Top Quotes: “On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal” — Naomi Klein
“On one day in March 2019, there were nearly 2,100 youth climate strikes in 125 countries, with 1.6 million young people participating. That’s quite an achievement for a movement that began just 8 months earlier with a single 15-year-old girl in Stockholm.”
“Greta learned from climate scientists that the worst of this wasn’t a foregone conclusion: that if we took radical action now, reducing emissions by 15% a year in wealthy countries like Sweden, then it would dramatically increase the chances of a safe future for her generation and the ones that followed. We could still save some of the glaciers. We could still protect many island nations. We might still avoid massive crop failure that would force hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people to flee their homes.”
“People with autism tend to be extremely literal and, as a result, often have trouble coping with cognitive dissonance, those gaps between what we know intellectually and what we do that are so pervasive in modern life. Many people on the spectrum are also less prone to imitating the social behaviors of the people around them — they often don’t even notice them — and instead tend to forge their own unique path. This often involves focusing with great intensity on areas of particular interest, and frequently having difficulty putting those areas of interest aside (compartmentalization). ‘For those of us who are on the spectrum,’ Thunberg says, ‘almost everything is black or white. We aren’t very good at lying, and we usually don’t enjoy participating in this social game that the rest of you seem so fond of.’
These traits explain why some people with Greta’s diagnosis become accomplished scientists and classical musicians, applying their super focus to great effect. It also helps explain why, when Thunberg applied her laser-like attention on climate breakdown, she was completely overwhelmed, with no way to protect herself from the fear and grief. She saw and felt the full implications of the crisis and couldn’t be distracted from it. What’s more, the fact that other people in her life (classmates, parents, teachers) seemed relatively unconcerned didn’t send her reassuring social signals that the situation wasn’t really so bad, as such signals do for children who are more socially connected. The apparent lack of concern of those around her terrified Thunberg even more.
To hear Greta and her parents tell it, a big part of emerging from her dangerous depression was finding ways to reduce the unbearable cognitive dissonance between what she’d learned about the planetary crisis and how she and her family were living their lives. She convinced her parents to join her in becoming vegan, or at least vegetarian, and, biggest of all, to stop flying. (Her mother is a well-known opera singer, so this was no small sacrifice.)”
“The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report that had a greater impact than any publication in the 31-year history of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning org.
The report examined the implications of keeping the increase in planetary warming below 1.5 degrees C or 2.7 degrees F. Given the worsening disasters we’re already seeing with about 1 degree C of warming, it found that keeping temps below the 1.5 C threshold is humanity’s best chance of avoiding truly catastrophic unraveling.
But doing that would be extremely difficult. According to the UN World Meteorological Org, we’re on a path to warming the world by 3–5 degrees C by the end of the century. Turning our economic ship around in time to keep the warming below 1.5 degrees C would require, the IPCC authors found, cutting global emissions approximately in half in a mere 12 years — 11 years as this book goes to press — and getting to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Not just in one country but in every major economy. And because CO2 in the atmosphere has already dramatically surpassed safe levels, it would also require drawing a great deal of that down, whether thru unproven and expensive carbon capture techs or the old-fashioned ways: by planting billions of trees and other carbon-sequestering vegetation.
Pulling off this high-speed pollution phaseout, the report establishes, isn’t possible with singular technocratic approaches like carbon taxes, though those tools must play a part. Rather, it requires deliberately and immediately changing how our societies produce energy, how we grow our food, how we move ourselves around, and how our buildings are constructed. What’s needed, the report’s summary states in its first sentence, is ‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.’”
“In 1988, the UN created the IPCC to provide policymakers with the most reliable info possible to inform their decisions. For this reason, the panel synthesizes all the best science to come up with projections that a great many scientists need to agree on before anything is made public — and even then, nothing can go out before the governments themselves sign off.
Because of this laborious process, IPCC projections have been notoriously conservative, often dangerously underestimating risk. And yet here was a report, drawing on some 6k sources, created by nearly 100k authors and review editors, saying in no uncertain terms that if governments did as little to cut emissions as they were currently pledging to do, we were headed toward consequences including sea level rise that would swallow coastal cities, the total die-off of coral reefs, and droughts that would wipe out crops in huge parts of the globe.”
A New Economic Model
“We need to fix an economic model that’s failing the majority of people on major fronts. Because the factors that are destroying our planet are also destroying people’s quality of life in many other ways, from wage stagnation to gaping inequalities to crumbling services to the breakdown of any semblance of social cohesion. Challenging these underlying forces is an opportunity to solve several interlocking crises at once.
In tackling the climate crisis, we can create hundreds of millions of good jobs around the world, invest in the most systematically excluded communities and nations, guarantee healthcare and childcare, and much more. The result of these transformations would be economies built both to protect and to regenerate the planet’s life support systems and to respect and sustain the people who depend on them. It would also strive for something more amorphous but equally important: at a time when we find ourselves increasingly divided into hermetically sealed info bubbles, with almost no shared assumptions about what we can trust or even about what is real, a Green New Deal could instill a sense of collective, higher purpose — a set of concrete goals that we’re all working toward together. In scale if not specifics, the Green New Deal proposal takes its inspiration from FDR’s original New Deal, which responded to the misery and breakdown of the Great Depression with a flurry of policies and public investments, from introducing Social Security and minimum wage laws, to breaking up the banks, to electrifying rural America and building a wave of low-cost housing in cities, to planting more than 2 billion trees and launching soil protection programs in regions ravaged by the Dust Bowl.
The various plans that have emerged for a Green New Deal-style transformation envision a future where the difficult work of transition has been embraced, including sacrifices in profligate consumption. But in exchange, day-to-day life for working people has been improved in countless ways, with more time for leisure and art, truly accessible and affordable public transit and housing, yawning racial and gender wealth gaps closed at last, and city life that’s not an unending battle against traffic, noise, and pollution.”
“A Bolivian climate negotiator named Angelica Navarro Llanos delivered a blistering address to a 2009 UN climate summit: ‘We need a massive mobilization larger than any in history. We need a Marshall Plan for the Earth,’ she declared, invoking the ways that the US, fearing an ascendant Soviet Union, had helped rebuild large parts of Europe after WWII. ‘This plan must mobilize financing and tech transfer on scales never seen before. It must get tech onto the ground in every country to ensure we reduce emissions while raising people’s quality of life. We have only a decade.’
We wasted the entire decade following that call with tinkering and denial, and we’ll never get back the wonders that are gone as a result — or the lives or livelihoods destroyed because of it. Navarro Llanos and her fellow Bolivians have watched the majestic glaciers that provide fresh water for La Paz (home to 2.3 million people) recede with alarming speed. In 2017, reservoirs ran so low that water rationing was introduced for the first time in the capitol and a state of emergency had to be declared across the country.”
“AOC dropped by their sit-in at Pelosi’s office.
‘I just want to let you all know how proud I am of each and every single one of you for putting yourselves and your bodies and everything on the line to make sure that we save our planet, our generation, and our future,’ she told the demonstrators, reminding them that ‘my journey here started at Standing Rock,’ a reference to her decision to run for Congress after participating in the anti-pipeline protests led by the Standing Rock Sioux.”
The Green New Deal
“[The Green New Deal] states that workers moving from high-carbon industries to green ones should have their wage levels and benefits protected, and it guarantees a job to all who want to work. It also calls for the communities who’ve borne the toxic brunt of dirty industries, so many of them Indigenous, black, and brown, not only to benefit from the transitions but to help design them at the local level. And as if all this weren’t enough, it folds in key demands from the growing Democratic Socialist wing of the Democratic party: free universal healthcare, childcare, and higher ed.
By previous standards, the framework was shockingly bold and progressive but there was so much momentum for it, particularly among young voters, that in short order it became a litmus test for large parts of the party. By May 2019, with the race to head the Democratic Party in full swing, the majority of leading presidential hopefuls claimed to support it, including Sanders, Warren, Harris, Booker, and Gillibrand. It had been endorsed, meanwhile, by 105 members of the House and Senate.”
“During the New Deal decade, 10 million+ people were directly employed by the government; most of rural America got electricity for the first time; hundreds of thousands of new buildings and structures were built; 2.3 billion trees were planted; 800 new state parks were developed; and hundreds of thousands of public works of art were created.”
“[Some] insist that the only precedents that show the scale and speed of change required in the face of the climate crisis are the WWII mobilizations that saw W. powers transforming their manufacturing sectors and consumption patterns to fight Hitler’s Germany. It was certainly a dizzying level of change: Factories were retooled to produce ships, planes, and weapons. To free up food and fuel for the military, citizens changed their lifestyles dramatically: in Britain, driving for anything other than necessity virtually ceased; between 1938 and 1944, use of public transit went up by 87% in the US and by 95% in Canada. In 1943 in the US, 20 million households (representing 3/5 of the population) had ‘Victory gardens’ in their yards, growing fresh vegetables that accounted for 42% of all those consumed that year.
Some argue that a better analogy than the war effort was the reconstruction afterward — the Marshall Plan, a kind of New Deal for W. and S. Europe. In W. Germany, the US government spent billions to rebuild a mixed economy that would have broad-based support and would undercut the rising support for socialism (while providing a growing market for US exports). That meant direct job creation by the state, huge investment in the public sector, subsidies for German firms, and support for strong labor unions. The effort was widely regarded as Washington’s most successful diplomatic initiative.”
“We’re slowly starting to see a shift to a more aggressive regulatory approach in a handful of countries, invariably as a result of strong movement pressure. A few countries, states, and provinces have placed bans or moratoriums on fracking for gas. New Zealand, significantly, has announced it will no longer issue leases for offshore oil drilling. Norway’s government has announced plans to prohibit the sale of cars with internal combustion engines by 2025, a move that will certainly accelerate a shift to electric vehicles. But no national government of a wealthy country has been willing to have a frank discussion about the need for high consumers to consume less or for fossil fuel companies to pay to clean up the mess they created.”
“Justice demands that we heed the call for a ‘Marshall Plan for the Earth’ that Bolivia’s climate negotiator called for a decade ago: to roll out resources in the Global South so communities can fortify themselves against extreme weather, pull themselves out of poverty with clean tech, and protect their ways of life wherever possible.
When protection isn’t possible — when the land is simply too parched to grow crops and when the seas are rising too fast to hold them back — then justice demands that we clearly recognize that all people have the human right to move and work safely. That means they’re owed asylum and status on arrival.”
“The Sunrise Movement and others have focused on getting elected politicians to take a ‘no fossil fuel money’ pledge, which well over half the contenders for the Democratic Party leadership quickly agreed to sign. If it became the policy of a governing party to refuse fossil fuel donations, and to shun fossil fuel lobbyists, the industry’s hold over policymaking would be dramatically weakened. And if, under public and regulatory pressure, media outlets stopped running ads from fossil fuel companies, much as they stopped running tobacco ads in the past, the industry’s outsized influence would be further eroded.”
“In the late 90s, an isolated indigenous group in Colombia captured headlines with an almost Avatar-esque conflict. From their remote home in the Andean cloud forests, the U’wa let it be known that if Occidental Petroleum carried out plans to drill for oil on their territory, they would commit mass suicide by jumping off a cliff. Their elders explained that oil was part of ruiria, ‘the blood of Mother Earth.’ They believe that all life, including their own, flows from ruiria, so pulling out the oil would bring on their destruction. (Oxy eventually withdrew from the region, saying there wasn’t as much oil as previously thought.)”
“A 2007 Harris poll found that 71% of Americans believed that the continued burning of fossil fuels would cause the climate to change. By 2009, the figure had dropped to 51%. In June 2011, the number of Americans who agreed was down to 44%. According to Pew, this is ‘among the largest shifts over a short period of time seen in recent public opinion history.’”
“The effects of the right-wing climate conspiracies reach far beyond the Republican Party. Democrats have mostly gone mute on the subject, not wanting to alienate independents. And the media and culture industries have followed suit. In 2007, celebrities were showing up at the Oscars in hybrids. That same year, Vanity Fair launched an annual green issue, and the 3 major US TV networks ran 147 stories on climate change. No longer. In 2010 the major networks ran just 32 climate change stories; limos are back in style at the Oscars; and the ‘annual’ Vanity Fair green issue hasn’t been seen since 2008.”
“While Heartlanders like to invoke the specter of communism to terrify Americans about climate action, the reality is that Soviet-era state socialism was a disaster for the climate. It devoured resources with as much enthusiasm as capitalism, and spewed waste just as recklessly: before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Czechs and Russians had even higher carbon footprints per capita than their counterparts in Britain, Canada, and Australia. And while some point to the dizzying expansion of China’s renewable energy programs to argue that only centrally controlled regimes can get the green job done, China’s command-and-control economy continues to be harnessed to wage an all-out war with nature, through massively disruptive mega-dams, superhighways, and extraction-based energy projects, particularly coal.
It’s true that responding to the climate threat requires a willingness to engage in industrial planning and strong government action at all levels. But some of the most successful climate solutions are ones that steer these interventions to systematically disperse and devolve power and control to the community level, whether through community-controlled renewable energy, ecological agriculture, or transit systems genuinely accountable to their users.”
“One of the key areas in which this collective action must take place is big-ticket investments designed to reduce our emissions on a mass scale. That means subways, streetcars, and light-rail systems that are not only everywhere but affordable to everyone, and maybe even free: energy-efficient affordable housing along those transit lines; smart electrical grids carrying renewable energy; and a massive research effort to ensure that we’re using the best methods possible.
The private sector is ill suited to provide most of these services because they require large up-front investments, and if they’re to be genuinely accessible to all, some very well may not be profitable. They are, however, decidedly in the public interest, which is why they should come from the public sector.”
“Every city and community in the world needs a plan for how it’s going to transition away from fossil fuels, what the Transition Town movement calls an ‘energy descent action plan.’ In the cities and towns that’ve taken this responsibility seriously, the process has opened rare spaces for participatory democracy, with neighbors packing consultation meetings at city halls to share ideas about how to reorganize their communities to lower emissions and build in resilience for tough times ahead.
Climate change demands other forms of planning as well, particularly for workers whose jobs will become obsolete as we wean ourselves off ‘fossil fuels. A few ‘green jobs’ training sessions aren’t enough. These workers need to know that real jobs will be waiting for them on the other side. That means bringing back the idea of planning our economies based on collective priorities rather than corporate profitability — giving laid-off employees of car plants and coal mines the tools and resources to get equally secure jobs making subway cars, installing wind turbines, and cleaning up extraction sites, to cite just a few examples. Some of this will be in the private sector, some in the public realm, and some in cooperatives, with Cleveland’s worker-run green co-ops serving as a possible model.
Agriculture, too, will have to see a revival in planning if we’re to address the triple crisis of soil erosion, extreme weather, and dependence on fossil fuel inputs. Wes Jackson, the visionary founder of the Land Institute in Salina, KS has been calling for a ‘50-year farm bill.’ That’s the length of time he and his collaborators estimate it will take to conduct the research and develop the infrastructure to replace many soil-depleting annual grain crops (grown in monocultures) with perennial crops (grown in polycultures). Because perennials don’t need to be replanted every year, their long roots do a much better job of storing scarce water, holding soil in place and sequestering carbon. Polycultures are also less vulnerable to pests and to being wiped out by the extreme weather that’s already locked in. Another bonus: this type of farming is much more labor intensive than industrial agriculture, which means that farming can once again be a substantial source of employment in long-neglected rural communities.”
“Climate change detonates the ideological scaffolding on which contemporary conservatism rests. There’s simply no way to square a belief system that vilifies collective action and venerates total market freedom with a problem that demands collective action on an unprecedented scale and a dramatic reining in of the market forces that created and are deepening the crisis.”
Trade & GDP
“The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently published a study of the emissions from industrialized countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol. It found that while they’d stabilized, that was partly because international trade had allowed these countries to move their dirty production to places like China. The researchers concluded that the rise in emissions from goods produced in developing countries but consumed in industrialized ones was six times greater than the emissions savings of industrialized countries.
In an economy organized to respect natural limits, the use of energy-intensive long-haul transport would need to be rationed — reserved for those cases where goods cannot be produced locally or where local production is more carbon-intensive. (For example, growing food in greenhouses in cold parts of the US is often more energy-intensive than growing it in the South and shipping it by light rail.)
Climate change doesn’t demand an end to trade. But it does demand an overhaul of the reckless form of ‘free trade’ that governs every bilateral trade agreement and the WTO. If done thoughtfully and carefully, this is more good news — for unemployed workers, for farmers unable to compete with cheap imports, for communities that’ve seen their manufacturers move offshore and their local businesses replaced with big-box stores.”
“This growth imperative is why conventional economists reliably approach the climate crisis by asking the question, How can we reduce emissions while maintaining robust GDP growth? The usual answer is ‘decoupling,’ the idea that renewable energy and greater efficiencies will allow us to sever economic growth from its environmental impact. And ‘green growth’ advocates tell us that the process of developing new green techs and installing green infrastructure can provide a huge economic boost, sending GDP soaring and generating the wealth needed to ‘make America healthier, richer, more innovative, more productive, and more secure.’
But here’s where things get complicated. There’s a growing body of economic research on the conflict between unchecked economic growth and sound climate policy. All raise serious questions about the feasibility of industrialized countries making the deep emissions cuts demanded by science (getting to net-zero by mid-century) while continuing to grow their economies at even today’s sluggish rates. As Victor and Jackson argue, greater efficiencies simply cannot keep up with the pace of growth, in part because greater efficiency is almost always accompanied by more consumption, reducing or even canceling out the gains (the ‘Jevons paradox’).”
“The bottom line is that an ecological crisis that has its roots in the overconsumption of natural resources must be addressed not just by improving the efficiency of our economies, but also by reducing the amount of material stuff that the wealthiest 20% of the people on the planet consume. Yet that idea is anathema to the large corporations that dominate the global economy, which are controlled by footloose investors who demand ever-greater profits year after year. We’re therefore caught in the untenable bind of, as Jackson puts it, ‘trash the system or crash the planet.’
The way out is to embrace a managed transition to another economic paradigm, using all the tools of planning just discussed. Increases in consumption should be reserved for those around the world still pulling themselves out of poverty. Meanwhile, in the industrialized world, those sectors that aren’t governed by the drive for increased yearly profit (the public sector, co-ops, local businesses, nonprofits) would expand their share of overall economic activity, as would those sectors with minimal ecological impacts but outsized benefits for well-being (such as teaching, the caregiving professions and leisure activities). A great many jobs could be created this way. But the role of the corporate sector, with its structural demand for increased sales and profits, would have to contract, particularly those segments whose fortunes are inextricable from resource extraction.”
“The only way to finance a meaningful response to the ecological crisis is to go where the money is.
That means taxing carbon, and financial speculation. It means increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy, cutting bloated military budgets, and eliminating absurd subsidies to the fossil fuel industry ($20 billion annually in the US). And governments will have to coordinate their responses so that corporations will have nowhere to hide. (This kind of robust international regulatory architecture is what Heartlanders mean when they warn that climate change will usher in a sinister ‘world government.’)
Most all, however, we need to go after the profits of the corporations most responsible for getting us into this mess. The top 5 oil companies made $900 billion in profits in the past decade; ExxonMobil alone can clear $10 billion in profits in a single quarter. For years, these companies have pledged to use their profits to invest in a shift to renewable energy (BP’s ‘Beyond Petroleum’ rebranding being the highest-profile example). But according to Center for American Progress study, just 4% of the big 5’s 2008 combined $100 billion profits went to ‘renewable and alternative energy ventures.’ Instead, they continue to pour their profits into shareholder pockets, outrageous exec pay, and new techs designed to extract even dirtier and more dangerous fossil fuels. Plenty of money has also gone to paying lobbyists to beat back every piece of climate legislation that has reared its head, and to fund the denier movement gathered at the Marriott Hotel.
Just as tobacco companies have been obliged to pay the costs of helping people to quit smoking, and BP has had to pay for a large portion of the cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s high time for the ‘polluter pays’ principle to be applied to climate change. Beyond higher taxes on polluters, governments will have to negotiate much higher royalty rates so that less fossil fuel extraction would raise more public revenue to pay for the shift to our postcarbon future (and the steep costs of climate change already upon us). Since corporations can be counted on to resist any new rules that cut into their profits, nationalization, the greatest free-market taboo of all, cannot be off the table.”
“Wealth will have to be transferred not just within wealthy countries but also from the rich countries whose emissions created the crisis to poorer ones that are on the front lines of its effects. Indeed, what makes conservatives (and plenty of liberals) so eager to bury the UN climate negotiations is that they have revived anti-colonial courage in parts of the developing world that many thought was gone for good. Armed with irrefutable scientific facts about who’s responsible for climate change and who’s suffering its effects firs and worst, countries like Bolivia and Ecuador are attempting to shed the mantle of ‘debtor’ thrust upon them by decades of IMF and World Bank loans and are declaring themselves creditors — owed not just money and tech to cope with climate change but also ‘atmospheric space’ in which to develop.”
“None of this has a hope in hell of happening unless it’s accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process.”
“An American entrepreneur named Russ George dumped 120 tons of iron dust off the hull of a rented fishing boat. The plan was to create an algae bloom that would sequester carbon and thereby combat climate change.
George is one of a growing number of would-be geoengineers who advocate high-risk, large-scale tech interventions that would fundamentally change the oceans and skies in order to reduce the effects of global warming. In addition to George’s scheme to fertilize the ocean with iron, other geoengineering strategies under consideration include pumping sulfate aerosols into the upper atmosphere to imitate the cooling effects of a major volcanic eruption and ‘brightening’ clouds so they reflect more of the sun’s rays back to space.
The risks are huge. Ocean fertilization could trigger dead zones and toxic tides. And multiple simulations have predicted that mimicking the effects of a volcano would interfere with monsoons in Asia and Africa, potentially threatening water and food security for billions.”
“For well under a billion dollars, a ‘coalition of the willing,’ a single country, or even a wealthy individual could decide to take the climate into their own hands. Jim Thomas of the ETC Group, an environmental watchdog org, puts the problem like this: ‘Geoengineering says, ‘we’ll just do it, and you’ll live with the effects.’’
The scariest part is that models suggest that many of the people who could well be most harmed by these techs are already disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Imagine this: North America decides to send sulfur into the stratosphere to reduce the intensity of the sun, in the hope of saving its corn crops — despite the real possibility of triggering droughts in Asia and Africa. In short, geoengineering would give us (or some of us) the power to exile huge swaths of humanity to sacrifice zones with a virtual flip of the switch.”
“If we’re to avoid that kind of carnage while meeting science-based emissions targets, carbon reduction must be managed carefully through what Anderson and Bows describe as ‘radical and immediate de-growth strategies in the US, EU, and other wealthy nations.’ Which is fine, except that we happen to have an economic system that fetishizes GDP growth above all else, regardless of the human or ecological consequences, and in which the neoliberal political class has utterly abdicated its responsibility to manage anything (since the market is the invisible genius to which everything must be entrusted).
So, what they’re really saying is that there is still time to avoid catastrophic warming, but not within the rules of capitalism as they’re currently constructed. Which may be the best argument we’ve ever had for changing those rules.
In 2012, Anderson and Bows threw down something of a gauntlet, accusing many of their fellow scientists of failing to come clean about the kind of changes that climate change demanded of humanity.
…in developing emission scenarios scientists repeatedly and severely underplay the implications of their analyses. When it comes to avoiding a 2*C rise, ‘impossible’ is translated into ‘difficult but doable,’ whereas ‘urgent and radical’ emerge as ‘challenging’ — all to appease the god of economics (or, more precisely, finance). For example, to avoid exceeding the max rate of emission reduction dictated by economists, ‘impossibly’ early peaks in emissions are assumed, together with naïve notions about ‘big’ engineering and the deployment rates of low-carbon infrastructure. More disturbingly, as emissions budgets dwindle, so geoengineering is increasingly proposed to ensure that the diktat of economists remains unquestioned.
In other words, in other to appear reasonable within neoliberal economic circles, scientists have been dramatically soft-pedaling the implications of their research.”
“But the truth is getting out anyway. The fact that the business-as-usual pursuit of profits and growth is destabilizing life on Earth is no longer something we need to read about in scientific journals. The early signs are unfolding before our eyes. And increasing numbers of us are responding accordingly: blockading fracking activity in England; interfering with Arctic drilling prep in Russian waters (as Greenpeace has done); taking tar sands operators to court for violating Indigenous sovereignty; and countless other acts of resistance large and small. In Brad Werner’s computer model, this is the ‘friction’ needed to slow down the forces of destabilization; the great climate campaigner Bill McKibben calls it the ‘antibodies’ rising up to fight the planet’s ‘spiking fever.’
It’s not a revolution yet, but it’s a start. And if it spreads, it might just buy us enough time to figure out a way to live on a planet that’s distinctly less f**ked.”
“The climate crisis was hatched in our laps at a moment in history when political and social conditions were uniquely hostile to a problem of this nature and magnitude — that moment being the tail end of the go-go 80s, the blast-off point for the crusade to spread deregulated capitalism around the world.”
“The migration pattern of many songbird species, for instance, have evolved over millennia so that eggs hatch precisely when food sources such as caterpillars are at their most abundant, providing parents with ample nourishment for their hungry young. But because spring now arrives early, the caterpillars are hatching earlier, too, which means that in some areas they’re less plentiful when the chicks hatch, with a number of possible long-term impacts on survival.
Similarly, in W. Greenland, caribou are arriving at their calving grounds only to find themselves out of sync with the forage plants they’ve relied on for thousands of years, now growing earlier thanks to rising temps. That’s leaving female caribou with less energy for lactation and reproduction, a mismatch that’s been linked to sharp decreases in calf births and survival rates.”
“Just when we needed to gather, our public sphere was disintegrating; just when we needed to consume less, consumerism took over virtually every aspect of our lives; just when we needed to slow down and notice, we sped up; and just when we needed longer time horizons, we were able to see only the immediate present, trapped in the forever now of our constantly refreshed social feeds.”
“Late capitalism teaches us to create ourselves through our consumer choices: shopping is how we form our identities, find community, and express ourselves. Thus, telling people that they can’t shop as much as they want to because the planet’s support systems are overburdened can be understood as a kind of attack, akin to telling them that they cannot truly be themselves. This is likely why, of environmentalism’s original ‘3 Rs’ (reduce, reuse, recycle), only the third one has ever gotten any traction, since it allows us to keep on shopping as long as we put the refuse in the right box. The other two, which require that we consume less, were pretty much DOA.”
“Germany’s energy transition has created 400k jobs in renewables in just over a decade, and not just cleaned up energy but made it fairer, so that many energy grids are owned and controlled by hundreds of cities, towns, and coops. They still have a long way to go in phasing out coal, but they’ve now started in earnest. NYC just announced a climate plan that, if enacted, would bring 800k people out of poverty by 2025 by investing massively in transit and affordable housing and raising the minimum wage.”
Human Rights and the Green Movement
“Indigenous people from Brazil to Uganda are finding that some of the most aggressive land grabbing is being done by conservation orgs. A forest is suddenly rebranded a carbon offset and is put off-limits to its traditional inhabitants. As a result, the carbon offset market has created a whole new class of green human rights abuses, with farmers and Indigenous people being physically attacked by park rangers or private security when they try to access their lands.
And there’s more. In the last year of Said’s life, Israel’s so-called separation barrier was going up, seizing huge swaths of the West Bank, cutting Palestinian workers off from their jobs, farmers from their fields, patients from hospitals — and brutally dividing families. There was no shortage of reasons to oppose the wall on human rights grounds. Yet, at the time, some of the loudest dissenting voices among Israeli Jews weren’t focused on any of that. Yehudit Naot, Israel’s then-environment minister, was more worried about a report informing her that ‘The separation fence…is harmful to the landscape, the flora and fauna, the ecological corridors and the drainage of the creeks.’
‘I certainly don’t want to stop or delay the building of the fence,’ she said, but ‘I’m disturbed by the environmental damage involved.’ As Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti later observed, Naot’s ‘ministry and the National Parks Protection Authority mounted diligent rescue efforts to save an affected reserve of irises by moving it to an alternative reserve. They’ve also created tiny passages [through the wall] for animals.”
“The main way we’ve understood the border of the desert in the M. East and N. Africa, he explains, is the so-called aridity line, areas where there’s on average 7.8 in of rainfall a year, which has been considered the minimum for growing cereal crops on a large scale without irrigation.”
“Weizman points out that the Syrian border city of Daraa falls directly on the aridity line. Daraa is where Syria’s deepest drought on record brought huge numbers of displaced farmers in the years leading up to the outbreak of Syria’s civil war, and it’s where the Syrian uprising broke out in 2011. Drought wasn’t the only factor in bringing tensions to a head, of course. But the fact that 1.5 million people were internally displaced in Syria as a result of the drought clearly played a role.
The connection between water and heat stress and conflict is a recurring, intensifying pattern that spans the aridity line: all along it you see places marked by drought, water scarcity, scorching temps, and military conflict — from Libya to Palestine to some of the bloodiest battlefields in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen.
And that’s not all.
Weizman also discovered what he calls an ‘astounding coincidence.’ When you map the targets of W. drone strikes onto the region, you see that ‘many of these attacks — from S. Waziristan through N. Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Iraq, Gaza, and Libya — are directly on or close to the 200 mm aridity line.’
To me, this is the most clarifying attempt yet to visualize the brutal landscape of the climate crisis.
All this was foreshadowed a decade ago in a US military report published by the Center for Naval Analyses. ‘The Middle East,’ it observed, ‘has always been associated with two natural resources, oil (because of its abundance) and water (because of its scarcity).’ True enough. And now certain patterns have become quite clear: first, W. fighter jets followed that abundance of oil; now W. drones are closely shadowing the lack of water, as drought exacerbates conflict.”
“Camps filled with migrants are bulldozed in Calais, France. Thousands of people drown in the Mediterranean every year. And the Australian government detains survivors of wars and despotic regimes in camps on the remote islands of Nauru and Manus. Conditions are so desperate on Nauru that last month an Iranian migrant died after setting himself on fire to try to draw the world’s attention. Another migrant, a 21-year-old woman from Somalia, set herself on fire a few days later.”
“Even the UAE, a straight-up petrostate, is prepping for the end of oil, funneling tens of billions in oil wealth into new investments in renewables.”
“Though slavery did exist in Canada, our primary role in the transatlantic slave trade was as a supplier: Much of that supposedly endless cod was salted and shipped to the British W. Indies (Jamaica, Barbados, British Guiana, Trinidad, Grenada, Dominica, St. Vincent, and St. Lucia). For wealthy plantation owners, cod was an invaluable source of cheap protein for enslaved Africans.
Our economic niche was always voraciously devouring wilderness — both animals and plants. Canada was an extractive company, the Hudson’s Bay fur trading company, before it was a country.”
“There’s a group of oil workers in the Alberta tar sands who’ve started an org called Iron and Earth. They’re calling on our government to retrain laid-off oil workers and put them back to work installing solar panels, starting with public buildings like schools. It’s an elegant idea, and almost everyone who hears about it supports it.
Our postal workers union, meanwhile, has been facing a push to shut down post offices, restrict mail delivery, and maybe even sell off the whole service to FedEx. Austerity as usual. But instead of fighting for the best deal they can get under this failed logic, they’ve put together a visionary plan for every post office in the country to become a hub for the green transition — a place where you can recharge electric vehicles and do an end-run around the big banks and get a loan to start an energy co-op; and where the entire delivery fleet isn’t only electric and made in Canada but also does more than deliver mail: It delivers locally grown produce and checks in on the elderly.
These are bottom-up, democratically conceived plans for a justice-based transition off fossil fuels. And we need them developed in every sector (from healthcare to education to media) and multiplied around the world.”
“According to Global Witness, this worldwide war is getting started. They repot that ‘More than 3 people were killed a week in 2015 for defending their land, forests, and rivers against destructive industries…These numbers are shocking, and evidence that the environment is emerging as a new battleground for human rights. Across the world industry is pushing ever deeper into new territory…Increasingly communities that take a stand are finding themselves in the firing line of companies’ private security, state forces, and a thriving market for contract killers.’ About 40% of the victims, they estimate, are Indigenous.”
“We know that hundreds of S. African workers were contracted to help battle Alberta’s 2016 Ft. McMurray fire — only for them to stop working en masse after discovering that they were being paid significantly less than their Canadian counterparts, and less than press reports claimed they were being paid. They were promptly sent home.”
“Since the 70s, fire season in the US has lengthened by 105 days, according to an analysis by Climate Central.”
“3 weeks after the smoke descended on the coast, we learn that the total annual greenhouse gas emissions for British Columbia had tripled as result of the fires, and it’s still going up.
This dramatic increase in emissions is part of what climate scientists mean when they warn about feedback loops: burning carbon leads to warmer temps and long periods without rain, which leads to more fires, which release more carbon into the atmosphere, which leads to even warmer and drier conditions and even more fires.
Another such lethal feedback loop is playing out with Greenland’s wildfires. Fires produce black soot (aka ‘black carbon’), which settles on ice sheets, turning the ice gray or black. Darkened ice absorbs more heat than reflective white ice, which makes the ice melt faster, which leads to sea level rise and the release of huge amounts of methane, which causes more warming and more fires, which in turn create more blackened ice and more melting.”
“For all his gushing about British Columbia’s forests and coastal waters, Trudeau is slamming his foot on the accelerator when it comes to pipelines and tar sands expansion. ‘No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there,’ he told a cheering crowd of oil and gas execs in Houston in 2017. He hasn’t budged since.”
“For a couple of decades, I’ve been investigating the ways that the already rich and powerful systematically exploit the pain and the trauma of collective shocks (like superstorms or economic crises) in order to build an even more unequal and undemocratic society.
Long before, Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico was a textbook example. The debt (illegitimate and much of it illegal) was the excuse used to ram through a brutal program of economic suffering, what the great Argentine author Rodolfo Walsh, writing 4 decades earlier, famously called ‘planned misery.’
This program systematically attacked the very glue that holds a society together: all levels of education, healthcare, the electricity and water systems, transit systems, communication networks, and more.
It was a plan so widely rejected that no elected reps in Puerto Rico could be trusted to carry it out — which is why in 2016 Congress passed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA). That law amounted to a financial coup d’etat that put the territory’s economy directly in the hands of the unelected Financial Oversight and Management Board. In Puerto Rico, they call it La Junta.
The term fits. As Yanis Varoufakis puts it, governments used to be overthrown with tanks, ‘now it’s with banks.’
It was in this context, with every Puerto Rican institution already trembling from La Junta’s assaults, that Maria’s ferocious winds came roaring through. It was a storm so powerful it would’ve sent even the sturdiest society reeling But Puerto Rico didn’t reel. It broke.
Not the people of Puerto Rico, but all those systems that had already been deliberately brought to the brink: power, health, communication, water, food. All those systems collapsed. The latest research puts the numbers of lives lost as a result of Maria at 3,000. But let us be clear: Maria didn’t kill all those people. It was that combination of grinding austerity and an extraordinary hurricane that stole so many precious lives.
A few lives were lost to wind and water, yes. But the vast majority died because when you systematically starve and neglect the very bones of a society, rendering it dysfunctional on a good day, that society has absolutely no capacity to weather a true crisis.”
“God isn’t the one who laid off thousands of skilled electrical workers in the years before the storm, or who failed to maintain the grid with basic repairs. God didn’t give vital relief and reconstruction projects to politically connected firms, some of whom didn’t even pretend to do their jobs. God didn’t decide that Puerto Rico should import 85% of its good — this archipelago blessed with some of the most fertile soil in the world. God didn’t decide that Puerto Rico should get 98% of its energy from imported fossil fuels — these islands bathed in sun, lashed by wind, and surrounded by waves, all of which could provide cheap and clean renewable power to spare.
These were decisions made by people working for powerful interests.”
“It must always be remembered that FDR rolled out the New Deal in the midst of a historic wave of labor unrest. There was the Teamster Rebellion and the Minneapolis general strike in 1934, the 83-day shutdown of W. Coast ports by longshore workers in that same year, and the Flint autoworkers sit-down strikes in 1936 and 1937.
During this same period, mass movements, responding to the suffering of the Great Depression, demanded sweeping social programs, such as Social Security and unemployment insurance, while socialists argued that abandoned factories should be handed over to their workers and turned into coops. Upton Sinclair, the muckracking author of The Jungle, ran for CA governor in 1934 on a platform arguing that the key to ending poverty was full state funding of workers’ coops. He received nearly 900k votes, but having been viciously attacked by the right and undercut by the Democratic establishment, he fell just short of winning. Growing numbers of Americans were also paying close attention to Huey Long, the populist LA senator who believed that all Americans should receive a guaranteed annual income of $2,500. Explaining why he’d added more social welfare benefits to the New Deal in 1935, FDR said he wanted to ‘steal Long’s thunder.’
All this is a reminder that the New Deal was adopted by Roosevelt at a time of such progressive and left militancy that its programs (which seem radical by today’s standards) appeared at the time to be the only way to hold back a full-scale revolution.
A similar dynamic was at play in 1948, when the US decided to underwrite the Marshall Plan. With Europe’s infrastructure shattered and its economies in crisis, the US government was worried that large parts of W. Europe would see the egalitarian promises of socialism as their best hope and fall under the influence of the Soviet Union. Indeed, so many Germans were drawn to socialism after the war that the Allied powers decided to split Germany into 2 parts rather than risk losing it all to the Soviets.
It was in this context that the US government decided it wouldn’t rebuild W. Germany with Wild West capitalism (as it would attempt to do 5 decades later when the Soviet Union collapsed, with disastrous results). Rather, Germany would be rebuilt on a mixed social-democratic model, with supports for local industry, strong trade unions, and a robust welfare state. As with the New Deal, the idea was to build a market economy with enough socialist elements that a more revolutionary approach would be drained of its appeal.”
“The Ocasio-Cortez and Markey resolution is a loose framework, and as much as it has been criticized in the press for including too much, the reality is that it still leaves a lot out. For instance, a Green New Deal needs to be more explicit about keeping carbon in the ground, about the central role of the US military in driving up emissions, about nuclear and coal never being ‘clean,’ and about the debts wealthy countries like the US and powerful corporations like Shell and Exxon owe to poorer nations that are coping with the impacts of crises that they did almost nothing to create.
Most fundamentally, any credible Green New Deal needs a concrete plan for ensuring that the salaries from all the good green jobs it creates aren’t immediately poured into high-consumer lifestyles that inadvertently end up increasing emissions — a scenario where everyone has a good job and lots of disposable income and it all gets spent on throwaway crap imported from China destined for the landfill.
“Through programs that included the Federal Art Project, Federal Music Project, Federal Theatre Project, and Federal Writers Project (all part of the WPA), as well as the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture and several others, tens of thousands of painters, musicians, photographers, playwrights, filmmakers, actors, authors, and a huge array of craftspeople found meaningful work, with unprecedented support going to black and Indigenous artists.
The result was an explosion of creativity and a staggering body of work. The Federal Art Project alone produced nearly 475,000 works of visual art, including 2,000+ posters, 2,500+ murals, and 100,000+ canvases for public spaces. Authors who participated included Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison and John Steinbeck. The Federal Music Project was responsible for 225,000 performances, reaching some 150 million Americans.
Much of the art produced by New Deal programs was simply about bringing joy and beauty to Depression-ravaged people — while challenging the prevalent idea that art belonged exclusively to the wealthy.”
“A better course of action, we hear, would be to advance climate policies that appeal to many on the right, like a shift from coal to nuclear power, or a small tax on carbon that returns the revenues as a ‘dividend’ to every citizen.
The main trouble with these incremental approaches is that they simply won’t get the job done. In order to win support from Republicans soaked in fossil fuel money, the price on carbon would be too low to make much of an impact. Nuclear power is expensive and slow to roll out compared with renewables — and that’s not to mention the risks associated with uranium mining and waste storage.
The truth is, we can’t lower emissions as steeply and as rapidly as required to swerve off our perilous trajectory without a sweeping industrial and infrastructure overhaul.”
Benefits of the Green New Deal
- It Will Be a Massive Job Creator
“Every part of the world that has invested heavily in renewables and efficiency has found these sectors to be much more powerful job creators than fossil fuels. When NY made a commitment to get half its energy from renewables by 2030 (not fast enough), it immediately saw a spike in job creation.
The accelerated timeline of the US Green New Deal will turn it into a jobs machine. Even without federal support — indeed, with active sabotage from the White House — the green economy is already creating many more jobs than oil and gas. According to a 2018 report, jobs in wind, solar, energy efficiency, and other clean energy sectors outnumbered fossil fuel jobs by a rate of 3:1. That is happening because of a combo of state and municipal incentives and the plummeting costs of renewables. A Green New Deal would take the industry supernova while ensuring that the jobs have salaries and benefits comparable to those offered in the oil and gas sector.
There’s no shortage of research to support this. For instance, a 2019 study on the job impacts of a Green New Deal-style program in CO found that many more jobs would be created than lost. The study by U of M Amherst, looked at what it would take for the state to achieve a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030. It found that roughly 585 nonmanagement jobs would be lost but that, with an investment of $14.5 billion a year in clean energy, ‘CO will generate about 100k jobs per year in the state.’
There are many more studies with similarly striking findings. A plan put forward by the US BlueGreen Alliance, a body that brings together unions and environmentalists, estimated that a $40 billion annual investment in public transit and high-speed rail for 6 years would produce more than 3.7 million jobs during that period. And according to a report for the European Transport Workers Federation, comprehensive policies to reduce emissions in the transport sector by 80% would create 7 million new jobs across the continent while another 5 million clean energy jobs in Europe could slash electricity emissions by 90%.”
2. Paying For It Will Create A Fairer Economy
“Rolling out a Green New Deal would have large costs, and the plan’s advocates have pointed to a variety of ways this can be financed. AOC has said that the US version should be financed the way any previous emergency spending has been: by the US Congress simply authorizing the funds, backstopped by the Treasury of the world’s currency of last resort. According to New Consensus, the think tank closely associated with her policy proposals, because ‘the Green New Deal will produce new goods and services to keep pace with and absorb new expenditures, there’s no more reason to let fear about financing halt progress here than there was to let it halt wars or tax cuts.’
The European Spring proposal for a Green New Deal, meanwhile, calls for a global minimum corporate tax rate to capture the tax revenue that the Apples and Googles of the world currently dodge with transnational schemes. It also calls for a reversal of monetary orthodoxy, with public investment floating green bonds, supported by central banks. ‘To address the true existential threat that we face today, we must reverse the economic policies that brought us to this brink. Austerity means extinction.’ Some analysts, like Christian Parenti, have emphasized that federal governments can drive the transition with their purchasing policies.
In short, there are all kinds of ways to raise financing, including ways that attack untenable levels of wealth concentration and shift the burden to those most responsible for climate pollution. And it’s not hard to figure out who that its. We know, thanks to Climate Accountability Institute research, that a whopping 71% of total greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 can be tracked to just 100 corporate and state fossil fuel giants, dubbed the ‘Carbon Majors.’
In light of this, there are a variety of ‘polluter pays’ measures that can be taken to ensure that those most responsible for this crisis do the most to underwrite the transition — through legal damages, through higher royalties, and by having their subsidies slashed. Direct fossil fuel subsidies are worth about $775 billion a year globally, and more than $20 billion in the US alone. The very first thing that should happen is these subsidies should be shifted to investments in renewables and efficiency.
It isn’t only the fossil fuel companies who’ve put their own super profits ahead of the safety of our species for decades; so have the financial institutions that underwrote their investments, in full knowledge of the risks. Which is why, in addition to eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, governments can insist on getting a much fairer share of the financial sector’s massive earnings by imposing a transaction tax, which could raise $650 billion globally, according to the European Parliament.
And then there’s the military. If the military budgets of the top 10 military spenders globally were cut by 25%, that would free up $325 billion annually — funds that could be spent on energy transition and prepping communities for the extreme weather ahead.
Meanwhile, a mere 1% billionaire’s tax could raise $45 billion a year globally, according to the UN — not to mention the money that would be raised through an international effort to close down tax havens. In 2015 the estimated private financial wealth of individuals stashed unreported in tax havens around the globe was somewhere between $24–36 trillion, according to James Henry. Shutting down some of those havens would go a very long way toward covering the price tag of this desperately needed industrial transition.”
3. It Taps The Power of Emergency
4. It’s Procrastination-Proof
“A 10-year deadline means there can be no more procrastination. Up until the Green New Deal, every political response to the climate crisis set the most ambitious targets decades in the future, long after the politicians taking these pledges would leave office. The tasks these politicians gave to themselves, though, were in comparison relatively easy, like introducing cap-and-trade schemes or retiring old coat plants and replacing them with natural gas. The tough work of confronting the fossil fuel industry’s entire business model was perennially offloaded onto successors.
Embracing a 10-year transition timeline doesn’t mean absolutely everything has to get done in a decade. The resolution sets an ambitious deadline but repeatedly adds ‘to the extent technologically feasible.’ Fundamentally, this means that we’re no longer kicking the can down the road. The current crop of politicians introducing a Green New Deal would finally be saying, ‘We’re the ones who are going to get the job done. Not someone else.’”
5. It’s Recession-Proof
“Over the past 3 decades, one of the greatest obstacles to making sustained progress on climate action has been the volatility of the market. During good economic times, there’s usually some willingness to entertain environmental policies that mean paying a bit more for gas, electricity, and ‘green’ products. But again and again, this willingness has understandably evaporated as soon as the economy hit a painful downturn.
And that may be the greatest benefit of modeling our climate approach after the New Deal, born in the teeth of the worst economic crisis in modern history. When the global economy enters another downturn or crisis, which it surely will, support for a Green New Deal won’t plummet as has been the case with every other major green initiative during past recessions. Instead, support can be expected to increase, since a large-scale stimulus with the power to create millions of jobs will become the greatest hope of addressing people’s economic pain.”
6. It’s a Backlash Buster
“Too often, when politicians introduce climate policies divorced from a broader agenda of economic justice, the policies they introduce are actively unjust — and the public responds accordingly. Look, for example, at France under Macron, derided by his opponents as the ‘president for the rich.’ Macron has pursued a classic ‘free-market’ agenda for France, cutting taxes for the wealthy and corporations, rolling back hard-won labor protections, making higher ed less accessible — all after years of austerity under previous administrations.
It was in this context that, in 2018, he introduced a fuel tax designed to make driving more expensive, thereby reducing consumption and raising some funds for climate programs.
Except it didn’t work like that. Huge numbers of working people in France, already under intense economic stress from Macron’s other policies, saw this market-based approach to the climate crisis as a direct attack on them. Why should they pay money to drive themselves to work when the super-rich were free to fuel up their private jets to visit their tax havens? Tens of thousands took to the streets in anger, many of them wearing yellow safety vests, with several protests turning into full-scale riots.
‘The government cares about the end of the world,’ many chanted. ‘We care about the end of the month.’ Desperately trying to regain control over the country, Macron rolled back his fuel tax and introduced a minimum wage hike, among other concessions — at the same time that he brutally repressed the movement.
One of the great strengths of a Green New Deal approach is that it won’t generate this kind of backlash. Nothing about its framework forces people to choose between caring about the end of the world and the end of the month. The whole point is to design policies that allow us all to care about both.”
7. It Can Raise an Army of Supporters
“When the communities with the most to gain from change lead the movement, they fight to win.”
8. It Will Build New Alliances — and Undercut The Right
“Nothing heals ideological divides faster than a concrete project bringing jobs and resources to hurting communities.
One person who understood this well was FDR. When he rolled out the network of CCC camps, for example, he purposely clustered many of them in rural areas that had voted against him. 4 years later, when those communities had experienced the benefits of the New Deal up close, they were far less vulnerable to Republican fearmongering about a socialist takeover of government, and many voted Democrat.
We can expect a massive rollout of job-creating green infrastructure and land rehab projects to have a similar effect today. Some people will still be convinced that climate change is a hoax — but if it’s a hoax that creates good jobs and detoxifies the environment, especially in regions where the only other economic development on offer is a supermax prison, who really cares?”