Against a backdrop of Brexit uncertainties, Labour members this week launched a grassroots campaign urging the party to adopt a Green New Deal. Their campaign calls for an economic stimulus programme to decarbonise the economy, create green jobs in struggling regions and invest in public infrastructure. It was a welcome respite in a week of disaster news.
As one of the Labour group’s organisers told the Guardian newspaper, “climate change is fundamentally about class, because it means chaos for the many while the few profit.” Indeed, the “Green” in Green New Deal can be misleading. This isn’t just an environmental proposal, but one designed to protect peoples’ livelihoods and confront economic inequality.
The only way to address the climate crisis is to fundamentally change our current political economy – something that people including Gus Speth of the Democracy Collaborative have long argued. While partisan political rhetoric pits environmental concerns against economic growth, proposals for a Green New Deal opt instead to secure employment and confront structural inequities.
For those of us who have been working for years on economic and climate justice, it’s exciting to see these proposals capture public imagination and enter mainstream political discourse. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise Movement have championed the Green New Deal in the US, but this set of ideas is by no means new. Since 2007 the UK’s Green New Deal Group has argued for a transition towards a clean energy future that puts job protection and human rights at its centre.
The group, whose members include economist Ann Pettifor, tax campaigner Richard Murphy and the leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, first published its Green New Deal proposals in July 2008, months before the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Ten years later, after a decade of austerity and political and social upheavals, it seems the world is finally ready for their ideas.
We cannot talk about climate change as a “long-term” prospect any more: the Intergovernmental Planet on Climate Change warns that there are less than 12 years left to avert climate disaster. The world’s most vulnerable communities are already bearing the unjust brunt of environmental breakdown—as seen in post-Katrina New Orleans and post-Maria Puerto Rico and, most recently, Cyclone Idai in Africa.
Tackling the climate crisis with the kind of rehashed neoliberal tactics attempted by French President Emmanuel Macron, with his policy of “green taxes”, is a recipe for double disaster. Carbon taxes are both inadequate for addressing environmental breakdown and guaranteed to exacerbate tensions in an increasingly unequal economy. It is time to stop tinkering around the edges and present comprehensive and systemic solutions to the onset climate crisis.
Movements intent on transforming our economy have gained traction in recent years; community wealth building efforts are overhauling local economies on both sides of the Atlantic and broadening ownership of capital and resources. New networks like the Wellbeing Economy Alliance are examining alternatives to our current economic system. These initiatives articulate a new economic paradigm that confronts inequality and encompasses nature and community, rather than merely focussing on short-term profit and GDP.
To truly address environmental breakdown, we also need wartime-levels of investment and state intervention. If the Green New Deal were to become government policy, it would represent a huge victory for pro-environmental politics and a fusion of economic and environmental justice on a scale unprecedented in Europe. It would commit governments to an economic model that put planet above profit.
Some national governments are taking tentative steps towards a new economic paradigm: New Zealand has unveiled a wellbeing budget, Finland has an Economy of Wellbeing strategy, and Scotland is convening a group of progressive governments through its Wellbeing Economy Governments initiative. Wales has recently introduced a Community Wealth Building Fund, and Labour has created a Community Wealth Building Unit to support towns and cities implementing local solutions.
But electoral cycles (to say nothing of Brexit cliff-edges) do not lend themselves to tackling systemic problems. As the climate strikes of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and other school students have shown, young people are fearful that politicians are ignoring the impending crisis. With eyes firmly fixed on the future of their planet, their protests have magnified government silence.
To confront climate change, we can’t leave it all up to politicians. We need civil society, business, local government, finance and academia to mobilise and collaborate; to cross borders and build regional and international networks and platforms. Gatherings such as the New Economy and Social Innovation (NESI) Global Forum, the World Social Forum of Transformative Economies and Ctrl+Shift in the UK provide a collaborative space to replicate local experiments.
Let’s encourage politicians to champion a just transition to a better future, but let’s not leave it all up to them. To build an economy that is appropriate for life on a finite planet, we need to listen to the young climate strikers and implement their rallying cry.
Sarah McKinley is Director of European Programs at the Democracy Collaborative.