Perhaps at another time in human history, 1962 for instance, when Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, was first published, the GND might have been a program that actually created a path to rebalancing the delicate and intricately interwoven threads of a healthy planet, but I worry that we’ve blindly hiked along a dangerous path for far too long, and anything less than a near complete reorganizing of our priorities and economic structure will be dooming many of our children and grandchildren to a far more precarious existence.
FDR's New Deal preserved capitalism during one of its most dire crises; the GND could very well perform a similar institutional function. But Capitalism as a system is geared to economic growth and accumulation, not conservation. All efficiency gains are used for expansion and not to reduce aggregate throughput of energy and natural resources. Effectively reversing climate change and building a sustainable future is exactly the opposite.
Climate disruption is beyond the ability of those holding power to solve. One of the main reasons the original New Deal was successful was because wars are good for the economy, during and after conflict. An adequate response to climate change would entail a significant shutdown of the global economy and a major reduction in overall consumption– and that will never be allowed to happen by governments or corporations. Not even a 1% reduction would be allowed. The elite will never freely relinquish their wealth and power, never. They must be compelled to do so.
There is no solution to the climate crisis which leaves capitalism’s compulsions to growth intact, and the Green New Deal, doesn’t directly address this. It thinks you can keep capitalism, keep growth, but remove the deleterious consequences. To meet the demands of the Green New Deal, which proposes to convert the US economy to zero carbon emissions, creating a fully renewable power by 2030, there will need to be many more mines gouged into the crust of the earth. Why? because nearly every renewable energy source depends upon non-renewable and frequently hard-to-access minerals: solar panels use indium, turbines use neodymium, batteries use lithium, and all require kilotons of steel, tin, silver, and copper. The renewable-energy supply chain is a complicated hopscotch around the periodic table and around the world.
Additionally, to replace current US energy consumption with renewables, you’d need to devote at least 25–50 percent of the US landmass to solar, wind, and biofuels, according to the estimates made by Vaclav Smil, a grand guru of energy studies.
Production of “green” things may need to expand continually to generate employment and welfare benefits for workers. Workers in a new state sector could find themselves dependent on this expansion, just as they would have under private capital. Although “green”, this expanded production will recreate the environmental problems the GND is meant to end. Getting off this treadmill is going to require more than just vigorous investment by the state in green technology and infrastructure.
A professor of sociology at the University of Oregon, John Bellamy Foster noted; “we are in an emergency situation, a crisis of existential proportions, and the first priority is eliminating fossil fuels, which entails the destruction of what is called fossil capital. The object is to avoid what Earth system scientists are calling “hothouse Earth” where catastrophic climate change is locked in and irreversible, and which could grip the planet in a couple of decades or far less” We cannot deal with the climate crisis, much less the overall planetary ecological emergency, in an effective way while conforming to the logic of a globalized capitalist economy. But we currently live in such an economy, and we have a very short time in which to respond to climate change”. Our only way out of this epochal crisis is the immediate reduction in carbon emissions, which means keeping fossil fuels in the ground. That requires a direct confrontation with fossil capital. There is no other way. Can any of you imagine the state compelling the oil superpowers to keeping it in the ground?
One of the boosts the GND is likely to give to capital is through state investment through private partnerships. The GND does not propose the creation of state ownership of utilities, much less agriculture, housing, or medical care. Similarly, the proposal has provisions for energy upgrades through refurbishing existing buildings, environmental cleanup, and an unusual provision to “ensure businesspersons are free from unfair competition.” Without further establishing state ownership over these sectors, many of these provisions are going to add value to existing private property or rely on contractors to do the work, paid for by large sums of public money. Although the GND provides decent employment and these emission reduction programs are desperately needed, much of this activity will generate further wealth in private hands if not performed by the state.
Consider this psychological dilemma as well; Under what circumstances would hundreds of millions of people in scores of countries with disparate political philosophies and political ideologies — people who currently enjoy the “good life” — be induced simultaneously to risk wrecking their comfortable lives to stave off a climate or eco-crisis that many are not convinced is happening and, even if it is, it is perceived likely mainly to affect other people somewhere else?
There is little if any room for compromises if we have any chance of avoiding the worst-case scenarios of climate chaos. A coordinated comprehensive global plan with state agencies exercising complete control of the process and over private capital might be a requirement if we hope to have any effective success. But such is the nature of this global calamity.
The world of the Green New Deal is the current world but better—this world but with zero emissions, universal health care, and free college. The appeal is obvious but the combination impossible. We can’t remain in this world. To preserve the ecological niche in which we and our cohort of species have lived for the last eleven thousand years, we will have to completely reorganize society, changing where and how and most importantly why we live. Given current technology, there is no possibility to continue using more energy per person, more land per person, more more per person.
Greta Thunberg, in a recent speech spelled it out with surgical precision; “Wherever I go I seem to be surrounded by fairytales. Business leaders, elected officials all across the political spectrum spending their time making up and telling bedtime stories that soothe us, that make us go back to sleep. These are ‘feel-good’ stories about how we are going to fix everything. How wonderful everything is going to be when we have ‘solved’ everything. But the problem we are facing is not that we lack the ability to dream, or to imagine a better world. The problem now is that we need to wake up. It’s time to face the reality, the facts, the science. And the science doesn’t mainly speak of ‘great opportunities to create the society we always wanted’. It tells of unspoken human sufferings, which will get worse and worse the longer we delay action – unless we start to act now. And yes, of course a sustainable transformed world will include lots of new benefits. But you must understand. This is not primarily an opportunity to create new green jobs, new businesses or green economic growth. This is above all an emergency, and not just any emergency. This is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced.”
A professor of sociology at the University of Oregon, John Bellamy Foster noted; “we are in an emergency situation, a crisis of existential proportions, and the first priority is eliminating fossil fuels, which entails the destruction of what is called fossil capital. The object is to avoid what Earth system scientists are calling “hothouse Earth” where catastrophic climate change is locked in and irreversible, and which could grip the planet in a couple of decades or far less” We cannot deal with the climate crisis, much less the overall planetary ecological emergency, in an effective way while conforming to the logic of a globalized capitalist economy. But we currently live in such an economy, and we have a very short time in which to respond to climate change”. Our only way out of this epochal crisis is the immediate reduction in carbon emissions, which means keeping fossil fuels in the ground. That requires a direct confrontation with fossil capital. There is no other way.
For now, a revolution is not on the horizon. We’re stuck between the devil and the green new deal and I can hardly blame anyone for committing themselves to the hope at hand rather than ambient despair. Perhaps work on legislative reforms will mean the difference between the unthinkable and the merely unbearable. But let’s not lie to each other. It’s highly unlikely.
Replacing Trump in 2020 is an important starting point for global sanity. His barbaric obsession with unhindered capitalism is disastrous for the planet. But electing a Democrat that does not place radical climate action at the top of their agenda is analogous to the frog in the slowly simmering pot who has his agony prolonged until he dies.
The challenge of climate change clearly requires action on a massive scale. It won’t just go away on its own and is clearly getting worse every year. It’s time to wake up, as difficult as that may be. And along the way, we continue the work of expanding our visions for and activities of a life lived where the truly important and meaningful qualities of humanity blossom. This need not mean a gray world of grim austerity, though that’s what’s coming if extraction, over consumption, inequality and dispossession continue. We can have enough of what matters most. Another world is already here. Another world is coming, whether we like it or not, and it sure won’t look like this one.