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Lessons for a Green New Deal today

The Democratic sweep of the midterm elections in 2018 brought a remarkable outpouring of support for a Green New Deal. Progressive Democrats introduced a resolution putting forward a program in general terms and some concrete proposals have been put in the congressional hopper. With the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis in 2020, calls for a Green New Deal and other policy initiatives based on the New Deal, like a new CCC, have been many.

Given the importance of the moment and the need to think through ambitious new programs, we at the Living New Deal have created this forum to feature discussion and proposals to help educate the public and guide legislators.

This forum is organized into five sections, starting with news about Green New Deal proposals and legislation and debates in the media about the Green New Deal. We then give our own views about lessons to be drawn from the original New Deal. The last two sections show that the original New Deal was green and feature some New Deal art that echoed the conservative spirit of the time.

Tabs to those sections can be found at the top of each page.

Here is a quick introduction to the Living New Deal’s view on the Green New Deal

Nine Principles that Should Guide the Green New Deal

By Richard A Walker, Living New Deal Director

Op-ed, Washington Post
Read the PDF

New debates are emerging around how the Green New Deal should tackle the critical challenges the country faces today—environmental, political, and economic. We are currently developing research that engages with these conversations, while drawing on the key lessons of the original New Deal. This section offers an overview of key debates about how the Green New Deal should achieve the transition to a low carbon economy, bring equitable growth, and rebuild the nation. 

Political Change

Members of the Civilian Conservation Corps work to control the Malibu fire near Angeles National Forest, California, 1935.

How FDR’s Original Green New Deal Challenged Jim Crow


The Jacobin

The Civilian Conservation Corps, FDR’s original Green New Deal, cared for the environment and gave jobs to the unemployed. And though its record on racial equality was imperfect, it helped undermine key parts of Jim Crow.

What We Can Learn From the First New Deal to Make the New One Better

by William Janeway

“Whether it is called “Build Back Better” or a “Green Industrial Policy” or, indeed, a Green New Deal, it is imperative to reject the false dichotomy of ‘jobs against climate.'”

Photo: Peg Hunter/flickr/cc

New Book: Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs

By Jonathan Neale

We are in the midst of a global pandemic and we are entering into a deep global recession, mass unemployment and the threat of runaway climate change. In every country, a great debate is beginning. What can be done about the economy and climate change? And what would a green new deal look like that meets the needs of people and the planet?

Joe Biden’s New Deal

Jake Bullinger, posted on Bitterroot Magazine, . Illustrations by Maddy Olson

A series of stories about the COVID-19 recovery called “The Next New Deal.” The author draws on New Deal policies to assess how the Biden administration can respond to the challenges ahead.

FDR’s Legacy and Joe Biden’s Greatest Challenge

David Riemer and June Hopkins

Previously published in The Hill

Thanks to the New Deal, Biden inherits a legacy of federal policy that he has the power to reshape. Will he build a 21st century New Deal?

Read more here.

Climate change: How a green new deal really could go global

By Justin Rowlatt, Chief Environment correspondent, BBC

Stimulus isn’t enough. Our cities need a post-pandemic New Deal.

“With 22 million-plus out of work, we need jobs and public-works vision for the future” By Patrick Sisson, Curbed.

Gray Brechin was interviewed by By Patrick Sisson for a Curbed story. Reflecting on the current crisis, Brechin noted that, “advocates and boosters of the New Deal constantly spoke of ‘increasing the health of the country in the broadest possible terms,’ part of what he calls the ‘lost ethical language’ of the program. Improving health, both physical and economic, was a measuring stick for success.”

What the New Deal Can Teach Us About a Green New Deal

An Interview with Richard A Walker, Jacobin

Nine Principles that Should Guide the Green New Deal

Lessons drawn from the successes—and failures—of the first New Deal.

By Richard A Walker, Living New Deal Director

Op-ed, Washington Post
Read the PDF

Green New Deal: Can we be the next Greatest Generation?

By Helena Birecki Jan. 3, 2020, San Francisco Chronicle

The Role of Public Capital” A Reconstruction Finance Corporation for the 21st century

BY Kevin Baker December 5, 2019

Photo: “President Franklin Roosevelt called a special session of Congress on March 9, 1933, to deal with the banking crisis.” (AP Images)

Forged in Fire: California’s Lessons for a Green New Deal

By Naomi Klein, Nov. 18, The Intercept

Photo: “Flames climb trees as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 8, 2018., Noah Berger/AP”

The Chico Green New Deal framework marries rapid decarbonization targets with calls for more affordable housing; a safe and sustainable food system; investments in “clean, 21st century” public transit; green jobs creation…and much more.

Naomi Klein’s new book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal.

In her recently published book, Naomi Klein makes the case for urgent climate action and the need for a Green New Deal.

Listen to Naomi Klein speak about the Green New Deal here and the Extinction Rebellion here.

The climate crisis is our third world war. It needs a bold response

Joseph Stiglitz Opinion, The Guardian

Critics of the Green New Deal ask if we can afford it. But we can’t afford not to: our civilisation is at stake

No, climate action can’t be separated from social justice

The Guardian, Opinion, by Julian Brave NoiseCat

Where Our New World BeginsPolitics, power, and the Green New Deal

By Kevin BakerHarper Magazine

“The manifesto that announced the Green New Deal will not be instituted literally. Some parts of it will be compromised, some will be improved, added, or subtracted. But it had better come into being, or we will leave to future generations a world of natural disasters unlike anything we have ever known.”

Building a “Green New Deal”: Lessons From the Original New Deal

“Demands centering on the need for a “Green New Deal”, focused on the creation of a public works “green jobs” infrastructure policy, have helped energise the American left in recent weeks. In this article Matt Huber offers four vital lessons from the original New Deal that contemporary activists and policymakers must learn.”

By Matt Huber, Verso Books

This Is An Emergency, Damn It

Green New Deal critics are missing the bigger picture. Does this change everywhere?

By David Roberts, Vox

Photo: Nelson Klein, Sunrise

Economy and Cost

Climate Change Will Cost More Than We Think

The New York Times

Economists greatly underestimate the price tag on harsher weather and higher seas. Why is that?

By Naomi Oreskes and Nicholas Stern

Dr. Oreskes is a professor of the history of science at Harvard. Professor Stern is chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

Oct. 23, 2019

The New Deal Wasn’t What You Think

If we are going to fund a Green New Deal, we need to acknowledge how the original actually worked.

By Louis Hyman, Atlantic

Make Corporations Pay for the Green New Deal

A Green New Deal will require trillions of dollars of investment. But the government doesn’t actually need to put up all the cash — we can make corporations pay.

By Christian Parenti, Jacobin

How to Make the Next Green New Deal Work  

To make green investments pay off, policymakers must learn from past mistakes and stop subsidizing polluters. 

By Edward B. Barbier, Nature

A Green New Deal

Data For Progress Policy Report

Greg Carlock Lead Author, Emily Mangan Contributing Author, Sean Mcelwee 

A Green New Deal is fiscally responsible. Climate inaction is not

Opinion: Justin Talbot Zorn, Ben Beachy and Rhiana Gunn-Wright, The Guardian

The War On Climate Change Won’t Be Won Quibbling Over The Green New Deal’s Costs

The mounting damage of global warming is a crisis far greater than the deficit.

By Zach Carter and Alexander C. Kaufman, Huffington Post. Photo: David Mcnew Via Getty Images


If Washington rejects the Green New Deal, California should step up and do it ourself

By Jacques Leslie. Photo: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

“The Green New Deal is an audacious, ambitious proposal to treat the climate threat with the radical seriousness that it requires, while also reversing economic inequality and injustice.”

A California coalition is tackling one of the hardest, unsexiest parts of climate policy

Decarbonizing buildings: it’s tedious, but oh so necessary.

By David RobertsVox

Success On A Green New Deal Runs Through Public Lands

The ambitious climate resolution includes specific language about land preservation and protecting fragile ecosystems. By Chris D’Angelo, Huffington Post.

Photo: Associated Press.

Jobs and Justice

Green Economy Program

The UC Berkeley Labor Center

The Labor Center Green Economy Program conducts research on issues of job creation, quality, access, and training in the emergent green economy. 

The Promise of the Green New Deal

“[J]ust as the New Deal needed an index of success, so does the Green New Deal, but it requires a different one.  We need to measure things that contribute to quality of life and the restoration of the environment and subtract those that do not.”

By John de Graaf, Front Porch Republic

The US Needs a New Civilian Conservation Corps

FDR’s CCC worked in the 1930s, and it would work today.

By Paul J. Baicich, The Nation

The Green Collar Economy

How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems 

By Van Jones

Advocacy and Organizing

Green New Deal

Mobilizing for a Just, Prosperous, and Sustainable Economy

By Rhiana Gunn-Wright And Robert Hockett, New Consensus

Statement of principles from the think tank behind the GND Resolution

Green Jobs in a Global Green New Deal

 “An investment that fights climate change, creates millions of green jobs and spurs green growth.” 

Friends of the Earth Urge Congress to Support the Green New Deal

We need a Green New Deal to fight climate change while tackling issues of justice and rising inequity.

The Green New Deal has emerged as a path to lead the nation out of a profound crisis. It represents a major, long-term commitment to national renewal and reconstruction. Recognizing that incremental change is no longer sufficient to lead the United States toward environmental sustainability and economic stability, the Green New Deal has put forward a vision of sweeping economic change. Its principles are evolving along with a growing grassroots mobilization. This section is a chronicle of the latest developments and news about the Green New Deal. 

Sunrise Movement Protest in Washington DC, June 2021

Photos by Shae Corey

Group Photo Co. 193

America needs a Civilian Climate Corps

By Edward J. Markey
United States Senator (D-MA)

Boston Globe

America needs to get back to work, and we can do that while confronting the intersecting crises of the coronavirus pandemic, racial injustice, economic inequality, and climate change. Solutions must have the scale and scope of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. But this time, frontline communities and communities of color must be at the center. They have too long been left out of or, worse, excluded from the country’s discussions about jobs, infrastructure, and prosperity.

Senior Democrat joins calls for new conservation corps

Emma Dumain, E&E News reporter September 10, 2020

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced legislation this week to create a Civilian Conservation Corps. 

France launches €100 bn coronavirus recovery plan

Almost a third of funds will go towards green investments, including hydrogen energy

Victor Mallet, Financial Times

How the Green New Deal Saved a Senator’s Career, By Michelle Goldberg
New York Times

My Green Manufacturing Plan for America

Elizabeth Warren unveils plan to fight climate change and create jobs. 

Senate Blocks Green New Deal

But Climate Change Emerges As Key 2020 Issue                              By Susan Davis, NPR

McConnell aims to use Green New Deal to divide Democrats, but party is unifying against his show vote

by Paul Kane, The Washington Post

Senate will vote on the Green New Deal

ByAnthony Adragna, Politico

Republican lawmakers challenged Democrats to back up their support for the “Green New Deal” on Tuesday, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying he plans to bring the ambitious resolution to the Senate floor and conservatives in the House pressing for a vote in their chamber.

AOC discusses the GND Resolution

From the New Deal to the Green New Deal

Richard Walker has the lead chapter in a new book out in late 2022,  The Green New Deal and the Future of Work, edited by Craig Calhoun and Benjamin Y. Fong.  

You can find and download the chapter here.

by Richard A Walker

In this long essay, Walker lays out the full argument for how and why the New Deal provides a useful model for public policy today in the face of the many grave challenges facing America, such as climate change, low-paying jobs and erosion of democracy. 

Read or download the essay here.

For a brief introduction to our ideas, here is a set of ten pointers for thinking about a Green New Deal in light of the lessons of the original New Deal of the 1930s.

Crafting a Green New Deal by Learning from the Original New Deal

by Richard A Walker, Director of the Living New Deal

The greening of America in the face of intense climate change is absolutely necessary. But if such a program is to succeed it needs to be based on some key lessons from the original New Deal. That’s where the Living New Deal can be of use in reminding policy makers of what made the original New Deal capable of revolutionizing American politics, government and civil society.

FDR and the New Dealers never set forth a list of principles because they were responding in the heat of a national emergency and were notoriously pragmatic. Their genius lay in a willingness to experiment on every front, launching dozens of programs to aid farming, industry, housing, education, workers, elders, and many more. Some of their innovations failed, but most succeeded and some were quite brilliant.

Here are ten principles that explain the success of the New Deal:

  • Create Universal Programs. The New Deal succeeded by initiating universal programs like pensions for all elders, work relief for all unemployed, and investment in all corners of the country. In so doing, it gave income, hope and voice to millions of Americans.
  • Reduce Inequality at Both Ends. Inequality is a plague that drags down the economy, breeds resentment, and rots the foundations of democracy. The New Deal dramatically reduced inequality by heavy taxes on wealth, curbs on speculation and lifting the fortunes of workers through the right to organize, fair wages from contractors and a federal minimum wage.
  • Modernize the Economy. America has suffered from industrial closures, financial speculation and sluggish investment. The New Deal was the first to use fiscal stimulus to spur growth, while pushing modernization through research, investment, and education.
  • Think Big. America’s foundations are crumbling, leaving unsafe water, potholed roads, and failing electric grids. The New Deal made a priority of investing in modern infrastructure and in so doing laid the foundation for prosperity far into the future.
  • Think Small. Not all public works need to be large. The New Deal built every kind of small project that local communities wanted, whether parks, schools or water systems, using the labor of local unemployed workers and jobless youth.
  • Invest in Lagging Places. The gulf between rural areas and big cities has to be addressed, just as the New Deal did through programs such as rural electrification, soil conservation and roads — bringing work, income and hope to forgotten places.
  • Let the People Serve. Americans want to work for a higher purpose than personal gain, and the New Deal gave them the means to rebuild their communities and reconstruct the nation through public works, social service, education and the arts.
  • Restore Faith in Government. Too many people feel that government does not serve them. The New Deal proved otherwise, making FDR the most popular president in US history. It showed that leadership must be based on high morals and personal honor.
  • Build a Greener America. Conservation was a pillar of the New Deal and a reason for its popularity. It showed that environmental improvement and social justice are the same thing by bringing clean water, free parks and reforestation to every corner of the country.

Combating climate change is a worthy centerpiece of a new New Deal, but it must be part of a program of national reconstruction and renewal for all. This great nation can rise to the challenge if it has the right vision and good leadership. We did it before and we can do it again.

On Oct 30, Richard A Walker Talked about the “New Deal To Green New Deal” at the Commonwealth Club SF

The Green New Deal has raised hopes for a major push to address climate change and social injustice. Is it just pie in the sky? Not at all. The original New Deal of the 1930s brought a revolution in conservation and public health, worker rights and wages, income and regional equality, and public investment for the common good—all during the worst depression in history. A Green New Deal is possible because we have done it before. Learn more about this initiative.

With all the current interest in the Green New Deal, it is important to remember that the first New Deal of the 1930s was very much a “green” program. Franklin D. Roosevelt was an ardent conservationist who was proud to assume the mantle of his uncle, Teddy Roosevelt, and other turn-of-the-century Progressives who sought to protect and manage the nation’s natural resources. Progressive reformers sought to heal a continent after the onslaught of 19th century expansion and industrialization, and the New Deal faced a similar challenge in the mid-20th century.

A look back at the programs of the Roosevelt Administration, 1933-1942, can help American visualize the range of environmental challenges the country faced in the past and aggressive government response under the New Deal. This may inspire Americans today not to despair over global threats to oceans, forests, and wildlife, and to come together under a broad green tent to promote sensible policies to protect our nation’s future.

Forest planting and protection. The leading program for forest conservation was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), created by Executive Order in 1933. The CCC worked with the US Forest Service and the states to plant some 3 billion trees in national forests and on spent farmland abandoned during the Depression. CCC men also built firebreaks, fire roads and fire lookouts across the country and fought major pest outbreaks. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) planted millions of street trees in cities. 

Soil conservation. Farm and grazing land across the country had been abused for decades, leading to the disaster of the Dust Bowl, billions of tons of topsoil washing away in floods, and widespread soil exhaustion. The Soil Erosion Service was launched in 1933 and made permanent as the Soil Conservation Service in 1935 to work with farmers to improve their practices and restore damaged land. The CCC and WPA contributed to erosion control with check dams, wind breaks and fencing, and the Agricultural Adjustment Act (1933/1938) reversed the expansion of marginal farmland. The Taylor Grazing Act (1933) and US Grazing Service (1939) brought the first oversight of federal grazing lands.

Flood control and water management. In response to massive floods on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers in the late 1920s, the New Deal ramped up federal support for dams and levees under the Army Corps of Engineers. Bureau of Reclamation irrigation and flood control projects in the West were also greatly expanded. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), created in 1933, was a revolutionary attempt at multiple-use management of a major river basin, which transformed the upper South. Although water projects were immensely popular in the 1930s, after World War II there was a revolt against overbuilding because of the loss of free-flowing rivers, destruction of fish runs, excessive irrigation of marginal lands and over-reliance on flood control works.

Clean water. The nation’s rivers and lakes had been fouled by a century of mostly unregulated discharges by factories and cities. The New Deal addressed the problem of polluted water in two ways. On the one hand, the Public Works Administration (PWA) funded hundreds of new water supply and treatment systems to bring the people clean drinking water. On the other, the PWA paid for new sewers and major upgrades in sewage treatment, as in Washington, DC. and New York City. Better soil management also reduced sediment runoff into rivers around the country.

Public health. The New Deal enlarged the US Public Heath Service’s efforts on several fronts and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was revitalized.  The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) was tasked with the first Food Stamps program (1939) and the USDA launched a major public education campaign to improve family nutrition, which was promulgated with the help of the WPA’s poster division. WPA and National Youth Administration (NYA) workers made over a million lunches for school kids.

Parks and recreation. The New Dealers fervently believed in the value of public recreation for the health and happiness of the American people. In the cities, tens of thousands of playgrounds and parks were built or improved, along with pools, ball fields, tennis courts, golf courses, and more. Several national parks and monuments were created or expanded, including Shenandoah NP, Olympic NP and Canyonlands NM. All across the country, the CCC and WPA built facilities like campgrounds, hiking trails and picnic areas to make national, state and local parks usable for decades to come.

Wildlife protection. The slaughter of wildlife as the continent was conquered is legendary. Efforts to address the problem began in the late 19th century and Teddy Roosevelt created the first National Wildlife Refuge at the turn of the century. The New Deal added well over a hundred new refuges, thanks to presidential actions and major improvements in funding. The Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act of 1934 brought the revenues to buy back abused and marginal farm and ranch land for refuges (especially in the Dust Bowl); others were carved out of national forest and grazing lands. Federal refuge management was dramatically upgraded under the Bureau of Biological Survey (1934), later folded into the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the Department of Interior (1940). The CCC was called upon to build the waterworks and roads that make the refuges functional and accessible to the public, and stocked over 1 billion fish in lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams.

In sum, the New Deal was a halcyon period for natural resource conservation and public health improvements, initiating a broad spectrum of programs to solve the environmental and health challenges facing the United States at the time. Given advances in resource management, ecology and other sciences, and the hard lessons of past failures, a Green New Deal today would do many things differently.  On balance, however, the federal response in the 1930s was extremely positive for the nation, both raising awareness of the problems and setting in motion concrete efforts to solve them. The moral of the story is America’s capacity to take dramatic action when confronted with challenges as great as the Dust Bowl, World War II, and climate change.  

A brief bibliography on New Deal conservation

Oil painting titled Your Forests-Your Fault-Your Loss by James Montgomery Flagg.
Your Forests – Your Fault – Your Loss!” was an oil painting by James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960), created ca. 1937. (Wikimedia Commons)
WPA Museum Extension Project created posters in Pennsylvania. Courtesy of the Broward County Library.
Your Forests – Your Fault – Your Loss!” was an oil painting by James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960), created ca. 1937. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, “President accepts fire prevention poster. Washington, D.C. June 10. President Roosevelt today accepted for the government the painting made by James Montgomery Flagg to be used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on posters throughout the country. It shows Uncle Sam as a forest ranger in a forest with the slogan ‘Your Forests–Your Fault–Your Loss.’ L to R: behind the president are James Montgomery Flagg, the artist; Sec. of Agriculture Henry Wallace; Earle H. Clapp, chief of the U.S. Forest Service.” Photo by Harris & Ewing, provided courtesy of the Library of Congress.”
WPA posters were a call to action to preserve and conserve our natural resources. Courtesy of the Broward County Library.

Living New Deal. Still Working for America.

And the Winners are . . .

FDR delivering one of his fireside chats.

The 2023 New Deal Book Award

The winning titles and authors have been announced. The 2023 Award, with a prize of $1,000, will be presented at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library June 22, 2024.