The Green(ish) New Deal

Is it enough?

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (center) speaks on the Green New Deal with Senator Ed Markey (right) in front of the Capitol Building in February 2019. Photo: Senate Democrats
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“Slow and steady wins the race” says the old proverb. That is fine for running a marathon, but with the planet on the brink of irreversible damage and the majority of its inhabitants facing a struggle to survive, fast action is imperative.

Enter the Green New Deal, a set of social and economic reforms that have been discussed in several countries for years. It arose from grassroots environmental activism in response to catastrophes around the globe and their outsized impact on the world’s most vulnerable. But does it go far enough, and will it be in time?

The New York Times columnist Tom Friedman coined the term in 2006. Friedman’s proposal was that the United States “reinvent” itself as a world leader in fighting climate change, in the same way that Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” was extensive action in the face of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The figures above are projected totals for the next 10 years. Sources: White House statement, Oct. 28, 2021; National Defense Budget Estimate, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller). INFOGRAPHIC: Gordon Frazier / FS

Reformist and Green parties have championed something like a Green New Deal in Australia, Canada, the U.S., United Kingdom, European Union and South Korea.

Bernie Sanders put fighting climate change and economic injustice front and center in his 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns, giving them large-scale visibility and popular acceptance.

Green New Deal attempts. The idea was turned into proposed legislation in the U.S. in February 2019 by liberal Democrats Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markley. The bill asserted that “climate change, pollution, and environmental destruction have exacerbated systemic racial, regional, social, environmental, and economic injustices … by disproportionately affecting indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, … women” and others. True.

It proposed lofty goals, guaranteed access to clean water and healthy food, meeting 100% of energy needs with renewable technology, providing living wages and workers’ rights to organize, and creating high quality union jobs, healthcare, affordable housing, and economic security.

There was zero chance the Green New Deal was ever going to pass. In typical Democrat/Republican shenanigans and finger-pointing, it was dead a month later. Ocasio-Cortez and Markley re-introduced the bill in April 2021. But as bold a concept as it sounds, the Green New Deal measure contains no specifics, and is a non-binding resolution anyway!

It has now been buried in the debate over Biden’s Build Back Better (BBB) agenda, which deliberately avoids the term “Green New Deal.” BBB started out as a $3.5 trillion spending plan that would support green technologies and manufacturing, penalize energy utilities for use of fossil fuels, make child and elder care more affordable, increase funding for higher education and decrease student debt. BBB called for new spending to be driven by increased taxes on the wealthiest.

It did not take long for most of the social and healthcare programs and action on phasing out fossil fuels to be set aside. Build Back Better is now reduced to $1.75 trillion and whether even that will pass remains to be seen. Taxing the rich to pay for it has been shelved. Larry Summers, former World Bank Economist, Democratic operative and arrogant blowhard, pointed out that there is something wrong with one-percenters like him “getting a significant tax break from a Democrats only tax bill.” The only green in this deal is more money for those who have far too much.

Outside this bill, Biden has guaranteed continued $20 billion-a-year subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, and his Interior Department is offering over 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling leases.

Driving global inaction. The U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) and a World Health Organization Conference on Health and Climate Change were underway in Glasgow, Scotland, as the Freedom Socialist went to press. Their ambitious language was, as climate activist Greta Thunberg put it, full of “distant non-binding promises” and “blah, blah, blah.” Biden’s complete failure to bring meaningful U.S. climate action to the table was soft-pedaled.

What is often ignored is how U.S. inaction undermines any effective global response. It is the highest historical contributor to global planet warming greenhouse gas emissions, and currently the second highest yearly culprit. And its increased cold war against China, currently the highest emitter, is a cause of that country’s reversed course from cutting to increasing its reliance on coal. China is ramping up military spending to keep up with U.S. belligerence.

Capitalist elephant in the room. The programs of Greens, Democrats and COP26 invariably call for slow, step-by-step change that safeguards capitalist profits. But humanity simply does not have time to sit idly by while an incredibly small group of the ultra-wealthy drive environmental destruction.

The evidence that dramatic and comprehensive action is required on a world scale is overwhelming. In the U.S. alone, the cost of climate-related disasters has amounted to $100 billion or more annually for the last five years. And the pace is quickening.

Many are dissatisfied with incrementalism. Indigenous-led activists descended on the White House in the run up to COP26, demanding that President Biden declare a national climate emergency and immediately halt fossil fuel projects. Hundreds of thousands rallied in Glasgow.

Radical scientists leaked the upcoming reports of Working Groups II and III of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) before they could be watered down by governments before publication, as they have been in the past. Among other things they said, “Incremental change is not a viable option,” and “We must abandon economic growth, which is the basis of capitalism.” Their statements are clear. We need vast and concrete action now on a scale that the phrase the Green New Deal implies without spelling out. That kind of sweeping change is not happening under capitalism in the U.S. or other major polluting countries. Only mass revolutionary action can make it so.

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