The Green New Deal: Realistic Proposal or Fantasy?

The Green New Deal (GND), drawn up by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey, is the most ambitious and comprehensive program to deal with climate change ever made by political representatives to Congress and the U.S. public, writes . It calls for making dramatic changes within the next ten years to end our reliance on fossil fuels that are warming the planet at an alarming rate. But it is not only about curbing carbon dioxide (CO2)emissions: it is most of all a proposal to set us on a path of creating an ecologically sustainable society.

The GND lays out seven major proposals for ending U.S. society’s addiction to fossil fuels—the most destructive form of addiction known on this planet:

  • Dramatically expand existing renewable power sources and deploy new production capacity with the goal of meeting 100% of national power demand through renewable sources.
  • Building a national, energy-efficient, “smart” grid.
  • Upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety.
  • Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing, agricultural and other industries.
  • Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and other infrastructure, and upgrading water infrastructure to ensure universal access to clean water.
  • Funding massive investment in the draw-down of greenhouse gases.
  • Making “green” technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries bringing about a global Green New Deal.[1]

Carrots?

These seven policy prescriptions are ambitious enough. Yet the GND goes further, by stipulating it “Shall recognize that a national, industrial, economic mobilization of this scope and scale is a historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation.” It spells this out with eight specific proposals:

  • Provide all members of society the opportunity, training and education to be a full and equal participant in the transition, including through a job guarantee program to assure a living wage job to every person who wants one.
  • Diversify local and regional economies to ensure workers have the necessary tools, opportunities, and economic assistance to succeed during the energy transition.
  • Require strong enforcement of labor, workplace safety, and wage standards that recognize the rights of workers to organize and unionize free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment, and creation of meaningful, quality, career employment.
  • Ensure a “just transition” for all workers, low-income communities, communities of color, indigenous communities, rural and urban communities and the front-line communities most affected by climate change, pollution and other environmental harm including by ensuring that local implementation of the transition is led from the community level.
  • Protect and enforce sovereign rights and land rights of tribal nations.
  • Mitigate deeply entrenched racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth (including, without limitation, ensuring that federal and other investment will be equitably distributed to historically impoverished, low income, de-industrialized or other marginalized communities).
  • Include measures such as basic income programs, universal health care programs and any others as the select committee may deem appropriate to promote economic security, labor market flexibility and entrepreneurship.
  • Deeply involve national and local labor unions to take a leadership role in the process of job training and worker deployment.

These eight proposals regarding full employment, universal health care, support for unions and marginalized communities, opposition to racial and gender-based discrimination, etc. may seem, on the surface, to have little to do with the GND’s central aim of radically reducing greenhouse has emissions within the next ten years. But in fact these eight proposals have a great deal to do with the seven that address ending reliance on fossil fuels. They are not some throw away meant to sneak a radical political agenda into an otherwise technical discussion of how to lower CO2 emissions. They are needed to wean U.S. society away from its addiction on fossil fuels.

Dependence?

Here is why: Climate justice can’t be achieved without changing the structures of U.S. society that make it hard to break from our reliance on fossil fuel. Over 1.4 million Americans directly work for the fossil fuel industry. It makes no sense to propose scaling back and eventually eliminating this industry unless those displaced from it are assured of jobs that pay decent wages and benefits. As Jedediah Britton-Purdy recently put it, “In the twenty-first century, environmental policy is economic policy. Keeping the two separate…is an anachronism.”[2]

Moreover, innumerable parts of our society depend on fossil fuel in addition to the gas we put in our cars. This includes building construction, packaging, and agriculture (most pesticides and fertilizers are made from fossil fuels)—even shampoo (yes, almost all of them are oil-based). Just look around you: almost everything, from the plastic tables and chairs to the Formica panels and light fixtures, are by-products of petroleum. These and many more products and the industries that make them will have to be reconfigured to drastically reduce CO2 emissions. Clearly, this cannot be done unless there is buy-in from the mass of the U.S. public—which needs affordable housing, health care, free education, and the elimination of racial and gender-based policies that maintain the status quo instead of fostering the common good. In sum, global warming is a social justice issue. If we don’t address the social injustice that is the main condition for the possibility and even the necessity of the addiction to fossil fuels, we are left without an approach to making even a dent in the problem.

Social Justice

This is already obvious from some recent events. In France, Macron’s government imposed a carbon-tax on gasoline as part of its effort to meet the international accords reached several years ago to lower greenhouse gas emissions. But it did so at the same time as reducing tax rates for the rich and cutting social programs. As a result, the Yellow Vest movement arose, initially united around a demand that the gasoline tax be revoked (their demands have have since exceeded that). It isn’t that they don’t care about global warming—many participating in the protests are farmers who see evidence of it every day. But they don’t want those already subjected to austerity measures and social marginalization to be the only ones to pay the cost of redressing climate change.

It is one of the virtues of the GND that it doesn’t include a carbon tax in its lists of proposals. The aim should not be imposing regressive taxes on the consumption of fossil fuels but rather restricting their production through a comprehensive program that can transition U.S. society from its currently ecologically unsustainable energy policies.

Although the GND does not mention how much it will cost to achieve this transition, it will clearly cost trillions of dollars. Is spending that much realistic or an utter fantasy? It is surely necessary, given that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently reported that we have 12 years to transform the global economy away from fossil fuels it we expect a livable climate for human beings. Twelve years! The clock is ticking and we cannot wait until the effects of global warming become so dire as to be irreversible. Moreover, the trillions that it will cost to transition from carbon-based to sustainable energy systems pales in comparison with the many trillions more that will have to be spent dealing with mass migrations, loss of habitats and farmland, and the need to rebuild entire cities and even countries as sea levels inundate coastal areas. It is worth keeping in mind that the global energy infrastructure is today worth $30 to $40 trillion and turns over every three or four decades. That’s a huge sum of money needed just to reproduce the carbon-based energy infrastructure we already have. Why not spend a commensurate or even greater amount to eliminate it altogether with a new system of producing energy, given that the continued use of the one we have now may spell the end of civilization as we have known it?

Lessons from history?

For these reasons, the GND is an important starting point for conceiving how to take effective action now to halt and reverse the impact of climate change. But it is only a starting point, since it has its limitations. The problems begin with its name. The Green New Deal obviously harkens back to the New Deal of the 1930s and 1940s, the comprehension program born in response to the Great Depression that produced the modern welfare state. While many praise its beneficial social impact, the New Deal actually did not lift the U.S. out of the Depression. World War II did. By 1944, 70 cents of every dollar spent in the U.S. went to the military. The size and role of the state expanded enormously, enabling the U.S. to marshal the power and resources needed to defeat Nazi Germany and fascist Japan. In doing so, the New Deal introduced important legislation that improved the lives of much of the populace, especially workers, and including African Americans (which is one reason Blacks switched their long-held allegiance to the Republican Party to the Democrats during the New Deal).

However, the aim of the New Deal was to save capitalism from collapse—not to transition to a new social order. Here is where the comparison with our situation today ends, since we cannot effectively deal with climate change without transitioning to a new social order. This is because capitalism has been hooked on fossil fuel for over two centuries. It is endemic to the very structure of the capitalist economy. Capitalism is a system defined by the drive to increase monetary wealth, especially in the form of profit, as an end in itself. Every business exists to make a profit; if profit rates for a particular enterprise decline relative to others, it is only a matter of time before it will be driven out of business. Fossil fuels are highly conducive for economies driven by the profit-motive since it packs an enormous amount of energy into a relatively small volume that is easily transportable from one location to another. Capital’s abstractive logic of domination, which seeks to liberate social life from natural spatial determinations for the sake of augmenting value as an end in itself, is almost inexorably drawn to fossil fuels that can be transported anywhere. It is therefore extremely unlikely that it will be possible to wean capitalism off of its addition to fossil fuel without undermining the economic principles that govern it. The GND implicitly points in this direction this, by calling for a series of changes that get in the way of the business-model pursuit of profit (such as its insistence on full employment, paying workers a living wage, providing free health care and education to all citizens, etc.). But this fits uneasily with the model of the New Deal of the 1930s and 1940s, which was trying to save capitalism.

When the GND was being drafted, Alexandia Ocasio-Cortez initially didn’t want to call it “the Green New Deal,” perhaps for some of these reasons. But others thought it has a catchy ring that would connect with the public. But as a result, most critics as well as supporters of the GND take the phrase literally, by thinking the same principles and policies that drove Roosevelt’s New Deal can save us from the grave threat of climate change today. But there are at least three major problems with this viewpoint.

Narrowed horizons?

The first problem is that is narrows the horizon of the debate over global warming to private interests versus government intervention, or corporations versus the state. Private industries and enterprises operate according to the profit motive. For this reason, it is argued, they lack an incentive to produce goods and servies in an ecologically healthy way. If profit rates can be maintained or increased by using carbon-based fuels, they will use them—unless prevented to do so by some outside force. That outside force is the government or state. Since government is based in the collection and distribution of revenue, it is not driven, many argue, by the profit motive. It has no inherent incentive to produce goods and services in a manner damaging to the environment—at least when it is subject to the needs of the citizenry instead of corporate interests that manipulate it to serve its ends. Since the entire economic model is based on carbon-based emissions, it will take an outside force like the state to compel businesses to act otherwise. And they need to be compelled to act very soon: otherwise, we will reach the tipping point beyond which dealing with global climate change will be outside of our reach.

Furthermore, the amount of economic resources and political power that even the largest corporate entity can muster, let alone private individuals, is minuscule compared to that of the government. The world’s largest multinational corporation, Apple, has a valuation of $800 billion—far smaller than this year’s Federal Budget of $4.5 trillion (state and local government budgets account for $3.1 trillion more). No private or business interest can match this level of resources. There would never have been a U.S. highway system without government spending (little of it came from private sources); and there would never have been the Internet, personal computers, or smart phones without government spending (the microprocessor was a product of hundreds of billions of dollars devoted to research and development by the Defense Department and NASA). And so it is when it comes to climate change: when it comes to such a huge and complex issue as moving our society away from its addiction to fossil fuels, a massive degree of government intervention in at least some form will be needed.

There is much to be said for this argument. If we face a 12-year deadline to seriously reduce carbon emissions, it isn’t going to happen by relying on the market or private individuals. Yes, we can take individual steps to reduce our consumption of meat (79% of the land devoted to agriculture in the U.S. is devoted to animal feed, which produces a huge percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions), we can use less plastic when we shop, and we can try to recycle more. But such actions, welcome as they are, cannot stop the impending catastrophe on their own. They are drops in the bucket. As Benjamin Selwyn argues, “What we need, to avert climate catastrophe is a systemic approach to comprehending and transforming the current global economy.”[3]

Transformation needed

However, it is a major mistake to frame such a transformation in terms of uncritically embracing the power of the state. First, governments are readily prone to being used by corporate and oligarchic interests for their own ends. They are not neutral formations devoid of class interests. That has always been the case, but it has never been truer than today. To give but one of many recent examples, the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United has allowed a flood of corporate money—including much from the fossil fuel industry—to shape government policy. Therefore, relying on the state to curb carbon emissions won’t work with the kind of political system we have today; it will instead require a radical transformation of the entire structure of American governance. It will require nothing less than a political revolution in which the U.S. and other countries become genuine social democracies (in the original sense of that term) that serve the needs of its citizens instead of the corporate elites that preside over them. In a word, the goals of the GND require transitioning from the partial and flawed democracy we have today to a genuine or true democracy.

This is where the comparison of the Green New Deal to the New Deal of the 1930s and 1940s is quite misleading. The New Deal did not transform the structure of American politics; in some respects it further entrenched it. One reflection of this is the way in which Congress passed the New Deal with the support of Southern white segregationists who used it to solidify their power at the expense of African Americans.  Roosevelt’s housing policy, which was a central component of the New Deal, gave federal support to racially segregated housing, which prevented blacks from buying or renting property in many parts of the country. The authors of the GND are aware of this, which is why one of its points calls for “a ‘just transition’ for all workers, low-income communities, communities of color, [and] indigenous communities…” However, far too many supporters of the GND seem to naively presume that such goals can be accomplished with the framework of existing power structures. They assume that the state is more powerful than civil society can ever be. There is no doubt that the state appears to be powerful—even infinitely powerful. However, it is not as powerful as it appears, since it is ultimately dependent on the structures of civil society. Where the latter remain unchanged, the limits of policy changes at the level of the state become evident.

Bureacratic impediments

Second, governments are notoriously bureaucratic institutions that tend to defer, delay, or indefinitely postpone implementing even the most well thought out and valuable plans and initiatives. Whereas private businesses pursue money as an end-in-itself, the state and governments promote bureaucracy as an end-in-itself (obviously this also applies to non-state entities as well, as in academia). One enthusiastic supporter of the GND, the acclaimed labor historian Jeremy Brecher, has become so enthralled of its presumed connection to Roosevelt’s New Deal that he recently proclaimed, “Government initiative is necessary to cut through inertia, bottlenecks, and bureaucratic red tape.”[4] I confess to finding it very strange to call upon government bureaucrats to cut through bureaucratic red tape; it’s sort of like asking the foxes to guard the hen house.

For these and related reasons, although the Green New Deal quite understandably originated as a legislative initiative, it cannot be allowed to remain one. If it stays as a purely legislative initiative it will die a quick death, since there is very little chance that Congress will approve it anytime in the near future—and none at all so long as Trump is in power, since he cares not a whit for the future of the planet; his only concern is the future of his and his friend’s financial investments. Climate change deniers are so much in love with their pocketbooks that they seem not even to care about the future of their own children; the live by the motto, “after me, the deluge.” However, the barrier to the GND being taken seriously in Congress isn’t limited to Trump or the Republicans, since many congressional Democrats are likewise beholden to big business; a case in point is Nancy Pelosi, who has dismissed the GND as a “green dream.” She is wrong about this; the GND is not a mere fantasy. It sets forth a valuable series of goals that should be actively promoted with as much enthusiasm and force as we can muster. But doing so will require that we take the GND beyond the confines of its legislative origin by advancing aspects of it in our communities, social organizations, and other institutions of civil society. It must become taken up, revised, developed, and radicalized, as part of a mass social movement that is not simply an arm of one or another government agency.

Third, and most important, confining the response to global warming within the parameters of the dichotomy of private versus government, or market versus state, misses a fundamental determinant: the growth imperative that is endemic to capitalist societies. Since capitalism is based on a drive to increase monetary wealth as an end in itself, capitalist enterprises face a constant urge to grow and expand—regardless of human or natural limits. This is why efforts to control capital (either through legislative initiatives or changing administrative policies or personnel) always prove quixotic: they all rest on the assumption that capital’s growth imperative is generated by the personifications of capital instead of by capital itself. It is not the system’s representatives that drives the growth imperative, but the growth imperative that drives the representatives. The New Deal was a clear expression of this: it aimed to redistribute greater amounts of wealth to workers and the poor as a way to pump up consumer demand as a way to achieve greater economic growth. In other words, government was used as a catalyst to spur greater capital accumulation—and it worked, at least by the time World War II came around. Not surprisingly, however, the New Deal was not aimed at protecting the environment (except when it came to fostering policies of soil conservation, but even there it was with the aim of increasing the productivity of agricultural labor). The GND is a form of ecological Keynesianism, in that it uses the power of the state to redistribute resources from the fossil fuel industry to renewable-energy industries. But it does not address how to slow down, defer, or eliminate capitalism’s growth imperative. On the contrary, it seeks to harness that imperative by using state power to encourage investments in ecological sustainable industries as against ones dominated by fossil fuels.

That may all seem well and good, but let us not forget that retrofitting every building in the U.S. to become energy efficient—as called for in the GND’s stated goals—will require an awful lot of steel, cement, and yes, petrochemical-based products. It is not so clear that this would not add to the global carbon imprint even as carbon emissions come down in other areas. Moreover, if companies can grow their businesses by earning higher profit rates with materials and technologies that are less environmentally beneficial than others, they are likely to do so. But it is not so obvious that we can blithely assume that the government can be used to block such tendencies, since the state is bound up with the logic of capital in a myriad of ways. An economic as well as political revolution will clearly be needed to wean society away from its capitalistic growth imperative. As Ashley Dawson has recently argued, the goals of the GND often seem at odds with the means that are singled out to achieve them: “Proposals for genuine ecological and social reconstruction, therefore, cannot simply substitute renewable energy for fossil fuels while leaving the current global system of spiraling production and consumption untouched. Instead, the growth based presuppositions of the New Deal and environmental Keynesianism must be challenged. What we really need, in other words, is a crash program to shrink those sectors of the economy that are environmentally destructive, while in tandem sectors that do no environmental damage are expanded.”[5] She adds, “At the end of the day, environmental Keynesianism is predicated on economic expansion; since new growth means that fresh resources need to be exploited, any environmental benefits of more efficient technology and a transition to renewable energy will ultimately be undermined, and the biocrisis will intensify.”

Just transition

I should also add that market-based economies based on private ownership of goods and services are not the only ones with a built-in growth imperative. The same was true for statist “communist” regimes, such as the USSR and China, which placed the entire society under the control of the state—while engaging in some of the most egregious ecological destruction of any system in world history. Neither private capitalism nor state-capitalism (both of which are mainly focused on quantitative output, since both adhered to the law of value and surplus value) has succeeded in curbing capitalism’s inherent growth imperative. The world surely needs economic growth and development, but one of a radically different type than has defined modern industrial societies up to this point in time. Leaving this unaddressed poses some major problems when it comes to dealing with global warming. What is making it harder to address this issue at the present moment is the new found love affair many on the Left are currently experiencing with state-directed capital investment.

As the Indigenous Environmental Network recently stated in emphasizing “the fundamental need to challenge and transform the current dominant political and economic systems that are driving forest destruction, social injustice, and the climate crisis,” “The AOC-Markey platform risks being an exercise in futility and could actually allow for increased emissions and global warming. We demand that fossil fuels be kept underground and that the subsidies and tax breaks that keep the fossil fuel industry viable be shifted towards a clear, grassroots-based Just Transition.”[6]

So what would such a Just Transition look like? Time is short, and we need effective policies now—we can’t simply wait for capitalism to be overcome to begin promoting them. So what can be done in the short term to meet the goals of the GND and beyond? I would like to conclude here with a modest proposal along these lines.

As noted, the GND lays out the goal to reduce and ultimately eliminate net carbon emissions within 10 years, and that is all well and good. Building upon but taking the GND further, let’s envision this: Every company and business is required to reduce carbon-based products or CO2emissions within a specified amount of time. If they fail to do so, say after one year, they face a hefty government penalty. If they fail to meet their targets again, the ownership right of the business is denied to the employers and the government hands over control of it to the employees. Please note that this is not nationalization: the government itself does not take them over, as has occurred in many countries over the last 100 years. The employees take them over and democratically run the company as a cooperative enterprise. Of course, these worker-owned enterprises would also face mandatory restrictions on CO2 emissions and use of carbon-based products. If they fail to meet them, the enterprise is hit with a hefty tax penalty. Since the employees now own the company and there is no separate management or ownership structure—which also means no shareholders of stocks that don’t actually work in the enterprise—the penalty can be paid only through a reduction in the workers’ paychecks. The employees now have a built-in incentive to meet the quotas, since otherwise they will earn less wages and benefits. And since every enterprise in the country is subject to the same stipulations, there is no way to evade the limits on the use of fossil fuel.

Challenging growth

Moreover, since these are worker-owned enterprises, in which the proceeds circulate back to the employees, fetters are placed upon capital’s growth imperative. Workers might use a share of the proceeds to expand the enterprise, but it is just as likely that they will use it to shorten the workweek, provide services to workers, or simply give themselves a raise. Worker-controlled enterprises tend to dampen, at least initially, the profit-driven imperative of capitalist enterprises since they are based on a different imperative—meeting the human needs of its members. However, this becomes hard to sustain if such changes are restricted to a single country, since goods traded on the world market at a lower cost of production will tend to drive worker-owned enterprises out of business. For this reason Karl Marx never believed that socialism could exist in one country. Neither can a viable transition to a carbon-free economy. Since it is a global problem it ultimately needs a global solution. Worker-owned cooperatives and enterprises are great ways to begin to get there, but they are not ends-in-themselves. The ultimate end—assuming we can mitigate climate change to the point of living long enough to get there—is the abolition of value production on a global level.

Nevertheless, on the national level, an effective transition from a carbon-based productive system could be achieved without relying exclusively on either privately owned or governmental agencies. The government provides the legal mechanism for transferring ownership of the enterprise from the capitalists to the workers, who have the motivation and incentive to care for the environment that the capitalists tend to lack. But the government is not in the driver’s seat when it comes to controlling the overall process. The people themselves do so, through forms of association and organization they forge as members of civil society. A GND of this sort would transition from a carbon-reliant model of energy production and consumption to a sustainable one based on renewal energy by taking what drives the destruction of nature and natural resources—the growth imperative of the logic of capital. Kali Akuno of the Climate Justice Alliance and director of Cooperation Jackson, a Mississippi group that grow out of the Civil Rights Movement, has referred to this as “a solidarity economy anchored by a network of cooperatives and worker-owned, democratically self-managed enterprises.”[7]

My argument boils down to this: In order to save and preserve what we have in common, the earth, we must transition to a form of society that respects the commons. It is not about passively waiting for such a society to miraculously arise: the commons is already here, although hidden from view by the ideologies and structures of existing society. By fighting to reclaim the commons—which includes not only the land but also the social powers at our disposal to collectively organize our lives without recourse to hierarchical forms of domination—we can transition to a new society, at the same as saving the earth itself. It seems to me that working for this would be worth the effort.

Reprinted from New Politics

[1] See “Draft Text for Proposed Addendum to House Rules for the 116th Congress of the United States” [https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jxUzp9SZ6-VB-4wSm8sselVMsqWZrSrYpYC9slHKLzo/edit#heading=h.z7x8pz4dydey]

[2] “The Green New Deal’s Realism,” by Jedehiah Britton-Purdy, The New York Times, February 16, 2019, p. A21.

[3] Benjamin Selwyn, “The Agro-Food Complex and Climate Change: Veganism or a Green New Deal?” The Bullet, April 5, 2019.

[4] Jeremy Brecher, “The Green New Deal Can Work—Here’s How,” The Bullet, April 2, 2019.

[5] Ashley Dawson, “A Greener New Deal?,” New Politics, Vol. 17, No. 2, Winter 2019.

[6] Indigenous Environmental Network, “Talking Points on the AOC-Markey Green New Deal Resolution.”

[7] See Kali Akuno, “We Have to Make Sure the ‘Green New Deal’ Doesn’t Become Green Capitalism,” Web Only, December 12, 2018.

Open Letter To Unions: UKSCN Stands in Solidarity

Like all ecosocialists, RedGreen Labour supporters have been inspired by the growth of environmentalism amongst school students and the combative and witty protests that have been taking place up and down Britain – and internationally – over the last six months. Many of us will be marching in solidarity next Friday, June 21.

But the labour movement has now been thrown a welcome challenge by young people now – calling for more involvement for the Earth Stike action on September 29. We are thrilled that the Baker’s Union has already supported this call – lets see what the rest of us can do.

UKSCN understands the power of protest. We understand the power of global collective action, and the necessity for economic and civil disruption. We understand the necessity for real, immediate, radical systemic change.

But as it stands, our generation has no future. We, the next generation of workers, will face not only an increasingly insecure job market, zero hour contracts and falling living standards, but also the destructive impacts of the climate crisis. Climate breakdown will bring food shortages, a lack of resources, and will displace millions, and we know that this system will pass on these burdens to working people. This catastrophe will increase inequality on an extreme scale.

The great tradition of unions and workers striking is one UKSCN have already begun to follow. The youth have shown a radical consciousness and international solidarity, striking to make our voices heard, striking to remind those in power that we are worthy of a future, a world, a planet on which we can not only survive, but can live, and breathe, and work.

That future is being held back from all of us – youth strikers and workers alike. Those at the frontline of the UK’s political dramas have taken their farce ever further, entrenching themselves so deeply in their fantasy world that they are blind to the fact that the stage itself is crumbling. The longer they pretend that our future is a vague concept, rather than a very real and tangible deadline, then the longer they fail us and sell us out, day after day after day, as we count down those 11 years we’ve been given, before a chain of events is set off that will totally and inevitably destroy the industries that working communities rely on.

We, the youth strikers, thank you, workers and unions for the workers across history who went on strike, and struggled for the rights we have today. Now is the time to see through the lies that they feed us to keep us – workers and young people, the most powerful forces, the real creators of change in our society – apart.

Our struggle is your struggle. Your fight is our fight too. The rights of one are the rights of the many, and that equity – social and environmental – is what we will continue to fight for, until we get justice.

The same bosses who cut wages are polluting the air. The same bosses who tried to stop workers fighting for their rights are heating up the planet. The same bosses you fought in the past are the ones we will defeat together. You forced politicians to take action and so will we.

This is not only a show of our and a plea for your solidarity, but also a warning. We must totally decarbonise our economy and create a new, unionised, well paid workforce in green industries, or face the devastating impact on working communities that the climate crisis will bring.

So join us. Let us unite our struggles and work together. We ask you to pledge that you will:

  1. Invite us to your branch meetings to speak.

  2. Pass motions to end support for high carbon sectors, industries that send our generation’s future up in flames.

  3. Join us in calling for Green New Deal, making sure that the inevitable change is worker-led, and that not one job is lost but millions are created. Stand with us as we call for a just, worker-led transition from a self-destructive capitalist system into one that prioritises social equity and climate justice.

Let us demonstrate together, recognising that the struggles for climate and worker justice are one and the same. Take industrial action and we youth strikers will stand there with you in solidarity. And where unions mobilise, let us look to coordinate with the youth strikes, to strike together for our collective cause.

We know that the proponents of fossil fuel capitalism, those bosses who simultaneously exploit working people and the planet, will respond to one thing only – profit. Youth strikers have shown the power of collective action, now is the time to challenge those in power through a general strike. Because the struggle for climate justice is a workers’ struggle, the workers of today and the workers of the future must mobilise now to challenge the system that threatens us all.

Our call for a general strike will be heard by politicians because that is a testament to the power of workers. That power is our government’s greatest fear. So be a part of that general strike. On the 27th of September, we will reclaim the streets together. Not just for our economy, or for our politicians. We will fight for our jobs, for our families, for our traditions. Together, we will fight for the future.

In solidarity,

UK Student Climate Network.

A Green New Deal for the UK

The Labour Party’s John McDonnell on how a “Green Industrial Revolution” can advance a radical program against climate change, bring energy workers and the rest of the working class to our side, and win socialism in our time.

Jeremy Corbyn, my friend for over forty years and the next Prime Minister of the UK, pledged last year a “GI Bill” for energy workers, writes John McDonnell. Speaking at a conference I organized on alternative models of ownership, Jeremy said that:

Just as the US GI Bill gave education, housing and income support to every unemployed veteran returning from the Second World War, the next Labour Government will guarantee that all energy workers are offered retraining, a new job on equivalent terms and conditions covered by collective agreements, and fully supported in their housing and income needs through transition.

Continue reading “A Green New Deal for the UK”

The climate is changing – why aren’t we

I’m in my mid-sixties and have been politically active since my late teens, writes Terry Conway. This week I have had one of the most positive political experiences of my life, supporting young people organizing against climate change. Their energy, their political sophistication and their sense of humour is infectious.

Continue reading “The climate is changing – why aren’t we”

Derek Wall: internationalist ecosocialism of word and deed

Terry Conway for RedGreen Labour interviewed ecosocialist activist, internationalist and writer Derek Wall.

RGL: You have been involved in environmental politics in one form of another for a long time. What was the original trigger that got you involved?

DW: I first became interested in green politics in 1980, at the tender age of 14.  The wave of environmental concern in the 1970s saw the creation of green parties and new environmental movements. This was often framed around arguments about economic growth. The Limits to Growth report and Blueprint for Survival were published, arguing that economic growth was ecologically unsustainable.  This feed into popular culture, I think I picked up some of this from television, I was an avid watcher as a child and teenager. Animal rights campaign also influenced, me, for example, the emotive campaigns against whaling, the Orkney seal cull and the Japanese dolphin hunts.

Continue reading “Derek Wall: internationalist ecosocialism of word and deed”

Victory in Minnesota: Valve Turners Acquitted of All Charges

The climate movement secured a major victory on October 9 2018 after a judge dismissed all charges against the Valve Turner activists who shut down a tar sands pipeline in northern Minnesota nearly two years previously.

The activists — who were represented by Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, local counsel Tim Phillips, and Kelsey Skaggs of Climate Defense Project — were prepared to present a climate necessity defense featuring expert testimony on the dangers of climate change and the effectiveness of civil disobedience. After the prosecution closed its case on the second day of trial, however, the judge agreed with the defense that there was insufficient evidence that the activists — Emily Johnston, Annette Klapstein, and Benjamin Joldersma — had damaged or helped to damage the pipeline, and tossed out all remaining charges.

“This victory is an important rebuke to government efforts to punish activists while letting harmful industries off the hook. At the same time, we need to keep fighting to make sure that activists’ voices and rights are respected in the courtroom, particularly for those who are less privileged,” said Kelsey Skaggs.

On October 11, 2016, after months of studying how to undertake their action safely, five climate activists from Washington and Oregon had shut down key pipelines used to transport tar sands oil from Alberta to the United States.

As The Nation noted in an article on the action, “manually closing the emergency shut-off valves on tar sands pipelines in Washington, Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota … surely stands among the boldest acts of non-violent civil disobedience, on climate or any other issue, in memory.”

The activists stopped the pipelines from pumping as much as 15 per cent of daily oil demand in the U.S., which calculates as roughly three million barrels of oil.

“Three of the valve-turners have been tried and convicted of felony charges — Ken Ward in Washington, Leonard Higgins in Montana, and Michael Foster in North Dakota — and one of them, Foster, has served time in prison,” according to The Nation.

Foster was sentenced to one year, but in the end served six months in a state prison before being released on parole.

The trial for the two remaining valve-turners — Annette Klapstein and Emily Johnston — along with support-team member Ben Joldersma began on October 8.

Implications of ‘necessity defence’

This trial has historic significance because while the previous three defendants were denied the “necessity defence,” the Minnesota  court allowed Klapstein, Johnston, and Joldersma to argue that their actions were necessary and legally justified given the harm of climate change.

The necessity defence acknowledges that while technically a crime was committed, it was done to prevent a greater harm.

Rather than proceeding to trial and having witnesses called who could speak to climate crimes, the judge acquitted the three defendants.

But the initial acceptance of the necessity defence could have implications for future anti-pipeline actions in both the U.S. and Canada.

In May 2018, climate activist Tom Sandborn called on B.C. Supreme Court Judge Kenneth Affleck to accept the “defence of necessity” argument after Sandborn was arrested and charged for blocking a gate at the Trans Mountain pipeline terminal in Burnaby.

But Affleck said the “excuse of necessity has no air of reality in these proceedings,” that its use must be “strictly controlled” and that a defendant must show there was “no other viable option” other than the action and that there must be an “imminent risk of an immediate peril.”

And despite the lack of free, prior and informed consent — highlighted in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — for the pipeline, and a DARA International study linking 400,000 deaths worldwide each year to climate change, the judge ruled, “The work is lawful and to call it a crime is just a slogan, not an argument.”

Valve-turning in Canada

There have been pipeline valve-turning actions in Canada too.

In December 2015, three men turned off a valve for the Enbridge Line 9 pipeline near St-Justine-de-Newton where it crosses the Ontario-Quebec border. They were charged with mischief, trespassing (breaking and entering), and obstruction.

Then just two weeks later, three women turned a manual hand wheel at a station in Sarnia and interrupted the flow of the pipeline for two hours.

In the latter case, Vanessa Gray, Sarah Scanlon and Stone Stewart were charged with mischief endangering lives, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, and mischief over $5,000.

In January 2017, after a long court battle, the charges were withdrawn after Gray, Scanlon and Stewart agreed to an 18-month court order to stay away from Enbridge property.

The now-defeated 1.1 million barrel-per-day Energy East pipeline would have been 4,500 kilometres in length with a shut-off valve located every 30 kilometres along the route. That would have been about 150 shut-off valves susceptible to this type of action.

The same would generally still hold true for the 300,000 barrel-per-day Line 9 pipeline that runs about 831 kilometres from Sarnia to Montreal and the Trudeau government’s Trans Mountain pipeline that runs about 1,150 kilometres in length.

“Allowing [the necessity] defence will embolden other activists to commit crimes to further their causes,” stated the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce about the court hearings for Klapstein, Johnston, and Joldersma.

Reflecting on the action, valve-turner Klapstein said: “What better thing to do with your retirement than attempt to salvage a habitable world for your children and grandchildren — I can’t think of anything better.”

Although the defendants were disappointed that they were unable to present their case to a jury, the acquittal is a significant step forward for activists who have increasingly turned to the court system to press their demands for action on climate change. In three cases involving Valve Turners in other states who coordinated their actions with the Minnesota activists, defendants were convicted after being denied the opportunity to present a necessity defense. In Minnesota, today’s courtroom victory follows a lengthy effort to defend the activists’ right to argue climate necessity, a battle which went all the way to the state supreme court.

Testifying

Among the experts who had been slated to testify in the case were former NASA scientist James Hansen, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben, Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig, and experts on political science, the history of social movements, pipeline safety, and other topics.

McKibbenn, speaking to Climate Cast after the verdict said:

In a surprising move, the judge acquitted the protesters due to insufficient evidence they’d damaged the pipeline.

McKibben said it seems “odd” the case ended due to a lack of evidence. “It seems like they might have been able to figure that out a long time ago,” he said.

Nonetheless, McKibben believes actions like the valve turners’ are crucial for the public in addressing climate change.

He joined Climate Cast for an interview on Tuesday and reflected on the state of climate activism:

Why activism is necessary for action on climate change

Scientists have been offering this warning for 30 years and what’s happened. We’ve reached the point where the United States, historically the biggest emitter of carbon, has withdrawn from the Paris climate accords — the only international effort to get anything done. The 30-year campaign by the fossil fuel industry to misinform people has been pretty successful.Given all that, protest has been one of the few things that’s actually managed to get anything done. Where we’ve made progress, it’s because people have taken to the streets … it’s because people have done all the things that they shouldn’t have to do. In a rational world, it wouldn’t take people going to jail to get government to pay attention to a clear consensus warning from scientists that were facing the deepest problem we’ve ever faced. But in our world, a world poisoned by the power of the fossil fuel industry, apparently that’s exactly what it takes.

I think that civil disobedience is something that is part of the activist toolkit. Only a part. And it’s not a tool you want to use all the time. Like any tool it gets dull if you use a very much. But there are moments when you have to underline the moral seriousness, the urgency of a problem.

Information from #Shut it DownClimate Defence Project, mprnews and rabble.ca

Important victory in the fight against fracking

There was a lively crowd outside the High Court on October 17, showing solidarity with the 3 anti-fracking protestors, Simon Blevins, 26, Richard Roberts, 36, and Rich Loizou, 31, who were appealing their sentences of up to 16 months after being convicted of causing a public nuisance at the Cuadrilla site at Preston New Road, writes Terry Conway

Supporters were jubilant later in the day to hear that the men were to be freed, after the Lord Chief Justice ruled that an “immediate custodial sentence in the case of these appellants was manifestly excessive”. Given that they had already been in custody for two weeks, he granted them a conditional discharge.

Continue reading “Important victory in the fight against fracking”

Step up the fight to stop fracking at Preston New Road

Its all been happening at and around the Cuadrilla site at Preston New Road over the last couple of weeks.

On September 26th, three anti-fracking activists, Richard Loizou, Richard Roberts and Simon Roscoe Blevins, were jailed for terms of as much as 16 months for their part in direct action on the site in July. Last week they announced they were going to appeal their sentences, some of the most draconian ever meted out to people taking direct action in this country.

The Campaign against Climate Change is organising this letter of support from trade unionists – sign up here.

Continue reading “Step up the fight to stop fracking at Preston New Road”

The fight against Heathrow is far from over

On Monday June 25, Westminster took two decisions which were a major breach in Britain’s commitment to combatting climate change – as well as being disastrous for other reasons, writes Terry Conway. There has been a great deal of coverage about the decision to proceed with a third runway at Heathrow, but not enough analysis of what led to the debacle- and how those of us committed to ensuring that it doesn’t now proceed should be doing now.

The second decision has been less discussed –  not to fund the tidal lagoon at Swansea Bay. Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark said the £1.3bn project was not value for money, despite claims by developers Tidal Lagoon Power (TLP) a revised offer made it cheaper.
Continue reading “The fight against Heathrow is far from over”

Green space: a right not a privelege

The Labour Party’s consultation document, A Greener Britain, seeks proposals about different aspects of environmental policy. In this series of articles, Redgreenlabour supporters offer their thoughts. Please comment on these contributions which the authors may well revise and submit to the consultation in due course. We also urge you to submit your own responses to the Party – whether as individuals or through your branches, CLPs, unions, SERA or other environmental groups. The deadline is 24th June.

Q: How can access to green spaces be improved and how can the use and function of these spaces be maximised?

The national policy forum consultation document which asks this question also talks about: “green spaces such as national parks and areas of outstanding national beauty.” It’s certainly the case that access to these spaces, as well as to our beaches, seas, lakes and river is hugely important for the physical and mental well-being of millions of people writes Terry Conway.

The barriers to regular access are legion and include: Continue reading “Green space: a right not a privelege”