The Green New Deal
Green? New? Or Same Old System?
The Green New Deal is a general name for a set of supposedly radical reforms of capitalism, based on environmental considerations, aimed at generating jobs, combatting inequality and addressing ecological problems. It covers a number of different proposals, though they all have quite a lot in common. Here we examine various ideas falling under this heading.
Let’s start with the Green New Deal UK (www.greennewdealuk.org), which includes simple slogans such as creating secure jobs, transforming the economy and restoring habitats. It is intended to rely on the support of both the public and politicians, with local hubs working to develop awareness and support. There will be a transition from fossil fuels to renewables. It will cost billions of pounds, but then climate breakdown and inequality cost far more, they say. Government funding would come from things such as ending tax breaks for fossil fuel extraction and stamping out tax dodging. This organisation has general ‘defining principles’, rather than policy stances on single issues.
There’s also the Green New Deal Group (greennewdealgroup.org). The Green New Deal as they see it ‘will deliver an environmental transformation of our economy and society’. Climate and inequality problems will be addressed, with the economy decarbonised. Taxes will be reformed, but government investment will be the catalyst for the plan. Pensions and savings will be more secure, and the UK will show ‘real world leadership’. There will be investment in energy conservation and renewables. The Green New Deal Bill (tabled by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas) would introduce legally-binding targets, appoint a New Green Deal Commission, end the supposed fixation on growth, and transform energy supplies and the transport system.
The Labour Party’s 2019 election manifesto did refer to a Green New Deal, but spoke more of a Green Industrial Revolution (a term also used more recently by Boris Johnson) to rebuild towns, provide well-paid jobs, cut energy bills and so on, with the costs being borne by the wealthy. A Sustainable Investment Board would oversee investment; there would be 7,000 new offshore wind turbines, with fracking permanently banned but new nuclear power.
One even simpler ‘solution’ is a carbon tax (Henry Jacobi in the Guardian, 5 January), designed to raise the price of coal, oil and natural gas. This would be imposed at the wellhead or mine mouth, so increasing the cost of all carbon-intensive goods and making more environmentally friendly ones more competitive.
Beyond the UK, we can look at the Blueprint for Europe’s Just Transition, produced in 2019 by the Green New Deal for Europe, an organisation comprising politicians, journalists and academics (www.gndforeurope.com). Working at the level of the EU, it proposes eighty-five specific policies, including funding public taxis, phasing out plane journeys and democratising finance, and is thus rather more detailed than the UK equivalents. These and other policies are intended to address the ‘three overlapping crises’: economic (rising poverty and insecurity), climate and environmental, and democratic (with people being disconnected from decision-making).
Three new institutions would be established. Green Public Works (GPW) would be an investment programme, financed through green bonds backed by the European Central Bank. Its investments would be aimed at environmental sustainability, for instance by improved insulation in houses, and it would also invest in worker-owned co-operatives. The Environmental Union (EnU) would introduce regulations to ensure that Europe would be ‘a global leader on the green transition’. Fossil-fuel investments would be penalised and agriculture made more sustainable. Finally, the Environmental Justice Commission (EJC) would aim to ensure fairness at international, intersectional and intergenerational levels; the last would look to justice for future generations that will inherit the planet.
In the US in 2019 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez set out her version of the Green New Deal in the form of a House Resolution. The aim is to make the US carbon-neutral by 2030, with a view to this applying to the whole world by 2050. Almost all power would come from wind and solar energy, buildings would be made more energy-efficient, and steps would be taken to reduce emissions from agriculture. It offers a broad approach, rather than specific legislation on each goal. Among this is the intention ‘to create millions of good high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States.’ The methods include ‘building resiliency against climate change-related disasters’, ‘removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere’, ‘ensuring that the Federal Government takes into account the complete environmental and social costs of emissions’ and ‘guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security’ for all Americans, who will moreover supposedly enjoy high-quality health care, adequate housing, economic security and so on.
In an interview in the Guardian (13 February), Bill Gates noted that 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases are emitted each year, and that reducing this to net zero even by 2050 is quite a challenging task. Transport accounts for one-sixth of this, and the slowdown resulting from the Covid pandemic has meant a reduction of just five percent in greenhouse gas emissions. Making a ton of cement (which is more or less essential for much building work) results in a ton of carbon dioxide; one possible solution is to take recycled carbon dioxide and inject it back into the cement. Gates dismisses the Green New Deal (in its US instantiation) as a ‘fairytale’, as carbon neutrality in a decade is just unachievable: short-term measures will simply be insufficient.
The Green New Deal UK’s FAQ notes that ‘Currently, the market focuses on short-term profits for shareholders, protecting the interests of large corporations and super-rich individuals.’ Which as a criticism is fine as far as it goes, but it fails to see that the problem is capitalism, not just ‘the market’ and how it works ‘currently’. In fact, this is what’s wrong with all these various Green New Deal proposals: they remain wedded to a system which, by its very nature, has to prioritise profits and short-term considerations, rather than ecological and human-based issues. It is all very well to speak of ‘building resiliency against climate change-related disasters’, for instance, but saying that contributes nothing to achieving such a desirable aim. And jobs for all is just impossible under a system based on profit, where the market’s need for workers can change according to alterations in consumer demand, price rises, technological changes and the consequences of competition. Most of the aims and policies of the various Green New Dealers are truly utopian, aiming at a goal which cannot be realised under a system of production that simply cannot put the wellbeing of the planet and its inhabitants in first place.
Of course, it is possible to fund public taxis and invest in renewable energy. But going against the grain of capitalism is simply not possible. The various versions of the Green New Deal are just different attempts to make a system based on profit into one built around ecological considerations, and that is just not doable.