Scientists have understood for decades that climate change is happening and that humans are causing it; recent studies, including a landmark report in October from the U.N., have shown that things are even worse than we thought. Global temperatures have already risen 1°C since the Industrial Revolution; if the planet heats by much more than an additional half a degree, we could see some of the most catastrophic effects of climate change, including the death of the world’s coral reefs and the inundation of entire island nations.
That reality has resonated with the public: more than 70% of Americans now understand that climate change is taking place, according to data from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. A February NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey found that two-thirds of Republicans believe their party is “outside the mainstream” on the issue.
Into this new political reality came the Green New Deal–equal parts policy proposal and battle cry. The resolution, introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, calls for the U.S. to launch a broad “mobilization” to decarbonize the economy while tackling a slew of other social ills. The response was mixed. People loved it. People loathed it. Others were confused by it. But in D.C., where climate has long been relegated to third-tier status, lawmakers could no longer avoid the issue.