Rhiana Gunn Wright

Policy Director, New Consensus

Fast Facts

Rhiana Gunn-Wright

Green New Deal guru

Industry: Environmental activism
Key previous position: Policy director for Abdul El-Sayed
Education: Yale 
Notable fact: Served on Michelle Obama’s policy team

NJ50 Profile

With a different twist or two in her career path in late 2018, Rhiana Gunn-Wright might now be poring over tort tomes in law school.

Instead, the Chicago native is forging ahead with policy research to bolster the Green New Deal after she helped piece together the congressional resolution that upended the climate debate in the 116th Congress.

“The most important change is people thinking about inequality and inequity at the same time as they’re thinking about climate,” said Gunn-Wright, a policy expert at the progressive think tank New Consensus. “Now, you’d be hard pressed to find a Democrat that will talk about climate and not talk about equity.”

The nonbinding Green New Deal resolution, which boasts nearly 100 sponsors in the House and 15 sponsors in the Senate, including all of the presidential candidates from the upper chamber, urges a 10-year shift to “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources,” as well as universal access to health care, housing, and jobs.

After working on health and education policies, Gunn-Wright views the Green New Deal as a critical mechanism to address structural inequality in the country.

“People don’t see the climate crisis as a problem with a bunch of root drivers so much as a technical problem—that is, you just figure out the numbers and just how to get renewable energy everywhere, then that’s the end of it,” she said. “A Green New Deal is going to create a lot of programs that are external-facing that people interact with, whether that is a jobs guarantee or whether that is programs to build solar panels.”

Gunn-Wright says longer-form articulations of the concepts that comprise the Green New Deal are likely to surface in early 2020 from her group and its allies.

The New Consensus-allied Sunrise Movement, a coalition of young climate activists, is leading efforts to mobilize communities to pressure lawmakers on climate. And Gunn-Wright says that social movement is only getting started.

“People have a lot of energy around climate and will fight around climate and are ready to organize and move in big ways. I think for a long time climate policy languished because that didn’t exist,” she said.
Brian Dabbs