For those disillusioned with mainstream politics (including myself from time to time), the arrival of the ‘Green New Deal’, passionately championed by the visionary congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and US senator Edward Markey, should serve as a rare glimmer of hope. Modelled to an extent on its famous predecessor implemented by Franklin D. Roosevelt in a desperate effort to reinvigorate the US economy during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Green New Deal too is born of a time of crisis- rampant forest and biodiversity loss, the current and looming threats posed by human-induced climate change, and crippling socioeconomic inequality. It also harbours a similarly ‘radical’ vision: for a new, fossil-fuel-free socioeconomic system through the creation of legislation (non-binding, unfortunately) for government-led investments in green energy and infrastructure. Even more inspiring is that this is occurring amid the reign of Trump’s toxic regime, as utopian ideals often emerge in opposition to and gather momentum amid desperate times.
The Green New Deal seeks necessarily urgent action for moving the US economy to net zero emissions and a 100% reliance on renewable energy by 2030. Though, one could argue that this might not be ambitious enough, given the predicted 67% decline of monitored vertebrate species by 2020 and the latest IPCC report which suggests that we have less than 12 years to prevent full-scale climate catastrophe if radical actions aren’t taken. Nevertheless, it’s a promising start, especially in light of its emphasis on the need for a ‘just’ transition: that is, addressing the very serious crisis that is global extreme socioeconomic inequality and neoliberal attack on the welfare state, issues which are very closely linked with environmental degradation. Thus, key aims include redirecting funds from fossil fuels towards clean energy, the recognition of energy as a fundamental human right, and the need for community and worker ownership of energy systems, and the introduction of a new ‘Economic Bill of Rights’ which includes rights to single-payer healthcare, guaranteed work at a living wage, affordable housing, and free university education.
Republicans, naturally, have lambasted the ‘Green New Deal’ (and AOC herself) as a radical socialist takeover. As representatives of the status quo who are literally often funded by fossil fuel industries, they use the word ‘radical’ in a pejorative sense, as that which is so implausible or undesirable that it would be impossible to implement. Yet, if it’s ‘radical’ to desire and demand clean air and water, a viable planet and future for present generations of all species as well as those yet to come, then radical is what we must be. No doubt Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ was similarly dismissed by some as ‘unrealistic’, as was the idea that women and non-white people would one day feature as equal members of society (though we have far to go in this respect). Unsurprisingly, the proposal was defeated by the Senate this week. Yet the Green New Deal as a powerful idea whose time has come enjoys mounting support from voters and is inspiring environmental movements around the world. Desperate times call for desperate measures; the Green New Deal is not only possible but a necessity given the urgency of our current times. And it’s just the first step. Truly radical transformations in how we live will likely be needed the closer we inch towards 1.5 degrees of atmospheric warming. Critics will have no choice but to come on board as they too cannot survive on a planet without forests and phytoplankton that produce vital oxygen, without insects to pollinate our food, and in an increasingly hostile and unpredictable climate system that will fundamentally alter life as we’ve known it.