COULD A GREEN NEW DEAL MAKE US HAPPIER PEOPLE?


Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images

FOR AS LONG as climate change has been a part of America’s national consciousness, it’s been talked about in dire terms, evoking images of some hellish, Mad Max-style dystopia. The title and much of the content of David Wallace-Wells’s recent book is a variation on the same theme, stirring up hundreds of pages of images worth of an “Uninhabitable Earth” to make the case that the conversation has not been dire enough.

In describing the nature of the problem, drastic terms are of course necessary. Annihilation looms, and the chaos it threatens to bring about — stronger storms, more fearsome floods, unbearable heat — is truly the stuff of nightmares. But the apocalyptic framing of the problem has also shaped how we talk about solutions to it. From carbon taxes to consumption cuts, climate policy has long been framed as an issue of stiff-lipped sacrifice: What will we have to give up to save our skins? The right takes this characterization to extremes, accusing climate hawks of wanting to ban cars and hamburgers and throw civilization back into the Dark Ages.

While its critics like to pretend otherwise, the Green New Deal — an economy-wide mobilization to decarbonize the United States as soon as possible — turns that question on its head, asking instead where we need to invest society’s vast resources.

But could a plan to curb emissions also make us happier? Could the things we cut back also be the things that make us miserable?

A growing body of research, though, points to some more unexpected reasons why a Green New Deal could make us more cheerful.

If you buy scientists’ claims that an economy-wide mobilization is the only thing that can stave off full-blown catastrophe, there are some obvious reasons to believe that a Green New Deal — the only call for that on the table — will make us happy, at least in the long run. Averting civilizational collapse, that is, is a happier outcome than the alternative. Provisions like a federal job guarantee, improved public transportation, and reining in pollution could improve millions of lives in the shorter term. A growing body of research, though, points to some more unexpected reasons why a Green New Deal could make us more cheerful. MORE

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