What might a Green New Deal look like?

By Dick Symonds

Let’s get past the stage of why there is a climate crisis, and what the evidence is for it. Assume there is and it’s urgent.

The Green New Deal (GND) is a development of F. D. Roosevelt’s post-Depression New Deal of the 1930s USA, now employed as a global approach to the climate crisis of our era. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

Most accounts of GNDs suffer from the confusion of policy and purpose, which makes it difficult for the average person to grasp what a GND actually is.  What needs to be clearly outlined is how humans need to change, in order to save our species.

Supporters of the GND often believe that change can’t just be a technological feat, and say it must also tackle social justice, poverty, income inequality and racial discrimination. But the environmental aspects must be brought to the foreground lest they get lost in ‘greenwash’. The test will to link any ‘green’ policy suggestion to the following criteria.

Firstly, the GND usually concentrates on climate change, due to rising levels of Carbon Dioxide

(CO2 ) the greenhouse gas, and thus it calls for decarbonisation. But there are other potent greenhouse gases, in lower concentrations, methane, ozone, oxides of nitrogen, and synthetic fluorine aerosols. There is also heat emission, from a variety of sources.  Net Zero carbon is not enough. The goal must go beyond this to sustain a human future.

Climate change is not the only threat to the planet resulting from human activity. Rising population is another, probably best dealt with outside the GND. Pollution of the air, sea and soil is another, through the accumulation of particulates, nitrogenous wastes, hormones and toxic chemical products. This depletion of non-renewable elements is the result of human use not related to climate change, though species extinctions and reduction of biological diversity are. All these aspects can be justified in a GND.

This then allows us to then examine the policies, and test them for relevance in relation to planetary threat, although they may have other unwanted or immoral effects.

Selecting from some recent sources, including the Bill Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed to the US Congress in 2019 and the GND policy of the UK Labour Party, there appear to be many points of agreement on the areas for action in a GND:

Firstly, achieving zero emission of greenhouse gases (‘decarbonisation’), This can be met by a major switch of energy production from fossil fuels to electricity produced   sustainably: by solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, microbial and nuclear. Additional measures would include improved electricity storage, the sequestration of CO2 – ’Carbon Capture and Storage’ –  carrying out an energy-audit of all production and economic activity for decarbonisation and sustainability, and cooling large servers of the internet and other major heat sources.

Secondly, we need to reverse the degradation of the natural environment in order to absorb more CO2. This would focus on soil health, insect life and pollination, peat cutting and the mass burning of vegetation and the importance of wetlands in flood control.

Meat and dairy production needs to be transformed into vegetable production. Pastoral farming needs to be reduced, with an increase in sylvo-cultivation of appropriate trees. Factory farming needs to be eliminated to reduce the danger of pandemic and antibiotic resistance.

We need increased access to green spaces and national parks and re-wilding and seed-banking to reduce extinctions and increase biodiversity.

A central focus must be the sustainable provision of basic necessities for all human sustenance. This includes clean air – fewer acidic oxides and particulates; potable water, if necessary, produced by sustainable de-salination plants; a healthy diet, mainly plant-based, reducing meat and dairy consumption and the consideration of artificially cultivated foodstuffs.

Additionally we need appropriate defences against natural calamities, resilience planning for unforeseen emergencies to the infrastructure, like pandemics and solar flares. The transition will require a shift from a private to a public/collective lifestyle to reduce consumption and a reinvestment in public spaces and re-building of civic values.

In housing, we need provision to be increased, with sustainable heating and cooling, by sustainable energy and better insulation.

Changes in work will be necessitated by decarbonisation, new technology and a reduction in commuting. This means assisting home-working, or publicly owned neighbourhood workspaces, providing universal fast broadband. More fundamentally, we should test the necessity of all work, in terms of purpose and benefit to all, ensuring that all redundancies in the old economy are compensated and that the workforce of the GND is appropriately trained and assisted to move where necessary.

In transport, we need to shift from private cars to public transit. Road building must be reduced, with a review of other mega-engineering projects, alongside improved provision and encouragement of rail and public bus. Any personal vehicles should be powered only by sustainably produced electricity, using electric or hydrogen fuel cells, with appropriate infrastructure.

Aviation should be reduced to only what is necessary, with research into more sustainable forms. This entails reorganising food chains and product distribution worldwide to reflect decarbonisation.

Waste reduction can be achieved by boosting re-cycling in every sphere of activity, reducing packaging and returning to biodegradable materials, with an audit of supply to ensure re-cycling of non-renewable elements and investing in alternatives.

The shift from private to collective will require changes to the education system to improve civic values, mutual trust and understanding, challenging the pervasive neoliberal values that lead to excessive and unhealthy consumption.

In finance, we need to adjust the financial, tax and monetary systems globally to reflect these aims. More radically, we should consider replacing the monetary system for global trade with a new Carbon Coinage based on decarbonisation of the activity funded, a necessary complement to a variety of carbon taxes. The remuneration of work must also be recalculated – gradually and by mutual agreement – to reflect decarbonisation. We should also consider a Universal Basic Income to achieve greater equality and reduce employment anxiety. A full environmental audit of all business, enterprise and development must accompany this.

Pursuing these goals requires a political response to the current set-up. Capitalism, the latest major economic system, having been the main cause of the conditions leading to the climate crisis, is now itself crumbling and riven with its own contradictions. So it is not going to provide the solutions.

How can we rely on multinational corporations? They lack credibility, they still invest in fossil fuels, their professed commitments to environmental goals are vague and untrustworthy, they are ultimately only accountable to their shareholders and their only consideration is profit for a tiny minority.

The political-economic structure we need should be based on the public ownership of capital, be it finance, plant, land or knowledge, because only such ownership guarantees the necessary full control needed to achieve social justice. The crisis faces all humanity, so the solutions must be applicable to all. Therefore, everyone must be consulted and involved: thus only democracy will meet the challenge.

Our solutions must be rational and be evidence-based – in short, scientific. So there is a deep need for genuine expertise and universal sharing of knowledge. Since it affects global capitalism financially, any GND must be based on a general global accord, the 21st century equivalent of the Bretton Woods Agreement. It will need to harmonise inter-national debts, with the cooperation of the major global central banks.

A Carbon Coin Currency would reward producers who decarbonise. Nationally there will be a necessity for an Investment Bank, topped up by a Sovereign Fund, a Tobin Tax on financial transactions and a Land and Wealth Tax. The ‘Commons’ (natural resources held in common) must be recognised and protected, so new laws on ownership will be needed to reflect the new demands of the public sphere. One such law would be the carbon take-back obligation, in which the producer of CO2 must sequester it into secure storage.

Wherever possible, the designers of solutions should seek a ‘virtuous circle’, by utilising the characteristics of the planetary problem to provide the solution. For example: where there is drought because of rising temperatures and alterations in weather, in a situation where there is an increase in atmospheric energy, due to greenhouse gas cover, and rising sea levels, due to melting icecaps; then use desalination plants powered by solar and tidal energy, to supply potable water thus utilising the increased energy and increased volume of seawater.

Will the GND end capitalism? Climate solutions and addressing biodiversity and scarce resources must fundamentally alter capitalism. My personal view is that gaining control of world finance and harnessing it to decarbonisation leaves no room for multinational capitalism as it now works, to operate in the future. 

Dick Symonds is a retired NHS Consultant Psychiatrist, trying to devote himself to the major issues of the day. He is Chair of Dover, Deal and Thanet Cooperative Party and a member of South Thanet CLP.

Image: Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (centre) speaks on the Green New Deal with Senator Ed Markey (right) in front of the Capitol Building in February 2019. Source: GreenNewDeal_Presser_020719 (26 of 85). Author: Senate Democrats, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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