Globalist Analysis

The Green New Deal as a Transatlantic Challenge (Part I)

How can we transition to greener and cleaner transatlantic economies?

Read Part II here.

Takeaways


  • It is the job of environmentalists to save the economic order — by reinventing it the green way. Humanity has to cope with the necessity of living sustainably.
  • Just one cost of inaction can be found in the $200 billion it would cost just to provide enough water for the western United States by 2020.
  • The Green New Deal obviously alludes to President Roosevelt's New Deal. And this is for good reason. Notwithstanding all the changes since, there is an obvious parallel.
  • What I am advocating is a new Industrial Revolution, a transformation of the industrial metabolism, the development of an environmental civilization.

Let me start with a disclaimer. The slogan “Green New Deal” is not a Green Party invention. The Green New Deal is not a Green Party pet project — even though we Greens probably are among the most enthusiastic supporters of such a policy.

The Green New Deal is a national and international strategy that signals a basic paradigm shift for industrialized as well as developing countries.

Green thinking, which has long been ridiculed, is going mainstream. The narrative not only of progressive politics, but of any political strategy that refuses to allow the dictatorship of the present and past over the future, will be green.

By advocating broad green investment and innovation, the Green New Deal proposes an immediate answer to the present global economic crisis — as well as a longer-term answer to the even more fundamental crisis that has come to be known as global warming.

The alliance of supporters of the Green New Deal is indeed impressive. It comprises UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Achim Steiner from the United Nations Environment Program, the Korean government, John Podesta’s Center for American Progress (and Van Jones, the new Green Jobs advisor to President Obama). In addition, it includes many political and academic leaders, as well as some business leaders in Europe.

Without using the phrase Green New Deal, California’s governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and President Obama have also advocated such a strategy.

In his inaugural address in January, President Obama argued that we lack the time to tackle individually the multiple crises that have recently come to the fore. He laid out a more ambitious approach — to respond to crises in a way that solves multiple issues at once.

For example, we have to give one common answer to the economic crisis and the hunger crisis in poor countries (more than one billion people are currently suffering from hunger, the highest number in history) — and the climate crisis, which is increasingly becoming intertwined with many international security challenges.

The need for a new development strategy has even hit home with the OECD, which has been obliged by its members to come up with a concept for environmentally friendly growth by next year. I believe this answer can be, and should be, a Global Green New Deal.

The Green New Deal obviously alludes to President Roosevelt’s New Deal. And this is for good reason. Notwithstanding all the changes since, there is an obvious parallel. As was the case then, today we are not only confronted with a deep economic disaster, we are also challenged to fundamentally change our mode of production and consumption.

The challenge to our economic system (and, by extension, our lifestyle) doesn’t arise from forces beyond it. Rather, it is flaws in our economic and political system — plus a lack of sustainability in our lifestyles — that have led to a situation in which capitalism is in fact in danger of committing suicide.

It is now the job of environmentalists to save the economic order by reinventing it the green way. Humanity has to cope with the necessity of living sustainably.

What I am advocating is a new Industrial Revolution, a transformation of the industrial metabolism, the development of an environmental civilization.

The basis for this tremendous change has to be laid through an industrial policy that revolutionizes our energy consumption by going for ambitious eco-innovation with the clear goal of building low-carbon economies. To specify one of our goals, it’s definitely possible for the EU to go 100% renewable before 2050.

But what if humanity fails to embrace such a far-reaching alternative to the status quo? Well, if we let climate change get out of control — and we are in fact close to that point — we will cause disasters of unknown dimensions.

Nick Stern, the former chief economist of the World Bank, calculated in his 2006 review that the cost of unmitigated climate change could run up to 20% of global GDP.

More recently, in June of this year, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, while noting that “climate change impacts appear to be increasing faster than previous assessments had suggested,” predicted a 90% chance that unmitigated climate change would force up to three billion people to choose between starvation and moving to milder climates within the next 100 years.

If that’s too gloomy for you, what about the $200 billion it would cost just to provide enough water for the western United States by 2020? What about the imminent security risks from competition over dwindling resources, diminishing water supplies and a growing scarcity of arable land?

Nature has given us a limited CO2 credit. We’re exhausting it fast. We are in fact close to CO2 insolvency. And once we’re there, there will be no respite. The atmosphere will not grant one.

In order to avoid such chaos, we will have to meet three clear goals:

  • By 2050, global CO2 emissions have to drop to 50% of what they were in 1990.
  • Industrialized countries have to reduce their emissions by 80-95% by 2050.
  • Global CO2 emissions must peak by 2015.

    That obviously is a tall order, but not an impossible one.

    Obviously, this perspective is not universally shared. For example, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi argues that the world can’t afford to focus on mitigating climate change in a time of economic crisis. At the G8 summit in Italy recently, he sardonically quipped that talking about CO2 emissions in times of economic crisis was like concentrating on your permed hair style when you’re suffering from pneumonia.

    This sort of attitude demonstrates an important misunderstanding.

    Yes, as President Roosevelt did during the New Deal, we have to focus on jobs, re-regulate markets and fight poverty.

    But opting for a Green New Deal will help us to do just that. In other words, saving the planet will help us rebuild our economies.

    Editor’s Note: Part II of this feature will be published on The Globalist tomorrow.

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