For Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, architecture runs in the family.
Her later father, Sergio Ocasio, grew up in the Bronx as the borough burned. “He wanted to be one of the people that helped put the buildings back up,” she recently told Vanity Fair. So he became an architect and small business owner.
Now, Alexandria, the youngest congresswoman in American history, is advancing what Billy Fleming, an activist and landscape architect, called “the biggest design idea in a century”: the Green New Deal.
The first New Deal was President Franklin Roosevelt’s attempt to lift the United States out of the Great Depression with policies, programs, and public works projects. Today, proponents of the Green New Deal want to use similar strategies to combat the biggest challenges of the anthropocene.
The idea has been circulating for years, but it only became a household name in 2019, when Alexandria and Senator Ed Markey introduced a congressional resolution that established the Green New Deal as a framework for rapidly decarbonizing the economy.
Though the resolution failed, the Green New Deal has become an important touchstone in the 2020 election—and likely will be for many elections to come. Joe Biden has refused to endorse the idea, but has offered up his own decarbonization plan. Donald Trump has yet to release a climate plan. And congressional candidates are all over the place. But it’s increasingly clear that voters care about climate action—and avoiding the question is no longer an option.
The specific strategies that could put the Green New Deal into action are still being refined. But policy experts like Rhiana Gunn-Wright, one of the authors of the Congressional resolution, say we’ll need significant investments in renewable energy and the green-collar jobs that sustain it, a focus on racial equity, and—just like the first New Deal—massive public works projects.
Existing buildings, from houses to schools to coffee shops, produce about 29 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. That’s why changing how our buildings consume energy—and how much waste they generate in the process—is an essential tenet of the Green New Deal.
Some of these solutions are shockingly simple. In theory, anyone can switch to renewable energy, or replace their gas stove, a major source of residential pollution, with an electric one, or uproot their thirsty lawn and plant a victory garden in its stead. But the Green New Deal aims to scale these interventions so that every single building in the country—literally—is energy efficient by 2030. In theory, we could put millions of Americans laid off in the pandemic back to work painting rooftops white or improving insulation.
“I’ve been really heartened by realizing just how much expertise and knowledge we have, and how much of this we already know how to do,” Rhiana told Fast Company. “It’s just a matter of aligning incentives.”
Other aspects of the Green New Deal will demand more sacrifice. Decarbonizing will require radical shifts in how we eat, spend, and move around the world. That’s why advocates are also calling on the government to ensure a “just transition”—where, say, out-of-work coal miners are supported financially and given a chance to re-career—to a greener world.
As we work toward these goals, we’ll have to fill out the federal framework with local solutions. At every step, the goal will be to decarbonize in ways that make sense for the specific needs of each community. But “whatever form the Green New Deal eventually takes, it will be realized and understood through buildings, landscapes, and other public works,” Billy, the landscape architect, wrote in the journal Places. Now the public just needs to make its voice heard.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest