#GreenNewDeal: Taking a Global Green ‘New Deal’ from Theory into Practice

With the UN Climate Conference (#COP21) approaching at the end of November, there is no better time than now to start a reinvigorated conversation around the idea of a Green New Deal as a way to propel the human race out of the Carbon Age and into a more sustainable future.

What is the #GreenNewDeal?

Based on U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s post-depression ‘New Deal’ legislative agenda, the Green New Deal is a multi-faceted policy proposal which focuses on sustainability, equality, and justice. The idea began gaining some popularity after 2007 due to the Great Recession and the release of a dire environmental report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Here are the basic tenets…

Sustainability.

We humans use and waste a lot of resources. We simply cannot afford to continue the consume-and-waste model of production, especially when we have a limited amount of many resources (i.e. oil, trees, water) and limited places to store our massive amounts of waste. This week we experienced “Earth Overshoot Day”, the point in which we have used all the resources that the Earth has produced for the year. Basically as a species, we have no Earth-savings, and we are now going into Earth-debt. See Paul Gilding’s talk on “The Earth is Full”; it is too good not to plug here.

However, we can overcome these destructive patterns by creating more sustainable systems. Sustainable systems are focused on no- or low-waste production. While some systems will need to undergo complete redesign to reduce waste (e.g. transitioning from coal to renewables to reduce carbon waste), lots of waste can be reduced through improving efficiency.

There are six systems which produce the most waste: energy (electricity, fuel, mining), industry (metallurgy, chemical production, electronics manufacturing), forestry (deforestation, logging), agriculture (intensive mono-cropping, pesticide/herbicide use, livestock), transportation, and households (food, water, trash). By focusing on reducing and recycling waste from the Big 6 Systems, we could develop a cleaner, more climate-secure future.

Carbon Emissions by sector, Source: EPA

Sustainability is also about long-term conservation and ecological mindfulness on the macro levels of government and business and the micro levels of community and individual behavior. Media and education play big roles in shaping citizens choices, so a Green New Deal would also include greater amounts of public broadcasting and education funding to support a sustainability culture.

Equality.

We desperately need to level some playing fields so that we can overcome our old, wasteful systems. First, let’s consider government subsidies — taxpayer money given to certain important industries such as energy, agriculture, and transportation.

Fossil fuel companies (oil, gas, coal) currently receive $5.3 TRILLION per year in subsidies from world governments. That’s $14.5 billion per day… or $10 million EVERY MINUTE! Let that sink in for a moment. Oh, there goes another 10 million dollars of taxpayer money to the biggest polluters on the planet while you were thinking! This amount of money is greater than the amount all world governments spend on healthcare combined. And that money does not include the profits these companies are making on consumers, nor the tax-breaks and loopholes they exploit as part of the corporate elite. The IMF estimates that simply cutting fossil fuel subsidies would lessen emissions by 20% and save 1.6 million lives annually from death by air pollution.

Renewable energy companies receive subsidies as well, but not nearly to the same degree as fossil fuels. GOP Presidential candidate Jeb Bush has recently called for an end to all subsidizing of energy, so that markets can decide. However, we should take into account all of the government welfare oil, gas, and coal companies have received for 60 years longer and at more than 10 times the rate of renewable subsidies. A Green New Deal would rather retroactively subsidize renewables to the same extent (adjusted for inflation) as coal, oil, and gas, and then let the markets decide.

But it isn’t only subsidies that are unequal. The extreme amount of wealth inequality creates an unequal amount of power for a small group of corporations. Big money lobbying allows companies to craft their own laws (see ALEC), so many regulations are skewed to favor fossil fuelers. For example, solar and wind farms face licensing and permitting red tape that coal, oil, and gas companies do not. Similarly, 100-percent electric cars are not allowed for sale in the U.S. because Departments of Transportation rely so heavily on gas taxes. Not to mention, thanks to Citizens’ United, corporations can now buy elections and influence public opinions through propaganda… er, I mean, media.

Proponents of a Green New Deal seek not only to end inequality at the corporate and governmental levels but also to provide more equality to every citizen in terms of wealth, through a basic income program, debt forgiveness programs, or by establishing employment as a human right, and in terms of access to basic needs, such as healthcare, food, water, shelter, and education. Costs of this social safety net could be offset by polluters-pay legislation (such as a carbon tax or Carbon Fee and Dividend — #CO2FnD — approach). Benefits would include less climate-related casualties and conflicts and more innovation and investment in clean technologies.

Carbon Fee and Dividend Approach for Solving Climate Change

As it stands, more than half of the world’s humans (3+billion people) live on less than $2.50 per day. The OECD warns us that the poor, elderly, and children, especially in developing countries, will be the most vulnerable to climate change. This is mostly because the poor can’t afford to adopt new technologies needed to adapt to extreme weather (e.g. air conditioning systems, water filtration), can’t afford to relocate, and can’t afford to seek healthcare. Mix widening inequality with a heating climate and you’ve got a recipe for violence, famine, and civil unrest. Instead we should be drafting the unemployed and underemployed to plant trees, install solar cells, and establish organic farms.

Justice.

I mentioned that Big Oil/Coal can write their own laws, but did I also mention they can shirk accountability for breaking laws and neglecting contracts? For example, because oil and gas companies in Louisiana agreed to refill their tunnels to prevent erosion but then never did, the state is sinking — losing a football field’s worth of land EVERY HOUR. But efforts to sue oil and gas companies for breach of contract have failed due to political corruption. Another US example is Kivalina, Alaska, which is predicted to be completely underwater within the next decade. They sued fossil fuel companies for the cost of relocating their village, but were dismissed by the courts.

Consider that 40% of the world’s humans live within 100km from a coast, which puts almost half of us in a zone that might be overtaken by rising seas in the next century. Massive population relocations are both tumultuous and expensive. Should that burden fall evenly to all citizens, or should we ask mega-rich polluters pay their fair share?

This week former NASA Director and climate scientist James Hansen along with dozens of young people sued the US federal government on behalf of future generations left with an unstable climate, because he thinks its unjust for our youth to carry the burden polluters created. A Green New Deal would ensure that people wreaking havoc on the planet are paying to restore her.

All these components sound good, right? So why hasn’t this idea gotten more traction?

The Start (and Sputter) of a “Global Green New Deal”

In 2009, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) called for a Global Green New Deal at the G20 Summit, which emphasized investment in renewable energy and sustainable transportation technologies, organic agricultural practices, and conservation and efficiency efforts.

2009 Coverage of Green New Deal by European Greens-EFA

Since then, around the world, nations, groups and individuals have developed their own Green New Deals. Most notably, European Parliamentary Sven Giegold spoke up for a Green New Deal at a TED conference, Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and author Thomas Friedman has repeatedly called for a Green New Deal and energy revolution, and U.S. Green Party Presidential Nominee Jill Stein developed a comprehensive Green New Deal for America plan.

While the world’s leaders were eager to sign onto the UNEP proposal in 2009, actual progress has not kept pace with hoped progress for a myriad of reasons, including lack of economic resources and proper funding.

2012 coverage of Green New Deal by Greens-EFA

Apart from funding, another reason the Green New Deal hasn’t achieved more success is a lack of media coverage. When I searched for “Green New Deal” on Google today, I got 203k results. Just to provide some scale (and some irony), searching the “Iran Deal” yielded 11.3mil results. On YouTube today, there were 3,280 results for “Green New Deal”, and not a single video topped 100k views. “Iran Deal”? 192,000 results, with millions of views.

So my question is:

How can we make the Green New Deal go viral?

Perhaps the answer is as simple as getting the Bernie Sanders campaign to take it up and get it trending. It is, after all, aligned nicely with the Progressive platform. Whatever way we choose, we the people should stop accepting raw deals, and start spreading the word about a Green New Deal.

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