Hello again folks,
If the title wasn’t a dead give away, today I want to talk about the prospect of a Green New Deal. I have made no secret on this blog that climate change, renewable energy, and various forms of democratic eco-socialism are kind of my bag. I spend a ridiculous amount of time writing and researching these topics, and am an unashamed solarpunk, and animist. I believe firmly that a kind of sustainable civilization is possible, and is something we should actively work towards.
As such, now a Green New Deal is a mainstream topic. I’m excited to see this, and I am curious to see how this might pan out. I have my reservations as well of course, as I worry that some things might not make it into the Democratic version that should really be there. There has already been a fair bit of criticism not only what made it in, but what has been left out as well.
Yet, if the 2018 IPCC report is clear about anything, it is clear about the fact that we have to work hard and move fast to have a chance to mitigate and adapt to climate change. We have a window, but a small one that is closing fast. Add in the fact that the changes we have to make are unprecedented, and this can seem like an impossible task. But I haven’t given up, and neither should you. We are going to need people willing to roll up their sleeves, and do the hard and messy work. Even if we fail in the end, I’d rather shoot for the stars and miss.
The IPCC report is clear also that we have to reduce emissions by half by 2030 (12 years), and drastically decommission fossils fuels, such as coal and oil. We have have to drastically build up renewable energy, and other solutions to lower our carbon impact. That is where any kind of Green New Deal comes in, as a set of policy goals to help steer the US down the path laid out by the IPCC , and the Paris Accords.
There was an article by The Intercept recently that I absolutely love, because it starts out with a story that seems like it might be science fiction. But that’s the point science fiction, to imagine the future, and the Intercept’s article paints a vision of the future inspired by a Green New Deal. Go read it, if you have the time.
Me, I will only highlight one small section;
“On Friday, Ocasio-Cortez and her collaborators gathered outside the Capitol to talk about the increasingly popular program. “The push for a Green New Deal is about more than just natural resources and jobs,” said Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. “It’s about our most precious commodity: people, families, children, our future. It’s about moving to 100 percent renewable energy and the elimination of greenhouse gases. It’s about ensuring that our coastal communities have the resources and tools to build sustainable infrastructure that will counteract rising sea levels, beat back untenable natural disasters, and mitigate the effects of extreme temperature.”
I like that these ideas are being discussed in public, and there are a lot of ways this could pan out. The point I think is that we have to think BIG to tackle this crisis, and we have to be able imagine what the next world looks like, so that we can make goals and plans, and get to work meeting those goals. That is what Kim Stanley Robinson points out in his article here;
“Imagine a remade world founded upon health and prosperity. Imagine transportation of every kind propelled by clean energy—electric cars and scooters, for sure, but also container ships pulled by kite sails, then battery powered when navigating close to port. Imagine every lightbulb and internet download powered by the sun and the wind. Imagine engineers and technicians and heavy-equipment operators finding meaningful work building out a global clean energy infrastructure. All these technologies are off-the-shelf and shovel-ready; the only thing we haven’t invented yet is the economics to pay for them.” – KSR
But any kind of Green New Deal has to be more encompassing than just the technological, as tackling climate change effectively will involve making large scale changes to our cultural, social, and economic systems. I have been very clear about my support for the 100 Drawdown solutions. Any kind of Green New Deal would range from job guarantees, to universal healthcare and education, to dismantling fossil fuels, building renewable energy and low carbon infrastructure, and also finding a workable alternative to capitalism.
Because, in order to tackle climate change, we have to tackle our underlying cultural beliefs and social systems. Several papers such as the Hothouse Paper , and a report to the UN make very clear that the US economic system, that is capitalism, has to change. We cannot continue focus on infinite growth on a finite planet. It is quite literally killing our planet as well as ourselves.
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and people should come before profits.
A Green New Deal
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the Green New Deal, what they are proposing, and what they are not. It’s true that there are all kinds of things I would love to see in a Green New Deal. Universal education and healthcare, less working hours, livable wages, renewable energy, the end of fossils fuels, greater distribution of wealth… I could go on and on, and I’ll admit, the story The Intercept spins is not a bad one. Hurray for cooperative economics!
Yet, we have to be pragmatic here, and not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. In order to meet any of the benchmarks laid out by the IPCC, we need resources, and a lot of them. While the Green New Deal won’t be an end all be all, it could be an important first step to unlocking much needed financial and material resources. We also need to keep in mind this in only an outline, not any kind of final draft legislation. As such, here is what NPR states is in the Green New Deal, with a link to the full document;
“Among the most prominent, the deal calls for “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” The ultimate goal is to stop using fossil fuels entirely…. as well as to transition away from nuclear energy.”
Yes! Renewable energy is high on my priority list, so that is a good proposal. If 100% renewable is technical feasible, we should do that. That means huge investment in time and labor into building that infrastructure, and supporting grid and energy storage systems. Federal legislation will certainly help that cause. It’s very clear from the IPCC report and others that ending fossil fuels and developing renewable energy are important steps forward.
Yet, there is also the fossil fuel and nuclear questions that linger here. I don’t know at the current time that 100% percent renewable energy is possible. It’s a lofty goal, and it’s a world I’d love to see. That said, I would like more details on how fast fossil fuels are phased out, and what, if any, role nuclear should play. Nuclear has a lot of baggage, and most functioning reactors today are from the 70’s and 80’s. We should be cautious there.
* “upgrading all existing buildings” in the country for energy efficiency;
Alright, that’s necessary and good. Reduction of energy demand will go a long ways towards reducing our footprint. Buildings will also need retrofitting for both mitigation and adaption to changing conditions. No problems there.
* working with farmers “to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions … as much as is technologically feasible” (while supporting family farms and promoting “universal access to healthy food”);
Another set of good points. In order to mitigate the worst of climate change, our food systems are in for a full overhaul. Localization, permaculture and organic farming, regenerative agriculture… There is a long list of ideas here, and many will have to be adopted. I can’t give space to them all, but it’s a good start.
“Overhauling transportation systems” to reduce emissions — including expanding electric car manufacturing, building “charging stations everywhere,” and expanding high-speed rail to “a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary”;
Transportation accounts for over half of our oil usage across the world. As such, investment in clean and electric transportation is also a must. Electric personal cars, sure, but also public buses and high speed rail. The US lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to high speed rail, and this too is an important part of the puzzle.
A guaranteed job “with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security” for every American;
The amount of work we are talking about is immense, and there will be plenty of opportunities for laborers to roll up their sleeves and get the work done. Living wages, and benefits need to go along with that. I for one think that we should create a system of support more like that in Europe and especially the Nordic countries. The US is poor at providing proper welfare, healthcare, and parental and child care to it’s citizens. There is certainly a lot of room for improvement here.
What is Left Out?
It’s true that a Green New Deal is not a new idea. The NPR article above has plenty of links to the history of the concept. Another big advocate of a Green New Deal is the US Green Party. I am sympathetic to many of their views, so I want to give them some space as a point of comparison.
The Green Party New Deal is quite a bit more ambitious with their goals, and spells them out more plainly then the Democratic Party proposal. They are much more upfront about ending fossil fuels and making the energy transition as aggressive as possible.
They also give space to the same economic promises, such as the creations of new jobs and the scale of the work that needs to be done. That is all well and good, and as long as there are workers I will support their rights for a livable wage, and equitable working conditions. Yet, there are aspects to the GP platform that just don’t show up much in the Democratic Green New Deal proposal.
“Enact energy democracy based on public, community and worker ownership of our energy system. Treat energy as a human right….
The Green New Deal is not only a major step towards ending unemployment for good, but also a tool to fight the corporate takeover of our democracy and exploitation of the poor and people of color. Our transition to 100% clean energy will be based on community, worker and public ownership and democratic control of our energy system, rather than maximizing profits for energy corporations, banks and hedge funds.“ – Green Party
Those ideas tend to circle around the problems of capitalism, and cooperative/democratic economic structures. I’ve made it quite clear throughout this piece, and throughout my own work, that I believe fully that capitalism is in fact part of the problem. The Greens address this problem a bit, whereas the Democratic proposal leaves this entirely by the wayside.
The assumption made is that the basis of our economic system need not be challenged, and that if we just we ‘develop’ more stuff, all will be well, and we can even have that golden ‘economic growth’ thing. This is part of the problem, and is where I diverge from otherwise good ideas such as the Green New Deal, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and yes, even Drawdown. (Paul Hawken is a well known eco-capitalist.)
We cannot build a truly sustainable civilization by just giving a capitalism a green coat of paint. That’s stopping short in my opinion, even if the other ideas are good ones. A train headed towards a cliff will still careen off the edge whether it is Red, Blue, or even Green. That’s why climate change is a lot bigger than technical solutions, and needs scalable support and resources to mitigate it. Capitalism has to be tackled as part of those solutions.
It’s also fair to ask if that is even possible, just like it is fair to question whether something like a Green New Deal will ever be a political reality. I wish I could say for certain the answer is “yes” in both cases. But I can’t, not for certain anyways.
But I can tell you I think it is possible. The changes that need to be made are monumental, and there is a definitely a chance that we could fail. Yet, the window of opportunity is still open, though it is closing fast. We still have time to act, and we need to go big or put our home planet at serious risk. I think we can do it, and we have a moral obligation to try. A Green New Deal could be a part of that, even if it not the ideal destination. At very least, it’s a start.
I firmly believe it is time we get building Another World. It is Possible, if we want it.
Thanks for reading!