For something as seemingly ill-defined as the idea of a Green New Deal for America in the 21st century, it’s surprising that such an idea has become a tangible rallying cry for a community of many millions of environmental advocates and many millions more young people and activists for social and economic justice across the country.
Some of its more visible champions took their place in the U.S. House of Representatives last Thursday. They include New Yorker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and New Mexican Deb Haaland. Some Green New Dealers describe themselves as democratic socialists. Some were supporters of Bernie Sanders in the last presidential election. All have a hardcore environmental agenda.
The virtue of the Green New Deal as a catalyzer of political action is that it doesn’t revolve around a cult of personality. From what I can tell it is also overwhelmingly anti-centrist — centrism being the great curse bequeathed to Democrats in large measure by the Clinton years.
On the spectrum of the American “left,” the Green New Deal is both driven by climate change and conservation science and by the pursuit of fairness and equality without nationalism or a theory of history. The New Deal part of the movement is very like the Scandinavian version of social justice — emphasizing public services, public health, public education, public works, decent wages and a serious struggle against poverty. In Europe, it would be seen as an evolutionary movement, a counter to revolutionary theory. In the United States, combined with hard-line conservation and anti-pollution politics, it could well be a revolutionary start at remaking American capitalism without resorting to violence in the streets. It might even bring back to life the notion of an “economics as if people mattered” to quote E.F. Schumacher in his book “Small is Beautiful.”
A Green New Deal is a catalyzing idea precisely because its boundaries are firmly in place, but its details are still part of a creative legislative process. The “Green” of it has a chance to evolve legislation already in place — the clean air and water acts, the EPA, the many laws authorizing federal clean up of industrial pollution known as the Superfund act and federal subsidies for renewable energy replacing subsidies for the trillionaire fossil fuel industry.
The New Deal part of it could become more Trumanesque than Rooseveltian. In his 1945 State of the Union address, President Harry Truman laid out his soon-to-be-famous, and ultimately forgotten, 21 Point Program that he called the Fair Deal.
The Fair Deal was aimed at furthering social justice and shoring up a welfare safety net as well as infusing the economy with federal public works jobs. It proposed to beef up small business assistance, including a strengthening of the unemployment compensation program, a sizable boost in the minimum wage, more federal money for veterans, a natural resource conservation effort, legislation to guarantee full employment, a revision of the tax code, demobilization of the armed forces, price controls to keep the cost of living in check and increased aid to farmers.
A Green version of Truman’s Fair Deal could combine work programs modeled after the New Deal Civilian Conservation Core (CCC), hiring tens of thousands of people, if not many more, to rejuvenate America’s highways, roads, bridges, dams and other water works with an employment infrastructure of conservation and water workers. It could also mobilize a workforce of students in engineering, geology, hydrology, computer science, anthropology, remediation technology and public health to help plan for an all-out assault on the causes of climate change in this country and the remedies needed to stop it.
The Green New Deal represents, of course, everything the Republican Party, Tea Party types, Trumpians, climate change deniers, conservative think tanks, fossil fuel corporations and their allies and even many centrist Democrats are dead-set against. Their intransigence has brought us to the brink of climate change catastrophe. But the time has come, and the old way is going away fast. The pendulum seems to have swung as far right as it’s going to get — we pray — and appears to be turning left again.
What would a Green New Deal mean to New Mexicans? It could see a burgeoning of a new workforce in renewable energy. It could see a massive flow of federal dollars aimed at cleaning up dirty groundwater across the state, aquifers polluted by fracking, by military spills, by leaking underground gasoline tanks, legacy industrial and R and D waste in groundwater, mining waste and old contamination events when vacant land all around towns and cities were used as “landfills.” Federal environmental dollars could spur efforts to clean up pollution on tribal lands as well.
Federal money could underpin a sustained research effort carried out by the state’s colleges and universities to assess exactly how much pollution is threatening our air and groundwater and supply the knowledge base needed for a pragmatic and efficient clean up effort.
In fact, a Green New Deal is exactly what New Mexico and other rock-bottom-poor states need to create conditions in which they can wean themselves off tax revenue from polluting industries and find green sources of funding for state subsidized education and safety net programs.
Like everything else in the political universe, the Green New Deal will be, almost as a matter of form, blindsided by out-of-the-blue developments, the devious ploys of those who make their billions from crushing the poor, disenfranchising the harried and overworked and exploiting and degrading the environment. But we can still hope that the Green New Deal is, for them, a karmic retribution, and, for us, a powerful fresh steed we can ride into the endless battles for social and economic justice and an environment that brings us health rather than slowly kills us off with cancers and other illnesses that arise from decades of loathsome befoulments.
*Nullius in verba: take nobody’s word for it