Why the Green New Deal is at risk of being watered down

Some politicians may adopt the policy’s name and scrape away at its radical substance. 

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In Europe, as in the United States, the Green New Deal is everywhere: on placards of striking students, in campaigns from Bristol to Barcelona, and in the speeches of high-ranking Brussels eurocrats.

The environmental agenda has finally arrived in Europe. Millions of people have marched to demand climate action, and millions more have voted to deliver it. “They want environment at the heart of our lives, at the heart of the political game,” said Green MEP Yannick Jadot of last week’s elections.

The prospects for a Green New Deal have never been greater. Neither has the threat of its co-optation.

The concept of a Green New Deal is capacious, referring to a wide range of reforms, regulations, and institutions. In the context of a social movement, such ambiguity is productive: it ignites the imagination and brings a broad coalition under a single umbrella. But in the context of policy legislation, it can be dangerous — leaving open the possibility that politicians appropriate the name while scraping away its radical substance.

With a wide range of political parties riding the Green Wave to victory in the European elections, we must be vigilant to this possibility.

“You can’t just tag any random policy + call it [Green New Deal],” tweeted congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez last week. “Not all climate policies are the same. Many make inequality worse.”

That is why we are publishing the “10 Pillars of the Green New Deal”: a guide to the essential elements that, together, comprise this ambitious and pragmatic plan — from “Meeting the Scale of the Challenge” to “Empowering Citizens & Their Communities.”

The goal is not only to outline a vision of environmental justice. It is also to define the boundaries of the Green New Deal — and to defend it against its would-be abusers.

Franklin D Roosevelt’s response to the Great Depression is often remembered for its three Rs. Relief would alleviate poverty and provide employment. Recovery would get put the American economy back on its feet. And Reform would target the causes of the economic crisis so that another depression would never befall the country again.

The Green New Deal for Europe carries these three Rs across the Atlantic and into the 21st century.

In terms of relief, for example, a key pillar of the Green New Deal is that it guarantees decent jobs. But these jobs must also be green, contributing to — rather than detracting from — the ecological transition. It follows that special attention must be paid to frontline communities that are most dependent on fossil fuels and least prepared to participate in the green economy.

The same applies for another pillar of the Green New Deal: raising the standard of living. 118 million people currently live in or at risk of poverty in Europe; homelessness in most member states is high and rising. The strategy of the Green New Deal sits at the intersection of environmental and social justice. Millions of new carbon-neutral homes, for example, can address the crisis of housing insecurity. And a shorter working week can improve workers’ quality of life while radically reducing their carbon emissions.

The Green New Deal aims to press idle resources into public service. Just like the original New Deal, its premise is explicitly Keynesian: Europe’s economy today is defined by chronically low levels of investment and, in the case of countries like Germany, obsessively high rates of saving. The Green New Deal issues bonds that soak up this excess liquidity and invest in green industries.

Finally, the Green New Deal must shift away from the system of extractive capitalism that created the environmental crisis in the first place and reform the current economic system. Like the original New Deal, this means challenging the regime of high finance that has favoured short-term gains for the few over long-term prosperity for the many.

But unlike the original New Deal, this also means taking on the fossil fuel industry and its endless lust for environmental devastation. If FDR welcomed the hatred of “business and financial monopoly,” then advocates of the Green New Deal must do the same for fossil fuel executives, too.

The scope of this transformation, like the challenge at hand, is global. One of the key pillars of the Green New Deal is to support environmental justice around the world, taking responsibility for Europe’s historical legacy of colonialism and setting aside the resources to redress it. Any plan that encourages resource extraction — so long as it’s beyond our borders, down the supply chain — does not qualify as a Green New Deal.

The “Green Wave” is an historic opportunity. But it is also an obligation. Never before have Europe’s leaders had so much political capital to spend on environmental justice — and they may never have so much again.

That is why we must set the bar high and set it firm. As a fresh batch of MEPs prepare to take their seats in Brussels, beware: a Green New Deal must live up to these ten basic pillars — or it is not a Green New Deal at all.

David Adler is DiEM25 policy coordinator and Pawel Wargan is Green New Deal for Europe campaign coordinator.