by Lotty Clare
In 2017 when the United States, the world’s second biggest polluter, withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord it felt hugely demoralising, but unsurprising. Unsurprising because for years some climate activists have been disillusioned with the notion of a top-down political solution to climate change because it is the political and economic elites who have been the architects of this economic and climate crisis, and who benefit from the current capitalist, neoliberal system. However, newly elected congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (otherwise known as AOC) has challenged this view. The ‘Green New Deal’ (GND) being proposed by democrats, spearheaded by AOC, and backed by grassroot groups, is a welcome dose of hope and progress that has been injected into an otherwise gloomy mainstream discourse around the fate of our planet.
There has been so much time wasted on debating what the most effective environmental campaigns are, and what we have seen is climate action fads: we’ve had a focus on individual consumption, then carbon cap and trade, carbon credits and carbon offsetting. We have attempted international agreements for 30 years and although there has been progress, it is not nearly enough.
With the latest International Panel on Climate Change report warning that we have 12 years to drastically change our global economic system to avoid catastrophic climate change; we need the kind of radical change the GND offers, and we need it fast – that part is no longer up for debate. We cannot keep working with a system that encourages uncontrolled consumption and offers technical, capitalist solutions to climate change. The whole system needs to be uprooted which requires grassroot movements and policies that create a new social order based on egalitarianism, democracy and respect for the natural environment.
The GND is modelled on Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ which was a response to the Great Depression in the 1930s, and it is pushing for the US to be carbon neutral by 2040, with massively increased investments in renewable energies, changes in transport systems, and restoration of forest carbon sinks. More than this, the GND plans for free health care for all, and end to the oppression of indigenous peoples and other minorities, and government guaranteed jobs. This self-proclaimed democratic socialist vision for the future is certainly an ambitious one, and one that should be supported and embraced by all.
To make a global change, we need a global solution.
But is this even feasible in Trump’s America – a country where most politicians are funded by big banks and the oil and gas industries? Is this ambitious plan practical when the President says climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese? Even democrats are dismissive; speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said about the GND: ‘the green dream, or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is.’ On the one hand, we cannot afford to wait for climate change deniers to join the environmental movement, but on the other hand, legislation won’t get passed unless it has popular and political support. The GND is working with grassroots groups like Sunrise Movement, which is positive, but need to happen on a bigger scale.
To make a global change, we need a global solution. Currently there is so much finger pointing in the international community about who is doing enough and whose fault climate change is. Emerging superpowers like India feel they have the right to develop with the same benefits and resources that the West have had access to for 150 years. Whereas Trump has said that the Paris Climate Accord unfairly targeted the US and ‘disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries,’ adding that ‘under the agreement, China….can do whatever they want for 13 years, but not us.’ Historical injustice must be recognised, and the Paris Climate Accord made steps legally obliging developed nations to add to fund to assist developing countries decarbonise their energy mixes, but the world must find a way to agree on pathways forward for the sake of the human species.
The Green New Deal is a good start, but with the amount of resistance to it and powerful fossil fuel interests, massive pressure from the public is needed. Therefore, it is critical to reflect on Roosevelt’s New Deal, which was only rolled out due to waves of social unrest, worker protests and general strikes that happened as a result of the Great Depression. Roosevelt adopted the Deal due to progressive militancy form the left and right; seeing it as the only solution to mitigate against full blown revolution.
Now is the time to mobilise on a mass scale
The threats climate change poses cannot be understated. At the same time, we are facing an opportunity to create a new equitable, just, and sustainable planet. The GND is just one of many global initiatives and ideas that are transforming communities. There are now hundreds of transition towns worldwide, more and more countries are on track to becoming 100 percent renewable, there are co-operative movement and food sovereignty movements that are gaining momentum. Here in the UK, more radical mass movements are on the horizon with direct action groups like Extinction Rebellion growing.
The climate issue has a deadline, and what has been clear throughout history is that we cannot rely on politicians alone. Now is the time to mobilise on a mass scale and work bottom-up, top-down, and horizontally, if we are going to fix this mess in time.
Featured image credit: Senate Democrats, Flickr
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