The Climate Crisis and the Green New Deal: An Introduction

And Spark! returns, having gone dark while I was dedicating my time to working full-time for a few campaigns and political efforts.  We’re back to delve into a major issue facing our nation and our world – the Climate Crisis.

Today (Friday, September 20, 2019) began a series of strikes around the world, the Global Climate Strikes (with different events across the globe running over a full week, through September 27).  These strikes, and other actions (e.g., TIME Magazine‘s 9-23-19 special edition on the climate crisis), underline the fact that we are rapidly running out of time to head off a massive climate catastrophe, one which is already taking lives and costing billions of dollars in annual damages, and which will get considerably worse this century even if we do manage to thwart the worst results of human exploitative economies.  In consideration of this problem, and of the notice being brought to it this week, Spark! is undertaking a brief series of posts about the most ambitious set of proposals for handling it, the Green New Deal (GND).  Today we’ll start with just a quick look at the issue, the perceived need for something as ambitious as the GND, and some of the sources available on it which we’ll be exploring further.

Already, at the beginning of this century, climate scientists had established through a wealth of verified scientific research that climate change is taking place, and that it is caused by an outpouring of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses as the specific, verified result of human activities.  Scientists have long since established that the result of climate change will be a long period of considerable warming, as well as other effects (e.g., massive changes to precipitation, and more frequent extremes of weather that will change the face of the planet, the environment in which we live, and even our abilities to grow the food we need to live).  Such changes are already starting to make some parts of our planet uninhabitable, and will increase by many times the numbers of people fleeing these areas to go to other places, like Europe and the United States. The refugee and immigration problems this will bring us here in the United States will make the numbers and problems currently being experienced pale by comparison. Climate change will impact virtually every aspect of human life and public policy.

Over a decade ago, two works in particular helped to bring climate change into focus.  Mark Lynas’s book, Six Degrees: Our Future On a Hotter Planet (National Geographic Society / HarperCollins, 2008), examined existing data and numerous projections, and illustrated six scenarios for what specific increments of warming would look like, starting with the even-then optimistic scenario that climate change would be limited to an increase of 1° Celsius (degrees of warming are relative to average levels of the late-1800s, before industrialization started pouring carbon compounds into the atmosphere), and then detailing what the world would look like in 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6° warming scenarios.  Lynas showed that warming was looking even at the time of writing to proceed to at least 2°, and could possibly get even worse, depending on how quickly and how effectively human policy and global lifestyle changes could reduce emissions and/or begin sequestering enough carbon to reduce warming and other effects. Lynas in particular wrote a great deal about the feedback problems: the Earth has already sequestered massive quantities of carbon which are not currently affecting our climate; and a warmer climate will in various ways bring these carbon stores (whose existence has nothing to do with human activity) into our atmosphere, thereby not just increasing but massively accelerating climate change.  These feedback problems become especially relevant once climate change has reached . Feedback provides an immediate point of urgency: We need to stop warming before it reaches that point, or we risk uncontrolled, accelerated warming to the point where climate change becomes not merely costly and annoying, and deadly mostly to select populations here and there, but literally threatening to our very civilization.

Also in 2008, a British group, the Green New Deal Group, separately established the urgency for rapid and ambitious action.  They produced an Executive Summary of a proposal for massive change, which they based on the New Deal of the 1930s, and also found comparisons to various wartime (World War II) British policies to conserve resources for combating the Axis powers.  The authors argued cogently that, first, we were already (in 2008) at the point where conservative policy adjustment to head off climate change had passed its window for being able to accomplish much. The authors argued that, second, the more immediate and massive change that would be needed would only succeed if the effort were not merely focused on modifications to our industrial processes, power grid, transportation sector or other, more immediate carbon-emitting activities, but involved financial and monetary policies designed to ensure the long-term existence of significant funding for the massive changes needed.  They also argued that, third, both the US in the 1930s, and Great Britain in the 1940s, pursued policies to change consumption habits, along the line of the ambitious changes needed for the GND to work, so that while considerable, such policies are not impossible and certainly not without established precedents.

The Green New Deal Group pushed for rather more radical changes than were argued by Lynas.  However, Lynas also made it very clear in his conclusion (p. 269) that there were literally just a few years left (as of 2008) in which less radical change could have enough effect.  We are now several years past the period during which Lynas’s less radical proposals could seriously be projected to keep the planet from reaching the dangerous threshold of 3° of warming.  We are now threatened with literally apocalyptic changes if we do not make, immediately, very serious changes to our policies and lifestyles.

The continued and escalating urgency of this is demonstrated by a wealth of new efforts, from the Green Party, to the Sunrise Movement, to even (finally, and let us hope not futilely) the latest US Congress.  The next post here on Spark! will go into these in some detail, but in the meantime (if you want to do your homework first), here are some of the sources we’ll be looking at in our next post:

The Green New Deal Group‘s 2008 Executive Summary – arguing to British readers why and how Her Majesty’s Government should adopt a GND

The Green Party‘s 2016 proposal for a GND

The 116th US Congress‘s House Resolution 109, “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal”

Vox‘s “The Green New Deal, Explained” – a fairly objective look at the proposal, and some of the difficulties (political and otherwise) involved in operating by such a policy

R Street‘s opposition to the GND, “What is the Green New Deal?”, arguing mostly from a libertarian point of view against the policy

The Kamala Harris Campaign‘s “A Climate Plan for the People,” largely in sync with the basic thinking behind HR 109

Many other sources are available, such as Naomi Klein‘s On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal

You may also want to take a look at the Sunrise Movement, which has been pushing the GND to centrist Democrats (like Nancy Pelosi) who have not as yet embraced the principles of radical change across the board

We’ll discuss some of these sources in our next post, here, and in the meantime, you can help the Global Climate Strike by going here to join in.

Image from Global Climate Strike’s website: https://globalclimatestrike.net/big-day-tomorrow/

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