summarize so much that needs to change in our food systems. Her main points follow:
- Work with farmers, rather than telling them what to do from a distance, to limit pollution and greenhouse gas emissions
- Support family farmers
- Back sustainable practices that enhance soil health
- Make the food system overall more sustainable while providing healthier options
These four points, if carried out, could have major ramifications for the environment. Even if this resolution were seriously proposed and passed, my fear is that these ideas may be contextual and too vague. For example, using the USDA’s definition of family farms — “any farm organized as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or family corporation” — over 96% of farms in the US are “family farms.”, So, while I still support ideas for agriculture put forth, it feels far too vague at best and potentially under-researched at worst. Additionally, the point about working with farmers could manifest extremely successfully, as we see in comprehensive extension programs run through land-grant universities, assisting and educating farmers. These programs demonstrate the potential for successful communication between the government and farmers and they have been shown to help with climate change adaptation and mitigation. However, I fear that the government may work primarily with the large farms and corporate farming operations, rather than listening to the smaller, more vulnerable farms. This type of situation happens repeatedly in the United States, as organizations and companies with more money can often leverage more power.
That said, the Green New Deal comes during a dearth of a clear, progressive, comprehensive climate plan. It is, according to many political analysts, purely symbolic and this appears true based on the vagueness and the incredibly lofty goals.  I find it a call to action, a declaration of the gravity of climate change. While some may find these types of goals unapproachable and unattainable, I propose that they may be missing the point. Even if this resolution does not turn into legislation and get passed, people have started talking about it (though maybe my viewpoint as an environment student is skewed and unrealistic). The radical ideas put forth may be exactly what we need in the face of climate change.
I urge you to read the text of the Green New Deal and to consider how you can play a part in the solutions. In regards to the food and agriculture sections examined here, see how you can be a part of making the food system more sustainable. Make your food choices consciously and please educate yourself on the impacts and consequences of these choices. See where in your diet you can support local farmers, waste less, or eat greener.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, House Resolution 109 “The Green New Deal” (116th Congress, 2019).
 What is sustainability? (University of Alberta, Office of Sustainability).
 Sense of Agency – Index (ScienceDirect).
 Nyong, A., Adesina, F., Osman, E.B., The Value of Indigenous Knowledge in Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies in the African Sahel (Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, 2007), 787-797.
 Gleb Raygorodetsky, Why Traditional Knowledge Holds the Key to Climate Change, (United Nations University, 2011).
 Community Engagement Strategy on Climate Change (Australian Capital Territory, 2014).
 Agriculture and Climate Change (USDA Economic Research Service, 2018).
 David Reid, UN Report Identifies Where Global Harvests Will Rise and Fall by 2050 (CNBC, 2018).
 Family Farms, (USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture)
 Lydia DePillis, Farms are gigantic now. Even the “family-owned” ones, (The Washington Post, 2013).
 Susko et al. The Role of Extension in Climate Adaptation in the United States (USDA, NIFA, NOAA, Sea Grant, 2013).
 David Roberts, The Green New Deal, explained, (Vox, 2019).
 Michael Grunwald, The Impossible Green Dream of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, (Politico, 2019).