The Green New Deal and the case for a radical economic reboot

Two new books argue for profound change to break the political logjam on climate change

FILE -- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) speaks alongside Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) at a news conference about the Green New Deal, in Washington, Feb. 7, 2019. New York lawmakers have agreed to pass a sweeping climate plan that calls for the state to all but eliminate its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. (Pete Marovich/The New York Times) Credit: New York Times / Redux / eyevine For further information please contact eyevine tel: +44 (0) 20 8709 8709 e-mail:
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey (right) at a news conference about the Green New Deal in Washington in February © New York Times/Redux/Eyevine

Ever since the renowned Nasa scientist James Hansen started issuing dire public warnings about the risks of man-made climate change in the late 1980s, the same question has haunted environmental campaigners: how to get political momentum behind an “invisible” and global problem whose impacts would not be felt for many years?

Attempts to outsource the answer to some grand international bargain in succeeding decades have done little to abate the volumes of carbon still belching into the atmosphere. Wealthy countries such as the US have bridled at binding global targets, while national regulations have simply shifted emissions from wealthy countries to those with less exacting environmental rules.

Earlier this year, two American progressive politicians, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey, launched the latest attempt to break the political logjam. Granted, their “Green New Deal” is more of a political brand than a practical programme. But it sets out to provide that elusive energising factor by tying climate action to the notion of greater social justice within the US.

The deal offers jobs for millions to restore US infrastructure, extends universal healthcare and proposes switching to local community-led renewable energy systems with the aim of reaching 100 per cent renewable power in the next 10 years.

The goal is to make decarbonisation a defining national mission rather than an internationally mandated chore.

It is not the first time a “Green New Deal” has been touted. But the original, cooked up by the US journalist Thomas Friedman in 2007, gained little traction.

Conceived as a mission that would bolster US energy security as well as (happily) saving the planet, it argued for a technological revolution; one where the government showered fiscal incentives to replace fossil fuels with unlimited green power.

Friedman’s was a consumer-friendly vision; one where western knowhow bailed us out without us actually having to change our lifestyles very much.

A decade on, proponents of the latest Green New Deal, such as the activist Naomi Klein, are much less optimistic about the ability — or will — of western private capital and technology to solve the world’s environmental woes. In On Fire, the longstanding critic of corporate globalisation argues for a much more comprehensive economic reboot.

“Markets play a role in this vision, but markets are not the protagonists of this story — people are,” she writes. “The workers who will build the new infrastructure, the residents who will breathe the clean air, who will live in the affordable green housing and benefit from the low cost (or free) public transit.”

Klein’s book is a collection of essays spanning the past decade, which chart her growing despair at environmental degradation and conclusion that any solution must involve radical and urgent economic change. The story moves from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in 2010, through the wildfires of western Canada, the refugee crises in Africa and the Middle East all the way to the Vatican, where Pope Francis is attempting an extraordinary “ecological conversion”. These journeys have left her with a profound mistrust of the way markets allocate resources. Klein argues that we must change more than just our energy sources; we must master our urge to dominate the natural environment — what she calls our “expansionist, extractive mind-set”.

This is partly a long-lensed critique about humanity’s relationship to nature. As a Canadian, Klein is acutely aware of her own country’s history, and the way early colonial settlers treated it as “their God-given larder”, killing first the native species, such as auks and beavers, for profit, before turning to its woodlands and mineral resources. MORE



Apple, Amazon, and the rest of Big Tech all have a lot to learn from the Green New Deal

It’s vital to cut carbon emissions. But tech companies have a responsibility to go a lot further than that—and the ability to do so.

[Source Images: yucelyilmaz/iStock, Djahan/iStock, Jezperklauzen/iStock]

For many years, the biggest technology companies have made pioneering commitments to reducing their energy footprint. Google and Apple claim to be completely carbon neutral: Apple says all its facilities are powered entirely by renewable energy, while Google has become the world’s largest buyer of renewable energy to offset its energy costs. In 2018, Apple said it had reduced carbon emissions by 58% since 2011. Microsoft is on track to reach 60% renewable energy across its data centers by the end of 2019, while Facebook’s goal is to reach 100% renewable energy by 2020. In 2019, Amazon announced that it is aiming to make half of its shipments carbon neutral by 2030, and the company says it has eliminated 244,000 tons of packaging materials, avoided 500 million shipping boxes, and continues to invest in electric vehicles, aviation bio fuels, and renewable energy.

Given that many corporations aren’t as focused on sustainability, the tech companies’ efforts to reduce emissions appear at first to be a good track record. But as the fight against climate change heats up, the big tech companies’ claims and commitments still are not enough to make an impact on a widening emissions gap—in 2018, global emissions levels rose 2.7% after years of not growing at all. The UN says that these levels must drop 55% by 2030 to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

And while much of that growth in emissions can be attributed to a range of corporate bad actors, some leaders in the climate community think tech companies are not doing enough to use their clout and tech prowess to make real change.

“Let’s get over this notion that [tech companies] are some kind of heroes. They’re not,” says Richard Wiles, the director of the Center for Climate Integrity. “They’re doing the least they can do to get the most greenwashing benefit out of it,” he says, referring to the practice of promoting an organization’s environmental record when its products and practices actually aren’t good for the climate.

In February 2019, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey introduced the Green New Deal resolution, designed to tackle the principal challenges facing the country right now. While this framework’s main goal is for the United States to become net carbon zero by 2030, it also advances a larger, more revolutionary agenda. Because slashing carbon emissions will require overhauling the entire economy, it also demands fixes for other underlying issues: income inequality, housing and healthcare affordability, and race and gender injustice.

As the United States begins the transition to a carbon neutral economy, it’s vital that the biggest technology companies—Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft—lead the way. The “big five” of tech command a significant portion of the economy. The International Monetary Fund estimates their collective worth at $3.5 trillion, more than the GDP of the United Kingdom. What’s more: Their products, hardware, cloud networks, and internet infrastructure touch nearly every industry and every individual. Of all the industries in the U.S., tech’s reach is perhaps the more difficult to conceptualize, but also the broadest.

What happens in the technology industry today radiates out into nearly every corner of the economy. Which is why, for the Green New Deal to take root in the U.S., Big Tech needs to be involved. These major companies have both the capacity for innovation, the economic resources, and the political clout to precipitate the shifts laid out in the Green New Deal framework. Will they decide to take the lead? MORE

Green New Deal is a way out of neoliberalism wreckage

Image result for ricochet: At a time when the federal NDP is struggling to assert an identity and progressive Canadians are struggling to find a party, the Green New Deal could be a godsend

At a time when the federal NDP is struggling to assert an identity and progressive Canadians are struggling to find a party, the Green New Deal could be a godsend

If you want to be alarmed at the way climate change is thought about in the Canadian political mainstream, have a look at what National Post columnist Andrew Coyne wrote a few weeks back. In surveying the climate policies of the major federal parties, he concludes,

“The choice before Canadians … is between policies that do nothing [those of the Conservatives and the upstart People’s Party], or that do too little at too high a cost [those of the Liberals], or that do too much at much too high a cost [the emissions reduction targets of the NDP and the Greens]: between the inadequate and the insane. It’s not terribly inspiring, but that’s democracy.”

What Coyne considers “insane” are precisely the targets that climate science is telling us have to be met. And of course he isn’t alone or on the fringe — just the opposite. In neoliberal times, his views are very typical. A couple generations of policymakers, technocrats, and public intellectuals have soaked in our reigning ideology to the point where it doesn’t even feel like ideology to them; it’s basic logic or common sense or the limits of the possible or, simply, economics. Avoiding climate breakdown is not a moral or existential imperative but an option that can be rejected should it come at “too high a cost.”

The result is a nice symbiosis, as we see in Canada. There is a special urgency to loosen the vise-like grip in which neoliberalism has for too long enclosed the political imagination. That’s why it would be hard to exaggerate the importance of the Green New Deal breaking into the mainstream ever since Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democrats’ rising democratic socialist star, presented it as a congressional resolution last month. MORE

Why Ed Markey, the Co-Sponsor of the Green New Deal, May Be Hopeful For Its Chances

Image result for Ed Markey  green new deal
U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Jesse Costa/WBUR; Kathy Willens/AP)

Last Tuesday, the Republican-led Senate made a mockery of the Green New Deal by forcing, without discussion, an up-or-down “bluff vote” on the resolution. Referencing a climate deniers’ laugh line about livestock flatulence, in reference to the resolution’s mention of the high levels of methane that farm animals produce, Senator Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee, called the proposal an “assault on cars, cows, and combustion.”

Markey replied, “Climate change is not a joke. Mocking it and comparing it to cartoon characters while the Midwest is flooded and people have died because of climate-related extreme weather is shameful.”

On Wednesday, in the House, Ocasio-Cortez delivered an impassioned response to Representative Sean Duffy’s dismissal of the deal as a fantasy for “rich liberals.” The next day, at a rally for President Trump, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the crowd took to chanting a new mantra: “A.O.C. sucks.”

The Green New Deal proposal calls for “a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal era.” The Nuclear Freeze era has relevance, too, as a reminder of what is possible. Even as the pragmatic Democratic leadership shies away from the full-bore ambitions of the Green New Deal—more modestly proposing, for example, to salvage U.S. support for the Paris Climate Accord—the politics of environmental catastrophe have already shifted.

When a wave of public recognition begins to crest, what is mocked, or even condescendingly dismissed as merely aspirational, can yet redefine American purposes. It happened before. MORE

An Illinois bill leans into the most contentious part of the Green New Deal

Illinois is weighing a 100 percent renewable energy bill that includes jobs, equity, and social justice.

Wind turbines tower over crops near Dwight, Illinois. The state is weighing a bill to get to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Scott Olson/Getty Images

A recurring criticism of the Green New Deal resolution introduced in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) is that it has too much social justice baggage: Why does a statement of goals to limit climate change and decarbonize the economy devote so much ink to affordable housing, universal health care, and jobs for everyone?

“They are right that the entire energy sector must be reshaped,” the Washington Post editorial board wrote in a sharp appraisal. “But the goal is so fundamental that policymakers should focus above all else on quickly and efficiently decarbonizing. They should not muddle this aspiration with other social policy, such as creating a federal jobs guarantee, no matter how desirable that policy might be.”

Yet the reason the Green New Deal does include social programs is that, as Vox’s David Roberts put it, “It is not merely a way to reduce emissions, but also to ameliorate the other symptoms and dysfunctions of a late capitalist economy: growing inequality and concentration of power at the top.”

And given that decarbonizing the economy would mean jettisoning fossil fuel jobs, the resolution asserts that the transition needs to happen in a just way, mindful of the needs of “vulnerable, frontline, and deindustrialized communities.” MORE