There’s real momentum on the Democrats’ left to launch the green blueprint into America’s mainstream. It’s not a completely crazy idea, says Paul Hockenos.
Part two of three: read part one here.
It surprised no one more than the European authors of the original Green New Deal (GND) (see Part I) when U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and then his campaign member, now U.S. congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, started pushing a sweeping, one-trillion-dollar Green New Deal investment plan over a ten-year period. The GND, they and environmental NGOs claimed, could create millions of good-paying jobs that would facilitate a just, rapid transition to 100% renewable energy – and in the timeline we need to avert the worst of climate change. And then, last year, in a matter of months, 45 U.S. congressmen and women, as well as hundreds of civil-society groups, signed onto the blueprint for environmental modernization.
“Suddenly ‘bang!’ it reappeared out of nowhere,” says Colin Hines, a British environmental activist and member of the Green New Deal Group, a small London-based NGO that helped draft the original GND in 2008 and has since campaigned for it, largely though without a lot of resonance. (“At the moment, it’s very hard to get any time at all to talk about anything other than Brexit,” Hines told me.)
Now, though, it’s on the front burner again – in the U.S. In December, at an event with Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez elaborated on the GND and said: “This is going to be the New Deal, the Great Society, the moon shot, the civil-rights movement of our generation.” “The Green New Deal is one of the most interesting—and strategic—left-wing policy interventions from the Democratic Party in years,“ gushed The Atlantic magazine late last year.
The Americans’ eleven-page “Plan for a Green New Deal” is currently at the center of a campaign led by the Sunrise Movement, an activist group composed of young people concerned about the environment; the Democrat signatories in Congress; and groups like Bill McKibbens’s dynamic, climate-protection organization 350.org. The GND is, in its own words, a plan “to develop a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan for the transition of the U.S. economy to become greenhouse gas emissions neutral and to significantly draw down greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans and to promote economic and environmental justice and equality.“
The plan includes lots of the points and language of the British, UN, and EU Greens’ versions of a decade ago (AOC’s people met with the Hines’s UK GND group in early 2018), but it is no facsimile of those takes nor is it a finished product. Rather it’s a work in progress that dozens of grassroots groups and citizens will hammer into shape over the course of the year. The Plan for a Green New Deal currently entails:
- dramatically expanding existing renewable power sources and deploying new production capacity with the goal of meeting 100% of national power demand through renewable sources;
- building a national, energy-efficient, smart grid;
- upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety;
- eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries, including by investing in local-scale agriculture in communities across the country;
- eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure, and upgrading water infrastructure to ensure universal access to clean water;
- funding massive investment in the drawdown of greenhouse gases;
- making “green” technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the U.S., with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely greenhouse gas neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal.
A wish list? The minimum necessary, say its authors, to keep temperatures rising beyond 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit before 2100, the goal of the 2015 UN Paris treaty.
The Europeans with some experience under their belt said the U.S. plan looks good: “It covers all three main pillars,” says German Green Sven Giegold, one of the original manifesto’s authors. He argues that it does three things by addressing social concerns, namely job creation and government intervention for low-income people; environmental transformation, in the creation of a low-carbon economy; and the financial world as an enabler for business and industry to prosper. “Everyone has to win, to see something in it for them so that the program can gain acceptance across party and income lines,” says Giegold.
The GND’s first foray into the mainstream of the Democratic Party actually failed. In November 2018 and then on Jan. 17 this year more than 100 young people joined sit-ins at the offices of House leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer on Capitol Hill. The group delivered thousands of petition signatures demanding that the Democrats support a Green New Deal. This did not happen but Nancy Pelosi promised to create a special new committee to examine climate change called Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. The Sunrise Movement said that it saw the setback as unfortunate but at least a first step.
”We will make it clear to all politicians that if they want the votes of young people, they need to back the Green New Deal,” said Sunrise organizers. On February 5, hubs and homes across the country will host livestream watch parties to tune into a Sunrise livestream detailing the 2019 GND vision. Anyone can host a party to grow the movement and go forward with the 2019 GND strategy.
Of course, the GND has to catch on beyond college students and life-long liberals to make reality out of it. The idea – to get it on the Democratic platform in 2020 for the national campaigns – is a goal worth pursuing, a real chance. With a Democratic congress and Democratic president, yeah cross your fingers …. suddenly, bang, it becomes possible.
It’s not surprising the framing failed in Europe: the New Deal is seen as an American story, not ours.
The weakness of the plan is using green energy infrastructure as the heart of a major job creation programme, including for those like coalminers displaced by the transition. The USA has a huge backlog in infrastructure generally, and much of this like mending roads is far more suited to WPA-style job creation than building solar farms – and for wind farms and HVDC lines, you really don’t want unskilled people anywhere near the site. The existing developers are doing an excellent job of rolling out new renewable capacity, and forcing them to hire random unskilled workers would slow them down and raise costs.
With luck, the GND will evolve in the direction of a two-prong approach: a job creation programme (doing anything useful) for social justice, and a faster energy transition run by professionals.