A Worker’s Guide to the Green New Deal (Part 2)

Contesting Visions of the Future

By David D.

Right-wing political obstructionism has held back action on climate change for decades. First, they objected to the concept, denying that the climate had changed at all. When the reality of increased temperatures and rising sea levels became impossible to ignore, they resorted to denying the clear link between human activity and climate change. This is all despite near-absolute consensus on the link between human activity and climate change [1].

The public is accustomed to hearing these tired and absurd right-wing attacks on climate science at this point. Against the backdrop of rising sea levels, extreme weather, and an ice-free arctic summer, the pool of people who can still find this blatant propaganda compelling is shrinking by the day.

Unfortunately, the looming threat of climate catastrophe does not necessarily translate to a movement insisting on climate resiliency and economic justice. This is because not all segments of the political right are so deliberately blind to the science of climate change. Some of the most radical, reactionary actors understand that climate change is real, and they intend to leverage it to their benefit.

Socialism or Barbarism: What is at Stake

So-called “right-wing environmentalism” represents a real and growing threat to our shared future. Rather than embracing an economy based on egalitarian principles and worker self-management, these reactionaries argue that we can simply mitigate the problem by limiting who gets consideration as a person. Instead of building a rational and sustainable economy by distributing power and resources into a wider number of hands, these reactionaries seek to manage the problem by simply reducing the number of hands.

Most would have viewed the so-called “ecofascist” movement as an absurd joke even a few years ago. It’s no longer a joke, though; ecofascism has already inspired real-life atrocities, motivating multiple recent mass shootings including those in Christchurch, New Zealand, and in El Paso, Texas. It has also begun to worm its way from the fringes into mainstream political dialogue. Far-right elected officials like Marine Le Pen and Boris Johnson have pivoted in their messaging to co-opt environmental appeals as part of a broader anti-immigrant, white nationalist project.

White nationalist Richard Spencer went so far as to describe population control as “the obvious solution to the ravages of climate change.” This lays bare the ecofascist political project: use environmental framing to smuggle ethnonationalism into the discourse.

Climate change is happening, and it’s a challenge that the disjointed, profit-motivated logic of capitalism can’t rise to meet. We now face a choice: as resources grow scarce and more of the Earth’s surface grows inhospitable due to climate damage, will we embrace a cooperative society based on economic justice and freedom? Or, will we turn inward, seal off borders, and purge those perceived as “undesirables,” always haunted by the knowledge that the circle of individuals granted “personhood” is going to keep getting smaller and smaller as conditions deteriorate?

This is not a call for panic. It is not a license to embrace nihilism. It is a call to action.

As Rosa Luxemburg noted in 1915, we face a binary choice between socialism and barbarism. The dichotomy remains the same today, and the consequences of failing to act are clearer and more immediate than ever. The only question is how we will respond.

What Would an Eco-Focused Economy Look Like?

Now that we know the stakes, we must ask: what alternative is there? What might an ecosocialist vision of the future look like?

Developing a specific vision for a post-capitalist, ecosocialist future is difficult. The material conditions that obtain will be very different in ten, twenty, and fifty years. However, in The Case for The Green New Deal, Ann Pettifor lays out some economic principles that would be central to any democratic, ecosocialist transformation of the economy:

  • Steady-State Economy: a stable economy predicated on avoiding “boom-and-bust” cycles and maintaining a balance within the confines of ecological boundaries like biodiversity, atmospheric composition, and ocean acidification. Infinite and endless growth is the ideology of a cancer cell; it’s not possible or desirable in a finite system.
  • Limited Needs, Not Limitless Wants: an economy that prioritizes the basic needs of all — including water, nutritious food, housing, education, healthcare, political freedom, and safe working conditions — over meeting the wants of those who can afford to engage in conspicuous consumption.
  • Self-Sufficiency: an economy that earnestly contends with the legacy of colonialism by redistributing power and material resources from rich countries that were beneficiaries of imperialism toward poor and exploited populations. These people are granted self-determination; the resources are not contingent on imposed conditions.
  • Labor-Powered: an earnest approach to the massive undertaking of a transition to renewable energy will face a massive demand for human labor. Jobs will be guaranteed universally to all who are capable of working. This will have the benefit of shifting the balance of social and political power in favor of workers.

Pettifor’s book goes into greater detail regarding the finer points of transitioning the economy away from the market and toward meeting human needs. Admittedly, the author advocates for more of a mixed, market-based economy, rather than a total break with the capitalistic mode of production. The merits and failures of social democracy within capitalism, as opposed to socialism, has been a point of contention on the left for more than a century, so we will leave that topic to be addressed elsewhere. The one thing that is definite and clear: the longer we wait, the more radical our action will need to be.

To be concluded…

Sources

[1] Cook, J., et al. “Quantifying the Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming in the Scientific Literature.” Environmental Research Letters, May 15, 2013. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024

[2] Borunda, Alejandra. “Arctic Summer Sea Ice Could Disappear as Early as 2035.” National Geographic, August 13, 2020. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/arctic-summer-sea-ice-could-be-gone-by-2035

[3] Martine, Lisa Jenkins. “Half of U.S. Voters Now Characterize Climate Change as a ‘Critical Threat’.” Morning Consult, April 27, 2021 https://morningconsult.com/2021/04/27/paris-agreement-climate-change-threat-poll/

[4] Chatterjee, Sangya. “What Is Ecofascism?” The Wire, January 18, 2021. https://science.thewire.in/environment/what-is-ecofascism/

[5] Knights, Sam. “The Climate Movement Must Be Ready To Challenge Rising Right-Wing Environmentalism.” Jacobin, November 16, 2020. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2020/11/climate-change-right-wing-environmentalism-alt-right-eco-fascism

[6] Pettifor, Ann. (2019). The Case for the Green New Deal. Verso Books.

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The Official Pinellas County FL chapter of Democratic Socialists of America