Green New Deal: Savior or Too Little Too Late

Peter Weisberg
Center for Global Justice
Friday, March 22, 2019

Modern life has compressed time and space. Through air travel or instantaneous communication and access to information you can traverse the globe in a matter of hours or gain knowledge nanoseconds after a question is posed. The price for this, along with everything we want, on demand, all the time, is a total disconnection from the planet that sustains our lives.
As a species, we now hang over the abyss of a geoengineered future we have created for ourselves. At our insistence, our voracious appetite is consuming nature itself. We have refused to heed the warnings Earth has been sending, and there is no rescue team on its way.
Dahr Jamail, The End of Ice

When Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Senator Markey announced their GND Resolution, a seismic shift occurred in the US, at least in the realm of discussion and attention on climate change.

Every major candidate in the 2020 elections will likely be compelled to address the pivotal issue of this century; will all our collective actions in the next 12 years be significant enough to alter the current disastrous course toward catastrophic climate change?

Its certainly possible that our heads have already been buried in the sand too long and the elusive tipping point that sets in motion the cascade of climate events that are resistant to mitigating human intervention has already passed. And unlike many of the other important injustices we face, global climate change is in fact, global.

Although personally quite pessimistic about the outcome of this issue, it's likely I also suffer from “eco-anxiety”, a new term I read about recently. But I'm here today because I don't know for certain where we are in this time line and as long as there’s a glimmer of hope, I am driven to act.
Naomi Klein helped forge the LEAP Manifesto a couple of years ago, a blueprint for Canada's energy and social transformation. In many respects, it proposes similar solutions to the GND:
100% renewable energy economy by 2030.
Agricultural and farming re-orientation
A green mass and personal transportation system
Guaranteed living wage jobs
High quality healthcare for all Americans.
Secure access to clean air and water for all
Building and retrofitting construction to state of the art energy efficient standards
An inclusive process including those communities most vulnerable to climate change impact.
The cost largely driven thru government realignment of funds

I think most of us will agree this set of goals is incredible ambitious and transformative, not only in how we change our energy use, but how we structure our economy as a whole, the framework for how we see each other and our collective responsibilities to humanity and all living species.

From an organizing, strategic perspective, is this broad platform helpful or harmful? If the messaging emphasizes 100% renewables, does that provide us with a better focus for garnering greater support and momentum? It seems to me that most if not all of the other points in the GND would or certainly could follow as a consequence of establishing a 100% renewables economy. Assuming there’s a timetable, which there is, diluting our attention from the main survival issue, with a platform of essential social justice issues, could create the space for incrementalists and climate deniers to slow movement building and push us beyond the tipping point. If politics is the art of compromise, we're fucked. In my opinion, the time for a tidy, slow, inch by inch climate policy has passed. Organizing for all social and economic issues must continue, but a focused climate policy is essential.

If we are to actively participate in this critical dialog, not only must we become more informed armchair climate scientists, we also need to be aware of the criticisms coming from neo-liberals, right wing pundits, corporate democrats, corporate media and sectors of more radical left wing organizations.

The old guard corporate Democrats, including my states’ representatives, Pelosi and Feinstein, are trying very hard to get the energetic progressive tigers by the tail. Using everything from procedural roadblocks to public scolding, these corporate Democrats have not learned the historical lessons from the 2016 election. After decades of empty promises to working people of all colors, the myth that the Democratic Party is the people’s party has been largely shattered. And even though initial public sentiment seems very favorable to the ideas expressed in the GND, those dems tied to corporate socialism and dependent on corporate financial donors, still control the party. Without a break from these money sources, the dems will continue to carry water for climate disruptors. The way the GND gets paid for requires a near complete turnaround in foreign military interventions, corporate and high income earner tax laws. We are led to believe that these policies are cornerstones of the American success story. Utter hogwash. The old guard dems are determined to teach the new class of utopian whippersnappers a lesson. The party is changing for the better in a number of ways, but we have to consider the possibility that the amount of time it takes to replace the old guard with a new progressive majority might take too long to save us.

The Republicans? What can be said about the religious (in the broadest sense) political fanatics that proudly cling to an anti-science, individualistic, greed oriented values profile? Actually, there's a lot to be said. Hilary was willing to write them off and I'm not saying that's wrong from a short term tactical perspective. And again from the short time line, changing attitudes might not be realistic. In addition, reducing all Republicans to the above stereotype is unfair. It is fair to say that most of the Republican elected officials receive large donations from the fossil fuel industry. Just follow the money. Through outright lies and misinformation, Republicans are already attacking the GND with outrageous messaging; how it will take away cars, airplane flights and everyone's god given right to own a cow. On the other hand, the reality that; lifestyles, consumer choices, industrial models, and the source of political power, must all change radically should not be soft pedaled to the public, even though many will not want to hear it.

Changing hearts and minds might require that all of us experience first hand the consequences of severe weather events exaggerated by climate change. The idea that “things will have to get worse before they get better”, might be the deciding factor in changing public opinion. Scientific modeling and real scientific facts have alerted us to what's happening now and coming on the near horizon. Why don't facts motivate us? Some folks cite the first New Deal as an example of what we are capable of as a nation. And while that is true on some level, rallying the country around climate issues is very different from the national programs designed to lift the country from economic depression and WW2. Can we change the tendency we humans seem to live by, meaning; We see what we want to see. We hear what we want to hear. Moving beyond the myths we have all grown up with and live by will be very hard.

A religious belief that technology will solve the climate crisis is one of those myths. Yes, there are amazing new technologies being developed, but without the political will, they are neutered.
The idea that Capitalism is the only economic model for attaining a sustainable future is another myth.
The worship of consumerism and an unsustainable standard of living built around that mindset, is another myth that will be extremely difficult to change.
Some of the arguments originating on the “far” left, center around the issue of mandatory vs voluntary implementation. In my opinion, we are past the point of voluntary compliance with the deep rooted goals we will need to achieve for survival. A criticism from Derrick Jensen, co-founder of Deep Green Resistance, would incorporate the view that civilization is by its very nature destructive of the environment including all other living species. In so far as the GND does not go far enough to challenge the extractive, consumption driven economic model we currently live in, the destruction of the ecosystem will continue. Jensen's' radical environmentalism is less about building mass movements and more about finding system weaknesses in the infrastructure that are critical to the industrial machine, and either crippling or eliminating them. Tactically, this would be accomplished by a relatively small underground organization. But a good deal of its success would be dependent on a much larger above ground support network. In a 2017 Foreign Policy article that Georgeann sent out recently, Jamie Bartlett predicts the emergence of a vibrant militant environmental extremist movement. He notes that the grievances are well founded and that well mannered political activism; weekend demonstrations, letter writing to politicians, electoral politics, boycotts, shorter showers, just aren't working. Boeing, Bayer (Monsanto), Black Rock, Chase, Halliburton, they will never willingly hand over power to the people. The current landscape of politicians with a few hopeful exceptions, will never give up power to the people. These current holders of power in our society will never voluntarily cease to destroy the fabric of a future for all living species. Certainly not without a fight. Knowing this, how does it affect our methods of resistance? Is the GND that vehicle we choose to challenge the 1%?

This brings me to the next question for you all. If you knew (and we do) that inaction or incremental action in the face of runaway climate change would end civilization as we know it, not to mention the eradication of countless other species, how far would you be willing to go to address what needs to be done? When will we collectively stop asking and start insisting? Most of us and our families are so surrounded and woven into the fabric and binding nature of the system. The energy it takes to just stay on the treadmill is a major obstacle to civic, community and bottom up movement building. We should always be looking for ways to support and energize each other in this critical fight.

We already know climate change is causing major droughts in the southern hemispheres, leading to crop failures, severe economic hardships and mass human migrations looking for better chances of survival for themselves and families. I was in California last November during the Camp Fire, a drought fueled disaster that blanketed and impacted all of N California. Just this week we saw catastrophic flooding in the US Midwest. SE Africa took the brunt of perhaps the most severe weather disasters in the southern hemisphere. We know that populated islands are becoming submerged as the oceans rise. We know that all the extreme climate events are being energized by warming seas, shifting patterns of air and water currents. Ice caps are melting. Permafrost is releasing methane. These previews are staring us in the face and yet, the coming to Jesus moment seems to still elude us collectively. I'm not talking about a general public willingness to accept the reality of climate change. I am suggesting that the overwhelming depth and severity of climate chaos is erupting already and will expand from here. And it is this urgent, immediate, catastrophic tsunami that I, we, they, don't seem to be taking seriously, at least as far as I can see.
The sky is falling!
The seas are rising!
The land is burning!
All heads out of the sand!
All hands on deck!
Every aspect and segment of the climate warrior movement needs our support.