The Green New Deal — not just a Plan, but a Vision

“an environmental activist group brought several children to Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s San Francisco office Friday to lobby her to back the Green New Deal, what they got was more of a finger-wagging than a handshake. … ‘Well, you know better than I do,’ Feinstein says. ‘So I think one day you should run for the Senate.  And then you do it your way.  ‘But in the meantime,’ Feinstein adds, ‘I just won a big election.’”

— Joe Garofoli, San Francisco Chronicle
February 23, 2019

“When I say the ‘Green New Deal’ would require a revolution, however, I don’t mean it in the sense that it would require electing new people with dramatically different ideas who would then work within the current system to pass and implement those ideas.  I mean that it would require a disruption more along the lines of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, or the Chinese Communist Revolution.  That is, it will require dramatic changes to the underlying structure of government.”

— Philip Klein, Washington Examiner
February 12, 2019

“‘The power of water is really quite impressive,’ said Barjenbruch.  ‘When that water moves out of the channel it is normally in, it interacts with roads, bridges in ways it doesn’t normally. When that happens … we have roads fail, bridges fail, we’ve even had dams fail in far northeastern Nebraska.’”

— Mark Berman, Washington Post
March 16, 2019

And when political movements overflow the channels they normally flow through, they interact with entire societies in ways they don’t normally.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that it’s already too late.  It’s actually …

… many days late and a few trillion dollars short.

The cries for action to prevent or reverse Climate Change are urgent and powerful.  We face catastrophe if we don’t [fill in the blanks] in the next [number of years].  The problem is that we are already in the midst of catastrophe as we speak and [still] breathe.  A hard look makes plain that — while the U.S. is frozen in a deadly downward spiral of austerity and war, while even essential services have been cut and many, many more are on the chopping block — what is required is a total social transformation.

Smirking critics ask “what’s your plan?”  Plans are being developed, good plans, including several versions of a Green New Deal.  But to be realistic at all, they require nothing less than total social transformation.  And frankly, no plan can bring that about by itself.  No plan can generate that kind of courage, that kind of spirit, that rare blend of love and anger, to make it happen.  No, what is required is a whole new vision of how our society can work, with which we can answer once again, “Am I my brother’s [or sister’s] keeper?”

Bear with me as I review:

Wind.

Panama City, Florida.

Hurricane Harvey (Category 4) which struck Houston, Texas, August 2017:

From the February 2019 report of the Rebuild Texas Fund:

“With support from more than 33,000 donors, the fund raised $100 million to help our neighbors get on the path back to normalcy.  100% of these donated resources are being put to work supporting the rebuilding priorities of local communities across the 41-county impact area. … at this rate, [the fund] is on track to fully spend down the remaining funds by July 2019.”

The Rebuild Texas Fund states that Houston still requires “massive rebuilding.”

Hurricane Maria (Category 4), September 2017:

CBSN Originals, September 21, 2018:

“A year after Hurricane Maria swept across Puerto Rico, leaving some 2,975 people dead and knocking the economy on its back, it is becoming increasingly clear that the U.S. territory may never fully recover from the storm. … The median FEMA grant made to Puerto Rican homeowners after Maria was $1,800, compared with $9,127 paid to those affected by Hurricane Harvey in Texas”

Hurricane Michael (Category 4), October2018:

Florida Today, Oct. 12, 2018:

“experts are predicting … the entire state might see fallout from the storm for years to come.”

Wiki:

“Entire neighborhoods in Mexico Beach were reduced to nothing but bare foundation slabs, and numerous vehicles, businesses, apartment buildings, and hotels throughout the community were destroyed.”

“The western half of Michael’s eyewall passed directly over Panama City [Florida] … and violent Category 4 winds caused incredible damage throughout the city and its suburbs.  Numerous businesses … were completely leveled to the ground.”

Facebook, January 29, 2019:

“9 out of 10 homes in Panama city have tarps on them with funding from repairs nowhere in sight. Most people were too poor for insurance, so they are forced to live as is in many uninhabitable homes.”

Water.

Tampa Bay Times, March 18, 2019:

“By 2050, about 91,000 people in St. Petersburg and 57,000 in Tampa will live in locations vulnerable to flooding, which will be exacerbated by climate change and rising seas.”

KNCK Radio, March 18, 2019:

“41 locations in six states across the Midwest have set new flood crests as a result of recent heavy rains and snowmelt.  The devastating flooding has killed at least three people, forced countless evacuations, breached dams and levees, damaged hundreds of homes and flooded a military base.”

Vox, September 14, 2018:

“Louisiana, Arizona, and West Virginia are particularly exposed to risk, but Florida is the hot spot.”

A well-buried New York Times headline mentions “25 States Are at Risk of Serious Flooding This Spring.”

Meanwhile, should we consider ourselves blessed that we are not Africans?  Or is our time still to come.  Cyclone Idai has devastated Mozambique and Southeast Africa.  Per the Washington Post, uncounted thousands are dead and hundreds of thousands are now homeless.  “Most of the bodies were likely swept out to sea and may or may not ever wash ashore.”

Fire.

Yosemite.

USA Today, November 5, 2018:

“The blazes currently ripping up and down the western part of the United States are here to stay. Large chunks of the West are under siege from wildfires right now, in what many experts have deemed ‘the new normal.’ … more than 14,000 firefighters on the frontlines. …

“resources are pouring in from all over the world. … the Army has started firefighter training with plans to deploy soldiers across the country. … fire now blazes year-round. … But how to pay for all this?  Agencies across America are strapped for cash … faced with budget cuts.”

The Salvation Army received $2.8 million for its Hurricane Michael response compared to a combined $125 million after Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017.  United Way Worldwide received less than $750,000 for Hurricane Michael recovery, more than $10 million less than it received for Hurricanes Irma and Maria combined.

The Question:

I relate all the above not simply to get you gentle readers more depressed, though you should feel free to be depressed if that would help.  Rather, the point is to pull together the picture of what is happening in a way that might allow us to grasp the scale of the current crisis, and the scale of the measures needed to deal with it.

To summarize briefly, America (yes, America) is in the slow but accelerating process of being destroyed.  The new development is that the damage is not being repaired.  Thousands are displaced here, thousands are displaced there.  We too are in the process of becoming a nation of refugees.  Communities have relied on private donations or local governments to rebuild, but donations are way, way down.  Nobody expects the federal government to take up the slack.

Worse yet, the ruins of Puerto Rico are seen in high financial circles as a marvelous investment opportunity.  It’s called “Climate Gentrification,” whether in Puerto Rico or Miami.

Yet too much of the discussion over Climate Change Catastrophe (CCC) centers on what must we do to prevent catastrophe?  What by 2030?  What by 2050?  This framing allows us a degree of complacency, of having time to spare.  As though we weren’t already living within the outskirts of a catastrophe of unprecedented horror.

What is to be done?

People are starting to get this at some gut level, that:

  • We have to start dealing with the CCC immediately, that we are in crisis.
  • We must demand AND FIGHT FOR radical and far-reaching solutions if we are to have any chance of avoiding humanity falling into barbarism.  Any solution to the CCC has to be massive.

The phrase Green New Deal has been used before, notably by the likes of Thomas Friedman in 2007.  The “captains of industry” still don’t get it, but we now have this explosion of interest by people in the street.  Three versions in one form or another are starting to circulate.

Thus the Green New Deal is now on the lips of every presidential primary candidate to the left of Attila the Hun.

And to the right of Attila the Hun …

There are in fact three Green New Deals on the table:

  • The Green Party Green New Deal (the Green Party Deal) is the version put forward in Jill Stein’s 2012 presidential campaign and slightly revised for her 2016 run.
  • The Ocasio-Cortez Green New Deal (AOC Green Deal) has just been packaged as a congressional “RESOLUTION Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal.”
  • Representative Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, is circulating the “Real Deal,” and there is also the Washington Post Green New Deal.  These versions are not serious, merely counter-posed to the AOC and Green Party’s “wacky” and “looney” versions.  Per the Washington Post, “the goal is so fundamental that policymakers should focus above all else on quickly and efficiently decarbonizing.  They should not muddle this aspiration with other social policy, such as creating a federal jobs guarantee … If the market can redirect spending most efficiently, money should not be misallocated on vast new government spending.”  We should be “transforming the relentless power of the market from an obstacle to a centerpiece of the solution.”

The AOC and Green Party plans are similar in their broad outlines, despite differences of detail, and both envision massive changes.  The Green Party version has stronger language in general and demands eliminating nuclear power, for instance.  Gaetz and the Washington Post simply advocate business as usual, things that COULD be done through free enterprise, except for the minor detail that they WON’T be done under free enterprise, such as replacing auto travel with a rail system.

Neither the AOC nor the Green Party plan is about to become law.  This is America, after all, the country that CAN’T do.

The table below lists points that are similar, because both versions are very strong and even compelling (“We musts do it!”), compared to the free enterprise “Won’t do it” and “Can’t do it” plans.

Ocasio-Cortez

Green Party

Protect the rights and needs of those who might be negatively impacted by such a major transformation. Protect the rights and needs of those who might be negatively impacted by such a major transformation.
Secure clean air and water; 100% of the power demand through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy. Move to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2030.
Expand, upgrade and deploy new capacity; make public investment in research and development of new clean and renewable energy technologies. Invest in clean energy technologies. Redirect research from fossil fuels toward wind, solar, tidal, and geothermal.  End fracking!
Achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers. Transition to 100% clean, renewable energy, which will foster democratic control of our energy system.  Include community, worker and public ownership.
Create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security; End unemployment in America by guaranteeing a job at a living wage for every American willing and able to work.
Build or upgrade to energy-efficient, distributed, and ‘‘smart’’ power grids. Create clean energy generation.  Create jobs for retrofitting the grid into a smart grid.
Upgrade all existing buildings, make new buildings achieve maximal energy and water efficiency, with safety, affordability, comfort, and durability; Retrofit buildings for insulation and efficiency.
Create a more sustainable food system with universal access to healthy food; Food systems must be based on sustainable organic agriculture.
Invest in infrastructure and industry.  Overhaul public transit, with zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and; high-speed rail Provide jobs in sustainable energy, transportation and manufacturing infrastructure.  Transition to a comprehensive national mass transit program.
Remove greenhouse gases.  Reduce pollution,  Restore natural ecosystems use low-tech solutions that increase soil carbon storage, such as preservation and afforestation; Change the decaying fossil fuel economy into a new, green economy that is environmentally sustainable, economically secure and socially just.

And there are differences:

Drafted before the 2016 presidential election, the Green Party version acknowledges having a responsibility “to the developing world as it responds to climate change damage caused by the industrial world.”  The AOC version has 23 references to the United States, emphasizes that all this is to benefit “all the people of the United States.”  (This limitation is of questionable morality, of course.  Additionally, there is no way that catastrophe can be averted within U.S. borders.  This is a fundamentally global problem.)

The Green Party calls for:

  • A “carbon tax.”
  • Cut military spending by at least half.
  • Completely phase out fossil fuels.
  • Ban fracking and nuclear power.
  • Establish a Renewable Energy Administration on the scale of FDR’s hugely successful Rural Electrification Administration.
  • Establish a Commission for Economic Democracy to provide publicity, training, education, and direct financing for cooperative development and for democratic reforms to make government agencies, private associations, and business enterprises more participatory.

The Green Party grounds its version in an Economic Bill of Rights:

(1)  The right to employment through a Full Employment Program.
(2) Workers’ rights including the right to a living wage.
(3)  The right to quality health care (Medicare for All).
(4)  The right to a tuition-free … public education.
(5)  The right to decent affordable housing.
(6)  The right to accessible and affordable utilities.

The AOC plan calls for many of the Green New Deal points, but not framed as basic human rights.

The AOC version makes an important call for building resiliency against climate change-related disasters, such as extreme weather.

AOC calls more explicitly for promoting “justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, omen, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth (referred to in this resolution as ‘frontline and vulnerable communities’).”

Battle lines are drawn.  And will be re-drawn.

In contrast to the “Can’t do it” and “Won’t do it” nay-sayers, the Green New Deals would look relatively similar to each other.  A mark of our success.  However, in the current media circus, the Green Party version would make little headway because the Green Party itself is simply so much smaller and weaker than the Democratic Party, one faction of which is championing the AOC version.  AOC is getting all the media.  It can therefore pose as the more “realistic.”  However, the Green Party can take this moment to gather its forces for the long haul.

The outcome of the debate will not be determined on grounds of sheer wonkery.  Tactically, the AOC Deal takes the form of a Congressional Resolution whose goals:

“should be accomplished through a 10-year national mobilization (referred to in this resolution as the ‘Green New Deal mobilization’). … Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal.”

But the AOC version is being propelled headlong into the congressional sausage grinder.  What it will be ground into as a proposal — let alone put into practice — will more and more resemble the Washington Post’s “Can’t Do It” boondoggle.

V.I. Lenin asked “What is to be done?”
The Green Party asks, “How is it to be done?”

Critics of the Green New Deal lament that it cannot be done within the bounds of the current U.S. governmental and economic system.  (AOC’s language treads more cautiously than the Green Party’s.  Hence the differences between the versions.)  But the fact is that those critics are absolutely right.  Modern capitalism is a dysfunctional and dying system.  It can no longer meet the needs of the people for jobs, shelter, healthcare and education even by its own standards.  It never did.  Can’t now.

The Green Party New Deal, however, is part of a vision of the total transformation of American society.  The two other parts are Eco-Socialism and Reparations.

The Green Party Platform states on Eco-Socialism:

“[W]e will build an economy based on large-scale green public works, municipalization, and workplace and community democracy.  Some call this decentralized system ‘ecological socialism,’ ‘communalism,’ or the ‘cooperative commonwealth,’ but whatever the terminology, we believe it will help end labor exploitation, environmental exploitation, and racial, gender, and wealth inequality and bring about economic and social justice … Production is best for people and planet when democratically owned and operated by those who do the work.”

The Green Party Platform also supports Reparations:

“We commit to full and complete reparations to the African American community of this nation for the past four hundred plus years of genocide, slavery, land-loss, destruction of original identity and the stark disparities which haunt the present evidenced in unemployment statistics, substandard and inadequate education, higher levels of mortality including infant and maternal mortality and the practice of mass incarceration.  We recognize that reparations are a debt (not charity) … We believe that the leadership on the question of what our nation owes to this process of right ought to come from the African American community, whose right to self-determination and autonomy to chart the path to healing we fully recognize.”

Eco-Socialism, Reparations and the Green New Deal are inseparably linked.  All three require qualitative transformation of our society on a scale that can only be compared to the incredible industrialization of the Soviet Union between 1918 and the end of World War II, when they defeated Hitler.  Or the transformation of American society between the end of World War II and the mid-60’s, with the building of a consumer society around a highway infrastructure.  Both are almost unimaginable these days.

But the Green New Deal will set in motion an unprecedented economic transformation as a matter of planetary survival.  Even the changes to our modes of transportation — from highways to rapid transit — are staggering in their scale, with entire neighborhoods and cities moved, new housing built, food supply reorganized, industries transformed, jobs eliminated, jobs created, with a cooperative social safety net that would defray the human cost that would otherwise accompany such changes.

Equally staggering would be the necessary moral transformation.  The old structures — whether an authoritarian state or an authoritarian oligarchy — cannot manage such a centrally determined society requiring such a high degree of cooperation and trust.  Authoritarian societies have proven themselves too rigid, or too invested in their immediate perks, to get off the short-term path of self-destruction.  Only an egalitarian, decentralized, democratic way of life will have the flexibility or the spirit to get us to a Green new world.  Do we now have the structures in place to make this work?  No, they have yet to be built.

Reparations are required to make this possible.  There are powerful forces at work that would push the people of the Earth into an ever more deadly competition for dwindling resources.  The world of “Mad Max the Road Warrior” is an all too real possibility.  Poisoning the very air we breathe is not just industrial pollutants, but this country’s legacy of slavery, and that legacy’s offspring — a society divided by race and poverty.  We have to recognize that we cannot wait until humanity has been perfected before making the Green Revolution.  We have to transform humanity IN THE PROCESS of making the Green Revolution.  The Black community is not merely forced to live every day with slavery’s after-effects on the bad side of every possible measure of well-being.  You know the list.  But it is the target for Trump’s all-too-numerous minions who would scapegoat it further as the cause of the misery in their own lives.

We cannot move forward as a society without dealing with this.  So “Reparations is not just some token gesture of concern, apology or even solidarity; it seeks justice and redress of wrongs through the transformation of a people’s condition,” as Glen Ford puts it in Black Agenda Report.  But one pre-condition is a more collective understanding of what Reparations means, going beyond deciding how big a check should be given out to whom.  A Great Debate.  Ford continues:

“The starting signal for the Great Black Reparations Debate has already sounded, with 29 House members co-sponsoring John Conyers H.R. 40 reparations study bill … [It]  provides only ‘to establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies.’”

Picking up the pieces.

The Green New Deal, as I have stated, is not merely something for “some day.”  It requires mobilization now.  So when the AOC version is “propelled headlong into the congressional sausage grinder,” we have to take that as one of many starting points.  For the Establishment, it’s already too late.  The vision is starting to take hold among the American people.  We can use what AOC is accomplishing.  We can start taking independent action now:

  • Green Party state affiliates can begin looking at what the Green New Deal could mean for their own states.  Florida certainly needs to deal with the ongoing damage being inflicted by the accelerating fury of hurricanes, for instance.
  • What kind of transportation system could transform a state so committed to the individual automobile?
  • Party locals could put forward demands for local Green New Deals.  What would a St. Petersburg Green New Deal look like?  A Palm Beach Green New Deal?  A Miami Green New Deal.
  • We can find ways to make the Green New Deal — scaled down or scaled up — part of every race for local, state or national office that we run.
  • We can loudly proclaim our support for H.R. 40, calling for the “Great Reparations Debate.”

Finally, we must be proud that we have an actual vision for what our world could be, and must become.  We must find ways to put it before the public eye.  The public is ready for it.  Are we?

— Jeff Roby
March 24, 2019

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