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The five caucuses of the Penn Political Union (PPU) held a debate on the Green New Deal on Oct. 26 in Houston Hall.

Credit: Abby Baggini

Students gathered in Houston Hall Tuesday evening to debate the merits of a Green New Deal in the United States at an event hosted by the Penn Political Union and the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy. 

PPU, which organizes monthly debates on a range of relevant political topics, chose to focus October’s event on environmentalism, asking participants to debate the statement: “Implementing a Green New Deal in the United States would be a mistake.” The team that argued against the program said the proposed reform tries to accomplish too much in too little time, constitutes an overreach of federal power, and would worsen inflation. The group in favor of the Green New Deal said it would boost the American economy and that climate investment cannot be delayed any further.

College sophomore Nicholas Rutherford, as well as College first years David Katz and Giulio Iacoviello, argued against the implementation of a Green New Deal. They were opposed by College sophomores Emiliano Castillo and Marc Edayadi and College first year Dhilan Lavu, who defended the sweeping environmental reform effort. The debaters included both PPU members and student volunteers.

Rutherford, Katz, and Iacoviello argued that while they each believed in climate change and that measures must be taken to combat it, they denied that a Green New Deal is the right way to do so. The team focused their criticism specifically on the version of the Green New Deal proposed by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

“What we need is a combination of the Green New Deal's sense of urgency and market mechanisms that encourage emission reductions at low prices while saving jobs,” Iacoviello said. “This approach is simply more realistic and effective than a Green New Deal given that it's so unclear, misguided, and has many risks.”

Alternatively, Castillo, Edayadi, and Lavu emphasized that not only would a Green New Deal benefit the American economy by creating jobs, but there is also an urgent need for it given the imminent human costs of climate change.

“You have to have federal investment,” Castillo said. “​​There's already a huge potential for renewable energy and climate change policy locked up in the United States that has not been able to be released because there's not a federal program or federal guidelines in order to be able to make it happen.”

The debate was moderated by PPU Speaker of the Union and Wharton junior Frank Hong, who allowed each team to present an introduction, three body arguments, and a conclusion. In between arguments, attendees were able to ask panelists questions about the deal’s implications for nuclear energy, collective actions issues, federalism, and other things.

Following concluding remarks, PPU polled the attendees for a vote on which team presented the most compelling argument. The final vote came to a 6-5 decision in favor of the team supporting the Green New Deal. 

College first year Seamus O’Brien attended the event to support his friend who was debating and to hear different voices in a conversation that is “often one-sided.” Though he supports the Green New Deal, O’Brien said that listening to the PPU debate allowed him to better understand where the other side is coming from, especially in regards to the deal’s estimated costs. 

“I was able to put in perspective how expensive it is,” O’Brien said. “That's something that I had to conceptualize.”

PPU will host its next student debate on Nov. 17 on a yet-to-be-decided topic. The PPU Board encouraged students of all political ideologies to consider participating in a future debate.

“I think it's important to give students the opportunity to debate each other in a public forum and have other people watch and listen," Hong said. "I feel like that's something that is lacking on campus — the ability to have a civil discourse without it turning into a shouting match or having really high tensions."