"We cannot go on as we have, not only in degrading the earth but also in degrading each other". The simple, underlying brilliance of a Green New Deal
From Harper’s, an eloquent account (PDF available here) of the philosophical implications of the Green New Deal. This is the UK idea which has tunnelled under the Atlantic and come out in the heart of the revived left-Democrats movement, around Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders. (Perhaps not surprisingly, as it references Roosevelt’s original post-Crash regeneration programme for 30’s America, the New Deal).
There is an attempt (similar to the Corbyn project here) to make the package of greening infrastructure, and the millions of jobs this will generate, seem like a cross-partisan project, compelled by the ultimate environmental deadline. “I don’t know how you can be accused of being extreme”, says Bernie Sanders in one of the links above, “if the issue is: how do we ensure the survival of the planet?”
Yet we were struck, in Kevin Baker’s Harper’s piece, by this closing stretch which opens up what that common ground on support for a Green New Deal might sound like, metaphorically and emotionally:
What’s telling is that all of our irritated politicians and pundits seem most upset by the possibility that people might not go on working at the frenzied pace our Western economy now demands.
What they promise is only the acceleration of mindless toil and more things to make up for the things that have failed: nuclear reactors and “clean coal,” and who knows what other marvels as the floodwaters rise, and the winds howl, and the land burns. Massive dikes and levees? Desalination plants, recycled wastewater, and homes that are built like bunkers?
The possibilities are endless, which is why our leaders are not really worried about climate change itself, only the possibility that it might spur real social and economic change.
What they promise us is, quite literally, business as usual, and nothing but business. It doesn’t matter how defiled the earth or our life on it becomes, just that there will still be something to market and sell.
“Our Gross National Product . . . counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage,” Robert F. Kennedy said in a famous speech at the University of Kansas a few months before his death.
It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
Kennedy’s words seemed obvious at the time, even trite. But their relevance hits home today, more than half a century later, as we approach the dead end of our purely commercial approach to life on this planet.
Herein lies the simple underlying brilliance of the Green New Deal: the acknowledgment that we cannot go on as we have, not only in degrading the earth but also in degrading each other, through the existing economic system we have allowed to overrun us.
“[T]here are virtues in trying to offer not just a technical blueprint but a comprehensive vision of the good society, and virtues as well in insisting that dramatic change is still possible in America, that grand projects and scientific breakthroughs are still within our reach,” conservative columnist Ross Douthat mused after a generally critical look at the Green New Deal proposals.
[T]he desire not to be a decadent society is a healthy one, and in that sense the Green New Deal deserves credit for looking at the American past and saying, in effect: Why not us, again?
Like the best of liberalism, which was what the original New Deal was—and the Green New Deal could be—the proof is in the doing. All the efforts to dismiss it as some socialist plot will not stand, cannot stand, if we are to meet the greatest challenges of our time.
Those challenges will not vanish just because we want to avoid them. They will not slow just because we prefer to go slow.
The Green New Deal, as its name implies, is meant to be a restoration, a return to the sort of fairness, the human balance, the dignity of a working life wantonly abandoned and derided by so many of our leading politicians and commentators.
If we are to survive, it will be necessary to ignore them. Obviously, they have nothing more to offer.