Dahr Jamail, staff writer at Truthout, has been writing about the global emergency of climate change for nearly a decade. In his new book,The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Destruction, which is being released today, Jamail shares his firsthand accounts of returning to beloved spaces in the natural world. He observes the drastic ways in which they’ve been destroyed due to humanity’s relentless burning of fossil fuels, and mourns over how many of them are unlikely to recover over the duration of human existence.
A million fish die in Australia’s Murray-Darling River System
Anton Woronczuk: In bearing witness to the destruction of the natural world, you write about the severe impacts of climate change on several different kinds of ecosystems and landscapes. Instead ofThe End of Ice,you could’ve as easily chosenThe End of Rainforests,The End of CoralorThe End of Coastal Citiesas a relevant title for your book. Why did you decide on “ice”?
Dahr Jamail:That’s exactly right … we are in an age of loss, and the book could have had any number of titles. I landed on “ice” for two reasons. First, because that is where I personally feel the loss the most, given how much time I spend in the mountains, and where the idea of the book originated. Having lived in Alaska and spent so much time on glaciers there while climbing, that is where I saw how dramatically climate change was already unfolding back in the mid-1990s. The second reason I chose ice was because as we lose glaciers and ice fields, literally hundreds of millions, and even billions of people will be directly impacted by lack of drinking water, lack of water for irrigation for agriculture, and so much more. This is no small thing.
Record breaking drought in Australia
In your accounts about scaling glaciers in Alaska or snorkeling along the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, you reflect on how much has changed since you first visited them. Which was the hardest place to return to? Which was the hardest to leave?
All of it was heartbreaking, from what I see happening on Denali and other glaciers in Alaska that I have long-term relationships with, to the loss of the Great Barrier Reef. But certainly, the moment when I was out of the Great Barrier Reef, it was the last snorkel of the day, and time to head back to land, when my heart broke. It really felt like it was the last time I’d see the reef, and I was saying goodbye. I wept. That year, 30 percent of the reef died from that coral bleaching event I was witnessing. The next year, another bleaching event took out 20 percent of the reef. So, in two years, half of the single largest coral reef on the planet was wiped out from climate change-induced bleaching. That’s why I wept, knowing that was happening, and was only going to continue.
I’m wondering if even more significant changes have occurred in some of the places you’ve written about inThe End of Ice.
I could write pages about that. I was updating my scientific reports in my citations up until my final deadline for publishing, and even then, struggling to keep pace with the changes. Since then, intensely dramatic changes have happened.
One example is a study published inNature[that] showed that over the last quarter century, the oceans have absorbed 60 percent more heat annually than estimated in the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The study underscored that the globe’s oceans have, in fact, already absorbed 93 percent of all the heat humans have added to the atmosphere, that the climate system’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases is far higher than thought, and that planetary warming is far more advanced than had previously been grasped.
Thousands of flying foxes die from heat exhaustion Cairns Australia
To give you an idea of how much heat the oceans have absorbed: if that heat had instead gone into the atmosphere, the global temperature would be 97 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than it is today. For those who think that there are still 12 years left to change things, the question posed by a sea level rise expert in my book seems painfully apt: How do we remove all the heat that’s already been absorbed by the oceans?
Two weeks after that Nature article came out, a study in Scientific Reports warned that the extinction of animal and plant species, thanks to climate change, could lead to a “domino effect” that might, in the end, annihilate life on the planet. It suggested that organisms will die out at increasingly rapid rates because they depend on other species that are also on their way out. It’s a process the study calls “co-extinction.”
A common thread throughout your book is that the fate of our ecosystems and the many ecological sites you visited has been decided. This seems to be in marked contrast with mainstream wisdom, which says that humanity can prevent a climate-induced catastrophe as long as we make major changes within a decade or so. Why do you think this discrepancy exists?
Global capitalism, neoliberal economics and the power structure depend upon things continuing as they are. The only real chance at mitigation of the impacts from climate change that are now entrenched in the climate system, would have been to abandon capitalism and enact something akin to the New Green Deal back when NASA’s James Hansen sounded the alarm about climate change to Congress in the 1980s. A radical restructuring of the entire fossil-fuel based economy means those who have all the power today would be rendered obsolete. The current hierarchy would have to be obliterated. And so, in short, power never concedes power willingly.
BoE governor Mark Carney is right to suggest adding global warming to stress tests
Most central bankers make a virtue of the narrowness of their remit, remaining circumspect on issues deemed to go beyond it.
Not Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, who, despite facing criticism for exceeding his mandate, has suggested the risks arising from climate change should form part of itsannual stress testsfor banks from 2019.
The suggestion is timely.
It comes a few days after rules governing how to implement the Paris climate agreementwere approved, against significant odds, by nearly 200 countries at the COP24 talks in Poland.
It is also uncontroversial — it does not require a change to the regulatory framework, but simply adds a risk to the list that banks are already meant to measure. Furthermore, the Bank of England is suggesting including climate change as an exploratory scenario, which banks can neither pass nor fail.
They are required only to scrutinise whether they are doing enough. For that reason, many climate activists will consider the proposal, much like the Paris agreement itself, does not go far enough.
The measure should at least help to convince financial sector actors of the potential impact they face from climate issues.
The latest warnings about global warming are sobering.
The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changereportnoted that on current trends, average global temperatures are set to rise by 3-4C from pre-industrial levels by 2100.
Failure to take action to curb that rise creates multiple risks.
Extreme heat events are likely to multiply.
So, too, are the frequency and intensity of heavy rain and floods, and of droughts.
Actions taken to mitigate climate change also carry risk.
New policies aimed at limiting average global temperature rises, in line with the Paris agreement, will make it harder for hydrocarbon-intensive industries to operate profitably.
This could leave companies with stranded assets worth billions, and the banks that lent to them with enormous unpaid debts.
Whatever the source of the risk, a core function of a central bank is to ensure that money is being safely lent.
Lenders are moving slowly because unlike the insurance sector they are less directly exposed to the destructive power of extreme weather. But they are not immune — and should be paying more heed.
A report by insurance company Swiss Re found the total economic loss from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters nearly doubled to $337bn in 2017, from $180bn the year before.
Lloyd’s of London this year posted its first loss in six years, citing the impact of a series of natural disasters.
Axa, the large insurer, has warned that more than 4C of warming this century would make the world “uninsurable”.
The consequences for the whole financial system would then be catastrophic.
Any move by the Bank of England to incorporate climate risks in stress tests would be the first by a central bank of a major financial centre. Butothers are alertto climate change risks.
In 2017, the Dutch central bank published a report entitled “Waterproof?”, which concluded that financial institutions should factor in the consequences of a changing climate and the transition to a carbon-neutral economy.
Such steps alone will not prevent the oceans rising, climate-induced mass migration or extreme weather.
The “tragedy of the horizon”, as Mr Carney puts it, is the danger that by the time climate change is recognised by enough actors to be a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late to manage it.
Her comment came a few days before a major UN climate summit, COP24, held in Katowice, Poland.
Other panellists on Q&A contradicted Ms Vanstone, saying emissions were rising.
This prompted many viewers of the program to call on RMIT ABC Fact Check to investigate Ms Vanstone’s claim.
Ms Vanstone’s claim is misleading.
Latest federal government figures suggest that although greenhouse gas emissions have fallen over the past 10 years, emissions started trending upwards again about four years ago.
The upturn, since 2014, has coincided with the Abbott government’s removal of the carbon tax.
Also, while emissions from electricity production have been falling, the decrease has been outweighed over the past four years by rising emissions in other sectors of the economy, such as transport, where emissions are associated with increased LNG production for export.
Emissions can be measured in different ways: for example, as total emissions or emissions per capita or per GDP.
In the past year, Australia’s total emissions have been rising. But emissions per capita or per dollar of real GDP have been falling, mainly due to Australia’s rapid population growth.
However, it is worth noting that Australia’s progress in cutting emissions under its international obligations (the Paris Agreement) is measured by changes in total emissions rather than by other measures.
As one expert put it: “The atmosphere doesn’t care how many people are contributing to emissions; it’s the total quantity of emissions that matters.”
Ms Vanstone made her claim during a discussion on Q&A about a protest by Australian schoolchildren titled ‘Strike 4 Climate Action‘.
She was speaking about the climate policies of Australia’s two major political parties, and in the broader context of greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the environment, as perceived by young people.
Ms Vanstone did not specify which kind of emissions she was talking about. Nor whether she was referring to simple totals or ratios.
Fact Check invited her to clarify this. She said she had not been expecting to talk about emissions: “I can’t tell you that I had a particular tight construct in my head at the time,” she said.
“I think I was just making a general remark about emissions generally over a long period of time.”
Fact Check considers it reasonable to assume that her claim refers to Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions over the past 10 years — the length of time examined by the Government’s most recent report on emissions.
What others are saying
Ms Vanstone is not alone in claiming emissions in Australia are decreasing, though other speakers have been more specific.
Liberal senator Linda Reynolds, also on Q&A, said carbon emissions per capita and by GDP were at their lowest levels in 28 years.
Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price also highlighted this low ina press releaseannouncing the Government’s latest quarterly emissions data.
Nonetheless, she acknowledged that total emissions had risen over the year to June 2018.
Others have also pointed to the rise in total emissions.
Labor senator Lisa Singh, another of the recent Q&A panelists, argued that “emissions have continued to go up since 2011”.
Andon ABC radiothe same week, Richie Merzian, the climate and energy director for think tank the Australia Institute said: “For the last four years, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing.”
The Australian Department of the Environment and Energy collects and publishes a series of reports and databases, known as theNational Greenhouse Accounts.
The accounts track greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 onwards, and fulfil Australia’s international reporting obligations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Kyoto Protocol.
Quarterly reports, released as part of the accounts, track total emissions as well as emissions by sector, per capita and per GDP.
Thelatest report, released three days before Ms Vanstone’s Q&A appearance, provides estimates of Australia’s national inventory of greenhouse gas emissions up to the June quarter of 2018.
The report examines emissions produced by eight sectors: electricity, stationary energy, transport, fugitive emissions (for example, leakages), industrial processes and product use, agriculture, waste, and land use, land use change and forestry.
Are emissions per capita and per GDP useful measures?
Put simply, no.
Dr Saddler said focusing on emissions per capita was meaningless, since the measure used in international agreements was the more crucial total emissions.
“The atmosphere doesn’t care how many people are contributing to emissions; it’s the total quantity of emissions that matters,” he said.
Professor David Karoly, an internationally recognised expert on climate change, said the emissions per capita was a useful measure when it allowed for country by country comparisons.
“The Australian per capita share at the moment is higher than any other developed country in the world — higher than the US. Yes, it’s coming down, but it is still the highest.”
Both Dr Saddler and Professor Karoly confirmed the fall in emissions per capita and GDP were due to rapid population growth in Australia.
Experts assess the claim
Professor Karoly said if Amanda Vanstone’s claim was made in reference to total Australian emissions, “they are going up”.
He noted that the start of the recent rebound in emissions from mid-2014 coincided with thedumping of the carbon taxby the Abbott government in July of that year.
Professor Mark Howden, the director of ANU’s Climate Change Institute, told Fact Check: “I think it is correct to say that Australian emissions were coming down, but are now rising steadily.”
He said an argument could be made that emissions have come down, given they are lower now than at their peak between 2005 and 2008.
“However, this is a problematic argument,” he said.
“Under the current mix of policies and economic activities, emissions are clearly not coming down but instead are rising steadily.”
Pep Canadell, a senior principal research scientist in the CSIRO Climate Science Centre, and the executive director of the Global Carbon Project, suggested that 1990 was a good reference year for gleaning a long-term view of changes to emissions.
“Good annual data only starts from 1990, which is the reference year of the Kyoto Protocol and why the Government started the good quality data then,” Dr Canadell said.
Emissions per capita have fallen 37 per cent since 1990.
However, Dr Canadell added:
“Given Ms Vanstone’s statement is present tense, I disagree [that emissions are falling]. According to the data, emissions have been going up since 2013, with ups and downs, and, if anything, accelerating recently.”
Secretary-General’s remarks at the closing of the High-Level Segment of the Talanoa Dialogue, COP-24 [as delivered]
Ladies and gentlemen,
In my opening statement to this conference one week ago, I told you that this was the most important COP since the adoption of the Paris Agreement.
I warned that climate change is running faster than we are and that Katowice must—in no uncertain terms—be a success, as a necessary platform to reverse this trend.
To achieve it, I said that ambition and compromises were both needed. Never have the stakes been higher.
I left Katowice hopeful, but uncertain.
While I was away, three more reports were added to the long list of warnings signals:
A Special WHO report on impacts to health due to climate change;
A UN Environment Programme report which highlights the opportunities for reducing emissions in the construction sector; and
NASA’s research on the first signs of significant melting of glaciers in East Antarctica.
Returning to Katowice, I see that despite progress in the negotiating texts much remains to be done.
And today, the Presidency is presenting a text as new basis for negotiations.
I’d like to thank the Polish Presidency for its efforts.
I understand it takes an enormous amount of energy and work to organize such a conference.
I also understand the weight of responsibility that this COP carries.
There can be no doubt that it is a moment of truth.
In this regard, key political issues remain unresolved.
This is not surprising—we recognize the complexity of this work. But we are running out of time.
Today, it is only fitting that we meet under the auspices of the Talanoa Dialogue.
I’d like to thank Fiji for initiating this Dialogue.
It’s no coincidence they’re the ones who established the process to discuss ambition to meet a 1.5C° goal.
Small Island States know better than any of us the importance of meeting that goal.
As I said in my opening remarks, for people living on those islands, climate change isn’t a theoretical exercise about the future – it’s a matter of life and death today.
Talanoa’s spirit is exactly how we can achieve a successful result in these last crucial days of COP24.
It is defined by openness, driven by optimism, and focused not on political differences, but on the collective well-being of those living on this planet.
And let me be open and transparent.
The IPCC Special Report is a stark acknowledgment of what the consequences of global warming beyond 1.5 degrees will mean for billions of people around the world, especially those who call small island states home.
This is not good news, but we cannot afford to ignore it.
Over the last 10 days, many of you have worked long, hard hours and I want to acknowledge your efforts.
But we need to accelerate those efforts to reach consensus if we want to follow-up on the commitments made in Paris.
The Katowice package needs to deliver the Paris Agreement Work Program, progress on finance and a strong basis for the revision of National Determined Contributions under the Talanoa Dialogue.
These three components are linked by one central idea—boosting ambition.
Ambition when it comes to predictable and accessible financial flows for the economic transition towards a low-emission and climate-resilient world.
Ambition with respect to climate action.
And ambition with respect to developing a flexible but robust set of rules for the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
Let us start by finance.
The financial obligation from developed countries to support efforts of developing countries was established in the Convention when it was adopted in 1992—more than 25 years ago.
It’s very difficult to explain to those suffering from the effects of climate change that we have not managed to find predictable support for the actions that must be taken.
The World Bank announced a new set of climate targets for 2021-2025, doubling its current 5-year investments to US$ 200 billion, both in mitigation and adaptation, in support for countries to take ambitious climate action.
Here at COP24, Multilateral Development Banks announced the alignment of their activities with the goals of the Paris Agreement and in line with the science-based evidence identified by the IPCC.
It represents US$ 35 billion in developing and emerging economies with an additional leverage on US$ 52 billion from private and public sources.
And before the COP, we saw a new Investor Agenda, as well as, for example, an announcement by ING that it would set science-based targets to shift its lending portfolio towards a low-emission future.
These private sector actors are making important progress because they recognize the seriousness of the climate challenge we face and the opportunities related to addressing it.
Failing here in Katowice would send a disastrous message to those who stand ready to shift to a green economy.
So, I urge you to find common ground that will allow us to show the world that we are listening, that we care.
Developed countries must scale up their contributions to jointly mobilize US$100 billion annually by 2020.
And we need to strengthen the Green Climate Fund.
Germany’s pledge to double its contribution in the current replenishment process is a very positive sign that I hope will inspire others to do the same.
I have appointed the President of France and Prime Minister of Jamaica to lead the mobilization of the international community, both public and private, to reach the target of US$ 100 billion in the context of the preparation of the Climate Summit I have convened in September of next year.
Second, the rulebook.
I just arrived from Marrakech.
It reminded me that the deadline to finalize the Paris Agreement Work Program was not one that was imposed upon Parties by anyone—it was a deadline Parties imposed upon themselves at COP22, precisely in Marrakech.
Both the Convention and the Paris Agreement recognize that countries have different realities, different capacities and different circumstances.
We must find a formula that balances the responsibilities of all countries.
This will allow us to have a regime that is fair and effective for all.
To achieve this, and to build the trust that everyone is doing their fair share, we need to have a strong transparency framework to monitor and assess progress on all fronts: mitigation, adaptation and provision of support, including finance, technology and capacity building.
I am aware that this issue is also technically complex and many linkages across different parts of the texts are being considered.
But I have confidence that you will find a way to overcome those challenges.
Third: climate action.
Today, Katowice is the hub of global climate action. The eyes of the world are on us. And more than 32,000 people have come here to find solutions to climate change.
They are inspired, engaged and they want us to deliver. They want us to finish the job.
Katowice must be, Mr. President, the dawn of a new determination to unleash the promise of the Paris Agreement.
We clearly have the know-how and the ability to reach 1.5C.
We see incredible momentum from all segments of society to lower emissions and make the transition from the grey economy to the green.
We have the ways.
What we need is the political will to move forward.
As the IPCC Special Report indicates, the intersection between State and non-State is essential to reaching our climate goals.
This Talanoa Dialogue is an example of how this can all come together.
The IPCC report outlined a catastrophic future if we do not act immediately.
It also clearly states that the window of opportunity is closing.
We no longer have the luxury of time.
That’s why we need to have our work here in Katowice finalized—and finalized in less than three days.
Meeting your deadline means we can immediately unleash the full potential of the Paris Agreement and its promise of a low-emissions climate-resilient future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I understand that none of this is easy. I understand some of you will need to make some tough political decisions.
But this is the time for consensus. This is the time for political compromises to be reached. This means sacrifices, but it will benefit us all collectively.
I challenge you to work together for that purpose.
I challenge you to accelerate and finish the job.
And to raise ambition on all fronts.
To waste this opportunity in Katowice would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change.
It would not only be immoral, it would be suicidal.
This may sound like a dramatic appeal, but it is exactly this: a dramatic appeal.
Let us then carry forth the spirit of the Talanoa Dialogue in these crucial next few days and let us heed its messages.
It’s about more than the future of each country.
I have three young granddaughters. I will not be here at the end of the century. The same probably applies to all of you.
I do not want my granddaughters or anybody else’s to suffer the consequences of our failures.
They would not forgive us if uncontrolled and spiraling climate change would be our legacy to them.
In our complex, interdependent global ecosystem, life is dying, with species extinction accelerating.
The climate crisis is worsening much faster than previously predicted. Every single day 200 species are becoming extinct.
This desperate situation can’t continue.
Political leaders worldwide are failing to address the environmental crisis.
If global corporate capitalism continues to drive the international economy, global catastrophe is inevitable.
Complacency and inaction in Britain, the US, Australia, Brazil, across Africa and Asia – all illustrate diverse manifestations of political paralysis, abdicating humankind’s grave responsibility for planetary stewardship.
International political organisations and national governments must foreground the climate-emergency issue immediately, urgently drawing up comprehensive policies to address it.
Conventionally privileged nations must voluntarily fund comprehensive environment-protection policies in impoverished nations, to compensate the latter for foregoing unsustainable economic growth, and paying recompense for the planet-plundering imperialism of materially privileged nations.
With extreme weather already hitting food production, we demand that governments act now to avoid any risk of hunger, with emergency investment in agro-ecological extreme-weather-resistant food production. We also call for an urgent summit on saving the Arctic icecap, to slow weather disruption of our harvests.
We further call on concerned global citizens to rise up and organise against current complacency in their particular contexts, including indigenous people’s rights advocacy, decolonisation and reparatory justice – so joining the global movement that’s now rebelling against extinction (eg Extinction Rebellion in the UK).
We must collectively do whatever’s necessary non-violently, to persuade politicians and business leaders to relinquish their complacency and denial. Their “business as usual” is no longer an option.
Global citizens will no longer put up with this failure of our planetary duty.
Every one of us, especially in the materially privileged world, must commit to accepting the need to live more lightly, consume far less, and to not only uphold human rights but also our stewardship responsibilities to the planet.
Dr Vandana ShivaDelhi, India Naomi KleinAuthor Noam ChomskyLaureate professor, University of Arizona, Institute Professor (emeritus) MIT, USA ProfACGraylingMaster of the New College of the Humanities, London, UK Philip PullmanUK Dr Rowan WilliamsUK Bill McKibbenFounder, 350.org, Brooklyn, New York, US Tiokasin Ghosthorse(Lakota Nation), New York, NY, US Esther Stanford-XoseiConvenor-General, Stop the Maangamizi: We Charge Genocide/Ecocide Campaign (SMWeCGEC), London, UK Sir Jonathon PorrittSigning in a personal capacity, UK Dr Alison GreenPro Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Arden University, National Director (UK) http://www.scientistswarning.org/ , UK Lily ColeModel, entrepreneur and patron for the Environmental justice foundation Chris PackhamEnglish naturalist and TV presenter, UK Dr Susie OrbachConsultant psychoanalyst, The Balint Consultancy, UK ProfJoy Carter CBEVice Chancellor, University of Winchester, UK ProfJayati Ghosh JawaharlalNehru University, New Delhi, India
Others by nation –
United Kingdom Ms Da Abla Co-deputy general secretary, All-Afrikan Networking Community Link for International Development (AANCLID), London, UK Ms Demoui Akouba Doue Joint general secretary, All-Afrikan Students Union Link in Europe (AASULE), Plymouth, UK Jem Bendell Professor of sustainability leadership, University of Cumbria, UK Dr Adotey Bing-Pappoe Joint convenor, African Cooperative Forum (ACF), London, UK Liz Bondi Professor of social geography, University of Edinburgh, UK Dr Simon Boxley Centre for Climate Change Education & Communication, University of Winchester. UK Dr Onel Brooks Senior lecturer in psychotherapy, counselling and counselling psychology, UK Dr Philip Byrne chartered clinical psychologist, Cheshire, UK Professor Molly Scott Cato MEP UK Paul Chatterton Professor of urban futures, University of Leeds, UK Kooj Chuhan Director, Virtual Migrants, Manchester, UK Danny Dorling Halford Mackinder professor of geography, University of Oxford, UK Dr David Drew MP (Labour) Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, UK Jonathan Gosling Emeritus professor of leadership studies, University of Exeter, UK Ms Athea Gordon-Davidson Co-chair, Brixtonics@Brixton, London, UK David Graeber Professor of anthropology, London School of Economics, UK Fe Haslam Secretariat facilitator, CAFA Archival Resources Action Team (CARAT), London, UK Richard House Ph.D. (Env.Sci.), Chartered psychologist, Stroud, UK David Humphreys Professor of environmental policy, Open University, UK Professor Gus John Partner, All Africa Advisors LLP & Coventry University, Coventry, UK Boucka Koffi Co-deputy coordinator, Global Justice Forum (GJF), Sheffield, UK Karin Lesnik-Oberstein Professor of critical theory, University of Reading, UK Del Loewenthal Emeritus professor in psychotherapy, University of Roehampton, UK Caroline Lucas MP (Green), UK Kofi Mawuli Klu Co-vice-chair, Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe (PARCOE), London,UK Tony McSherry Ph.D. (Psychology), Psychotherapist, UK Simon Murray Poet and graphic artist, Leeds, UK Professor Dany Nobus Brunel University, London, UK Michel Odent MD Primal Health Research Centre, London, UK Jenny Pickerill Professor of environmental geography, University of Sheffield, UK Dr Gillian Proctor CPsychol., Programme leader, MA in counselling and psychotherapy, University of Leeds, UK Kate Raworth author of Doughnut Economics; Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University, UK Dr Rupert Read Reader in philosophy, University of East Anglia, UK Professor Paul Routledge Leadership chair in Contentious Politics and Social Change, University of Leeds, UK Kwame Adofo Sampong Principal organising secretary, Pan-Afrikan Fora Internationalist Support Coordinating Council (PAFISCC), London, UK Professor Andrew Samuels University of Essex, Former Chair UK Council for Psychotherapy, UK Dr Leon Sealey-Huggins Global Sustainable Development lecturer, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK Ms Jendayi Serwah Co-chair, Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March Committee (AEDRMC), Bristol, UK Helen Spandler Professor of mental health, University of Central Lancashire, UK Simeon Stanford Co-founder and Leadership Facilitation Team member, Global Afrikan People’s Parliament (GAAP), London, UK Dr Julia K. Steinberger Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds, UK
United States of America Professor Julian Agyeman Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, USA David Elkind Emeritus professor of psychology, Tufts University, USA Nik Heynen Professor of geography, University of Georgia at Athens, USA Eric Holthaus journalist and fellow, University of Minnesota, USA Maureen O’Hara Ph.D. Professor of psychology, National University, USA William J. Ripple Distinguished Professor of Ecology, Oregon State University, USA Guy McPherson Professor emeritus of conservation biology, University of Arizona, USA Professor Kris Manjapra Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, USA William J. Ripple Distinguished professor of ecology, Oregon State University, USA Kirk Schneider Saybrook University and the Existential-Humanistic Institute, USA Rabbi Arthur Waskow director, the Shalom Center, Philadelphia, USA
Steve Biddulph AM, psychologist and author, Australia
Professor Timothy Doyle University of Adelaide, Australia
David Schlosberg Professor of environmental politics, University of Sydney, Australia
John Seed founder, Rainforest Information Centre, St Lismore, NSW, Australia
Salim Dara Chief community / king of Djougou, Bénin
Zeguen Moussa Toure President, Mouvement Social Panafricain pour le Development Integral (MSPDI), Cotonou, Bénin
Ms Aissata Diakhite Kaba Joint Principal Secretary, International Network of Scholars and Activists for Afrikan Reparations, Youth and Students Auxiliary Fellowship – RepAfrika (INOSAAR-RepAfrika), Paris, France
Engin Isin Professor of International Politics, Queen Mary University of London & University of London Institute, Paris, France
Lennard Gillman Professor of biogeography, head of science, Auckland University of Technology, Aotearoa, New Zealand
Professor Keith Tudor Auckland University of Technology, Aotearoa New Zealand
Nyoefe Yawa Dake Co-president, NUTROZA Panafrecycle (Pan-Afrikan Recycling Cooperative Society for Environmental Justice), Accra, Ghana
Ms Xolanyo Yawa Gbafa Co-deputy general secretary, EDIKANFO Pan-Afrikan Youth and Student Internationalist Link (EDIKANFO-PAYSIL), Accra, Ghana
Numo Akwaa Mensah III Ga Nae (Chief Priest of the Seas for the Indigenous Ga Community of Accra), honorary chair, Accra Community Regeneration for Sustainable Development Action Forum (ACORSDAF), Accra, Ghana
Nana Kobina Nketsia V Omanhen (paramount chief) of Essikado, Pan-Afrikan Chieftaincy Co-Director of Education for the Global Afrikan Family Reunion International Council (GAFRIC), Sekondi, Ghana
Professor Kwaku Senah Managing director, AFRICARIBE Centre, Accra, Ghana
Togbe Adza Tekpor VII Osie (Paramount chief) of Avatime, Pan-Afrikan Chieftaincy Co-Director of Environmental Justice for the Global Afrikan Family Reunion International Council (GAFRIC), Vane-Avatime, Ghana
Dr Paul Beckwith Professor of climatology, University of Ottawa, Canada
Dr Dina Glouberman Founder of Skyros Holidays, Skyros, Greece
David Lehrer Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, Kibbutz Ketura, Israel
Dr Jim Salinger University of Tasmania; visiting professor, University of Florence, Italy
Mussauwa Wandale Leader, People’s Land Organisation, Likoma, Malawi
Dr Barryl A. Biekman Co-Vice-Chair, Europewide NGO Consultative Council on Afrikan Reparations (ENGOCCAR), Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Dr Sunita Narain Director General, Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi, India
Neeshad Shafi Executive director of Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM), Qatar
Conley Shivambo Rose General Secretary, United Front for Progress (UFP),Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines
Giorgos Kallis ICREA professor, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain
With a few notable exceptions, the Australian movement for action on climate change has struggled to achieve big tangible wins in recent years.
We’ve had a few isolated victories, but even if Labor wins the next federal election and the Liberal Party’s position reverts closer to where it was under John Howard, the likely policy shifts aren’t going to come close to what’s needed unless there’s a strong push from civil society.
Here in Queensland, a Labor state government (where Labor’s left faction already controls more votes than the right faction) is still allowing the Adani coal mine to proceed, potentially opening the door to further new coal mines in the Galilee basin.
If these mines go ahead, the burning of the coal they produce will lead to the flooding of coastal cities around the world, the desertification of thousands of hectares of farmland and forest, and more intense bushfires and cyclones.
In defiance of public opinion and basic common sense, the Queensland Labor government is prioritising the financial interests of the mining industry ahead of the safety and security of literally billions of people around the globe. The various forms of pressure that environmentalists have been applying to Labor (both through internal and external channels) don’t appear to have had much impact.
So for those of us who don’t want our grandchildren growing up in some kind of dystopian combination of Water World and Mad Max: Fury Road, what effective courses of action are left available to us?
Here in Queensland, anti-coal campaigners have used a variety of tactics to apply pressure on the political establishment, from peaceful public rallies to locking on to mining equipment. But even a rally of several thousand people isn’t enough to counteract the undemocratic influence that mining lobbyists are exerting over senior Labor ministers. While non-disruptive rallies and marches can help energise and inspire campaigners and draw attention to an issue, they do not directly challenge the underlying logic of capitalism, and are too easy for politicians to ignore. Even the protests against the Iraq War, which saw around six hundred thousand Australians take to the streets, didn’t change John Howard’s mind (if the following Monday, all those people had refused to show up for work, it might have been another matter).
Lock-ons and other arrestable actions do directly hurt the profits of the target companies, but when only a very small proportion of the community are willing to risk arrest, such tactics can’t easily be scaled up to have a big enough impact on political decision-makers, and the costs of fines and legal fees start to take their toll on a movement over time.
The Leard State Forest Blockade against the Maules Creek mine down in NSW was one of the largest civil disobedience actions in Australian history, involving thousands of protesters and hundreds of arrests. The campaign had a range of positive outcomes and flow-on effects, but sadly, the mine eventually went ahead.
So we need to recognise that while both protest marches and lock-ons have their uses, it’s well past time we started exploring other methods of expressing dissent and pressuring the government. We need tactics that large numbers of people can realistically participate in at minimal personal cost, which also directly challenge the power of the state and the profits of the corporate sector.
Organised labour strikes have become more difficult in recent decades. Legislative changes first initiated by Prime Minister Bob Hawke in the 1980s have largely neutered traditional trade unions and made most kinds of strike action illegal. Automation and overseas outsourcing threaten many industries, while more and more of us are casual workers with little to no job security.
But that doesn’t mean striking is no longer a viable tactic. We may not all work together in large factories or worksites anymore, but that doesn’t mean we can’t coordinate our actions across different industries and workplaces. And the fact that large strikes are somewhat rarer than they used to be actually means that if enough of us did get our act together to organise one, the impact upon our political leaders would be more significant.
So what might a general strike against the Adani coal mine look like in practice? I don’t pretend to have detailed answers to this, but basically it would mean as many people as possible taking a day off work. Some workers would simply call in sick. Others would take a day of paid holiday leave, or perhaps just unpaid leave. Some of us might not be able to skip work for one reason or another, but could perhaps still donate a portion of our day’s wages to support the strike. Those of us who are stuck in work for the dole programs shoulddefinitelycall in sick.
If you do have a job, think about your workplace, and how it can throw a spanner in the works when just one or two people call in sick unexpectedly. Now imagine if as many as 1 in 5 or even 1 in 4 staff members all stayed home at the same time… from every workplace in the city. The ripples throughout society would be significant. Some businesses would simply have to shut their doors and give everyone a day off.
I’m confident that if even half the people who care about climate change all stayed home from work on the same day, our politicians would have no choice but to sit up and take notice. The recent school student strikes got a lot of attention, so why shouldn’t the adults join in?
What I’m now starting to wonder is whether we might have an even bigger impact if we all agreed that on the day of the climate strike, we also refused to engage in any kind of for-profit commercial transaction? Don’t go to the shops. Don’t buy anything online. Don’t even fill up your petrol tank. If your rent’s due that date, pause the automatic transfer and pay it a day later (fun fact: late rent payment doesn’t even technically count as a breach of your lease conditions).
Instead, take a day off and spend it with family and friends.
Go to the park.
Go for a swim.
Read a book.
Cook a proper meal.
Major party politicians have spent a long time arguing (wrongly) that supporting the coal industry is good for the economy. Maybe it’s time to force them to recognise that the opposite is true. A general strike might seem a drastic step to some, but it’s an entirely proportionate response to the danger and devastation of runaway climate change.
I know other activists around Australia are also starting to talk about climate change-related strikes in the lead-up to the next federal election. I think the sooner we pick dates and organise such actions, the better. Waiting until March or April to start putting this kind of pressure on Labor and the Liberals will probably be too late for them to change their policy positions prior to election day. But if we start a little sooner, we could help make this into the key election issue that it ought to be.
And if they don’t change their policies, we can keep striking on a monthly basis until they have no choice, or they’re voted out of office. Heck, maybe this would be a good way to finally achieve a four-day work week.
I don’t pretend to have this all worked out, or that such a tactic would definitely succeed. But it’s clear that climate activists need to start trialling and experimenting with a more diverse range of actions. Although they’re fun and energising, climate change rallies and marches are little more than empty rituals if they don’t lead to other kinds of action. And convincing people to take a day off work might actually be a lot easier than convincing people to give up their Saturday morning marching in the hot sun.
It’s the springof 2043, and Gina is graduating college with the rest of her class. She had a relatively stable childhood. Her parents availed themselves of some of the year of paid family leave they were entitled to, and after that she was dropped off at a free child care program.
Pre-K and K-12 were also free, of course, but so was her time at college, which she began after a year of public service, during which she spent six months restoring wetlands and another six volunteering at a day care much like the one she had gone to.
Now that she’s graduated, it’s time to think about what to do with her life. Without student debt, the options are broad. She also won’t have to worry about health insurance costs, since everyone is now eligible for Medicare. Like most people, she isn’t extraordinarily wealthy, so she can live in public, rent-controlled housing — not in the underfunded, neglected units we’re accustomed to seeing in the United States, but in one of any number of buildings that the country’s top architects have competed for the privilege to design, featuring lush green spaces, child care centers, and even bars and restaurants. Utilities won’t be an issue, either. Broadband and clean water are both free and publicly provisioned, and the solar array that is spread atop the roofs of her housing complex generates all the power it needs and more.
For work, she trained to become a high-level engineer at a solar panel manufacturer, though some of her friends are going into nursing and teaching. All are well-paid, unionized positions, and are considered an essential part of the transition away from fossil fuels, updates about which are broadcast over the nightly news. In any case, she won’t have to spend long looking for a job. At any number of American Job Centers around the country, she can walk in and work with a counselor to find a well-paid position on projects that help make her city better able to deal with rising tides and more severe storms, or oral history projects, or switch careers altogether and receive training toward a union job in the booming clean energy sector.
The AJCs are a small part of the Green New Deal Act of 2021, a compromise plan that was only strengthened in the years that followed. For a brief moment, it looked as if the Supreme Court might strike down large elements of it, but as a plan to expand the size of the court gained popularity with the public, the justices backed down.
Gina might also open her own business. Without having to worry about the cost of day care or health insurance, she can invest everything into making her dream a reality. And the cost of labor for business owners, who no longer have to pick up the health care tab, is reasonable enough that she can afford to pay good wages for the staff that she needs to meet demand.
Whichever she chooses, she’ll work no more than 40 hours a week, and likely far less, leaving ample time to travel via high speed, zero-carbon rail to visit friends elsewhere and go hiking or to the beach; enjoy long, leisurely meals of locally sourced food and drink; and attend concerts in the park, featuring musicians whose careers have been supported by generous public arts grants. As she gets older, paying for health care won’t be a concern, with everything from routine doctor’s visits and screenings, to prescription drugs, to home health aides covered under the public system, as social security continues to furnish her rent, expenses, and entertainment through the end of her life.
That’s the world a “Green New Deal” could build, and what a number of representatives and activists are pushing Congress to help set into motion. Led by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., 17 representatives and counting have signed on to ameasurethat would create a select House committee tasked with crafting, over the course of a year, a comprehensive plan to move the U.S. away from fossil fuels by 2030 and accomplish seven goals related to decarbonizing the economy.
On Friday, Ocasio-Cortez and her collaborators gathered outside the Capitol to talk about the increasingly popular program. “The push for a Green New Deal is about more than just natural resources and jobs,” said Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. “It’s about our most precious commodity: people, families, children, our future. It’s about moving to 100 percent renewable energy and the elimination of greenhouse gases. It’s about ensuring that our coastal communities have the resources and tools to build sustainable infrastructure that will counteract rising sea levels, beat back untenable natural disasters, and mitigate the effects of extreme temperature.”
On Monday evening, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hosted a town hall on the issue with Ocasio-Cortez inside the Capitol.
All of this raises a question: What, exactly, would a Green New Deal entail?
Like its 1930s counterpart, the “Green New Deal” isn’t a specific set of programs so much as an umbrella under which various policies might fit, ranging from technocratic to transformative. The sheer scale of change needed to deal effectively with climate change is massive, as the scientific consensus is making increasingly clear, requiring an economy-wide mobilization of the sort that the United States hasn’t really undertaken since World War II. While the Green New Deal imaginary evokes images of strapping young men pulling up their sleeves to hoist up wind turbines (in the mold of realist Civilian Conservation Corps ads), its actual scope is far broader than the narrow set of activities typically housed under the green jobs umbrella, or even in the original New Deal.
“People talk often about the infrastructure investment that has to happen, and new technology,” Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, told me. “But there’s also an industrial plan that needs to happen to build entirely new industries. It’s sort of like the moonshot. When JFK said America was going to go to the moon, none of the things we needed to get to the moon at that point existed. But we tried and we did it.” The Green New Deal, he added, “touches everything — it’s basically a massive system upgrade for the economy.”
In a broad sense, that’s what policymakers in other countries refer to as industrial policy, whereby the government plays a decisive role in shaping the direction of the economy to accomplish specific aims. That doesn’t mean that the state controls every industry, as in the Soviet system; instead, it would be closer to the kind of economic planning that the U.S. practiced during the economic mobilization around World War II, and that is practiced internally today by many of the world’s biggest corporations. Should Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution pass muster, the select committee will convene policymakers, academics, and representatives from the private sector and civil society to hash out next steps. How widely or narrowly that groups defines a Green New Deal — and whether it’ll ever be given space to meet on Capitol Hill — remains to be seen, as supportive lawmakers huddle in Washington this week to try and gain support for writing it into the rulebook for the next Congress. Ultimately, it will be that committee that fleshes out what a Green New Deal looks like. But the proposal itself, American history, and existing research give us a sense for what all it might look like in practice.
The plan itself — or rather, the plan to make the plan — lays out seven goals, starting with generating 100 percent of power in the U.S. from renewable sources and updating the country’s power grid.
As the first two points of the resolution suggest, one of the main goals of any Green New Deal that spurs a complete switch to renewables will be dialing up the amount of total energy demand represented byelectricity, by switching combustion-based activities like heating systems, air conditioners, and automobiles over to electric power. The Energy Transitions Commission estimatesthat 60 percent of energy will need to be distributed via electricity by mid-century, up from just 20 percent today. Making that possible means developing new technology, and also overhauling today’s grid, making it easier for homes and businesses that generate their own power to feed it back into the system. A modern grid — or “smart” grid, per Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal — would also make way for microgrids, which are self-contained renewable energy generation systems that allow small neighborhoods and hospitals, for instance, to continue making their own power even if there are disruptions (say, hurricane-force winds or a wildfire) upstream. Assuming it won’t be entirely sustainable to import all of that capacity, scaling up renewables will also likely mean expanding the country’s renewables manufacturing sector to produce more solar and wind infrastructure, components for which are today sourcedlargelyfrom abroad.
“We build things here in Detroit, and across Michigan, and we’ve got a lot of people here with manufacturing skills who are being left behind by the corporate greed,” incoming Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D- Mich., among the first supporters of the resolution and who campaigned on a Green New Deal, said via email. “Just this week we heard about how GM, a company that has received billions and billions from taxpayers, is planning to cut thousands of jobs here. So it’s really exciting to be talking about rapidly building up our green, renewable energy infrastructure, because these are jobs that can and should go to our workers here in Michigan.
“We were the Arsenal of Democracy and helped save the planet from real darkness decades ago, and there’s no reason why we couldn’t be one of the regions to build America’s green energy infrastructure and help save the planet again in the process.”
Bringing more clean energy online could entail expanding the types of programs that already exist at the state level, too, though they seldom come with much teeth. Renewable portfolio standards require utilities to source a certain amount of their power from wind and solar.New York state, for instance, set a renewable portfolio standard of 29 percent by 2015. The deadline came and went quietly, without much talk of how it would pick up the slack to reach its next goal of 50 percent renewables by 2030.
Those targets would have to be much stricter to get off fossil fuels by 2035. “You say, you hit the target and you reduce emissions 10 percent every year or you go to jail,” says Robert Pollin, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute. “That would get their attention.”
That may sound aggressive by today’s standards, but has been par for the course at other points in American history when the country has faced existential threats. During World War II, for instance, the government was largely responsible for administering prices, wages, and sourcing in sectors deemed vital to the Allies. Corporate productivity and profits boomed with demand for tankers and munitions, but companies that refused to go along with mandates sent down from the War Production Board and associated economic planning bodies faced a federal takeover. Among the most iconic images of these changed power relationships was a widely circulated image of Sewell Avery, the president of Montgomery Ward. During World War II, Montgomery Ward, a mail-order corporation, produced everything from uniforms to bullets for soldiers abroad. In 1944, the National War Labor Board ordered Avery, a Nazi sympathizer, to let his employees unionize to ward off a strike, and the ensuing disruption in war production. When he refused, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the National Guard tohaul him off, chair and all, and seize the company’s main plant in Chicago. The government took over operations at the company’s factories in several other cities by the year’s end. And by the end of the war, around a quarter of all domestic manufacturing had been nationalized for the sake of the war effort.
Notably, Green New Deal proponents aren’t pushing for such drastic action. Yet given the collision course between the fossil fuel industry’s business model and a livable future, simply building up more renewable power will almost certainly need to be paired with constraints on the fossil fuel industry. Waleed Shahid, communications director for Justice Democrats, which is backing the Green New Deal proposal, told me, “Given the fossil fuel industry’s role in creating an untenable situation for billions of people around the world, the government should step up and promote winners and create losers, which has happened before in the United States.” Among the provisions of the committee resolution, fittingly, is that politicians who accept donations from coal, oil, and gas companies can’t be appointed to it.
At a press conference announcing additional support for the resolution, Ocasio-Cortez spelled out the conflict of interest: “This is about the fact that if we continue to allow power to concentrate with corporations to dictate the quality of our air, to … tell us that we can keep burning fossil fuels — to dupe us — people will die,” she said, “and people are dying.”
Evan Weber, of the Sunrise Movement, put it in similar terms. “Dealing with climate change in the way that we need to is not just about passing a suite of policies that will transform our society to both end the causes of climate change and prepare society for the climate change that is already baked in,” he said. “It’s also changing our conception of what government is and who its for.”
Especially under the Trump administration, plenty of government policy has been written for the benefit of the fossil fuel industry. According to a2018 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. This in itself is a kind of industrial policy already in place, and a Green New Deal might at the very least remove those subsidies and redirect them toward the clean energy sector, where wind and solar already enjoy a much smaller degree of subsidization through the production and investment tax credits, respectively.
While winding down fossil fuel production and scaling up renewables will of course be a considerable part of any Green New Deal, so too will investing in the research, development, and manufacturing capacities to get especially difficult-to-decarbonize sectors, like airlines and steel, off fossil fuels over the next several decades, as Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal notes. The latter requires a still largely experimental process called electrolysis, which targeted investments could subsidize research into. In Sanders’s town hall Monday night, Ocasio-Cortez appeared to reference economist Mariana Mazzucato’s work, which lays out the existing progress and potential of using public investment to finance early-stage research that venture capital funds are too risk-averse to support. (Ocasio-Cortez and other members of her team have met with Mazzacuto.)
“For far too long,” she said, “we gave money to Tesla — to a lot of people — and we got no return on the investment that the public made in new technologies. It’s the public that financed innovative new technologies.”
Such a policy umbrella, though, could be just as much about decarbonization as about building out sectors of the economy which simply aren’t carbon-intensive, but are essential to a healthy economy, such as teaching and nursing. A federal job guarantee, which is cited in the draft resolution and a hot topic among 2020 presidential hopefuls, might put people to work remediating wetlands and tending community gardens while providing an alternative to low-paid work bound up in hugely carbon-intensive supply chains. Walmart, for instance, is thebiggest employerin 22 states, paying an entry-level wage of $11 per hour. McDonald’s, another major employer, is estimated to have at some point employed1 in 8 American workers and has consistently resisted calls to institute a $15 minimum wage. A federal jobs guarantee that paying that much, as outlined by several proposals, would effectively create a national wage floor, compelling retail and fast food chains to either raise their wages or risk having their employees enticed into better-paid jobs that improve their communities and make them more resilient against climate impacts.
For extractive industry workers, whose wages are traditionally high thanks to decades of labor militancy, $15 an hour may not be too big of a draw, meaning other programs could be needed to finance what’s widely referred to as a just transition, making sure that workers in sectors that need to be phased out — like coal, oil, and gas — are well taken care of and that communities which have historically revolved around those industries can diversify their economies. Spain’s social democratic government recently sponsored a small-scale version of this, investing the relatively tiny sum of $282 million, with the support of trade unions, to help coal workers transition into other work while shuttering the last of the country’s coal mines.
With the right investment, new jobs won’t be hard to come by. Research from theInternational Labour Organization finds that while a concerted transition to renewable energy could cost as many as 6 million jobs around the world in carbon-intensive sectors, it could create 24 million jobs, or a net gain of 18 million, and far more than the profound job loss that would stem from unchecked climate change.
It’s not hardto imagine cries from Republicans and Democrats alike about how much such a program might cost, and of the dangers of blowing up the deficit. Worth noting is the cost that 13 federal agencies have said are likely if we do nothing, according to theNational Climate Assessmentquietly released on Black Friday. By 2100, heat-related deaths could cost the U.S. $141 billion. Sea-level rise could rack up a $118 billion bill, and infrastructure damages could cost up to $32 billion. Along the same timeline, the report’s authors found, the financial damages of climate change to the U.S. could double those caused by the Great Recession.
By comparison, the 1 to 2 percent of gross domestic product that Pollin has said a Green New Deal would cost seems pretty cheap, never mind the fact that putting millions of people to work would bolster tax revenues and consumer spending. Pollin calls it “equitable green growth,” coupled with “degrowth down to zero of the fossil fuel industry.” Incumbent fuel sources, and coal in particular, aren’t exactly saving anyone money. A recent analysis from the group Carbon Tracker has found that 42 percent of coal capacity worldwide is already unprofitable, and that figure could spiked to 72 percent by 2030.
“The question is, ‘What policy do you use to build up the public investment and incentivize private investment?’” Pollin said. “You can’t just have these private sector incentive programs. That’s just not going to get it.”
As several proponents have pointed out, though, so-called pay-for questions are rarely asked of public spending programs designed to further national interests, be that getting out of a recession or fighting a war. “If we were threatened by an invader, we would mobilize all the resources we have at our disposal to deal with that security threat,” says U.K.-based economist Ann Pettifor. “As in those circumstances, you cannot rely entirely on the private sector.”
Pettifor was among the first people to start thinking seriously about a Green New Deal just after the financial crisis. Then working at the New Economics Foundation, a progressive think tank, she helped convene a series of meetings in her living room that would eventually coalesce into the Green New Deal group. The group produced several reports on the subject. But with European sovereign debt crisis about to plunge the continent’s lawmakers into full-blown austerity hysteria, any public discussion of a big, expansionary spending package faded. Jeremy Corbyn’s election to Labour Party leadership helped change that. And this past March, Chakrabarti, working on Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign at the time, showed up on her doorstep wanting to hear more.
For Pettifor, as for many Green New Deal advocates on this side of the pond, the funding question is less about how to reconcile line items than about reconfiguring what goals the economy is working toward — that is, to make it do something other than simply grow GDP by some fixed percentage each year.
Economists’ and policymakers’ fixation on unlimited economic growth as the metric for measuring economic prosperity is a really recent invention, developed in large part by the exponential returns that were being brought in by a ballooning financial sector–and not to that point factored into economic accounts. “If I work hard every day and night I have a weekly wage. If i gamble and win a load of money, I get rich quick,” she explains. “And the finance sector has moved its focus into making money in that way and not in investing in productive activity.” That shift toward measuring growth above all else started to displace an earlier focus on full employment in the 1960s, making multiplying profits and consumption the goal rather than ensuring people’s basic needs were met. As a result, carbon emissions spiked.
It’s why Pettifor largely rejects the premise of debates among environmentalists about growth and degrowth. For the green movement to talk about growth at all, she says, “is to adapt that OECD framing of what the economy should be about” and “to adopt the framing of a neoliberal idea of the economy. I would prefer to us to talk about full employment.”
That’s not to suggest there aren’t nuts and bolts funding issues that can be easily worked out. In contrast to state governments, which rely in large part on tax revenues, the federal government has plenty of tools at its disposal for financing a Green New Deal — tools it deployed to great effect during the financial crisis. It could also set up a National Investment Bank to furnish lines of credit for green investment. A polluter fee or carbon tax could provide some revenue, as well, but perhaps more importantly would punish bad behavior in the energy sector. Loan guarantees of the sort used in the stimulus package could help to build out clean energy as they did then, before getting scrapped when Republicans took control of the House in 2010. (While Solyndra, the most infamous of those loan recipients, failed, the program overall made a return on investment greater than those enjoyed by most venture capital funds.)
In a piece co-authored by Greg Carlock, author of a Green New Deal prospectus for the upstart think tank Data for Progress; and Andres Bernal, an adviser to Ocasio-Cortez; and Stephanie Kelton, former chief economist on the Senate Budget Committee, the writers explain, “When Congress authorizes spending, it sets off a sequence of actions. Federal agencies … enter into contracts and begin spending. As the checks go out, the government’s bank — the Federal Reserve — clears the payments by crediting the seller’s bank account with digital dollars. In other words, Congress can pass any budget it chooses, and our government already pays for everything by creating new money.”
A Green New Deal, moreover, “will actually help the economy by stimulating productivity, job growth and consumer spending, as government spending has often done,” Kelton, Bernal, and Carlock add. “In fact, a Green New Deal can create good-paying jobs while redressing economic and environmental inequities.”
Green New Dealadvocates also have no illusions about just how flawed the original New Deal was in terms of inequities, given that it largely left Jim Crow in place. “It threw black and brown people under the bus,” Chakrabarti said, noting that Roosevelt gave up on enshrining civil rights into its programs in order to win the support of white supremacist southern Democrats. Among the most infamous examples of this dynamic was theFederal Housing Administration, which guaranteed mortgages and subsidized large housing developments for whites on the condition that African-Americans couldn’t live there. African-Americans who applied for assistance to buy homes in predominantly white neighborhoods were refused. It’s from these same policies that the term redlining first emerged, a reference to New Deal-era planning maps which used literal red lines to designate areas where the federally backed Home Owners’ Loan Corporation would and would not insure mortgages.
“Right off the bat,” Chakrabarti says of the Green New Deal plan, “we’ve put trying to fix the injustices that have been perpetrated on black and brown communities front and center. Unless you have targeted investments in communities that have had their wealth stripped from them for generations, it’s going to be very difficult for communities that have faced redlining to enjoy economic prosperity.”
The detritus of FHA-style discrimination serves to make a transition harder, and will need to be overcome to make any new New Deal a success. Dense, transit-connected cities are on the whole more sustainable than the car-centric suburban sprawl encouraged by a mix of mid-century development schemes, segregationist policies and white flight. Yet the home solar market is oriented largely around rooftop installations, which creates obvious barriers to entry for renters in multi-unit buildings, where landlords have little incentive to upgrade. The New York City Housing Authority, accounting for about a fifth of the country’s public housing, could be a model for retrofitting public and affordable housing in cities around the country, but is currently sitting in about $17 billion of debt and remains in dire need of basic updates and repairs.
As sociologist Daniel Aldana Cohen points out, density alone doesn’t make a city low-carbon. While they pride themselves as green for buying organic and taking the train, luxury high-rise inhabitants — with their taste for carbon-intensive imports, summer homes, and first-class business trips — have the largest footprints in their cities, which account for around three-quarters of carbon emissions worldwide. “When it comes to the carbon emissions of New York’s individual residents, as calculated in terms of consumption, Manhattan is the worst borough. Because it’s the richest,” hewrites. “Crowded but well-to-do West Villagers’ carbon footprints are comparable to sprawling suburbanites’ all over the country.” Beyond Manhattan,Oxfam Internationalhas found that the world’s richest 10 percent produce about half of its carbon emissions. “It is only residents of Manhattan’s less-gentrified neighborhoods,” Aldana Cohen continues, “who have really low carbon footprints. They reside by the island’s northwest and southeast tips, in zip codes anchored by public housing. … Public housing, well-stocked libraries, accessible transit, gorgeous parks: these are democratic low-carbon amenities. And they’re the political achievements of working-class New York.”
Dense, affordable housing is the key to making a low-carbon city. And with the right investments, NYCHA could cut its emissions by three-quarters or more, “while using the renovation process to clean out mold, seal the cracks and crevices where pests now thrive, and increase leaf canopy. With these and other measures, NYCHA could become the world’s largest—albeit decentralized—green city,” Aldana Cohen adds. A Green New Deal could sponsor similar improvements in towns and cities around the country, rendering cities greener, more equitable, and infinitely more livable.
Beyond redressing some of the ills of the original New Deal, those pushing for its redux are also keenly focused on the people who could be on the losing end of both climate policy and the climate crisis itself. “We know that if we are really going to make it out of the years and decades ahead, we need a government that cares for people and is of, by and for the people and acts to protect the most marginalized amongst us,” Weber, of Sunrise, says. “When we have things like extreme weather events and increased migration because of climate change, we take a more humanitarian approach to responding to those than what we’re seeing from our federal government, which is saying we need to build walls and lock people in cages.”
In the coming decades, climate change is likely to bring about the largest mass migration in human history, both within and between countries. Already, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimates that as many as 21.5 million people have been displaced thanks to climate-related impacts, and the civil war in Syria that has led many refugees to flee that country is owed at least partially to climate-induced drought and agricultural crisis. Largely, governments in the global north have treated these flows as a problem. But the Green New Deal could adopt a different approach.
“We’re going to need tens or hundreds of millions of jobs,” Chakrabarti said, projecting that there could even be a labor shortage. “What that’s going to result in is that, yes, we’re going to have to retrain and invest in the current American workforce. But we’re probably going to be begging for more immigration.” He referenced the influx of labor needed to build up the interstate highway system in the 1950s. “It’s not just that we had an open immigration policy. We were actively recruiting.” Chakrabarti’s father, he said, immigrated after visiting an American recruitment center in West Bengal. “They were pitching them on the American dream to try to get them to come to America and build the country together.”
As the immigration question highlights, climate change isn’t an issue that confines itself narrowly to borders. The US represents about 15 percent of global emissions, so acting alone won’t get us too far. Coal is on a steady decline here, but Asia accounts for around three-quarters of global coal consumption, which has actually risen overall in the last 2 years. And while China has backed what might be the world’s most ambitious green spending package, it’s also continuing to finance coal plants domestically and throughout the global south, encouraging other countries to pursue a path to economic development based on a fuel source that climate science is increasingly clear should be zeroed out. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal frames this problem delicately, setting out an intention to make green “technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely carbon neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal.”
Aside from turning the US into a major exporter of clean energy — rather than, say, oil — that might involve US capital opening up a path to development for other countries that’s based on renewable energy and not coal or gas, in ways similar to the Marshall Plan shaped the course of economic rebuilding and development in post-war development. The approach wouldn’t be all that dramatic of a departure from current U.S. energy policy in the U.S.; the Trump Administration has repeatedly stated its intent to help bring coal to the rest of the world, including at last year’s UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, and almost certainly at their event this year at COP 24. But extending the Green New Deal beyond the narrow confines of U.S. borders would also involve upending thetraditionally obstructive rolethe U.S. has played in international climate talks, stymying ambition and binding pledges. As Naomi Klein noted last week, the U.S. taking the climate crisis seriously — adopting what could be the world’s most ambitious decarbonization plan, in its most dominant economy — would have a tremendous ripple effect throughout the rest of the world, and more narrowly in the talks themselves as countries figure out how to ratchet up their commitments to the Paris agreement in the coming years.
All of the above is only the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a brief and entirely non-exhaustive list of some other issues that might fall under a Green New Deal: farm and agricultural policy; reforming the National Flood Insurance Program and developing a coherent plan for relocating coastal communities away from flood zones; formally honoring indigenous sovereignty and tribal land rights; ensuring democratic participation in clean energy planning and ending eminent domain; a universal basic income; wildfire management; trade policy; building up infrastructure to sequester carbon; fully extending broadband wireless to rural communities; rare earths and mineral procurement; overhauling FEMA; sweeping campaign finance reform; and “Medicare for All” — to name just a few.
Needless to say,the Green New Deal faces an uphill battle on the Hill. Aside from complaints about feasibility, the pushback from other Democrats so far has been largely procedural, Weber says, citing a fear voiced by some House members that should the select committee be empowered to draft legislation, it would undermine the authority of other established committees. As he points out, the resolution outlines only that the committee be allowed to draft legislation, and wouldn’t pre-empt that legislation first going through another body before moving to a floor vote. Moreover, Weber added, “We actually do need a committee that goes beyond the very narrow focus of the existing ones. What we’re talking about is something that effects every aspect of society. A select committee that can have the purview over the issues that all of these existing committees and more is exactly the type of vehicle that Congress — if it want to take climate change seriously — should be creating.”
I contacted several incoming members of Congress that were outspoken in their campaigns about climate change but have not yet signed on to the Green New Deal resolution to ask about their positions. As of yet, no one has responded, although one — Rep.-elect Mike Levin, D-Calif. — announced his support last week.
In the coming days and weeks, House Democrats are expected to release the first version of their rules package for the next Congress, in which supporters hope that a version of the select committee on the Green New Deal will appear. “Whether we get it or we don’t get it, the biggest thing we need to have is a movement backing this stuff,” Chakrabarti said. “The movement needs to keep pushing it and making a plan to go all the way. If we don’t get the committee, it’s up to us to figure out how to do it.”
Rapidglobal warmingcaused the largest extinction event in the Earth’s history, which wiped out the vast majority of marine and terrestrial animals on the planet, scientists have found.
The mass extinction, known as the “great dying”, occurred around 252m years ago and marked the end of the Permian geologic period.
The study of sediments and fossilized creatures show the event was the single greatest calamity ever to befall life on Earth, eclipsing even the extinction of the dinosaurs 65m years ago.
10,000 fruit bats (Flying Fox) die from heat stress during record heatwave in Cairns last week.
Up to 96% of all marine species perished while more than two-thirds of terrestrial species disappeared.
The cataclysm was so severe it wiped out most of the planet’s trees, insects, plants, lizards and even microbes.
Scientists havetheorized causes for the extinction, such as a giant asteroid impact. But US researchers now say they have pinpointed the demise of marine life to a spike in Earth’s temperatures, warning that present-day global warming will also have severe ramifications for life on the planet.
“It was a huge event. In the last half a billion years of life on the planet, it was the worst extinction,” said Curtis Deutsch, an oceanography expert who co-authored the research, published on Thursday, with his University of Washington colleague Justin Penn along with Stanford University scientists Jonathan Payne and Erik Sperling.
The researchers used paleoceanographic records and built a model to analyse changes in animal metabolism, ocean andclimateconditions. When they used the model to mimic conditions at the end of the Permian period, they found it matched the extinction records.
According to the study, this suggests that marine animals essentially suffocated as warming waters lacked the oxygen required for survival. “For the first time, we’ve got a whole lot of confidence that this is what happened,” said Deutsch. “It’s a very strong argument that rising temperatures and oxygen depletion were to blame.”
The great dying event, which occurred over an uncertain timeframe of possibly hundreds of years, saw Earth’s temperatures increase by around 10C (18F). Oceans lost around 80% of their oxygen, with parts of the seafloor becoming completely oxygen-free. Scientists believe this warming was caused by a huge spike in greenhouse gas emissions, potentially caused by volcanic activity.
The new research,published in Science, found that the drop in oxygen levels was particularly deadly for marine animals living closer to the poles. Experiments that varied oxygen and temperature levels for modern marine species, including shellfish, corals and sharks, helped “bridge the gap” to what the model found, Payne said.
“This really would be a terrible, terrible time to be around on the planet,” he added. “It shows us that when the climate and ocean chemistry changes quickly, you can reach a point where species don’t survive. It took millions of years to recover from the Permian event, which is essentially permanent from the perspective of human timescales.”
Over the past century, the modern world has warmed by around 1C due to the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, rather than from volcanic eruptions.
Thiswarmingis already causing punishing heatwaves, flooding and wildfires around the world, with scientistswarningthat the temperature rise could reach 3C or more by the end of the century unless there are immediate, radicalreductionsin emissions.
At the same time, Earth’s species are undergoing what some experts have termed the “sixth greatextinction” due to habitat loss, poaching, pollution andclimate change.
“It does terrify me to think we are on a trajectory similar to the Permian because we really don’t want to be on that trajectory,” Payne said. “It doesn’t look like we will warm by around 10C and we haven’t lost that amount of biodiversity yet. But even getting halfway there would be something to be very concerned about. The magnitude of change we are currently experiencing is fairly large.”
Deutsch said: “We are about a 10th of the way to the Permian. Once you get to 3-4C of warming, that’s a significant fraction and life in the ocean is in big trouble, to put it bluntly. There are big implications for humans’ domination of the Earth and its ecosystems.”
Deutsch added that the only way to avoid a mass aquatic die-off in the oceans was to reduce carbon emissions, given there is no viable way to ameliorate the impact of climate change in the oceans using other measures.
The research group “provide convincing evidence that warmer temperatures and associated lower oxygen levels in the ocean are sufficient to explain the observed extinctions we see in the fossil record”, said Pamela Grothe, a paleoclimate scientist at the University of Mary Washington.
“The past holds the key to the future,” she added. “Our current rates of carbon dioxide emissions is instantaneous geologically speaking and we are already seeing warming ocean temperatures and lower oxygen in many regions, currently affecting marine ecosystems.
“If we continue in the trajectory we are on with current emission rates, this study highlights the potential that we may see similar rates of extinction in marine species as in the end of the Permian.”
We made steps forward under Clinton and Obama only to suffer sharp reversals under the second Bush and—sharpest of all—Trump.
But even at this late hour, I tend toward hope that this cycle is about to change.
Because in 1965, 1995, and even 2015, climate change seemed still off in the future, theoretical, something our worst politicians could deny altogether, and our best ones could leave for later.
Climate change is here and now. And palpably getting worse. That is rapidly changing how Americans think about it.
The shift from “future problem” to “now crisis” is being fueled by blockbuster scientific reports and blockbuster real-world catastrophes.
Queensland bushfires Labelled catastrophic November 2018
In October millions of Americans were rocked by theIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s devastating reporton the consequences of letting global temperatures rise above 1.5° C (2.7° F). And now we’re absorbing the litany of calamities that await communities in every part of our country, laid out last Friday in theNational Climate Assessmentprepared by top federal scientists and national experts. The Trump administration’s climate deniershoped to burythis report in our post-Thanksgiving tryptophan haze, but millions of Americans are paying attention.
And they’re paying attention to the catastrophic wildfires and hurricanes that have pounded California, North Carolina, and Florida this fall, on top of Texas and Puerto Rico last year. 53 killedby Hurricane Florence and36by Hurricane Mitchell. 85, to date, killed by the California fires.
Nearly 3000dead in Puerto Rico in Hurricane Maria’s aftermath last year.
The one-two punch of irrefutable science and irrefutable experience has raised the urgency of climate action in all voters and in both parties.
The mid-terms have brought a new crop of leaders to the House of Representatives, governors mansions, and state houses who campaigned on clean energy and climate change.
TheU.S. Climate Alliancewill likely expand from 17 governors to 25 or more, representing states accounting for the bulk of America’s economy. State and city leaderswill advance bold policies to decarbonize our electricity and transportation systems.
Changing Washington will take a bit longer—but it will go faster than we thought. President Trump won’t change.
He’ll almost surely exit office without ever taking a briefing from climate scientists.
The coal lobbyists and ideologues he’s put into power at EPA and other agencies will keep rolling back climate and clean energy regulations—though many of those moves are destined to fail when we see them in court.
But the mid-term elections show a decisive rejection of Trumpism.
The House’s new Democratic leaders—from veterans to freshman—will push ambitious plans to transition America to clean energy and bring carbon pollution to zero—or even below zero, drawing carbon out of the air—in the next few decades.
Whether Trump’s party will change remains to be seen. But as many GOP representatives found out, the old formula doesn’t work in the suburbs anymore. The Senate map and gerrymandering won’t help Republicans out of their demographic jam.
On climate, like other issues, their party must respond or wither away.
In this Congress, while advancing big ideas, leaders also have a chance to make progress on more modest but crucial building blocks.
A growing number of GOP politicians see the rising economic and political force in clean energy.
With clean energy job creation booming, climate policies are not so easy to dismiss as “job-killing” anymore.
Will we see them embrace policies to modernize the grid, promote renewables and efficiency, curb methane waste and pollution, move to next-generation refrigerants? Measures like that could move in the House, and even be embraced in the Senate, if both parties read the political handwriting on the wall.
Almost certainly, climate change will play bigger in the 2020 election.
Unfortunately, the here-and-now pounding of climate impacts will continue, as the IPCC and National Climate Assessment foretell. More Americans will be affected, many grievously. And more Americans will see and feel
clean energy’s vital role in our economic future.
When the next president takes office, he or she will find the American people ready for—and ready to demand—the ambitious transition to the clean energy and a low-carbon future that our survival depends on.
Like so many others, I’ve been energized by the bold moral leadership coming from newly elected members of Congress like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley in the face of the spiraling climate crisis and the outrageous attacks on unarmed migrants at the border. It has me thinking about the crucial difference between leadership that acts and leadership that talks about acting.
I’ll get to the Green New Deal and why we need to hold tight to that lifeline for all we’re worth. But before that, bear with me for a visit to the grandstanding of climate politics past.
It was March 2009 and capes were still fluttering in the White House after Barack Obama’s historic hope-and-change electoral victory. Todd Stern, the newly appointed chief climate envoy,tolda gathering on Capitol Hill that he and his fellow negotiators needed to embrace their inner superheroes, saving the planet from existential danger in the nick of time.
Climate change, he said, called for some of “that old comic book sensibility of uniting in the face of a common danger threatening the earth. Because that’s what we have here. It’s not a meteor or a space invader, but the damage to our planet, to our community, to our children, and their children will be just as great. There is no time to lose.”
Eight months later, at the fateful United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, all pretense to superheroism from the Obama Administration had been unceremoniously abandoned. Stern stalked the hallways of the convention center like the Grim Reaper, pulling his scythe through every proposal that would have resulted in a transformative agreement. The U.S. insisted on a target that would allow temperatures to rise by 2 degrees Celsius, despite passionate objections from many African and Pacific islander delegates who said the goal amounted to a “genocide” and would lead millions to die on land or in leaky boats. It shot down all attempts to make the deal legally binding, opting for unenforceable voluntary targets instead (as it would in Paris five years later).
Stern categoricallyrejectedthe argument that wealthy developed countries owe compensation to poor ones for knowingly pumping earth-warming carbon into the atmosphere, instead using much-needed funds for climate change protection as a bludgeon to force those countries to fall in line.
As I wrote at thetime, the Copenhagen deal — cooked up behind closed doors with the most vulnerable countries locked out — amounted to a “grubby pact between the world’s biggest emitters: I’ll pretend that you are doing something about climate change if you pretend that I am too. Deal? Deal.”
Almost exactly nine years later, global emissions continue to rise, alongside average temperatures, with large swathes of the planet buffeted by record-breaking storms and scorched by unprecedented fires. The scientists convened in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change haveconfirmedprecisely what African and low-lying island states have long-since warned: that allowing temperatures to rise by 2 degrees is a death sentence, and that only a 1.5-degree target gives us a fighting chance. Indeed, at least eight Pacific islands havealready disappeared beneath the rising seas.
Not only have wealthy countries failed to provide meaningful aid to poorer nations to protect themselves from weather extremes and leapfrog to clean tech, but Europe, Australia, and the United States have all responded to the increase in mass migration — intensified if not directly caused by climate stresses — with brutal force, ranging from Italy’s de facto “let them drown” policy to Trump’s increasingly real war on an unarmed caravan from Central America. Let there be no mistake: this barbarism is the way the wealthy world plans to adapt to climate change.
The only thing resembling a cape at the White House these days are all those coats Melania drapes over her shoulders,mysteriouslyrefusing to use the arm holes for their designed purpose. Her husband, meanwhile, is busily embracing his role as a climate supervillain, gleefully approving new fossil fuel projects, shredding the Paris agreement (it’s not legally binding after all, so why not?), andpronouncingthat a Thanksgiving cold snap is proof positive that the planet isn’t warming after all.
In short, the metaphorical meteor that Stern evoked in 2009 is not just hurtling closer to our fragile planet — it’s grazing the (burning) treetops.
And yet here’s the truly strange thing: I feel more optimistic about our collective chances of averting climate breakdown than I have in years. For the first time, I see a clear and credible political pathway that could get us to safety, a place in which the worst climate outcomes are avoided and a new social compact is forged that is radically more humane than anything currently on offer.
We are not on that pathway yet — very far from it. But unlike even one month ago, the pathway is clear. It begins with the galloping momentum calling on the Democratic Party to use its majority in the House to create the Select Committee for a Green New Deal, a plan advanced by Ocasio-Cortez and now backed by more than 14 representatives.
The draft text calls for the committee, which would be fully funded and empowered to draft legislation, to spend the next year consulting with a range of experts — from scientists to local lawmakers to labor unions to business leaders — to map out a “detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan” capable of making the U.S. economy “carbon neutral” while promoting “economic and environmental justice and equality.” By January 2020, the plan would be released, and two months later would come draft legislation designed to turn it into a reality.
That early 2020 deadline is important — it means that the contours of the Green New Deal would be complete by the next U.S. election cycle, and any politician wanting to be taken seriously as a progressive champion would need to adopt it as the centerpiece of their platform. If that happened, and the party running on a sweeping Green New Deal retook the White House and the Senate in November 2020, then there would actually be time left on the climate clock to meet the harsh targets laid out in the recent IPCC report, which told us that we have a mere 12 years to cut fossil fuel emissions by a head-spinning 45 percent.
Pulling that off, the report’s summarystatesin its first sentence, is not possible with singular policies like carbon taxes. Rather, what is needed is “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” By giving the committee a mandate that connects the dots between energy, transportation, housing and construction, as well as health care, living wages, a jobs guarantee, and the urgent imperative to battle racial and gender injustice, the Green New Deal plan would be mapping precisely that kind of far-reaching change. This is not a piecemeal approach that trains a water gun on a blazing fire, but a comprehensive and holistic plan to actually put the fire out.
If the world’s largest economy looked poised to show that kind of visionary leadership, other major emitters — like the European Union, China, and India — would almost certainly find themselves under intense pressure from their own populations to follow suit.
Now, nothing aboutthe pathway I have just outlined is certain or even likely: The Democratic Party establishment under Nancy Pelosi will probably squash the Green New Deal proposal, much as the party stomped on hopes for more ambitious climate deals under Obama. Smart money would bet on the party doing little more than resuscitating the climate committee that helped produce cap-and-trade legislation in Obama’s first term, an ill-fated and convoluted market-based scheme that would have treated greenhouse gases as late-capitalist abstractions to be traded, bundled, and speculated upon like currency or subprime debt (which is why Ocasio-Cortez is insisting that lawmakers who take fossil fuel money should not be on the Green New Deal select committee).
And of course, even if pressure on lawmakers continues to mount and those calling for the select committee carry the day, there is no guarantee that the party will win back the Senate and White House in 2020.
And yet, despite all of these caveats, we now have a something that has been sorely missing: a concrete plan on the table, complete with a science-based timeline, that is not only coming from social movements on the outside of government, but which also has a sizable (and growing) bloc of committed champions inside the House of Representatives.
Decades from now, if we are exquisitely lucky enough to tell a thrilling story about how humanity came together in the nick of time to intercept the metaphorical meteor, the pivotal chapter will not be the highly produced cinematic moment when Barack Obama won the Democratic primary and told an adoring throng of supporters that this would be “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” No, it will be the far less scripted and markedly more scrappy moment when a group of fed-up young people from the Sunrise Movement occupied the offices of Pelosi after the midterm elections, calling on her to get behind the plan for a Green New Deal — with Ocasio-Cortez dropping by the sit-in to cheer them on.
I realize that it may seem unreasonably optimistic to invest so much in a House committee, but it is not the committee itself that is my main source of hope. It is the vast infrastructure of scientific, technical, political, and movement expertise poised to spring into action should we take the first few steps down this path. It is a network of extraordinary groups and individuals who have held fast to their climate focus and commitments even when no media wanted to cover the crisis and no major political party wanted to do anything more than perform concern.
It’s a network that has been waiting a very long time for there to finally be a critical mass of politicians in power who understand not only the existential urgency of the climate crisis, but also the once-in-a-century opportunity it represents, as the draft resolutionstates, “to virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation.”
The ground for this moment has been prepared for decades, with models for community-owned and community-controlled renewable energy; with justice-based transitions that make sure no worker is left behind; with a deepening analysis of the intersections between systemic racism, armed conflict, and climate disruption; with improved green tech and breakthroughs in clean public transit; with the thriving fossil fuel divestment movement; with model legislation driven by the climate justice movement that shows how carbon taxes can fight racial and gender exclusion; and much more.
What has been missing is only the top-level political power to roll out the best of these models all at once, with the focus and velocity that both science and justice demand. That is the great promise of a comprehensive Green New Deal in the largest economy on earth. And as theSunrise Movementturns up the heat on legislators who have yet to sign onto the plan, it deserves all of our support.
Of course there is no shortage of Beltway pundits ready to dismiss all of this as hopelessly naive and unrealistic, the work of political neophytes who don’t understand the art of the possible or the finer points of policy. What those pundits are failing to account for is the fact that, unlike previous attempts to introduce climate legislation, the Green New Deal has the capacity to mobilize a truly intersectional mass movement behind it — not despite its sweeping ambition, but precisely because of it.
This is the game-changer of having representatives in Congress rooted in working-class struggles for living-wage jobs and for nontoxic air and water — women like Tlaib, who helpedfighta successful battle against Koch Industries’ noxious petroleum coke mountain in Detroit.
If you are part of the economy’s winning class and funded by even bigger winners, as so many politicians are, then your attempts to craft climate legislation will likely be guided by the idea that change should be as minimal and unchallenging to the status quo as possible.
After all, the status quo is working just fine for you and your donors.
Leaders who are rooted in communities that are being egregiously failed by the current system, on the other hand, are liberated to take a very different approach. Their climate policies can embrace deep and systemic change — including the need for massive investments in public transit, affordable housing, and health care — because that kind of change is precisely what their bases need to thrive.
As climate justice organizations have been arguing for many years now, when the people with the most to gain lead the movement, they fight to win.