Climate Change Calls for a Green New Deal

Susan Goldman
Center for Global Justice
Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Climate Change Calls for a Green New Deal
By Susan Goldman August 28, 2019

The amazon is rapidly burning. Indigenous peoples of the Amazon are screaming in fear, pain and outrage as they watch their rainforest die. To see this sacred rainforest of intense and rich biodiversity in flames is heart wrenching. The first funeral for a lost glacier was recently held in Iceland. 200 million climate migrants will have been forced by climate disruption to leave their homes by 2050, that’s one in 45 people in the world that will have been displaced by climate catastrophe. This is from The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.
The Arctic is burning and Greenland is melting, thanks to record heat. Blazes are pumping record amounts of carbon into the air, which will make the problem worse. Seas are rising. It’s difficult for us to wrap our brains around this worsening climate disaster. It’s scary and dystopian.

From the Union of Concerned Scientists:
“The scientific evidence has been mounting for decades. Recent analyses, including the latest National Climate Assessment (NCA) and the (IPCC) most recent report, affirm what we already know: climate change is not some problem in the distant future—it's happening right now. And studies show that climate change is not affecting everyone equally. Low-income communities and communities of color, as well as indigenous peoples, often suffer most.” We have reached a tipping point on climate action—Scientists say we have roughly one decade left to avoid the most severe consequences of climate change.”
Let’s explore changing some perceptions and actions that could change the trajectory of climate change as well as remove the obstacles we face. The GND is certainly a bold step forward.
Words by the Canadian environmentalist, scientist, and poet, David Susuki, a longtime activist to reverse global climate change, challenge us to perceive the world and nature differently. “The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore; if a river is one of the veins of the land, not potential irrigation water; if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber; if other species are biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity -- then we will treat each other with greater respect. Thus is the challenge, to look at the world from a different perspective.” David Suzuki
In order to mitigate the catastrophic effects of climate change, as citizens of the world and the US, we will have to change our perspective not only of how we see nature. We will have to change our perspective, the story, about our economy, society and culture. All are interconnected when addressing climate destruction. I saw a protest sign from an action by the Sunrise movement “SOCIAL CHANGE, NOT CLIMATE CHANGE!” Bravo to all the young people from this movement and Extinction Rebellion and many other youth driven actions of protest and civil disobedience to push for a GND and action to match the climate emergency.

We will have to create a democratic economic system, one that benefits all and not just a tiny slice at the top who now control most of the wealth and how it is used. The evidence is overwhelming that the wealth of the 1% is used to further enrich themselves and grab governments by the throat to do their bidding. Trickle down has long been discredited. Many refer to it as socialism for the rich. Wealth now trickles up. Many in this global elite believe climate change is a hoax and they are the ones with the money and power to make decisions about how we address climate change. In an August 2019 article in Harper’s about the Yellow vest movement in France, it’s pointed out that the “rich are the ones consuming more. The wealthiest 10% of French citizens emit some seventeen metric tons of carbon per capita, according to a 2015 Oxfam study, while the poorest 50% emit less than five. [In the United States, the disparity is even more pronounced, with the top 10% emitting fifty metric tons of carbon per capita and the bottom 50% emitting 8.”

It’s time for a democratic economy as part of a GND. It’s time for the poor, the indigenous peoples, those struggling to stay above water, those who will lose their jobs in the transition away from fossil fuels, people of color, those whose voices aren’t heard, that they benefit from a just economy. They have the lowest carbon footprint and contributed the least to the climate emergency we are facing. As the ones who will suffer the most, a right to health care, a living wage, adequate and safe housing, and job training for a new economy will go a long way in protecting them from the fallout from climate disruption.
In a Dec 2018 video of an interview with David Suzuki [I’m taken with this Canadian scientist and activist, how he frames our dilemma] he addresses the economy as it relates to mitigating climate change. A few of his statements: “We can’t have growth forever in a finite world. In our economic system unless money is involved the forest has no value. That which is sacred is worthless to our current economy. The economy and the corporate agenda is driving us in the direction we’re on. You don’t argue on economic terms. No growth. It’s not sustainable. We’re in the end game. You’re damn right it’s gloom and doom. We need big decisions that are beyond us doing individual actions. Whether to build pipelines? Continue the tar sands? Capitalism, the markets act as if they are nature. They are not. We created them. We have to change the rules. We have to live in a very different way.”

How do we perceive society and culture? How could we change the story about society and culture? The corporate capitalist, neoliberal system has certainly educated us to consume and consume and has brought many of us joy with limitless stuff to tintilate ourselves. Is it possible to alter the way we engage with the world to limit what we consume, to reduce the amount of resources extracted from the earth? Could we imagine a world where our perception of joy and happiness is more rooted in the arts, recreation, gardening and farming, spending more time sitting around the table with family and friends telling stories and laughing, buying less stuff, buying locally? These questions are worth exploring to discover other perspectives and stories about how we could live in the world.

Mother earth will be able to go on just fine without us. I sometimes think maybe she would be better off without us humans if we aren’t able to change the trajectory of climate disruption fast enough.

As I read article after article and watched several videos about the climate disaster we face and the GND it was overwhelming. What a task! An undertaking that requires a commitment beyond any project the US has tackled, including the New Deal and going to the moon. We have been addressing civil rights, gay rights, women’s liberation, all continuing to be advanced through the decades. But we don’t have the luxury to stroll through decades to address climate disruption. The GND is the only proposal on the table in line with the scientific reality of climate change. And now I wonder if that’s even enough.
Activists, representatives from congress, and the main sponsors Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) presented the 14 page GND resolution to congress. Most of us saw the resistance from both republicans and democrats. A few of Markey’s statements at the press conference launching the GND resolution were: “It’s a set of principles not prescriptions. The question is not if we will do it but when we will do it It’s time for us to be bold. We have the technology, moral obligation, and economic imperative. We just need the political will. May the tide turn for a new climate democracy. “
“The exact details of the GND remain to be worked out, but the broad thrust is fairly simple. It refers, in the loosest sense, to a massive program of investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure, meant to transform not just the energy sector, but the entire economy. It is meant both to decarbonize the economy and to make it fairer and more just.” It is a resolution. It is not a bill, it’s not a policy proposal, it is not legislation. It’s a start, a vision. It is a dream.
“It’s a document that lays out the huge things America has to do to avoid a climate disaster and the principles we should abide by as we do this.[I would say we are experiencing that disaster now. It might be more accurate to say to avoid catastrophe, the collapse of civilization]— Our economy is built on burning coal, oil, and gas. If we want to stop doing this, we need to overhaul our buildings, our transportation, our manufacturing methods, and more. Overhauling an economy can hurt certain people. If your well-being depends on working for a coal company or an oil refinery, this isn’t going to be fun for you. But overhauling an economy also gives us the chance to fix some economic injustices. So the Green New Deal tries to create some protections that create a path for a more fair and just transition.”

The obstacles to creating a GND are mind boggling though so many solutions exist if only they were adopted, scaled up, and subsidized. If only more of us could change our perspective of the world, our story. I will touch on a couple of the obstacles and some solutions that exist to mitigate the climate catastrophe we are facing.

I want to mention the military industrial complex. It tends to be the last place we look yet is one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, if not the largest. I keep going back to an excellent article by one of my favorite authors on issues of war and foreign policy, Phyllis Bennis. Her contention is that you “can’t heal the climate if the US war machine keeps raining destruction, absorbing resources, and gobbling up fossil fuels all around the world.”

100 fossil fuel companies emit 71% of greenhouse gases, one of the reasons I want to focus on transitioning to clean energy away from fossil fuels.
A research paper published by Paul Stevens, an academic at think tank Chatham House, said international oil companies were no longer fit for purpose and warned these multinationals that they faced a “nasty, brutish and short” end within the next 10 years if they did not completely change their business models. This is from 3 years ago.
Investors now have a choice, according to a senior programme advisor at Greenpeace UK. “The future of the oil industry has already been written: the choice is will its decline be managed, returning capital to shareholders to be reinvested in the genuine industries of the future, or will they hold on, hoping not to be the last one standing when the music stops?”
It would also be wise for governments to switch from subsidizing fossil fuels to clean energy. “Plenty of government policy has been written for the benefit of the fossil fuel industry. According to a 2018 analysis by Oil Change International, the U.S. government annually spends about $20 billion on direct and indirect subsidies to the fossil fuel industry; the richest “G7” nations overall spend about $100 billion.”
Let’s subsidize clean wind, solar and water energy in these amounts. Imagine subsidizing the retrofitting of residences and commercial buildings, adding solar panels and rain collecting systems with 120 billion dollars. Imagine the jobs that would be created. A bold, comprehensive Green New Deal could go a long way in mitigating the effects of the climate disruption we are now experiencing.

One excellent project geared to transitioning to 100% clean energy is the Solutions Project:

It had been awhile since I looked at this project started by Marc Jacobson, a scientist, from Stanford. Jacobson and his team believe it's doable to convert to 100% clean energy by 2050. When I recently looked at the website it’s been significantly updated with more stats about transitioning to clean energy. The site has a cool interactive map of what almost every country, state and city could look like in 2050 with the transition to 100% wind, water & solar energy. It includes the % of each of these clean energies that would be feasible in that area of the world, how many jobs will be created, and stats like space that will be needed for this clean energy. What is also new in this project is to Commit "100% of their resources to elevate feminine leadership & frontline leaders of color." You can see that commitment represented in their board. It's a great site. Explore the site. Check out the potential for clean wind, water and solar energy in Mexico, or the country of your choice.
“The IPCC endorses some geoengineering fixes [only] as temporary remedial measures if the world heads towards dangerous levels of warming. But the authors warn there are major uncertainties about the social, environmental and ecological impacts, which mean the world would be far better off if policymakers strengthened natural cooling systems such as forest cover and accelerated efforts to reduce carbon emissions.”
Another development that is gaining more and more recognition is regenerative agriculture as a natural cooling system. “Regenerative Agriculture” refers to farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity. This results in both carbon drawdown and improved water infiltration and storage in soils.
I often site a 2010 United Nations study that concluded that organic and other sustainable farming methods would be necessary to feed the future.” Small, organic, biodiverse farms are not only the best way to feed the world as this extensive UN study concluded, it would provide a means to sequester carbon. The large mono culture fields of corporate agriculture lose carbon by the constant tilling and large amounts of pesticides and insecticides are used. A GND incorporates what scientists are telling us would be the best way for agriculture to address the climate emergency.

It’s important to emphasize how much we have to learn from indegenous communities on how to live with the land, air and water in addition to our obligation to support their efforts to protect their land, air and water.
Let’s go back to our environmental friend, David Suzuki and quote his wise words: “Along with humility, we should be grateful for nature’s generosity, something I’ve learned from Indigenous peoples. They acknowledge the source of their well-being, clean air, clean water, clean food and clean energy — all things that are created, cleansed or replenished by the web of life around us. In the urbanized industrial world we inhabit, we tend to think the economy is the source of all that matters to us, and so we have little regard for what we’re doing to the natural systems that sustain us. It’s time to see with new eyes.”
In Naomi Klein’s 2014 book “This changes Everything, Capitalism vs the Climate”, Naomi also addresses the strengths of the indigenous communities to teach us a way forward. Naomi discusses the relationships she built with strong indigenous women, while writing this book, women on the forefront, fighting these battles against extractivist industries. Klein beautifully writes:
“All are deeply connected to where they live. And they are all relatively young women. There are particular challenges about being a woman in that kind of leadership role, but the joy that all of them bring to the struggle … I mean, it’s not simple. It’s painful. But it is so much about love of community and love of place.” Naomi’s premise is that with climate change threats, we are presented with an opportunity to transform our economic system and build something radically better. Klein often writes about the importance of solutions, building something better and at the same time creating large social movements to resist the oil pipelines, fracking, the actions that aren’t addressing the climate emergency. She refers to these resistance movements as “Blockadia”. I would recommend reading “This Changes Everything.” It’s a GND in itself. In September of this year Klein's seventh book will be published, "On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal". The question she asked at the end of “This Changes Everything” was “History knocked on your door, did you answer?” We will find out or at least our children and grandchildren will find out if we answered the door and instituted a far reaching GND to mitigate the effects of the climate disruption we are facing.

Art can be a catalyst for social change when it communicates strong social justice messages. Art can also be a place to replenish our souls. I would like to end with one of my favorite poems that replenishes my soul.

The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry [written in 1968]
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.