Viewpoint: Building a Green New Deal

Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein sees reason for hope even in the face of an administration eager to trash the earth and to muzzle all those who oppose its vicious agenda. Klein applauds the growing grassroots movement behind a Green New Deal. Agitation both within and without the halls of Congress — spearheaded by the youthful Sunrise Movement — may pressure the Democratic Party leadership to use its majority in the House to create a Select Committee for a Green New Deal. This proposal has been advanced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and is now backed by more than 14 representatives.

Klein points out that the call for a comprehensive approach to the climate crisis properly acknowledges the severity and immediacy of the problem. The recent Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warns us that we have a mere 12 years to cut fossil fuel emissions by 45 percent.

Right from its very opening page, the IPCC cautions that mere tinkering — such as cap and trade or even a carbon tax — will hardly achieve the needed reductions. Baby steps might have been adequate twenty years ago, but now the level of greenhouse gasses is so elevated that more drastic measures are needed.

Environmentalists of an earlier era failed to gain traction against the resistance of fossil fuel giants, including their willingness to manipulate and dissemble. Nonetheless, the environmental movement itself was not above reproach.

Rather than seeking a broad-based program that would tie environmental initiatives to job guarantees and the right to organize, mainstream environmental leaders maintained that advancing such concerns would make their cause even more politically difficult. Instead, by going small, they managed to turn many working-class citizens against environmental protection.

More broadly, a loose coalition of evangelical Christians and market fundamentalists emerged amidst the social and economic turmoil of the seventies. Evangelicals and market fundamentalists did not share basic philosophies, though they did converge in climate change denial.

Evangelicals believe that God controls the climate whereas market fundamentalists believe any climate problem could be addressed by the god-like market.

Nonetheless, as Johns Hopkins professor William Connolly has argued, the spiritual sensibilities of each played a more significant part in their interaction. Evangelicals’ righteous indignation and marketers’ sense of entitlement resonated together, fostering an intense political movement hostile to anything associated with liberalism.

This time around, many environmental advocates are more eager to build coalitions. In addition, the severity of the problem has grown, and many jobs in manufacturing have been automated or outsourced. The Green New Deal reflects and helps advance the pluralist democracy the Sunrise Movement embodies.

Here are two of Sunrise’s guiding principles: “We are Americans from all walks of life. We are of many colors and creeds, from the plains, mountains, and coasts. A wealthy few want to divide us, but we value each other in our differences and we are united in a shared fight to make real the promise of a society that works for all of us. We tell our stories and we honor each other’s stories. We all have something to lose to climate change, and something to gain in coming together. We tell our individual stories to connect with each other and understand the many different ways this crisis impacts us.”

As Klein puts it, these guiding principles have encouraged and intensified “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 … 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.”

The very breadth and depth of these Green New Deal programs assures opposition from the neoliberal core of current Democratic Party leadership. The willingness of such groups as the Sunrise Movement to make their case both within and outside the halls of Congress coupled with the activism of many newly-elected representatives offers hope.

Nonetheless, the core leadership of the Democratic Party remains tethered to big finance and big oil. Absent continuing grassroots pressure, momentum is likely to subside. The rest of us need to follow the example of the youthful Sunrise Movement.

John Buell ([email protected]) lives in Southwest Harbor and is a columnist for the Progressive Populist.

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