The Green New Deal vs. Capitalism

Sheldon Whitehouse
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The Green New Deal is a work in progress: some see it as a game changer; others view it as yet another God about to fail.

Either way, it’s a great tool to keep on making noise, or better yet, to follow Bayard Rustin’s advice:

Our power is in our ability to make things unworkable.  The only weapon we have is our bodies, and we need to tuck them in places so wheels don’t turn.

What to think of the Green New Deal? Indeed, as Ann Pettifor of the New Economics Foundation writes in an opinion piece The Green New Deal offers radical environmental and economic change:

The Green New Deal demands major structural (governmental and inter-governmental) changes (not just behavioural change) in our approach to the ecosystem. In addition, and as in the 1930s, such change is to be driven by radical structural transformation of the finance sector, and the economy. It was developed on the understanding that finance, the economy and the ecosystem are all tightly bound together.

Justice and equity are explicit parts of the deal, but the Indigenous Environmental Network qualifies its support by:

The primary goal of the AOC-Markey Green New Deal (GND) Resolution is to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.” We reject net-zero emissions language (as well as carbon neutral and zero-carbon) because it implies the use of carbon accounting that includes various types of carbon pricing systems, offsets and/or Payments for Ecological Services (PES).

This issue was formulated by Indigenous Peoples who describe carbon trading and ongoing privatization by extractive industries and governments as an attempt to put a price on everything and to

try to include and expropriate the entire surface of the Earth, including most of the forests, soils, fields, grasslands, deserts, wetlands, mangroves, marine algae and oceans, to use them as sponges for industrialized countries’ pollution.

Impressions of Resistance by Stacy Smith—oil derricks, cooling towers and J. Robert Oppenheimer notes on nuclear physics

As Grist’s Nathanael Johnson, writes:

The Green New Deal doesn’t mention ‘nukes,’ but it doesn’t use the words solar or wind either. The non-binding resolution, unveiled by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York, and Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts, calls for “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” In wonk-speak, zero-emission is code for nuclear power or fossil fuels with carbon capture.

Missing in this context is that the nuclear war machine, a major part of the Rhode Island economy, needs civilian nuclear reactors. This is clear just from the title of this report by the Energy Futures Initiative, the U.S. Nuclear Energy Enterprise: A Key National Security Enabler.

Who are behind this initiative? One of them is former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, predecessor of ExxonMobil’s Rex Tillerson, who supported the same agenda. Moniz was instrumental in blessing and taking credit for the fracked gas bridge to nowhere, a new technology that took off well before the Obama administration.

Blundering into nuclear annihilation is an existential threat up there with climate catastrophe. This risk is recognized by none less than William J. Perry, Secretary of War during President Clinton’s first term; in fact, it gives poor Perry nightmares.

Nuclear annihilation has one feature that sets it apart from climate change: it may strike as a bolt from the blue. After all, we’ve been doing just fine for about 70 years—haven’t we?—since in the 1950s we developed the hydrogen bomb, aka the super. Of course, that did not work out all that well  for some of us. But the Marshall Islands? Where’s that?

There also is poverty, which is responsible for more preventable deaths than any other form of inequality. Poverty, globally and in the U.S., is not generally recognized as related to our excessive war spending, which exceeds $3,000 per U.S. person per year. Recognized or not, the facts are known: each year, 9 million children on the globe die from preventable diseases. The Poor People’s Campaign has compiled facts about the poverty in Rhode Island.

Just transition is also a part of the Green New Deal, but another serious hurdle facing it is described by Lauren Burke. She writes in her Green New Deal? Bring It! But Don’t Forget Your Union Card:

Without strong worker protections, including the right to organize, a Green New Deal will both exacerbate income inequality and alienate a vital constituency. If this crucial piece is omitted from Ocasio-Cortez’s bold platform, the left will be left wondering why the working class isn’t happy about their new low-wage green jobs.

Let’s think of all of the above (pun intended) when we hear Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, from his always shifting position on the fence, justify his decision not to sign on to the Green New Deal, citing as one of his concern Democratic Party unity.


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About Peter Nightingale 8 Articles
Peter Nightingale is a theoretical physicist and teaches at the University of Rhode Island. He strives to leave behind a more just, peaceful, and sustainable post-capitalist world for future generations, and for his children and grandchildren in particular.

3 Comments

  1. I 99% agree with Peter’s comments, but I do use the term zero emissions. But I most definitely do not use it to refer to nuclear power, which I consider just a cover for the war machine,and nor do I belive in carbon capture as a viable strategy. To me Zero emissions means simply no burning of fossil fuels. And we do have to completely stop. Better terms are always useful, but plain english is allowed.

  2. 99% agreement must be a world record :-)—thanks!

    It’s clear that we need some form of “negative emissions.” That is, much of the carbon-dioxide we put into the atmosphere will have to be removed. See the key point from the Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume I in section A.6.26.2 of the petition Nature’s Trust RI submitted to DEM: https://naturestrustri.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/RIDEMPetition-20180904-FINAL-amended.pdf#page=114

    Hansen and friends were pushing for a strategy in a 2013 paper in which they suggested that the greenhouse gas emissions problem could be solved by “leave it in the ground” combined with biological, negative emissions methods such as improved agricultural methods and reforestation.

    In a later paper they concluded that we had missed the boat and that other methods would be needed to get from 410 parts per million of atmospheric carbon-dioxide to the probably safe 350. The abstract of that later paper, which agrees with what’s in A.6.26.2, mentions various possible methods, all unproven at scale. (The abstract is here: https://naturestrustri.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/RIDEMPetition-20180904-FINAL-amended.pdf#page=142)

    The National Academy of Sciences came out with a report last year. It’s called Negative Emissions Technologies and Reliable Sequestration: A Research Agenda. Here is one of their conclusions:
    Conclusion 2: Four negative emissions technologies are ready for large-scale deployment: afforestation/reforestation, changes in forest management, uptake and storage by agricultural soils, and biomass energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

    The evidence is overwhelming (see https://naturestrustri.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/RIDEMPetition-20180904-FINAL-amended.pdf#page=145) that all of these assessments are overly optimistic. There simply too many instances of “oops climate change is happening faster than projected.” One of the problems is that the 350 parts per million refers to carbon dioxide and ignores short-lived greenhouse gasses such as methane. This qualification is explicitly in Hansen’s 2008 paper that came up with the famous 350 number. See the quote at the top of this page https://naturestrustri.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/RIDEMPetition-20180904-FINAL-amended.pdf#page=33. By non-CO2 forcings they mean methane, soot, …

    None of this is new and all of these problems were part of (not so) Clean Power Plan with its market-based methods. Indeed, as the Indigenous Environmental Network and others—such as ecosocialists (god forbid!)—have maintained for years, all of these problems will be “solved” at the expense of the most vulnerable people of this earth if the elites have their way.

  3. I want to see a number of specific demands made in the Green New Deal.

    At the Green New Deal’s core we’re going to need honestly vetted decisions, not fake or corrupt dog and pony shows. We already have a gallon of Midwestern ethanol being made with almost a gallon’s equivalent of oil. That’s not good enough. We have nuclear energy being sold as some kind of climate panacea, when in fact the fuel put into nuclear energy’s life cycle pretty much equals the electricity coming out. I suspect that with the Fukushima disaster, nuclear energy has sunk below the energy break even point, never mind the human casualties break even point.

    Real fossil fuel displacement jobs will be directly related to the quantity and quality of regional fossil fuel displacement research and development. Denmark is evidence that energy R&D equals good jobs — they plunged into offshore wind power research and prototyping, and then the nation grew quite wealthy. We already know that Massachusetts invested in a good state engineering school, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and joblessness in the vicinity of Kenmore Square has been just about zero.for many decades. California invested in a good state engineering school, Stanford University, and joblessness in Silicon Valley has been just about zero.for many decades. Pittsburgh didn’t want to be another West Virginia and so they followed exactly the same playbook. North Carolina’s research triangle had some success. Many other states failed to plan, and therefore most of them failed.

    The Green New Deal needs to be extended to include the inhibition of the Arctic meltdown. Humanity set off the Arctic meltdown. If we now sit around while the tundra burns up in megafires then we all shall suffer greatly. I would expect no moral victory from malign neglect. If, on the other hand, we artificially try to restore the tundra’s original albedo with wind-powered artificial snow making machinery, and if we try to restore the Arctic Ocean’s original ice pack thickness with floating wind-powered pumps to enhance ice formation in the Arctic winter, then the world shouldn’t suffer nearly as much. It’s a bargain!

    A properly vetted process of scientific discernment will want to fund merit-based renewable energy R&D. We could have buildings that heat themselves with 90% to 100% stored solar energy in the winter (my personal project right now). We could reach 90% renewables-generated electricity, probably using stored solar heat at night. I expect to see a transit system not based on freeways that saves 90% of fuel over our current freeway system. I’m always open to supporting other projects that save gigatons of carbon emissions. I’m equally open to sequestering gigatons of carbon by fine-tuning our nation’s current farming practices just a bit.

    That’s what a sharpened Green New Deal bill should do. For me at least, an unsharpened bill is a start but ultimately it just isn’t good enough. I want to get us to “good enough”. Please?

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