From a cursory glance at the news, you may know that the next one to three decades can make or break most, if not all, of human civilization as we know it.
You also probably know that there is a slew of governments, cities, towns, businesses large and small, pledging to be ‘carbon neutral’ by 2030 or 2050, roughly in line with the IPCC’s warning to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The city of Boston pledged this goal recently under the soon-to-be erstwhile Mayor Marty Walsh. The Massachusetts Legislator is behind numerous states in enacting the 2050 carbon-neutral plan, but there is a bill on the governor’s desk and an announcement expected to come soon and all reports indicate that the Republican Governor will most likely sign it after vetoing similar legislation last month.
Then there is Biden’s slew of recent climate executive orders, which is a far cry from the Trump Administration’s active destruction of the environment via gutting much of the EPA’s pollution regulations, to name just one of the policies.
That’s great right? We can clap our hands clean and go on with our lives, right?! See ya next global existential crisis! Well no, actually I do not think that is the appropriate response for several reasons that I will expand on in this climate mini-series in the next few posts.
I will do that by going through the DSA’s Green New Deal Principles that have been ratified by over 50 DSA chapters all over the country.
For the complete DSA Green New Deal principles, click here.
PART II: Decarbonization & Democratization
In Part II, I will be going off points 1-3 of the seven DSA principles of the Green New Deal, primarily writing about the decarbonization of the economy as well as the democratization of our resources and major energy systems. Next week I will be taking on principles 4-7, more specifically the push for decolonizing and demilitarizing the world from the US and EU’s decades-long imperialist policies of war and resource extraction.
Before we get started, it is important to preface for all you Zoomers out there, that since the creation of the EPA and the Clean Air Act in the 1970s, with few exceptions, there has been near-complete intransigence on the behalf of our ruling classes and energy companies to deal with climate change in any serious way. No piece of climate legislation, in my 28-year-old lifetime at least, has even come close to picking up and maintaining the public’s attention than the Green New Deal. There has been incremental change by state, local, and federal governments, along with signing (and pulling out of and joining again) international agreements to reduce global carbon emissions. But most of that coverage is gobbled up by the mainstream press cycle and quickly forgotten about. The GND, in an effective way, continues to impose itself on the news cycle at the local, state, and federal levels.
So this piece, more than anything is to help you and me, regular people, understand what this piece of legislation is, why everyone is talking about it, and the changes that need to, but may not, happen over the next ten years.
“In 2018, the UN released a climate report that set the basis for a lot of recent policy that said that we have to significantly reduce our emissions by 2030 if we want to avoid risking some of the worst impacts of climate change.” Jacob Stern, deputy director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club tells me, laying out the urgency of the Green New Deal’s text.
The term, ‘Green New Deal’, obviously evocative of FDR’s New Deal of the 1930s, has been kicking around in left-oriented activist and policy circles since at least 2012 when the Green Party first used the wording in the party’s platform to launch the candidacy of Jill Stein (according to a cursory google search). The Green New Deal that is on the tip of everyones tongue today, however, is a piece of non-binding federal legislation introduced by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or AOC (D-NY) and U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) a few years back.
Or as Jacob tells me, “The GND was first announced in 2019 as something tasked at the federal level. The concept has been around a lot longer than that. I think it goes as far back as the ’60s.”
He continues, “The GND is a framework and a concept. It’s not explicit policy. It is a mandate for advocates and people who care about the climate and a better future to think about what policies fit underneath the framework of the GND and fight for those policies.”
The actual piece of legislation is pretty short compared to other major pieces of federal legislation, reading at only 14 pages long. The legislation calls for net-zero emissions with a just transition for the working class, the creation of green jobs and architecture, and the assurance of clean water, housing, and air that puts marginalized groups at the forefront of the plan.
“[The Green New Deal] doesn’t just include reducing carbon emissions but it also means thinking about the impacts our economic system has on vulnerable communities. Thinking about the types of jobs that are available to people as well as thinking about the types of benefits and pay workers can receive. And also some historic and systemic problems in our system around race and class etc..”
This means assuring jobs for populations at the front lines, both current energy workers and poor and Black and brown communities. Where wind energy can create tens of thousands of long term jobs in Massachusetts, LNG and coal power plants, due to automation, need fewer employees. On oil rigs, outsourcing, automation, contract, and short-term based labor is quickly becoming the name of the game, leaving many workers with less pay, no benefits or compensation if they are hurt on the job, and on top of that, almost no job security.
So, decarbonization is as important as ever, not just for the sake of the environment but also for modern-day job production in the United States.
You may hear about cities, towns, multinational companies, and governments announcing to go ‘carbon neutral’ by 2030 or 2050. Before we talk about these actual pledges, what does carbon neutral exactly mean?
“All those terms, carbon-free, carbon neutral can be pretty confusing, and people use them differently as well,” Jacob tells me.
But carbon neutrality truly means that the amount of carbon a company uses is offset by what it uses in renewable energy. It is important to note that this does not entail the cessation of fossil fuels.
In the case of Boston, Jacob tells me, “I think Boston’s [most recent] commitment is just a municipal commitment. So any emissions that are produced by the city’s owned buildings, public offices, and any city-owned vehicles. That is the equivalent of NIKE saying we are going to make all of our factories and offices carbon neutral by 2030.
“If I was a Boston resident, it would not encompass any emissions that I would produce. And as an advocate, I believe we need to be carbon neutral across the board, not just corporations and governments, but we need to find ways to help residents reduce their footprint as well. ”
It is important to realize while these pledges are good and positive that they A) are not truly aligned with the Green New Deal and B) fall short of addressing the root cause of climate change as well as the causes and consequences of environmental racism.
It is mostly a reality in America that coal production is dying and was dead long before 45 pledged to bring the jobs back. But what about fracking? Joe Biden pledged that he “will not ban fracking” in the lead up to his election win in 2020.
While once thought to be a bridge fuel by large environmental groups ten to twenty years ago, most on the left flank of the democratic party in America almost unanimously agree all fossil fuels need to remain in the ground, backed of course by science. The Sierra Club now adopts the Green New Deal’s principles and agrees that all remaining fossil fuels remain in the ground.
By now I hope I have sufficiently spelled out the need to decarbonize our economy. But the other side of this coin is to democratize the fossil fuel industry, which in my view, will not come easily. This involves not only pulling the given levers of power (like voting, speaking with your representative, organizing and advocating for better climate policy) but also mass protests and people speaking out about the importance of stripping the current energy sector as we know it so we can begin to build a truly renewable infrastructure, an energy infrastructure all but mandated by the 2018 UN climate report.
To impose my view on what ‘democratization’ means in this context is to view the democratic process in terms of the current power you have and how to lift people up to a baseline of social power. So ensuring job security in stable industries is a form of democracy, but so are other issues that seem distant, but are deeply rooted in our current system of liberal capitalism, such as canceling student debt as well as defunding the police and abolishing the justice and prison system as we know it. As these issues function in society, they successfully curtail democracy and disenfranchise people.
So, while we can be happy about the passage of incremental reforms such as carbon neutrality by 2030 or 2050, it is equally important to continue to reimagine a new world and economic system but also be optimistic and hopeful that this is possible.
Or as Martin Luther King Jr. once said “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.”
PART III: Demilitarization & Decolonization
I think it is appropriate to introduce part III by questioning the word use in a sentence in Part II. The sentence is:
“…I will be taking on principles 4-7, more specifically the push for decolonizing and demilitarizing the world from the US and EU’s decades-long imperialist policies of war and resource extraction.”
Obviously, we will be doing that in this part, but the word I misuse is ‘decades’. While the use or misuse of this word in this context can be debatable (for me, along the lines of the modern forms of the policies of war and resource extraction), my usage of this word has stuck with me, and bothered me, throughout the week (in no small part due to my reading of Howard Zinn’s ‘A People’s History of the United States’).
If I were writing that sentence today, I would have rephrased the sentence to note that the majority of the last 5,000 years of western civilization has been one of near-constant war (militarization) and the searching and pillaging for resource extraction (colonization). These are not static circumstances in the history books. The legacies, as cornerstones of culture and our values, are being continued and expounded upon as I type these words. However, at the base of colonization and militarization, the various forms these can take are generally clear. Or are they?
War, as most of us can picture in our heads, happens via combat on the ground, air, or sky. Militarism also comes in the form of the state employing an excess of weapons and tactics to control the (a) population in circumstances where protection of property and people are needed. (Note how property comes first.) However, war can, perhaps more insidiously, take place through economic means such as sanctions, artificially inflating interest rates, and certain parameters in international trade agreements, to name just a few means of economic warfare.
Colonization evokes classical imagery and tropes as well, such as slave-ships, stolen treasures of gold, and the pith helmet to name a few. But colonialism, like militarism, takes many modern forms that are so divorced from the pith helmet, you may want to call it something entirely different.
Yet, at the root of say, working a waged-labor job at a Starbucks, there are many colonial undertones and well-disguised overtones inherent in this act, even to the employee. (I’m not talking trash about Starbucks employees, even your author, many years ago, donned the unsightly green apron.) The one explicit overtone would be selling coffee, which as you may have guessed, can roughly speaking only be grown in or near the equatorial belt, and itself has a very long, deep tradition in colonial culture.
Or to define colonization a different way, Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik writes for Open Democracy, “There are many ways to see colonialism. A breakneck rush for riches and power. A permanent pillage of life. A project to appropriate nature, to render it profitable and subservient to the needs of industry.”
He continues, “We can see colonialism as imposition, as the silencing of local knowledges, and erasure of the other. Colonialism as a triple violence: cultural violence through negation; economic violence through exploitation; and political violence through oppression.”
The basis of this essay is to answer the question: how do militarism and colonization continue to make climate change worse? It does not however advocate for the cessation of the global coffee or tea trade. I myself am addicted to herbal chai, and generally, I think the basis of that argument ought to stay on college campuses where it belongs. But I am advocating for business and governmental leaders to take climate change more seriously and also for outlets and solutions that we as individuals can take so that our voices are heard to these so-called leaders so that positive drastic change can be achieved. Does that involve breaking up oligopolistic food chains and mega-corporations that dictate food prices? In my future, hell yeah. But I am not the president, and while this essay will stop short of abolishing Starbucks, I hope my line of thinking will lead folks to the conclusion that this change would be more beneficial than you may think.
While it would be tremendously easy at this moment to dunk on lifestyle choices such as eating meat, the owning of a ridiculously large pick-up truck (with nothing in the truck bed), serial food wasters, etc., the days of me thinking this rhetoric is impactful has all but passed. While I personally do not do those things, bickering sideways about individual choices does not do anything if a jet for the US military gives off more emissions in one flight than a car does in seven years.
Also, as Cabell Eames of the 350 Better Future Project asserts: “if you are not incentivized to [buy green] with cheaper prices, then how are you able to do that? It is very cheap to go buy and ground beef and it has enough protein in it that you could live off for a week. Versus, if you are buying organic vegetables they don’t have as long of a lifespan.”
Cabell continues, “So it already is taxing on the wallet. So you have to make these things affordable. Another wormhole we could go down is the fact that the minimum wage is $7.25, which is criminal to me.”
You may have heard, either in headlines or at the DNC this year the following phrase: “CLIMATE CHANGE IS THE BIGGEST THREAT TO THE NATIONAL SECURITY OF THE UNITED STATES.”
Paul Shannon of Mass Peace Action, however, has a different take on using military means to solve the climate crisis.
“In terms of the immediate threat of ending life on earth, the climate is the thing. However to successfully deal with that crisis, if you think you can do that as long as there are wars between nations and cold wars between nations, you are missing the boat.”
Paul continues, “And the other thing of course is that the Pentagon itself is the largest single producer of fossil fuel emissions. And to think you are going to bring down US fossil fuel emissions while you have the Pentagon continue to spew them out at incredible rates, it is just not realistic.”
Also, there is just the logistical numbers of needing money for programs like the Green New Deal, affordable housing initiatives, much-needed infrastructure repair and so. If the military continues to be funded in exorbitant amounts, there is just no money left to accomplish these goals.
“The military budget is 770 billion dollars right now, more than three times the military budget of China, it is about ten times the military budget of Russia. That is where the resources are, not just to deal with climate change, but for public health. Look at the pathetic job our country has done with the pandemic.” states Paul, noticeably frustrated.
Journalist Christian Parenti describes the build-up in border militarization as an ‘armed lifeboat’ approach to climate change. Parenti goes on to call this approach climate fascism based on segregation and repression.
While war and border militarization are to us in Massachusetts abstract concepts, militarism locally also serves a function that perpetuates and paralyzes social movements addressing the issue in any meaningful way. But, since I am writing this in Massachusetts, it is worth noting that two of the biggest weapons manufacturers in the US, GE and Raytheon, are based in Massachusetts. Raytheon mind you, is making millions or billions of dollars off the war on Yemen. (For more info on the war on Yemen, check out Mass Peace Action’s work on the war in Yemen.)
The connections to militarism and climate change locally take many forms as well. The military worked to suppress dissent at Standing Rock and the FBI worked to infiltrate and take down the Occupy Movement. And even going back to the 1960s and ’70s, the FBI infiltrated the Black Panthers to take down the organization, and in doing so, murdered Fred Hampton.
However, as has been the theme of this essay, militarism works in favor of climate change in more latent ways as well. “Well I don’t think there is any question that [the police] make people feel powerless. And that feeling powerless is a disease in and of itself that impacts everything in your life…” says Cabell Eames.
She continues, “Who has the power and who doesn’t. I think that is how we should be looking at it. So as long as you are making people feel powerless, then you are depressing them, it is a form of complete helplessness.”
Over the course of this writing, I asked both Cabell and Paul to share their thoughts on what people who are concerned about militarism and/or climate change ought to do to have their voices heard.
Cabell’s answer was the most convincing I have heard yet.
“I would suggest that they run for office. Hands down. And when I say run for office, I am saying run for school committee, city council because all politics is local. That is not just a cliche statement. I would also say to join your local DSA chapter or local Democratic committee.”
Paul’s answer too is succinct and to the point, “The main thing is that people get involved in a group somewhere, address these things on a continual basis and are ready to react to situations that develop and work with other groups where it is possible.”
Chris Hues is a human & writer from Boston, Ma & Associate Editor of bostonhassle.com. //// They can be reached at [email protected] or @crsjh_ via instagram & twitter.