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The Return of the Green New Deal: Ecosocialism in the USA

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As it stands, the United States will effectively withdraw from the Paris Agreement on November 4th 2020, one day after the upcoming presidential election. Thankfully, in the US as around the world, resistance to fossil capitalism is growing. In a country where three billionaires – Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett – own more wealth than half the population, the inequality and climate crises are increasingly seen as one and the same and the Left has seized on the Green New Deal as the answer. We spoke to Alyssa Battistoni and Daniel Aldana Cohen, two of the authors of A Planet to Win 1, about their vision for a better, healthier, more equal way of life in a post-carbon society.

Green European Journal: How did the Green New Deal (GND) get back on the agenda in the US? How have different social movements come together around this vision?

Alyssa Battistoni: A resurgent left-wing politics and an increasingly militant climate movement had been operating on parallel tracks for a few years in the US. The climate movement was focused on “keeping it in the ground” and stopping new fossil fuel extraction projects in places like Standing Rock or along the Keystone XL pipeline, while the Democratic Socialists of America [a socialist organisation active inside and outside of the Democratic Party] and the trade unions concentrated on political projects away from the climate. But over the past year, these forces have come together in quite an organic way. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), probably the politician most associated with the GND, ran for office because she went to Standing Rock and was inspired by the Sunrise Movement. Immediately after she was elected in November 2018, she joined Sunrise Movement protests and opened up a new discourse around the GND. Its revival allows the growing Left to flesh out a broader programme that’s not just about stopping carbon-intensive infrastructure but thinking about what to build in its place.

Daniel Aldana Cohen: The Sunrise Move­ment consciously fuses two strands of American social movements: structured movements like labour unions and community groups, and explosive street protests such as Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. Sunrise’s effort to combine the strengths of each tendency has paid off. In two or three years, they’ve come out of nowhere to become one of the most important movements in the country.

Environmental movements in the US have not always done a great job of working with other social movements. Sunrise, in comparison, has taken it upon itself to be an ally to labour and racial and community justice groups. When Sunrise occupied Nancy Pelosi’s office in November 2018 and AOC gave the GND worldwide publicity, Sunrise was there with green jobs signs, not pictures of wind turbines or solar panels. It shows an increasing sophistication of political alliance-building.

How does this revived GND differ from the left-of-centre promise of green jobs that has been around for years?

Alyssa Battistoni: The core idea is the same, but the differences are scope and commitment. The GND would see the federal government guarantee a green job to anyone that wants one. Renewing the Civilian Conservation Corps from the original New Deal programme, a job guarantee would give people the opportunity to work in nature, on soil conservation or building hiking trails, to become a care worker, expanding the idea of a green job, or to work traditional green jobs in the energy sector. A large-scale commitment to jobs combats labour’s justified suspicion that green jobs will never materialise. Employment in green energy has been rising in the United States but the government has never been prepared to commit to more than the retraining offered under Obama. Fossil fuel workers that lose their jobs need retraining, but most importantly they need jobs. A federal commitment to major infrastructural spending and public works will generate those jobs at scale.

What role does housing play in the GND?

Daniel Aldana Cohen: Eviction from your home and climate breakdown are the two existential threats of our times for many people. Housing is the most expensive line item in most people’s budgets. Housing is responsible for a sixth of the emissions in the US and transportation by car, mostly to and from homes, is another sixth. Our overall vision is to reduce the use of energy and other resources while improving the quality of people’s lives. The idea is of housing as temples of public luxury: rebuilt infrastructure that will physically and concretely improve and decarbonise lives in the same places and at the same time.

A story about an affordable, comfortable, more modern, and better located home is inspiring.

Housing is not usually considered as a key piece of climate policy in the US but, once explained, it is an intuitive story that people can connect to. Concrete is responsible for 8 per cent of global emissions, but describing the most egalitarian way to decarbonise cement production will not strike an emotional chord. A story about an affordable, comfortable, more modern, and better located home is inspiring. For the third of Americans or the almost half of black Americans who cannot afford their energy bills, the GND for housing would make an immediate improvement to everyday life. To avoid future dependence on mining and extraction, the house, the home and where homes are located are central to a less resource-intensive version of prosperity.

The Republicans in the US and the Tories in the UK have built winning coalitions based outside of big cities. Can the GND appeal across the country and in rural areas?

Daniel Aldana Cohen: Quantitatively the Left has already won, as with the popular vote in the US, so geography is now the key: we have to win outside our urban strongholds. The result of the last UK election wasn’t so good, but the Left has the same basic problem of needing to do better with working-class people in disinvested regions outside cities. Building a more geographically extensive coalition will require concrete proposals and negotiations with the people who live in these places. The benefits of GND policies will extend beyond cities. Care work is a placeless concern. Housing matters in towns, suburbs, and rural areas as well as in cities. Flexible public transport that works outside of cities could overcome the fetish for denser modes of living and help people in rural areas move around in a far less expensive way, freeing up their mobility. And moving beyond a top-down model could help to overcome the resistance of rural communities to clean energy developments, which is a pressing political issue in the US.

Alyssa Battistoni: The GND plan for infrastructure spending will hit the ground across the country and the effects will be felt everywhere. The GND can also be used to imagine green sustainable agriculture and how federal funds can support that vision rather than subsidising environmentally destructive practices. Planting prairie grasses, for example, is critical for carbon absorption and the huge potential of the Midwestern states could be a boon for farmers.

Some have criticised the GND as productivist green capitalism, while others say that degrowth-type perspectives call for mandated eco-austerity. Is your call for “one last stimulus” an attempt to move beyond these positions?

Alyssa Battistoni: The GND has at times been used to greenwash public policy. 10 or 15 years ago, the phrase “Green New Deal” was used as a way for America to retain its economic dominance by becoming a leader in green tech. But while the more recent February 2019 GND Congress resolution does talk about developing technology, most of it is oriented towards people’s social needs and decarbonisation, not towards dominating a new growth area for capitalism.

The objective is to build a world that we want to live in and that we can live in for the long term. Then we can transition into a slower groove.

Degrowth advocates make a significant critique but it is imperative to avoid the belt-tightening green politics of sacrifice. At a time of extreme inequality, many people have been sacrificing for a long time already, while another small group of people get to live lavish lifestyles. More sacrifice to fix climate change is just not a winning political message, which is why a vision of public luxury and non-austere ways of living is important. We argue for what we call a last stimulus – that the GND will be an all-out push that will cost a lot of money, generate jobs, and stimulate industrial production. However, the objective is not to restart the post-war growth engine and re-embark on the 20th-century project. The objective is to build a world that we want to live in and that we can live in for the long term. Then we can transition into a slower groove.

Isn’t the GND a return to the 20th-century top-down bureaucracies that were often inefficient and unresponsive?

Daniel Aldana Cohen: In certain areas such as the electricity grid, the GND represents a truly national project. The most sophisticated electricity grids in the world are in Brazil and China: for decades, Brazil has been able to move the renewable energy its dams generate between regions. Managing intermittency requires national coordination and control of the electricity grid and the same is true for rail networks. But for the most part, federal investment will be targeted towards communities of colour and working-class communities through providing funds to local organisations. Democratic ownership can take many forms: worker cooperatives getting preferential contracts, local public banks, racial and community justice groups, or municipal government agencies. Fundamentally, the story is about federal financial resources feeding local self-control and autonomy as the most effective way to achieve a large expansion.

Affordability is often an effective right-wing attack line against progressive proposals. Why do you stress the importance of organising support over the question of financing?

Alyssa Battistoni: “How will you pay for it?” is an effective attack line because a wider narrative around public spending means that there will never be a convincing counter-argument, even if a plan is fully costed. Whether funded through taxes or monetary policy, spending on people’s social needs or environmental protection is always presented as impossible. But half the American federal budget is spent on the military and nobody asks questions. Let’s question that and organise around climate action to invest in communities and build resilience rather than spending billions responding to terrible disasters after they have happened.

When people think about the GND, steelworkers building windmills come to mind. Why do you emphasise organising workers in the education and healthcare sectors?

Alyssa Battistoni: We’re trying to reframe green jobs, as well as the whole growth debate, to make clear we can live good lives in ways that are less resource intensive than the status quo. Decarbonising does not have to mean that your life will get worse. Green energy cannot be ignored but, at the same time, the transition cannot only be about coal miners and oil refinery workers installing infinite amounts of wind turbines. We need to imagine the world that we want to live in once we have enough wind turbines.

The first step is getting the US’s own house in order. Climate change is a global problem, but it is too simplistic to say that the solution must be global.

Education and healthcare workers in the US have been at the forefront of a revitalised labour movement in recent years. Both sectors are low-carbon and oriented towards improving people’s lives. Teachers’ unions have been organising community support and linking traditional struggles around wages and benefits to improving services and the quality of education. The reason that Medicare for All is so popular is because America is in a crisis of care. Overdose and suicide rates are rising, and older people struggle to get the care they need. America currently has a very resource-intensive way of delivering a remarkably low quality of life to many people, and the GND is a political counter that offers a different direction.

A Planet to Win mentions that Sara Nelson, chair of the flight attendants’ union, is one of the GND’s most prominent supporters. What explains her enthusiasm for a transition that could put airline workers out of a job?

Daniel Aldana Cohen: Sara Nelson is one of the best things that has happened to the labour movement in the US in a long time. She understands the relationship between her workers, the broader working class, and the global political economy, and her arguments are all the more powerful because she is rooted in the concrete labour struggle. The next round of global investment is going to be green and she knows that. Instead of getting drawn into the long-term future of flight attendants, her response is to ask whether it will be the bosses or a movement from below that decides what that green transformation looks like.

The US does have an isolationist streak and, if it wanted to, it could impose the costs of transition onto the rest of the world. What does an internationalist GND look like?

Daniel Aldana Cohen: An internationalist GND would see the US slash its consumption of energy, both fossil and renewable, to make room for the rest of the world to enjoy prosperity. The first step is getting the US’s own house in order. Climate change is a global problem, but it is too simplistic to say that the solution must be global. Climate treaties, building on the Montreal Protocol, are based on the notion that every country could come to a sensible agreement, tweak the material substructure of energy, and everything will be fine. But the global economy cannot be reconfigured through negotiation in a room.

Organising along the supply chains of the really existing global economy is essential. Groups fighting over local energy utilities in Rhode Island in the north-eastern US need to forge alliances with the communities contesting lithium mining for rechargeable batteries in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, for example. Global solidarity campaigns such as the Via Campesina food sovereignty movement are precedents for this kind of action. Our view of internationalism is based on looking at how the economy is physically, economically, and legally organised and making interventions at every one of those points.

FOOTNOTES

1. Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and Thea Riofrancos (2019). A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal. New York/London: Verso.

This interview is part of Green European  Journal’s latest edition, “A World Alive: Green Politics in Europe and Beyond”.

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Right to Repair Bill Introduced in Congress

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Hot on the heels of last week’s victory in the New York state senate, the fight for Right to Repair comes to the US Congress. Today, Congressman Joe Morelle (D-NY) introduced the first broad federal Right to Repair bill: the Fair Repair Act.

“As electronics become integrated into more and more products in our lives, Right to Repair is increasingly important to all Americans,” said Kyle Wiens, iFixit CEO. Lawmakers everywhere are realizing the need to protect our Right to Repair—along with progress in the EU and Australia, 27 US states introduced Right to Repair legislation this year, a record number.

“Every year I’ve worked on Right to Repair, it’s gotten bigger, as more and more people want to see independent repair protected,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, Executive Director of Repair.org. Rep. Joe Morelle has been a champion for much of that journey, sponsoring legislation while in the Statehouse in Albany starting in 2015. Everywhere you go, people just want to be able to choose for themselves how to fix their stuff. You’d think manufacturers would wise up.”

Congressman Joe Morelle’s federal bill would require manufacturers to provide device owners and independent repair businesses with access to the parts, tools, and information they need to fix electronic devices.

“For too long, large corporations have hindered the progress of small business owners and everyday Americans by preventing them from the right to repair their own equipment,” said Congressman Morelle. “It’s long past time to level the playing field, which is why I’m so proud to introduce the Fair Repair Act and put the power back in the hands of consumers. This common-sense legislation will help make technology repairs more accessible and affordable for items from cell phones to laptops to farm equipment, finally giving individuals the autonomy they deserve.”

“Right to Repair just makes sense,” said Nathan Proctor, U.S. PIRG Senior Right to Repair Campaign Director. “It saves money and it keeps electronics in use and off the scrap heap. It helps farmers keep equipment in the field and out of the dealership. No matter how many lobbyists Apple, Microsoft or John Deere and the rest of the manufacturers throw at us, Right to Repair keeps pushing ahead, thanks to champions like Rep. Joe Morelle.”

“At iFixit, we believe that big tech companies shouldn’t get to dictate how we use the things we own or keep us from fixing our stuff.” said iFixit’s US Policy Lead, Kerry Maeve Sheehan. “We applaud Congressman Morelle for taking the fight for Right to Repair to Congress and standing up for farmers, independent repair shops, and consumers nationwide.”

We’re pleased to see Congress taking these problems seriously. In addition to supporting Congressman Morelle’s Fair Repair Act, we urge Congress to pass much-needed reforms to Section 1201 of the Copyright Act, to clarify that circumventing software locks to repair devices is always legal, and to expressly support the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to tackle unfair, deceptive, and anti-competitive repair restrictions.

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For a healthier planet, management must change

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Our environment sustains all life. Both human and wildlife. When habitat degrades, the lives of all that depend on it also deteriorate: poor land = poor people and social breakdown.By Sarah Savory, Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe (like many other countries in arid areas with seasonal rainfall) we are facing the many symptoms and signs of our country’s advancing desertification: ever-increasing droughts, floods, wildfires, poverty, poaching, social breakdown, violence, mass emigration to cities, biodiversity loss and climate change. No economy can survive if we destroy our soil – the only economy that can ultimately sustain any community, or nation, is based on the photosynthetic process — green plants growing on regenerating soil.


So, if we wanted to find out the optimum way to manage our wildlife, people and economy, logically, shouldn’t we be looking at our National Parks for the best examples of what we can do for our environment? Because in national parks, we not only have the best management the world knows, we don’t have any of the issues that are normally blamed for causing desertification: ignorance, greed, corruption, corporations, livestock, coal, oil, etc. Let’s do that now…the following are all photos taken in our national parks (the first 3 were taken in May right after the rainy season when they should still be looking their best!)

As you can see from those photos, some of the worst biodiversity loss and land degradation we have in Zimbabwe is occurring IN our National Parks. But, as I pointed out, those have been run using the best management known to us and have been protected and conserved for decades. We’ve clearly been missing something…

The above 8 pictures are a mixture of National Parks and Communal Land…can you tell which is which?

We are seeing this land degradation both inside and out of our Parks because there is an over-arching and common cause of desertification that nobody has understood, or been able to successfully address, until recently.

We spend our lives blaming resources for causing the damage (coal, oil, livestock, elephants, etc) but resources are natural, so how could they possibly be to blame? Only our management of them can be causing the problem.

ALL tool using animals (including humans) automatically use a genetically embedded management framework…and every single management decision made is in order to meet an objective, a need, or to address a problem. And those decisions are made with exactly the same framework, or thought process and for exactly the same reasons, whether it is an animal or a human.

For example, a hungry otter has an objective: he wants to break open a clamshell because he needs to eat. He uses a simple tool (technology, in the form of a stone) to do so. He does this based on past experience or what he learned from his mother.

Or, the president of the United States has an objective: to put a man on the moon within a decade. He and his team use the same tool (technology, but various and more sophisticated forms of it) and base their choices on past experience, research, expert advice, and so on. It’s the same process, or framework, in both cases, only the degree of sophistication has varied.

A screen shot taken from a short video clip we took with a film crew last month, of 4 different areas, all near to each other: you will clearly see the terrible desertification in both National Parks and nearby Communal Land. In comparison, you will see a vast difference on Dibangombe, the Africa Centre For Holistic Management (our learning centre, which is only 30km from Victoria Falls.) This habitat is being regenerated for all life by simply managing holistically. Every year on this land, despite the worsening droughts, the biodiversity increases and the land and wildlife flourish.
All this footage was taken in the same area, at the same time, with the same climate, the same soils, the same wildlife and the same humans.
But different management.

To this day, this decision making process works just fine for the otter. But imagine that one day, the otter invents a machine that can crack open 1,000 clam shells a day and that all the other otters suddenly stop doing what otters are designed to do and just come to him to get their clams. They still use the decision making process but everything else has changed…that tiny advance in technology would have inadvertently set off a complex chain reaction through the whole ecosystem and there would soon be catastrophic environmental knock-on effects because the balance of the ecosystem has been upset. The ecosystem will keep trying to adjust to this change but eventually it will start to collapse. Imagine the otter started charging for the clams. Now, with every decision the otters make, in order to make sure their ecosystem didn’t collapse, they would need to be simultaneously addressing the social, environmental and economic aspects of their actions. Their management would have to evolve with the change.

This is exactly what happened to humans…As soon as our technology advanced, our management should have evolved to accommodate for it. But it didn’t.

Our natural world is rapidly collapsing all around us and we have ended up constantly chasing our tails and dealing with the symptoms and complications we’ve created. While there have been thousands of books written over the years on different types of management, if you dig a little deeper and ‘peel the onion’ the same genetically embedded framework is still inadvertently being used.

In the last 400 years, our technology has advanced faster than in all of the two hundred thousand or so years of modern human existence. Over those same few centuries, you can now see why the health of our planet has entered a breathtaking decline.  We now have the knowledge to change that…

No matter what we are managing, we cannot ever escape an inevitable web of social, economic and environmental complexity, so, in order to truly address any issue, the people and the finances have to be addressed simultaneously, not just the land itself. Isolating one particular part of the problem, or singling out a species and trying to manage it successfully, is no different from trying to isolate and manage the hydrogen in water.

With this knowledge, the Holistic Management Framework was developed. And, incredibly, it all started here in Zimbabwe, by my father, Allan Savory, an independent Zimbabwean scientist. This new decision making process ensures that no matter what we are managing, we focus on the root cause of any problem. It also makes sure that all our decisions are socially or culturally sound, economically viable and ecologically regenerative by using 7 simple filtering checks. And, it introduces us to a new, biological tool: animal impact and movement, that can be used to help us reverse desertification and regenerate our land and rivers.

This framework has received world-wide acclaim and is now being mirrored in forty three Holistic Management hubs on six continents, including the first university-led hub in the USA.

Now we can begin to understand that most of the problems we are facing in Zimbabwe today are simply symptoms of reductionist management.

Imagine that one day, someone starts to beat you really hard over the head, once a day, every day, with a cricket bat. It really hurts, and instead of trying to take the bat away from them, you just take a dispirin to deal with the headache it’s caused and carry on.

After a week, the pain will be getting much worse and the dispirin will no longer be strong enough, so you’d need a new painkiller. The stopain comes out. After a while, stopain won’t be enough, so you turn to Brufen. And so it goes on. Yet the blows continue.

Eventually, your organs will be struggling from all the medication and you’ll end up in hospital with very serious complications. The best doctors and specialists in the world are called in at great expense and they rush around treating all your worsening, and now life-threatening, symptoms. None of them can understand why you aren’t getting better – they’ve used the best medicines and procedures known. It’s because everyone is so focused on your symptoms, that nobody has looked up and seen the person standing behind you with the cricket bat.

It sounds silly when I put it like that, doesn’t it? But that is exactly what we are doing.

Our planet is in that hospital with life threatening complications, with Governments, Organisations and individuals doing their best, spending millions of dollars, often using expert advice, to find out how to treat the patient, but nobody has realised that they are only treating symptoms. Nobody has noticed the guy standing there with the bat.

The holistic management framework stops the blows to the head. As soon as we do that and the cause is being treated, all the symptoms will automatically begin to heal and fall away.

I am going to show you a screen shot taken from a short video clip we took with a film crew last month, of 4 different areas, all near to each other: you will clearly see the terrible desertification in both National Parks and nearby Communal Land. In comparison, you will see a vast difference on Dibangombe, the Africa Centre For Holistic Management (our learning centre, which is only 30km from Victoria Falls.) This habitat is being regenerated for all life by simply managing holistically. Every year on this land, despite the worsening droughts, the biodiversity increases and the land and wildlife flourish.

All this footage was taken in the same area, at the same time, with the same climate, the same soils, the same wildlife and the same humans.

But different management.

These pictures were taken on the same day on land only 30km apart in February 2018, The 2 photos on the left are Zambezi National Park and the photo on the right is Africa Centre for Holistic Management (Dibangombe)

The great news is that we can turn it all around and we don’t have the thousands of different problems we all think we do. We only have to adjust one thing. Our management.

It’s time for us to evolve from using our outdated, reductionist management framework. We need to adapt to a new way of thinking and  apply this paradigm-shifting decision  making framework so that we can all work together towards regenerating our Zimbabwe.

Culturally. Socially. Economically. Environmentally. For for our people and for our wildlife.

Let’s start by stopping the blows to the head!

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Free to Download Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs

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Fight the Fire

Fight The Fire Book Cover

OUT NOW!

“The most compelling and concise guide to averting climate breakdown.” – Brendan Montague, editor, The Ecologist.

Download Jonathan Neale’s Fight the Fire from The Ecologist for free now.

The Ecologist has published Fight the Fire for free so that it is accessible to all.

We would like to thank our readers for donating £1,000 to cover some of the costs of publishing and promoting this book.

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