A Worker’s Guide to the Green New Deal — Part One

Transforming Ecology & Political Economy

By David D.

Pinellas DSA members canvassing for Richie Floyd and Environmental Justice

Few of us had ever heard the words “Green New Deal” before 2018. However, the phrase floated in the ether long before Covid-19, the rise of Trump, and the Ferguson uprising. It predates even the 2008 financial crisis, in which half a century of speculation and neoliberal economic policy came tumbling down on the heads of working people.

Activists, economists, and policymakers first began developing the groundwork of the Green New Deal in the UK in 2007 in the twilight months of the Bush Administration [1]. The name is an allusion to the Depression-era raft of progressive, social democratic policies created to defibrillate the American economy after the earth-shattering collapse of the global capitalist superstructure in 1929. At the same time, the name also specifies a clear break with Twentieth Century Keynesian progressivism; this Green New Deal is not meant simply to reinvigorate a troubled economy founded on otherwise sound principles. Instead, the aim of the GND is to ultimately transform that economy entirely.

As we’ll see, the Green New Deal presents an opportunity for each of us to participate in a worker-led mass movement to rectify ecological and social injustice. It is the blueprint to build a cooperative world in which all of us can thrive.

What is the Green New Deal?

It’s important to understand that the Green New Deal is not a piece of legislation in the conventional sense. It’s a loose framework of goals and objectives which, when implemented, will result in transformative change to the global economy. As outlined by Ann Pettifor in her book The Case for the Green New Deal, core targets of the GND include:

  • Reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions through a “fair and just transition.”
  • Creating millions of high-wage, union jobs with a federal employment guarantee
  • Rebuilding critical infrastructure in the US to be ecologically — and economically — sustainable.
  • Securing access to clean air, fresh water, and healthy food as human rights.
  • Addressing historic injustice done to marginalized and exploited communities.

A similar proposal in the UK focused additional attention on internationalist matters, such as providing the resources to facilitate green energy transitions and economic justice in nations historically exploited by colonialism.

In the Other Corner…

There’s been a lot of misinformation spread across the globe — and even worse, the internet — for the purposes of masking the dire state of our climate and our impact on it. However, here is the straight fact: human activity is negatively impacting the climate. The annual mean concentration of carbon dioxide (CO₂) in the Earth’s atmosphere has increased by more than 45% since the start of the Industrial Revolution, from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 420 ppm as of April 2021 [2]. At the present rate, a degree of substantial, irreversible climate change is already unavoidable [3].

Why would people seek to downplay the existential threat posed by climate change? Why would anyone have such a vested interest in resisting policy aimed at averting doomsday? First, we need to clarify that the ideological opponents of the GND are not “evil.” That’s a reductive and unhelpful characterization. Instead, we need to think of them in terms of their material interests and relationship to production.

The portion of people in control of the means of production — the raw materials, facilities, and machinery necessary to produce goods — is vanishingly small. Beyond them is another comparatively small group of people who benefit from the financialization of the economy facilitated by our mode of economic production. We can collectively describe these people as “the ruling class” [4].

The ruling class operates according to the algorithm of capital. It ultimately doesn’t matter whether they, as individuals, personally believe in the science of climate change or not. The fact remains that the short- to mid-term economic interests of a large segment of the ruling class depend on seeing that the goals outlined in the GND never come to fruition.

What about market-oriented solutions, though, like carbon taxes coupled with advances in carbon sequestration technology?

It’s true that proposals seeking to address climate damage from within capitalism might relieve some small share of the pressure. However, these leave the foundational issue unaddressed, which is that capitalism must prioritize private profit above all other concerns. This is the reason why so-called “green capitalism” or “stakeholder capitalism” will not solve our problems. These buzzwords are little more than a rebranding exercise; at the end of the day, capital must follow the internal logic which undergirds capitalism. Ideals and moral posturing get set aside the moment they conflict with the profit motive (as they always ultimately have). The conflict between the values of “good” capitalists and their material interests will be heightened as conditions deteriorate further, the rate of profit declines, and the life raft gets smaller.

We can’t rely on the ruling class to save us. Only we can save us.

We, the global working class, represent a massive force that can be arrayed against entrenched capital. We can fight together along a unified front for our future because we are many, and they are few. To accomplish this, however, we must unite in the interests of our mutual prosperity across lines of race, gender, sex, religion, and nationality. Make no mistake: there will be those who seek to divide us to serve their own ends.

To be continued…

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

[2] Bressan, David. “Carbon-Dioxide In Earth’s Atmosphere Spikes To Record Level.” Forbes, April 7, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidbressan/2021/04/07/carbon-dioxide-spikes-to-record-level/?sh=e856be1521fd

[3] Pirani, Simon. (2018) Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption. Pluto Press.

[4] Thier, H. (2020). A People’s Guide to Capitalism: An Introduction to Marxist Economics. Haymarket Books.

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Pinellas DSA

The Official Pinellas County FL chapter of Democratic Socialists of America