As the 51st Earth Day approaches, and as President Joe Biden prepares for an upcoming International Earth Day summit, the Green Party of the United States reminds the public that it, not the Democratic Party, introduced the Green New Deal. It, not the Democratic Party, appreciates the magnitude of the climate change crisis. And, with the “Earth Day to May Day” campaign, it recognizes that the current capitalist scenario is insufficient to fully deal with the problems that a Green New Deal has been designed to address.
I don’t necessarily agree with every point late in the post, but, the old, original Earth Day ideas of “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” have indeed faded away, at least the first two.
Below is Green Party information about the Earth Day to May Day campaign and the Green New Deal.
The Green Party of the United States said that President Biden at his upcoming international Earth Day summit should commit the U.S. to a 100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. It also wants the President to formally declare a climate emergency, embrace a robust carbon tax, and increase U.S. funding for the climate mitigation fund for developing countries and Global South.
“We know how to do it. What we lack are politicians willing to stand up to the political power and campaign donations of the fossil fuel industry,” said Mark Dunlea, co-chair of the Green Party’s EcoAction Committee.
Green Party members are helping to organize events from Earth Day to May Day to highlight the urgent need for climate change, and to make the connection to the need for overall system change including environmental justice, labor rights and grassroots democracy.
The Greens, who started calling for an ecosocialist Green New Deal in the U.S. in 2010, recently called for Congress to pass a $4.1 trillion a year (for 10 years) green economic stimulus to create 30 million jobs and accelerate the transition to 100% renewable energy from all sources by 2030. Biden is reportedly considering a one-time, $3 trillion green infrastructure stimulus, though only about $400 billion for direct climate measures.
“At the world’s present rate of greenhouse gas emissions, we have 7 years left before we deplete our carbon budget if we want to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees C. The U.S. needs to declare a climate emergency to launch an all-out mobilization of our nation’s resources to give generations to come a chance for a decent future,” said Dunlea.
“Who led the industrial polluters to fight the rest of the world in Paris, five years ago, against lowering the climate target from 2 degrees C to 1.5 degrees? The United States, under Obama, Kerry and Gore. And the U.S. defeated requiring countries to set firm emission reductions,” said Green Party National Co-Chair Trahern Crews.
“It is time to repeal the powers that Bill Clinton gave to the World Trade Organization to support corporate globalization. We must strip corporations of the power to veto national laws, especially those dealing with the environment and fair trade. We need the world to impose sanctions on any company and country that fails to take effective action to curb global warming,” said Hillary Kane, who serves on the Green Party’s Steering Committee.
The Global Greens are mobilizing Green Parties worldwide to win their agenda at the “last chance” COP26 meeting in Glasgow in November; many Green Party members will be voting delegates representing their respective countries.
In addition to mandatory greenhouse gas emission cuts, the Green Party supports imposing financial penalties on polluters with a robust carbon fee (not cap-and-trade or carbon offsets) combined with a significant dividend to low- and middle-income households to offset the regressive nature of any energy tax. The International Monetary Fund estimates that worldwide fossil fuel companies receive more than $5 trillion annually in subsidies, primarily due to governments failing to make them pay for the damages caused by their emissions.
The Green Party promotes public and worker ownership of the energy system. It supports democratic planning of the economy to focus on the public good rather than maximizing private wealth.
“The U.S. and the rest of the world must act immediately to address the climate emergency. We must halt fracking for oil and gas and new fossil fuel infrastructure, including gas and oil pipelines and gas-fired power plants. Climate recovery requires a ten-year plan to phase out fossil fuels as we phase in clean renewables. We must replace fossil fuels to heat buildings with heat pumps powered by clean electricity. We must reject false climate solutions, including carbon capture, biomass, natural gas, and nuclear power, while embracing natural means to draw carbon out of the atmosphere and into the biosphere with regenerative agriculture and reforestation,” said Howie Hawkins, the 2020 Green Party presidential candidate and the first candidate to campaign for a Green New Deal in the United States, in 2010.
The Greens are also calling for Biden to formally declare a climate emergency and to invest an additional $1.4 trillion annually to implement an Economic Bill of Rights. The numbers are based on several studies commissioned during the 2020 Green Party presidential campaign of Howie Hawkins.
The Democrats are expected to propose a $2 trillion green economic stimulus package later this month based on the THRIVE resolution co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and others.
“The recent COVID relief package should have been stronger, starting with at least the promised $2,000 checks and a $15 an hour minimum wage. Congress should also have finally made quality healthcare a right for all Americans with an expanded and improved Medicare for All program. The next step is to reboot our economy, invest in clean air and water, and create 30 million-plus new living wage jobs while addressing the climate crisis — which poses an existential threat to the future of humanity,” said Green Party National Co-Chair Gloria Mattera.
The Green Party said the green infrastructure proposal should focus on public ownership and democratic control — rather than private profit — since the capitalist system and reliance on market forces created the climate crisis. It should also avoid funding for false climate solutions such as carbon capture, “renewable” gas, biomass and nuclear.
“The federal government should plan and manage the construction of publicly owned energy systems and manufacturing, coordinating the transformation of our manufacturing, agricultural, and transportation systems for environmental sustainability. Unlike the nationalized arms production sector in World War II, which was turned over after the war to the wealthy and their giant corporations, the public enterprises created in this program must remain under social ownership as public utilities and community worker cooperatives for the benefit of all of the people,” said Howie Hawkins, the 2020 Green Party candidate for President.
Greens advocate a massive investment and rapid expansion of clean, renewable energy such as solar, wind (including offshore), geothermal, battery storage as well as conservation by targeting the funds to municipal utilities, rural electric cooperatives, and community and worker-owned companies. Greens said that public ownership would help ensure community residents get to determine the siting for such large-scale projects, speeding up the construction process. Greens also support public ownership in the manufacturing sector to rapidly convert all production systems to clean energy.
The Green Party would also provide funding for rural electric cooperatives to move to renewable energy and shut down their fossil fuel plants. These cooperatives, part of the original New Deal, serve 42 million people across 56 percent of the country.
“The climate action program needs to be based on a Just Transition. At least 40% of the funds must go to the communities most harmed by pollution and climate change. We need to guarantee wages and jobs for workers and communities presently dependent on fossil fuels, ensuring all Americans prosper from the green transformation,” said Green Party National Co-Chair Tamar Yager. Greens called to strengthen the rights and pay of workers, starting with enacting the PRO Act.
The Green Party said it supported Senator Schumer’s proposal to require all new cars to be emissions-free by 2030 (and all vehicles by 2040) but would expand it to include all vehicles by 2030. The Greens would also make it a priority to invest in mass transit nationwide, including buses and light rail to reach outside of urban areas. Green leaders said that the stimulus package should enable all existing public buses and government vehicles to run on 100% electricity. It would also provide funding to immediately convert all public buildings in the US to renewable energy.
“Congress needs to mandate rapid reductions in emissions, including phasing out existing fossil fuel uses in the next decade. Conservation remains the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions and lower energy costs. We need a massive investment in energy retrofits of residences and other buildings. We need to fund the replacement of heating and cooling via natural gas and oil with geothermal energy and air heat pumps,” added Mark Dunlea, Co-Chair of the EcoAction Committee of the Green Party.
The Green Party would pay for the stimulus through higher taxes on the wealthy (and cracking down on their tax evasion), at least a 50% cut in the Pentagon budget, a robust carbon tax and borrowing. The program will cover its costs, including borrowed funds, over time out of revenues from public enterprises, including public power fees, public transit fares, and public housing rents.
The Green New Deal
The Green New Deal will convert the old, gray economy into a new, sustainable economy that is environmentally sound, economically viable and socially responsible. It seeks to solve the climate crisis by combining quick action to get to net- zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100% renewable energy by 2030 along with an “Economic Bill of Rights” – the right to single-payer healthcare, a guaranteed job at a living wage, affordable housing and free college education.
European Greens were among those calling for a Green New Deal in 2006 in response to the global financial crisis. In addition to a call for both climate action and a bill of economic rights, the approach by the European Greens sought to democratize the world’s financial system. In New York State, Howie Hawkins promoted a Green New Deal in his 2010 Green Party run for Governor – an issue focus that subsequently was picked up by Jill Stein in her 2012 Presidential campaign and by many other Green Party candidates across the United States.
The national Green Party platform calls for the following:
- Enact an emergency Green New Deal to turn the tide on climate change, revive the economy and make wars for oil obsolete. Initiate a WWII-scale national mobilization to halt climate change, the greatest threat to humanity in our history. Create 20 million jobs by transitioning to 100% clean renewable energy by 2030, and investing in public transit, sustainable (regenerative) agriculture, conservation and restoration of critical infrastructure, including ecosystems.
- Implement a Just Transition that empowers those communities and workers most impacted by climate change and the transition to a green economy. Ensure that any worker displaced by the shift away from fossil fuels will receive full income and benefits as they transition to alternative work.
- Enact energy democracy based on public, community and worker ownership of our energy system. Treat energy as a human right.
- Redirect research funds from fossil fuels into renewable energy and conservation. Build a nationwide smart electricity grid that can pool and store power from a diversity of renewable sources, giving the nation clean, democratically-controlled, energy.
- End destructive energy extraction and associated infrastructure: fracking, tar sands, offshore drilling, oil trains, mountaintop removal, natural gas pipelines, and uranium mines. Halt any investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, including natural gas, and phase out all fossil fuel power plants. Phase out nuclear power and end nuclear subsidies. End all subsidies for fossil fuels and impose a greenhouse gas fee/tax to charge polluters for the damage they have created.”
Meet the Green New Deal
The Green New Deal starts with a WWII-type mobilization to address the grave threat posed by climate change, transitioning our country to 100% clean energy by 2030. Clean energy does not include natural gas, biomass, nuclear power or the oxymoron “clean coal.”
The implementation of the Green New Deal will revive the economy, turn the tide on climate change and make wars for oil obsolete. This latter result, in turn, enables a 50% cut in the military budget, since maintaining bases all over the world to safeguard fossil fuel supplies and routes of transportation could no longer be justified. That military savings of several hundred billion dollars per year would go a very long way toward creating green jobs at home.
On top of that, the Green New Deal largely pays for itself in healthcare savings from the prevention of fossil fuel-related diseases, including asthma, heart attacks, strokes and cancer.
Moving to 100% clean energy means many more jobs, a healthier environment and far lower electric costs compared to continued reliance upon fossil fuels. Studies have shown that the technology already exists to achieve 100% clean energy by 2030. And we can speed up the transition by making polluters pay for the damage they’ve caused, starting with a robust carbon fee program.
The Green New Deal is not only a major step towards ending unemployment for good, but also a tool to fight the corporate takeover of our democracy and exploitation of the poor and people of color. Our transition to 100% clean energy will be based on community, worker and public ownership and democratic control of our energy system, rather than maximizing profits for energy corporations, banks and hedge funds.
We need to treat clean energy as a human right and a common good. We also need a just transition to provide resources to the low-income communities and communities of color most impacted by climate change.
The Green New Deal will provide assistance to workers and local communities that now have workers employed in the fossil fuel industry and to the developing world as it responds to climate-change damage caused by the industrial world.
What the Green New Deal Will Do
Right now, our federal government subsidizes the rich agribusiness corporations and the oil, mining, nuclear, coal and timber giants at the expense of small farmers, small business and our children’s environment. We spend tens of billions every year moving our economy in the wrong direction. The Green New Deal will instead redirect that money to the real job creators who make our communities healthier, sustainable and secure at the same time.
With the passage and implementation of this program, We the People will:
- Invest in green business by providing grants and low-interest loans to grow green businesses and cooperatives, with an emphasis on small, locally based companies that keep the wealth created by local labor circulating in the community rather than being drained off to enrich absentee investors.
- Move to 100% clean energy by 2030: Prioritizing green research by redirecting research funds from fossil fuels and other dead-end industries toward research in wind, solar and geothermal. we will invest in research in sustainable, nontoxic materials and closed-loop cycles that eliminate waste and pollution, as well as organic agriculture, permaculture and sustainable forestry.
- Provide green jobs by enacting the Full-Employment Program, which will directly provide 16 million jobs in sustainable energy and energy-efficiency retrofitting, mass transit and “complete streets” that promote safe bike and pedestrian traffic, regional food systems based on sustainable organic agriculture and clean manufacturing.
The Green New Deal includes an Economic Bill of Rights, which ensures all citizens the right to employment through a Full-Employment Program that will create 20 million jobs by implementing a nationally funded, but locally controlled direct-employment initiative. We will replace unemployment offices with local employment offices offering public sector jobs that are “stored” in job banks in order to take up any slack in private sector employment.
100% Clean Energy by 2030
The centerpiece of the Green New Deal is a transition to 100% clean energy by 2030.
The climate crisis is a serious threat to the survival of humanity and life on Earth. To prevent catastrophe, we need a WWII-scale mobilization transitioning our country and the world to a sustainable economy with 100% clean, renewable energy, public transit, sustainable agriculture and conservation.
Already, tens of millions of people have been turned into climate refugees while hundreds of thousands die annually from air pollution, heat waves, drought-based food shortages, epidemics, storms and other lethal impacts of climate change and reliance on fossil fuels. And as climate change worsens across the globe, wars fought over access to food, water and land will become commonplace.
Historically, talks aimed at stopping global warming have centered on the goal of staying below a 2 degrees Celsius rise in average temperature. The major “victory” at COP 21 in Paris was that the industrial polluting nations such as the United States agreed with the rest of the world that the existing global warming-cap target of 2°C would lead to catastrophic change.
The recent report by the International Panel on Climate Change warned that the world needs to keep the increase in global warming below 1.5°C and said we had 12 years to take dramatic worldwide action. Timing is running out for such action. The Green New Deal may be our last, best hope.
The Fake Green New Deal
The ecosocialist Green New Deal proposed by the Green Party’s 2020 presidential candidate, Howie Hawkins, is a 10-year, $27.5 trillion a program to achieve zero-to-negation carbon emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030. It also includes an additional $1.4 trillion a year for an Economic Bill of Rights to a guaranteed job, a guaranteed income above poverty, affordable housing, Medicare for All, lifelong tuition-free public education, and a secure retirement by doubling Social Security benefits.
This ecosocialist approach features extensive public ownership and planning, particularly in the energy, transportation, and manufacturing sectors, in order to achieve its goals in a decade. To support the conversion of industrialized, pesticide-dependent corporate agriculture to organic farms owned by working farmers that rebuild carbon-capturing living soils, the ecosocialist Green New Deal provides income guarantees, parity pricing and supply management for all agricultural products in order to ensure that working farmers and farmworkers have decent incomes and economic security.
The ecosocialist approach recognizes that capitalism’s destruction of the climate and exploitation of people are part of the same process. It recognizes that in order to harmonize society with nature we must harmonize human with human by ending economic exploitation and all forms of oppression. It calls for an ecosocialist economic democracy that meets the basic needs of all within ecological limits. In the World War II emergency, the federal government took over a quarter of the nation’s manufacturing capacity in order to turn industry on a dime into the Arsenal of Democracy to arm the Allied powers to defeat the fascist imperialists of the Axis powers. We need to do nothing less through the public sector to defeat climate chaos.
What follows is the back story about how the Democrats took the Green New Deal slogan and diluted its content down to nothing serious. We have had a ringside view of these developments. Jon Rynn’s 2010 book, Manufacturing Green Prosperity, makes the case for public enterprise and planning to rebuild our economy’s infrastructure and particularly its manufacturing base around clean energy and environmental sustainability. That book and subsequent writing and consulting with Greens has played a big role in shaping the ecosocialist Green New Deal that the Hawkins campaign is proposing. As an advisor to both the Hawkins and Stein campaigns, climate activist Mark Dunlea helped formulate their Green New Deal policies over the last decade.
On November 13, 2018, the newly elected congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) , along with members of the Sunrise Movement, occupied Pelosi’s office to demand the implementation of a Green New Deal (GND). AOC had advocated for a GND in her shocking victorious primary campaign, and now the idea looked to take off and change the political landscape. Journalists and politicians, who had been skeptical of anything bold when it came to climate change, rushed to proclaim the clear logic and necessity of the as-yet not-well-defined program. Seemingly overnight, interest in climate change increased greatly, because something happened that no one had considered: when you offer a solution that actually could work, and a solution that would help the average American, the problem and solution gains the attention of the public. Otherwise, if everything is hopeless, why bother? With the GND, it seemed, there was now some hope.
But everything went downhill from there. Speaker Pelosi rejected the demand of the Sunrise Movement for a Select Committee on a Green New Deal that could put legislation on the floor of the House. Derisively dismissing the Green New Deal as “the green dream or whatever they call it,” Pelosi set up her own Select Committee on Climate Crisis, chaired by moderate Pelosi foot-soldier Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) and modeled after a previous select committee on climate Pelosi set up when the Democrats controlled the House from 2007 to 2011. That committee and the Democratic House passed no significant climate legislation. The new climate committee is not empowered to put legislation on the House floor. All such legislation would have to go through the Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Frank Pallone (D-NJ), a fossil fuels friendly politician who defends campaign funding from that industry.
As a fall back position, AOC teamed up with Senator Markey from Massachusetts to submit a Non-Binding Resolution for a Green New Deal, but their GND was just a set of goals. It was the design requirements for a program, laying out the targets of the plan, without explaining how the plan would actually achieve what it hoped to achieve. If the public was excited about the GND because they thought that a real solution was now ready, the rollout of a nonsolution threatened to torpedo the GND entirely.
AOC’s campaign manager in 2018, Vigie Ramos, had been the campaign manager for Jabari Brisport, a Green and Socialist fusion candidate in 2017, who ran on the New York Green Party’s Green New Deal program. When the Green New Deal went viral in the media after the sit-in in Pelosi’s office, Sunrise and AOC not only didn’t give the Green Party any props, they rebuffed Green offers to work in coalition for a real Green New Deal. What really angers Greens now is not so much the lack of credit or solidarity in the fight for climate action, but the dilution of the Green New Deal in the hands of the Democrats.
The nonbinding GND resolution dropped the key demand for a ban on fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure. If we don’t stop the build-out of pipelines and power plants for fracked gas and for oil for the transportation sector, we will be locked into decades more fossil fuel burning and a cooked planet. They dropped the phase-out of nuclear power, a dirty, dangerous, and uneconomical energy dead-end. The cost of nuclear power is two to three times higher than every form of solar and wind power. Yet AOC and Biden want to build more nukes as part of their climate policy. The nonbinding resolution also left out the demand for deep cuts in military spending with the savings going into the Green New Deal. And the bottom line goal, zero greenhouse gas emissions, was extended from 2030 to 2050. The carbon budgets of climate science indicate that rich countries like the US need to zero out emissions by 2030 if the world is to have a chance of reducing atmospheric carbon below the 350 parts per million standard that climate scientist James Hansen as the upper limit of a safe climate zone and 350.org’s Bill McKibben popularized. But the non-binding resolution gave politicians a 30-year instead of 10-year goal for zero emissions, which is permission to politicians to wait and kick the can down the road.
Then the Democrats didn’t even support the diluted, non-binding GND resolution in Congress. Pelosi has never let the House vote on it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided to call for a vote in the Senate to put the many Senate Democrats running for president on the record. Markey and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called McConnell’s move a “trick” and advised Democratic Senators to vote “present.” All the Democratic Senators followed that order, except for the four Democrats who voted “no” with the Republicans.
Meanwhile, AOC outsourced the details of the plan, the actual solution, to a group of intelligent and well-intentioned people who had no experience in the subject matters that are at the heart of the GND. The New Consensus think tank had recently been formed by a couple of people who had worked for President Obama and Michelle Obama. The policy director, Rhianna Gunn-Wright, was anointed as the ‘Green New Deal architect’ by David Roberts, environmental writer for Vox.com (and Jon Rynn’s editor when they were both writing for Grist.org circa 2007). She was interviewed by many media outlets, as was the head of New Consensus, and we were assured that their plan would be rolled out by January – 2020. To make a long story short, nothing ever emerged and Gunn-Wright would move on to the Roosevelt Institute, but in the meantime there was no explanation about how they were proceeding, who they were talking to, and what exactly they thought should be done. The best we can come up with, after reading many interviews, is that the government should be ‘at the table’, along with corporations. There was a great deal of verbiage about helping ‘frontline communities’, which seemed to mainly mean communities of color, which have been ravaged by environmental degradation. There were also kind words for a ‘just transition’ for fossil fuel workers who could lose their jobs But there was nothing concrete about how any of these goals might be reached, except to include people in the ‘process’. Hawkins’ ecosocialist Green New Deal calls for maintaining the wages and benefits of workers displaced by the energy transition as well as by peace conversion of much of the military/industrial complex to the production of civilian goods. It also calls for federal aid to communities whose tax bases suffer from the transition. This ecosocialist Green New Deal projects the creation of 38 million new jobs, which means the transition to alternative work will be swift as well as just.
With this enormous policy vacuum having been created, and a Presidential campaign heating up, Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington and a presidential hopeful, unveiled his climate plan – although he didn’t call it a Green New Deal. No matter, Dave Roberts came to the rescue and declared that this was the GND in all but name. The only problem is, this was no Green New Deal.
What excited the public about the GND in the first place was the idea that the federal government would directly employ millions of people to create all the necessary infrastructure to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by building the various energy and other networks that are necessary. This is what the original New Deal was all about, in addition to several foundational social welfare policies, like Social Security and basic labor laws. Through agencies such as the WPA, PWA and CCC, the federal government directly employed millions of people and built much of the infrastructure that powered the postwar recovery and that we still use today. But the Democratic Party has moved so far to the right that even its progressive wing cannot fathom the ideas that were taken for granted almost 100 years ago in this country – the concept that the government should build things, not the corporations that got us into this mess in the first place. ….
It is now obvious that the Democrats are not going to enact a Green New Deal. ….
What excited the public about the GND in the first place was the idea that the federal government would directly employ millions of people to create all the necessary infrastructure to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by building the various energy and other networks that are necessary. This is what the original New Deal was all about, in addition to several foundational social welfare policies, like Social Security and basic labor laws. Through agencies such as the WPA, PWA and CCC, the federal government directly employed millions of people and built much of the infrastructure that powered the postwar recovery and that we still use today. But the Democratic Party has moved so far to the right that even its progressive wing cannot fathom the ideas that were taken for granted almost 100 years ago in this country – the concept that the government should build things, not the corporations that got us into this mess in the first place. ….
The Democratic caucus in the House and the Biden campaign put out climate plans that are completely inadequate and continue the path blazed by Inslee – including a mind-numbing number of wonky, incremental proposals. Inslee had bragged that his proposal was 35 pages long – composed of flaming oratory about the revolutionary nature of each proposal, followed by prose that only someone with a masters degree in public administration could appreciate.
Joe Biden’s plan continues the basic trend. For instance, “Biden’s climate and environmental justice proposal will make a federal investment of $1.7 trillion over the next ten years, leveraging additional private sector and state and local investments to total to more than $5 trillion.” The plan later was upgraded to $2 trillion over, presumably over 4 years, but as of now, there appears to be no publicly available breakdown of how much is being spent or what incentives are being offered. There is talk of upgrading infrastructure, somehow retrofitting housing, and somehow encouraging the use of electric vehicles, as well as using Federal procurement to encourage renewable energy. It seems that the goal of decarbonizing the electrical sector will be made with tax incentives. Unfortunately biofuels are to be encouraged, the promotion of carbon capture and sequestration is a way of supporting fracking for gas and oil without openly saying so, and the failed nuclear power plants of the corrupt investor-owned utilities are to be revived with public subsidies. One of the few concrete goals that came out of the joint Sanders/Biden climate policy committee is to retrofit 2 million homes for energy efficiency in five years. With about 100 million homes in the US, at that rate it will take 300 years to retrofit all US homes. …
David Roberts recently wrote up a master summary of the various efforts going on now in progressive circles to come to some kind of consensus about a Green New Deal climate, and the various reports embedded in his survey exhibit the same tendencies towards expansive, high-minded goals accompanied by little in the way of implementation. Another recent description by Roberts, called Rewiring America, at least involves some hard numbers on what would be required to decarbonize the economy. For some reason the author includes nuclear power and biomass in his calculations, and those two technologies continue to receive attention completely out of proportion to any possible help they would provide in fighting climate change, never mind their disqualifying side effects. But even though the Rewiring America authors realize that in order to fulfill the needed goals we need a World War II-style public sector mobilization, the plan still relies on incentivizing the market. It’s as if, after Pearl Harbor, FDR had proposed changing the tax code.
The bankruptcy of these policy proposals – one would hardly call them plans – is made very clear whenever the example of WWII is brought up. If there is one period in US history when the Federal government engaged in central planning for production and massive expenditures, it was WWII. Through the Office of War Mobilization and then the War Production Board, federal government took over and planed production for a quarter of US manufacturing capacity to produce the arms and supplies needed to win the war. And yet, somehow these authors are able to discuss the idea of a mobilization without considering this simple fact. This is how far the neoliberal consensus has blinded even those on the progressive side of the spectrum – it is simply unthinkable that we could elect a government that would do what was done in the 1930s and 1940s.
The biggest reason that the Green New Deal has fallen as a beacon of hope for the grassroots is that the very people who would not even consider the idea of the federal government directly spending trillions to recreate our public works are the ones who were then called upon to pontificate and formulate the Green New Deal. For decades, the only acceptable policy discourse has been one that recognizes the efficiency of the private enterprise, and if there are inefficiencies, those are to be ‘solved’ with tax incentives and regulations – these are what pass for government economic policy. Directly building things, as was done in the New Deal, has been completely off the table. Bogged down in wonky neoliberal policy proposals, they couldn’t see the forest for the trees. …
The climate justice movement should stop setting itself up to be taken for granted by a Biden administration by settling now for his lesser evil climate policies. Being merely the lesser evil to Donald Trump on climate is an extremely low bar. The movement should heed the advice of the late historian and civil rights and peace activist, Howard Zinn:
When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them….Whatever politicians may do, let them first feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not for what is winnable….
Climate change solutions will require a government-led, coordinated effort of building multiple national systems simultaneously that are designed to work together: they must be planned by the government. Fascism again stalks the world, exemplified by the current president, and the left must offer an alternative. There was a politically independent left in the 1930s whose votes FDR could not take for granted. He had to adopt some of their proposals to compete for those votes.
The resulting New Deal was an experience of positive government action that still appeals to people from all parts of the society. Nuclear weapons and the means of war are still threatening life on the planet. The economy has become horribly skewed and unequal, and only the government can provide the jobs that will rebalance power between rulers and the ruled and create a truly just society. Trump famously declared that ‘only I can fix it’. We have to get past the 19th century idea that ‘only the market can fix it’. Only a democratically elected government that represents the citizens of a country can truly fix ‘it’, the multiple ecological, economic, and political crises of the 21st century.
Dammed good question about the Green New Deal
Hydroelectric power from dams might be the thorniest question that proponents of the Green New Deal (GND) have to grapple with. Providing more energy than solar and wind combined, dams could well become the backup for energy if it proves impossible to get off of fossil fuels fast enough.
An August 2019 forum on the GND included representatives from the Sunrise Movement, Renew Missouri and three of us in the Green Party. Rev. Elston McCowan asked, “What does the Green New Deal say about rivers and dams?” I said “That’s a dammed good question” and went into some of the issues below. Howie Hawkins and Dario Hunter, both candidates for the Green Party presidential nomination, told of their participation in local efforts to block dam construction. But trying to defeat a single dam begs the question of what policy a political organization has toward them.
GND proposals from the Democratic Party, like those of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, ignore both nuclear power and dams. Yet dams have ominous implications for the world’s rivers.
Rivers and lakes are an integral part of human existence, with virtually all major inland cities being located next to one of them. They provide water for drinking, bathing, food, and medicine. Their sustenance is not just for humans but for untold numbers of tiny organisms, insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals. Rivers integrate plant and animal life forms and connect human communities to each other.
As capitalism grew, rivers transported huge quantities of lumber from clear cuts, oil from under the ground and coal ripped from mountains. Rivers have been used for trash disposal, as if carrying it somewhere else would make it vanish. Nor can rivers make industrial and agricultural poisons disappear but can only carry them until they create huge dead zones. Victors of battles have let rivers float human bodies to remind those living downstream of their military prowess.
The advent of electricity meant that those seeking to dominate nature found an extraordinary tool at their disposal – hydro-electric power from dams. There are 57,000 large dams in the world and more could be on the way. Thus, it is important that GND advocates clarify whether they support building more dams or endorse a moratorium on their construction.
Dams were an integral part of economic expansion under Franklin Roosevelt’s original New Deal. Building new dams continued past FDR, providing about a third of US electrical power in the 1950s. That has declined in the twenty-first century, mainly because of expanded fossil fuel use. The greatest wave of global dam-building has been since World War II and 80% of their current use is for hydro-power. Dams have fragmented over two-thirds of long rivers.
One of the most infamous is Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River. Planned in 1975, it would be the second largest dam system in Brazil and the fourth largest in the world; but opposition stalled it. It was revived during the presidency of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and tension over its construction mounted under Dilma Rousseff’s government. In May 2016 the first turbine went online; 16 main turbines were functioning in September 2019, and completion is scheduled for 2020.
Mongolia hopes to use dams as part of a strategy to move away from fossil fuels. It’s action plan is called the “Green Development Policy,” which seems to echo “Green New Deal” proposals of western countries. The Selenge River, a transnational body of water originating in Mongolia, contributes over half the water to Russia’s Lake Baikal which is so huge that it contains about “20% of the worlds unfrozen fresh water.” Area lakes are already shrinking due to water withdrawal and Lital Khaikin writes that “encroachment of heavy industry threatens the fragile balance of the Baikal and the river-systems that are connected to it.”
With many calling for expansion of large dams, it is necessary to consider what this would mean for river life forms, people living next to or downstream from dams, economics of hydro-power, climate change and unforeseen dangers. Here are 10 potential problems with dams.
1. Dams destroy species and disrupt balances between species that make up ecosystems
According to International Rivers “The number-one cause of species extinction is habitat loss.” Due to the assault on rivers, freshwater ecosystems probably have the highest reduction in biodiversity, higher even than those on land.
The decline of a species often has ripple effects on other species. When salmon reproduction is interrupted on the lower Snake River Dams in the Pacific Northwest orcas may starve because so few reach the ocean. River dolphins of the Yangtze were the first human-caused extinction of dolphins, due to construction of China’s Three Gorges Dam. Less well-known examples abound. The Kihansi Spray Toad of Tanzania became extinct in the wild because of the Kihansi Dam in the southern Udzungwa Mountains. The dam reduced the spray zone around the waterfall by 90%, dooming the toad.
Plants, are likewise threatened by dams. Rowan Jacobsen’s 2019 article describes how the Falls-of-the-Ohio scurfpea, whose habitat was limited to a few Ohio River islets, became extinct in the 1920s due to dam construction. Another 2019 Scientific American article explains that 85% of bugs along the Colorado River lays eggs along its banks. As water levels go up and down according to power needs, the insect eggs often get too dry to survive, upsetting the balance between species in the ecosystem. This is particularly unnerving because a 2017 paper in PLOS ONE documented a greater than 75% decline in flying insect mass in Germany.
The plants and animals mentioned here are a small cross-section of known species rendered extinct by dams. The key phrase is “known species:” It is impossible to know how many reptiles, amphibians insects, microorganisms and even birds and mammals which were never discovered no longer exist due to dams. It is also unclear how these extinctions affect broader ecosystems.
Why do dams have such devastating consequences for life forms? They block fish migration and sometimes “completely separate spawning habitats from rearing habitats.” Still water in a dam’s reservoir is a profoundly different environment than flowing water in a river to which species have adapted over millennia. Sediments are critical for maintaining river life downstream but accumulate at the bottom of the reservoir. As International Riversexplains, “Changes in temperature, chemical composition, dissolved oxygen levels and the physical properties of a reservoir are often not suitable to the aquatic plants and animals that evolved with a given river system.” Industrial and agricultural chemicals that settle and concentrate in the reservoir are not healthy for fish and other living things.
2. Dams drive people out of their homes
Those of us who grew up watching American TV in the 1950s and 60s had a steady diet of troops driving Indians off the landscape of the country’s West. An even more effective tool of America’s ethnic cleansing was undermining the species on which Indians depended, such as buffalo and fish. Roosevelt’s New Deal promised that building dams would help lift people out of poverty. Unfortunately, the Hoover Dam took reservation land from Yuma Indians during 1933-35. By the early 1940s, 22 dams were planned for North Dakota which required evacuating 20,000 people, including many Indians.
In Mexico, building 4000 dams from 1936 to 2006 involved the removal of 185,000 people. As Brazil built Belo Monte, the government claimed that only 16,000 people were displaced. But those affected indicated that a more realistic number was 40,000. As dams expanded, they pushed an estimated 80,000,000 out of their homes globally.
3. Dams undermine indigenous cultures
Cultural traditions are often closely connected to specific plants, animals, landmarks and bodies of water. When the New Deal’s Grand Coulee Dam robbed land from Native Americans, it broke their connection to salmon. Little known in the western world are efforts by Mongolia to expand dam construction in its norther provinces on the Selenge River and its tributary Eg River. The proposed Shuren Dam on the Selenge would flood sacred heregsuurs(graveyards) and archaeological sites in neighboring areas. The Egiin Gol Dam on the Eg would cause extensive displacement which would include Mongolian herder communities whose link to (Omul whitefish) would be severed. Though opposition led to both projects’ being canceled in 2017, what remains is Mongolia’s hopes to attract foreign investment from multinational corporations seeking resource extraction and hydro-electricity to power mining operations. Similar projects are reaching their tentacles across the planet.
Re-emergence of stagnant plans is exactly what happened with the Belo Monte Dam, which was only a gleam in investors’ eyes in 1975. Its enormous displacement of native peoples required destroying their ways of life. When it was being massively opposed, a coalition formed between the Munduruku and other Amazonian tribes of Juruna, Kayapo, Xipaya, Kuruaya, Asurini, Parakana, and Arara who occupied the main construction site of the $14 billion undertaking.
In June 2013, Munduruku leaders released a letter (translated by Glenn H. Shepard) which included the following:
“We know how the law of nature works through the teachings of the ancients … animals teach us things that we don’t know, and we can interpret the messages … The animals warn us of dangers that are about to happen… Non-Indians say these are just superstitions but it is for real… You should not play with nature: for us, this is very dangerous… All animals have have mother-spirits, whether fish, or forest animals, birds, plants, fire, earth, wind, waters, even spirit beings, they all have lives… We have sacred places along our Tapajós river and we, the Munduruku, do not disturb these places… What government is this that is speaking against us? And declaring war to finish us off in order to then give our lands to the big landowners, agribusiness, hydro-electric dams and mining companies?”
4. Dams affect far more people than they displace
People do not have to be pushed out of their homes or watch the flooding of sacred places to be affected by dams. An estimated 400-800 million people in the world who live downstream from dams lose access to clean water, are poisoned by industrial development, and watch resources such as fish shrink along with the quantity of water flowing through rivers. Especially those living in tropical areas can experience an increase in diseases such as malaria, filariasis, yellow fever, dengue, and schistosomiasis.
5. Conflicts over dams result in the arrest and killing of earth protectors
Since 2009, the massive growth of dams in Mexico led to the arrest of over 250 and at least 8 deaths. Global Witness tabulated that “dams and other water resources” were the third leading industries (behind mining and agribusiness) to be associated with deaths of environmentalists in 2018.
Dams have also been linked to imprisonment and/or killings in many countries, including Burma, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala and Sudan. The greatest number of indigenous people massacred was when 440 were killed“to make way for Gautemala’s Chixoy Dam in 1982.” Extreme civil rights violations will undoubtedly rise in proportion to efforts to expand hydro-electric power.
6. Dams can increase the likelihood of wars over water resources
Any time a river runs through two or more countries, there is a potential conflict over dam-building, especially if hostile relationships already exist. Shortly after Pakistan was created, on April 1, 1948 India began taking water from canals that went into Pakistan. The following month, the Dominion Accord required Pakistan to pay India in return for removing water. But a permanent solution was stalled until 1960 when Jawaharlal Nehru of India and Mohammad Ayub Khan of Pakistan signed the Indus Water Treaty. Many disputes were settled via the Permanent Indus Commission. But in 2017 India built the Kishanganga Dam in Kashmir and developed the Ratle hydro-power station in the Chenab River despite objections from Pakistan. With Narendra Modi’s siege of Kashmir, dams can only intensify hostilities.
Access to water is central to tensions in the Middle East. The Tigris-Euphrates basin, which includes Turkey, Syria, Iraq and western Iran, is rapidly losing water. Conn Hallihan writes “For Syria and Iraq, the problem is Turkey and Ankara’s mania for dam building. Since 1975, Turkish dams have reduced the flow of water to Syria by 40% — and to Iraq by 80%… Israel also takes 87% of the West Bank aquifers, leaving the Palestinians only 13%.” Water conflicts will get worse over time – by 2030, 4 out of every 10 people in the world may not have access to water.
Rivers cross international borders of 145 countries, not all of whom get along well. Rivers crossing 9 to 11 countries include the Congo, Nile, Rhine and Niger. Like nuclear power plants, dams would be sitting duck targets during a no-hold-barred war, especially for a country deprived of water due to its opponent’s dam.
7. Dams contribute to climate change
It would be a tragic irony if dams were used to combat climate change because they are a huge source of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Currently, rivers remove about 200 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere annually, both by carbon absorption and by carrying silt to the sea where it feeds plankton. Yet, dams interfere with rivers’ being a carbon sink and increase their functioning as a carbon source in multiple ways.
Building the giant Hoover Dam required 6.6 million tons of concrete. The larger Grand Coulee Dam required 24.3 million tons. Since enormous heat must be used to produce concrete, each ton manufactured releases one ton of CO2 into the atmosphere. In addition, producing steel to reinforce the concrete and build other dam components requires enormous heat, resulting in CO2 releases. Of the tens of thousands of large dams in the world, these two required creating 30.9 million tons of CO2 just for the concrete: building dams has taken a huge bite out of the carbon sequestered by rivers.
In addition to CO2 release during manufacture of building materials for dams, organic matter rots in their reservoirs and produces the potent GHG methane. Far from being a minor source of carbon, this methane is estimated to “account for 4% of all human-made climate change, equivalent to the climate impact of aviation.”
Third, dams interfere with rivers’ transporting silt and nutrients downstream, which impairs their ability to remove carbon. Finally, some hydro-electric projects can create higher GHG emissions than coal-powered plants producing an equivalent quantity of electricity. Putting these together, dams are hardly a clean, green, carbon-free energy machine.
8. Dams increase differences between rich and poor
Approval for building dams often begins with investors’ going to politicians who act as a link between them and the population. Politicians promise that the project will bring wealth to all. By the time it becomes clear that this is not happening, the politician is out of office or distracting people with another big promise.
In 1933, construction of the New Deal’s Hoover Dam meant pushing the Yumas off their reservation land so that a boom in energy production could swell corporate profits in the US Southwest. As a sop for losing the reservation, Yumas received five acres apiece with assurance that they could grow more crops due to new irrigation systems. Meanwhile, land was “sold to whites in 40- to 100- acre parcels.”
Construction of the Belo Monte Dam reflects a common occurrence. Though thousands of Indians were displaced, the energy created did not benefit them, but businesses such as aluminum smelters.
Since they can be constructed in small quantities, wind and solar power are often the best source of energy for sparsely populated areas. In contrast, “large hydro-power dams depend on central electric grids, which are not a cost-effective tool to reach rural populations, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Himalayas.”
9. Dams cost much more than promised
Many factors feed into making dams hyper-expensive. The most obvious is construction costs which amounts to $2 trillion since 1950. A small country persuaded to use hydro-power as its major source of energy can find that the average cost overrun of 96% leaves it more indebted to and controlled by international lenders than it ever anticipated.
Dams lead to more dams. As investors and industrial manufacturers and mine owners reap riches from one dam, they have an incentive to construct more. This contributed to the US Colorado River’s being fragmented by at least 60 dams.
Awareness that the Belo Monte Dam would make more upstream dams economically viable was a major source of opposition to it.
A third reason for dams’ being more expensive than promised is that maintenance is hardly, if ever, fully accounted for. Silt eventually interferes with the dam’s functioning. Turbines malfunction, cracks occur, design flaws appear and maintenance can be insufficient. For a combination of reasons, over 1000 dams have been removed in the USand the price of removal is rarely mentioned in cost projections.
The fourth, and most costly source of expense overruns for dams, is when they break. This brings us to the last of 10 problems. When negotiating over price, the construction company is highly unlikely to admit its life expectancy.
10. Dams break
Unlike the extinction they cause, dams are not forever. And with today’s standards for privatized construction, they can be expected to last for shorter time periods than Roman coliseums and vastly less than Egyptian pyramids. As Worster wrote:
“Steel penstocks [structures that carry water from the forebay tunnel to the power house to run the turbines] and headgates must someday rust and collapse. Concrete, so permanent-seeming in is youth, must turn soft and crumble. Heavy banks of earth, thrown up to trap a flood, must eventually, under the most favorable circumstances, erode away.”
On March 14, 2019, the Spencer Dam on the Niobrara River in Nebraska, which was 90 years old, broke due to heavy rain and flooding. The community was left wondering if a missing person had been drowned.
Americans who are old enough might remember the February 1972 collapse of the Buffalo Creek Dam for coal waste that burst and sent water flowing into nearby mining towns, drowning 125. In June of the same year the Canyon Lake Dam in South Dakota got clogged with debris until it broke and downstream communities around Rapid City lost 238 lives.
Failure to learn from these events led to completion of the Teton Dam in southeastern Idaho. Scientists wrote of dangers of putting a large structure in one of the most active earthquake zones in the US, adjacent to cracked and fragile canyon walls. In less than a year after completion it began springing leaks and in June 1976 it collapsed, killing 11 people and 13,000 cattle and washing away homes and a billion tons of topsoil.
The New England Historical Society documented the first major disaster as the Mill River Dam collapse of 1874 which caused 139 deaths. The worst such disaster in the US happened only 15 years later when warnings regarding the South Fork Dam near Johnstown, Pennsylvania were followed by its collapse, which killed 2209.
Eric Fish penned the disturbing story of the 1975 Banqiao Dam collapse, by far the most deadly the world has experienced to date. As part of the “Harness the Huai River” campaign, the dam was completed in 1952 in China’s Henan Province. By the 1970s, thousands of dams had been built across China. Scientific studies warned that projects could raise Henan’s water tables over safe levels. More warnings were issued that deforestation and mining could further increase the danger of building yet more dams in an earthquake-prone zone already fraught with landslides. Committed to rapid economic growth, the government ignored the warnings.
Cracks appeared almost as soon as the reservoir began filling up. With Soviet help, the structure was reinforced and it was called the “Iron Dam” to assure everyone of its safety. Nevertheless,
“… on Aug 5, 1975, a typhoon collided with a cold front over Henan and dropped the area’s average yearly rainfall in less than 24 hours. The 106 cm of rain that fell that day dwarfed the 30 cm daily limit the dam’s designers had anticipated. Witnesses said that the area was littered with birds that had been pummeled to death by the intense rainfall.
In an effort to mitigate downstream floods that were already severe, Banqiao was ordered not to fully open its sluice gates early in the storm. Then communication lines were knocked out, leaving operators guessing as to how the situation outside was unfolding. By the time the gates were fully opened, it was too late. Water was rising faster than it could escape.”
A hydrologist had recommended building 12 sluice gates (which let water flow out at the base of a dam), but only 5 went into the final design and they were partially blocked by silt. Collapse of the Banqiao unleashed a 50 km/hour tidal wave down the river that knocked out 62 additional dams. Entire villages were swept away within minutes. One survivor recalled “I didn’t know where I was – just floating around in the water, screams and cries ringing in my ears. Suddenly, all the voices died down, leaving me in deadly silence.”
During the six hours that water poured out of the reservoir 26,000 lives were lost. Those living downstream soon envied the dead. The same torrent that flooded the reservoirs also washed out roads and knocked out rescue communication systems. When the rescue teams finally arrived, they found people standing on rooftops, holding onto trees or stranded on bits of dry land. They had kept themselves alive by eating tree leaves, animal carcasses that floated by or scavenged food that was often rotten. Hunger was joined by disease and summer heat.
For every person who died after the initial dam collapse, five more died from disease or plague. The total estimated death count was 171,000.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the Banqiao is that the same dynamics for economic growth that laid its foundations continue to flourish. In 2011, Zhang Jinxuan, director of the Nujiang National Development and Reform Commission, spoke of China’s growth: “We must proceed. The resources here are too good. Not to develop is not an option.” China has thousands of dams at risk of breach, either because they are wearing out due to age or they are newer with poor construction. Zhou Fangping, with the Water Resources Department of Guangdong Province, has serious worries about the huge quantity. He told China Economic Weekly:
“We have so many rivers to manage and so many irrigation and water conservancy projects. If there’s only one project, we can handle it, but there are so many… either we promise to complete all the projects but we don’t actually meet the targets, or we finish them all but with sub-standard quality.”
China is hardly the only country which refuses to learn from Banqiao. Scientists still make recommendations that are ignored, either from a corporate desire to make more profits or from a bureaucratic state desire to expand its power. In the US, 24 of every 25 US dams are privately owned, with financial incentives to minimize repairs. Across the globe, more and more industrial plants full of toxic chemicals are located next to rivers, increasing potential hazards of flooding. Decision makers refuse to understand that climate crisis means that weather events which cause dam disasters are becoming more frequent and more extreme. They continue to build multiple dams on the same river. They seek to assure their citizens that past disasters were due to design problems and that “Generation Next” dams will be safe.
After thousands of years of warnings from philosophers and religious prophets that humanity can live prosperously by having less grandiose desires, political leaders insist that happiness flows from a fountain of possessions, which, in the 21st century, is a fountain of energy. The more power that leaders have over other people, the more power they seek over nature. Instead of trying to work with nature to strengthen local communities, they cling to technocratic ideologies that “bigger and more complicated” is better. If a previous dam broke, they fail to see the problem as the dam’s existence – they insist that if the next dam is bigger, with more concrete and more electrical parts, then the river can be controlled.
Though efforts to subdue rivers have long caused problems, modern capitalism has transformed this pathological view to cultural psychopathy. Psychopathy reflects a lack of guilt or shame over the damage that one causes. A corporation is a social entity which is unable to feel guilt or shame for undermining the survivability of humans and millions of other life forms.
After thousands of years of disrupting natural water flow, which has been exponentially accelerated during recent decades, it is past time for humanity to restore rivers and streams while maintaining a high quality of life. This is why “500 organizations from 85 countries call on governments, financiers and other institutions to keep large hydro-power projects out of their initiatives to address climate change.”
Given the incredibly destructive consequences of efforts to dominate the free flow of water, supporters of the Green New Deal (GND) should end their silence on policies for dams. Do they agree with the 500 organizations that there should be a moratorium on new dam construction? Or, do they want to improve existing dams with structural supports, such as the Soviet Union did with China’s Banqiao Dam? Do GND advocates call for existing dams to be dismantled or partially decommissioned?
An even more critical question addresses what would happen if the goal of eliminating fossil fuels usage within 10 years cannot be accomplished with solar and wind power. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the massive growth of solar/wind technology cannot expand at such an enormous rate in this time period, and, if it were seriously attempted, it would cause disastrous ecological and human health problems. Though every source that provides data on sources of energy assigns different percentages to each sector, a reasonable estimate is that in 2018, global energy was supplied by 85% fossil fuels, 7% hydro-power, 4% nuclear power and 4% solar and wind power. Hydro-electric power from dams and nuclear power are obviously next in line for huge increases in sources of energy if solar/wind cannot replace fossil fuels rapidly enough.
There is another option; but GND plans are silent on it also. That option is called “energy conservation.” It includes using vastly less energy by having compact communities that require less transportation, smaller home space that requires less heating and cooling, less production of energy-absorbing gadgets designed to fall apart or go out of style and a shorter work week via manufacturing less junk.
GND enthusiasts need to say which road they advocate traveling. Should we build more dams and nuclear plants even if that means sacrificing biodiversity and human health? Or, would it better to abandon the dream of infinite economic growth? Are GND proponents willing to consider the possibility that life would be better for all species, including humans, if corporations and governments are not allowed to increase energy production? If so, we might even save a few aquatic ecosystems.
Deep Green Declaration
We are at a critical turning point for human civilization. All around us we see a world in crisis — a world facing overwhelming environmental and social threats. Our “way of life” is literally shredding the biosphere we depend on. Greens have been in the forefront of asserting that unless we make a dramatic U-turn and radically reorganize our societies, a human future may not be possible.
As things stand now, humans use 1.7 times as much biological productivity annually as is produced on planet Earth each year. So “Overshoot Day” — which marks the date when human demand for resources and services outstrips what the Earth can regenerate in that year — has progressed from December 31 to August 2 in the last fifty years. Such over-exploitation is impacting the entire web of life on the planet. Wild animal populations are down 60% since 1970, 90% of the large fish are now gone from the oceans, and 40% of insect species are in decline. We are passing limits on deforestation, the phosphorus cycle, climate disruption and numerous other indicators of ecological distress, all of which are completely intertwined with the health of our human communities.
We cannot have infinite economic growth on a finite planet. Yet development in most of the world today is directed towards creating still more economic growth — more stuff for more people. This dynamic has benefited a tiny layer of the population, but for nearly everyone else, even many of those who have had rising incomes and the ability to consume more, the costs in terms of inequality and oppression, degraded oceans, climate chaos, deforestation, chemical trespass, dead zones, and wars is beyond bearing. It is beyond bearing for our communities and for our planet.
The Need For A New Narrative
Deep Greens are amazed that we’re debating issues with the assumption that all we need to do is get rid of corporations and build a power system based on wind and solar, never questioning the industrial mode of production. Many of our political leaders have led us to believe there are no hard choices that need to be made to build a sustainable world. They seem to believe that we are so addicted to our machines, our toys, and our lifestyles, that we cannot recognize them as the very reason for the production of greenhouse gases, the destruction of ecosystems, and the depletion of resources.
Western societies tend to conceive of “Progress” as being a linear movement toward mastery of nature, material growth, advancement of science, and expansion of technology. Disconnect from the natural world, however, has increasingly obscured the truth that the dominant culture’s trajectory is leading toward ecocide. Instead of recognizing the perils of continuing with business-as-usual, experts offer us more “technological fixes” which too often come with unforeseen consequences. Our modern reality does not, in fact, define a culture of true progress, but rather one that is, as Native American activist John Trudell has written, “industrially insane.”
There is an analysis which suggests that the growth imperative is a result of capitalist economic relations. Yet the problematic “progress and development” trajectories of our civilization pre-date capitalism and have been evident in every attempt to implement socialism in the modern era. On this basis we believe that the source of the problem goes deeper than simply economic relations.
We urgently need a new narrative. The Deep Green perspective has emerged as an alternative to all the old ideologies — conservatism, liberalism, nationalism, capitalism, socialism, etc. The Deep Green worldview questions traditional leftist and environmental assumptions about what needs to be done. Its vision of thoroughgoing social transformation begins with an examination of this civilization’s preoccupation with productivity values, its addiction to technology, its militarism, patriarchy, and anthropocentrism.
Although our situation is dire, we believe it is possible for a society to respond successfully to the threats we face. We know how people pull together after a storm wrecks their town. We need to call on that same sense of cooperation and care in the face of the unfolding crisis.
Growth Mania Has Led To Hypertrophy
Capital, technology, and the state have, for centuries, been an interlocking juggernaut fostering toxic industrialism and modes of production characterized by ecological irresponsibility. Meanwhile, the ideology of “development” has brought us to our current state of alienation from nature. Its growth mania has resulted in generalized hypertrophy (institutions and technologies too large to be controlled democratically) and a sense of cultural malaise.
Our key value of Ecological Wisdom is derived from the understanding of how regeneration in nature is dependent upon cooperation and upon the maintenance of ecological balance. Ecosystems tend to evolve to a climax state and then remain fairly stable for long periods of time. As evolution continues, equilibrium is established and re-established. Human systems, whether they are economic, social, or cultural, are merely subsystems of the over-arching ecosystem which contains them. Thus, human systems must also strive for equilibrium.
Neither capitalism nor extant socialism have prioritized these vital precepts. Thus, Deep Greens tend not to favor the term “eco-socialism.” We believe such a label channels our thinking into old ruts. We also have concerns about the relationship of socialism to the dominant parts of the old paradigm that stress centralized planning and mass production as well as a toleration of violence.
The Marxist analysis views all history as a narrative of class struggle that will end in a socialist society. Deep Greens fully support oppressed peoples in their struggles for dignity and equality. For that reason we strongly support unionization, strike activity, community organizing efforts, and worker-owned cooperatives. We share with the traditional left a proactive stance against all manifestations of exploitation, inequality, oppression and domination. Nonetheless, we draw different conclusions about “the history of all hitherto existing society,” and the posited higher and higher stages of development leading to the ultimate stage of socialism.
Green politics arose on the basis of a “new paradigm” critique of the industrial state. That paradigm is, in some ways, more radical than socialism. It takes the New Left’s desire for a participatory form of democracy and says something very new: scale is an important factor. The huge modern nation-states are always characterized by plutocracy, whether their productive assets are owned publicly or privately. They are never conducive to participatory democracy. That idea is the basis for the Greens’ key value of Decentralization. It represents a radically new direction for our civilization, yet hearkens back to the sanity of Indigenous lifeways.
Limits and Balances
Deep Greens acknowledge the concept of limits and the need to bring economic relations into harmony with the natural world. We believe the best way to do this is to transition to bioregional economies and to return power to local communities.
Bioregional economics calls on us to come to know our home territory intimately and to try and meet as many of our needs as possible from it, as suggested by our key value Community-based Economics. The modern megalopolis is anathema for this vision. Greens should encourage a return to humanly-scaled polities, institutions, and technologies, along with a revitalization of traditional ecological knowledge and rural living skills. This implies a substantial degree of re-localization: local production for local use, local manufacturing, local sales, local recycling whenever possible.
There is also wide recognition that we’re nearing the end of the fossil fuel era, a period of time that allowed for enormous population and industrial growth. Even if we weren’t dealing with the issue of climate change caused by industrial pollution of our atmosphere, we would have to face the reality that the age of cheap and easily accessible energy resources is over. The challenge of scaling down so that we can continue to meet basic human needs will require creative simplification and can best be accomplished by working together in small-scale communities.
A transition to greener lifeways will need to be accomplished with great wisdom. For example, the creation of solar and wind farms must be done in such a way as to minimize habitat destruction. The latter is as critical an environmental problem as is climate change and is the major cause of the Sixth Mass Extinction we are now witnessing. We need to rapidly phase out fossil fuel and nuclear power sources and replace them with clean energy. What comes on line should be less than what is taken off due to the savings of efficiency and our need to consume less. Clean, alternative energies can replace much of the current fossil and nuclear power we use, but we cannot turn the world’s forests, wilderness areas, and rural places into solar and wind farms. The emphasis should be on reversing the trend of increased energy consumption per person. We must be clear that the organization of the economy and the rate of use of resources is going to have to be very, very different.
One of the best things we can do for our future and for the biosphere is to phase out industrialized agriculture in favor of regenerative agriculture. The latter refers to a suite of holistic principles and methods that together have the potential to rapidly restore our rural and natural environments to full health, sequestering vast quantities of carbon, restoring ecological balance and biodiversity, building soil, and reversing desertification, all while producing more food of a higher quality. It also has the potential to restore agricultural communities to economic independence and security. Greens encourage everyone with any lawn, roof, or patio space to grow food for their own families. Those with relevant knowledge should sponsor education and training in horticulture, maintaining orchards, beekeeping, etc.
An End to Militarism
We must learn to live within planetary limits, but no new society will be sustainable if it is not based on justice and equality. This is why so much of the Green Party Platform is devoted to issues of social justice, racism, militarism, and poverty. We understand that you cannot heal ecosystems without ending poverty; and you cannot end poverty without healing ecosystems. Neither goal will be obtainable, however, if you do not shut down the war machine!
Our military is the most wasteful industry on the planet and few things cause more immediate and localized harm to communities and ecosystems than war. A country that claims to stand for freedom cannot run an empire without losing its soul, bankrupting the people, and eliminating real democracy. Instead of borrowing money to fund killing people around the world, the United States should abandon its preoccupation with geopolitical hegemony — and save a trillion dollars a year! We could fund an adequate national defense for less than a third of current spending.
The savings could allow for a Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) for all US citizens, help us transition to bioregional living, supply funds for retraining military and industrial workers, assist in the creation of universal, single-payer health care, aid in the move to alternative energies, and facilitate programs to heal our ecosystems and our communities.
In addition to changing our funding priorities, we need to transfer the power to create money away from the private banking system (that dominates and directs the global economy) to our elected representatives. The monetary system is an awesome power that rightfully belongs to elected governments of, by, and for the people. Today all nations are in debt to the private global banking system which has been given the privilege of creating and issuing our money as debt. We must change this and allow all nations to originate their own money, debt-free, for the general welfare and care of their people and the environment.
A Question of Values
Industrial Culture emphasizes “self” and “consumption” as being the main road to the Good Life. This misguided emphasis contradicts the values espoused by the world’s great spiritual leaders and those taught in most traditional Indigenous cultures where unselfishness and restraint, (not selfishness and conspicuous consumption) are the values held in highest esteem.
We should learn from the belief of Indigenous peoples that humans and all other creatures are intricately related in the web of life — truly relatives. As part of our family, it’s clear we aren’t meant to dominate and subdue them, but to cherish and share the Earth with them. Deep Greens call for a reduction in human numbers as being necessary for the well-being of humans and all life on Earth, but we also understand that such a reduction must be voluntary and gradual. It can be accomplished gently over several generations by simply encouraging one-child families. As awareness of population overshoot grows, much vigilance will be needed to protect against racist, elitist, or any kind of draconian policies. Long-range vision and a deep reverence for all human life is critical.
Greens recognize that we need a basis of consensus as we move forward. This is where our key values come in. Taken together, our distinctive Ten Key Values provide us with an array of fundamental principles. While the trendlines of developmentalist civilization have led to over-centralization, over-concentration of wealth and power, and over-exploitation of natural resources, our values offer guidance for effectuating the much-needed process of changing direction.
Flowing from those values are specific ideas on how we can transform society. Deep Greens take seriously the responsibility to propose solutions and even to help craft legislation. But we are keenly aware that it would be presumptive to claim we advocate from a position of certitude or special enlightenment. Instead, our ultimate objective is to return decision-making power to the people. We support a mixed economy and encourage a healthy diversity in the kinds of communities and economies people fashion over time.
There are no “instant fixes,” but Deep Greens believe in the possibility of making the dramatic cultural U-turn that will lead our civilization toward the very different direction that’s called for at this historical juncture. We envision a future far lighter on material goods and factories, but much richer in relationships with other people and other creatures, and an appreciation of the natural world around us.
What humanity is facing in this new century is unprecedented, but, together, we can discern what needs to be done, foster social responsibility, restore ecological balances, and realize our vision of a more just, peaceful, and beautiful world.
What is energy denial?
The fiftieth anniversary of the first Earth Day of 1970 was in 2020. As environmentalism has gone mainstream during that half a century, it has forgotten its early focus and shifted toward green capitalism. Nowhere is this more apparent than abandonment of the slogan popular during the early Earth Days: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”
The unspoken phrase of today’s Earth Day is “Recycle, Occasionally Reuse, and Never Utter the Word ‘Reduce.’” A quasi taboo on saying “reduce” permeates the lexicon of twenty-first century environmentalism. Confronting the planned obsolescence of everyday products rarely, if ever, appears as an ecological goal. The concept of possessing fewer objects and smaller homes has surrendered to the worship of ecogadgets. The idea of redesigning communities to make them compact so individual cars would not be necessary has been replaced by visions of universal electric cars. The saying “Live simply so that others can simply live” now draws empty stares. Long forgotten are the modest lifestyles of Buddha, Jesus and Thoreau.
When the word “conservation” is used, it is almost always applied to preserving plants or animals and rarely to conserving energy. The very idea of re-imagining society so that people can have good lives as they use less energy has been consumed by visions of the infinite expansion of solar/wind power and the oxymoron, “100% clean energy.”
But … wait – aren’t solar and wind power inherently clean? No, and that is the crux of the problem. Many have become so distraught with looming climate catastrophe that they turn a blind eye to other threats to the existence of life. Shortsightedness by some who rightfully denounce “climate change denial” has led to a parallel unwillingness to recognize dangers built into other forms of energy production, a problem which can be called “clean energy danger denial.”
Obviously, fossil fuels must be replaced by other forms of energy. But those energy sources have such negative properties that using less energy should be the beginning point, the ending point and occupy every in-between point on the path to sane energy use. What follows are “The 15 Unstated Myths of Clean, Renewable Energy.” Many are so absurd that no one would utter them, yet they are ensconced within the assumption that massive production of solar and wind energy can be “clean.”
Myth 1. “Clean energy” is carbon neutral
The fallacious belief that “clean” energy does not emit greenhouse gases (GHGs) is best exemplified by nuclear power, which is often included in the list of alternative energy sources. It is, of course, true that very little GHGs are released during the operation of nukes. But it is wrong to ignore the use of fossil fuels in the construction (and ultimate decommissioning) of the power plant as well as the mining, milling, transport and eternal storage of nuclear material. To this must be added the fossil fuels used in the building of the array of machinery to make nukes possible and the disruption of aquatic ecosystems from the emptying of hot water.
Similarly, examination of the life cycle of producing other “carbon neutral” energy reveals that they all require machinery which is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Steel, cement and plastics are central to “renewable” energy and have heavy carbon footprints. One small example: The mass of an industrial wind turbine is 90% steel.
Myth 2. “Clean energy” is inexhaustible because the sun will always shine and the wind will always blow
This statement assumes that all that is needed for energy is sunshine and wind, which is not the case. Sunshine and wind do not equal solar power and wind power. The transformation into “renewable” energy requires minerals which are non-renewable and difficult to access.
Myth 3. “Clean energy” does not produce toxins
Knowledge that the production of fossil fuels is associated with a high level of poisons should not lead us to ignore the level of toxins involved in the extraction and processing of lithium, cobalt, copper, silver, aluminum, cadmium, indium, gallium, selenium, tellurium, neodymium, and dysprosium. Would a comparison of toxins associated with the production of clean energy to fossil fuels be an open admission of the dirtiness of what is supposed to be “clean?”
Another example: “Processing one ton of rare earths necessary for alternative energy produces 2,000 tons of toxic waste.” Similar to what happens with Myth 2, toxins may not be produced during the operation of solar and wind power but permeate other stages of their existence.
Myth 4. “Clean energy” does not deplete or contaminate drinkable water
Though water is usually thought of for agriculture and cooling in nuclear power plants, it is used in massive amounts for manufacturing and mining. The manufacture of a single auto requires 350,000 liters of water.
In 2015, the US used 4 billion gallons of water for mining and 70% of that comes from groundwater. Water is used for separating minerals from rocks, cooling machinery and dust control. Even industry apologists admit that “Increased reliance on low ore grades means that it is becoming necessary to extract a higher volume of ore to generate the same amount of refined product, which consumes more water.” Julia Adeney Thomas points out that “producing one ton of rare earth ore (in terms of rare earth oxides) produces 200 cubic meters of acidic wastewater.”
Myth 5. “Clean energy” does not require very much land usage
In fact, “clean” energy could well have more effect on land use than fossil fuels. According to Jasper Bernes, “To replace current US energy consumption with renewables, you’d need to devote at least 25-50 % of the US landmass to solar, wind, and biofuels.”
Something else is often omitted from contrasts between energy harvesting. Fossil fuel has a huge effect on land where it is extracted but relatively little land is used at the plants where the fuel is burned for energy. In contrast, solar/wind power requires both land where raw materials are mined plus the vast amount of land used for solar panels or wind “farms.”
Myth 6. “Clean energy” has no effect on plant and animal life
Contrary to the belief that there is no life in a desert, the Mojave is teeming with plant and animal life whose habitat will be increasingly undermined as it is covered with solar collectors. It is unfortunate that so many who express concern for the destruction of coral reefs seem blissfully unaware of the annihilation of aquatic life wrought by deep sea mining of minerals for renewable energy components.
Wind harvesting can be a doomsday machine for forests. As Ozzie Zehner warns: “Many of the planet’s strongest winds rip across forested ridges. In order to transport 50-ton generator modules and 160-foot blades to these sites, wind developers cut new roads. They also clear strips of land … for power lines and transformers. These provide easy access to poachers as well as loggers, legal and illegal alike.”
As the most productive land for solar/wind extraction is used first, that requires the continuous expansion of the amount of land (or sea bed) taken as energy use increases. The estimate that 1 million species could be made extinct in upcoming decades will have to be up-counted to the extent that “clean” energy is mixed in with fossil fuels.
Myth 7. “Clean energy” production has no effect on human health
Throughout the centuries of capitalist expansion workers have struggled to protect their health and families have opposed the poisoning of their communities. This is not likely to change with an increase in “clean” energy. What will change is the particular toxins which compromise health.
Creating silicon wafers for solar cells “releases large amounts of sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide. Crystalline-silicon solar cell processing involves the use or release of chemicals such as phosphine, arsenic, arsine, trichloroethane, phosphorous oxycholoride, ethyl vinyl acetate, silicon trioxide, stannic chloride, tantalum pentoxide, lead, hexavalent chromium, and numerous other chemical compounds.” The explosive gas silane is also used and more recent thin-film technologies employ toxic substances such as cadmium.
Wind technology is associate with its own problems. Caitlin Manning reports on windmill farms in the Trans Isthmus Corridor of Mexico: “which is majority Indigenous and dependent on agriculture and fishing. The concrete bases of the more than 1,600 wind turbines have severely disrupted the underground water flows … Despite promises that they could continue to farm their lands, fences and security guards protecting the turbines prevent farmers from moving freely. The turbines leak oil into the soil and sometimes ignite … many people have suffered mental problems from the incessant noise.”
Though the number of health problems documented for fossil fuels is vastly more than those for solar/wind, the latter have been used on an industrial scale for a much shorter time, making it harder for links to show up. The Precautionary Principle states that a dangerous process should be proven safe before use rather than waiting until after damage has been done. Will those who have correctly insisted that the Precautionary Principle be employed for fracking and other fossil fuel processes demand an equivalent level of investigation for “clean” energy or give it the same wink and nod that petrochemical magnates have enjoyed?
Myth 8. People are happy to have “clean energy” harvested or its components mined where they live
Swooping windmill blades can produce constant car-alarm-level noise of about 100 decibels, and, if they ice up, they can fling it off at 200 miles per hour. It is not surprising that indigenous people of Mexico are not alone in being less than thrilled about having them next door. Since solar panels and windmills can only be built where there is lots of sun or wind, their neighbors are often high-pressured into accepting them unwillingly.
Obviously, components can be mined only where they exist, leading to a non-ending list of opponents. Naveena Sadasivam gives a few examples from the very long list of communities confronting extraction for “clean” energy components: “Indigenous communities in Alaska have been fighting to prevent the mining of copper and gold at Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and a crucial source of sustenance. The proposed mine … has been billed by proponents as necessary to meet the growing demand for copper, which is used in wind turbines, batteries, and solar panels. Similar stories are playing out in Norway, where the Sámi community is fighting a copper mine, and in Papua New Guinea, where a company is proposing mining the seabed for gold and copper.”
Myth 9. No one is ever killed due to disputes over energy extraction or harvesting
When Asad Rehman wrote in May 2019 that environmental conflicts are responsible for “the murder of two environmental defenders each and every week,” his data was out of date within two months. By July 2019 Global Witness (GW) had tabulated that “More than three people were murdered each week in 2018 for defending their land and our environment.” Their report found that mining was the deadliest economic sector, followed by agriculture, with water resources such as dams in third place. Commenting on the GW findings, Justine Calma wrote “Although hydropower has been billed as ‘renewable energy,’ many activists have taken issue with the fact large dams and reservoirs have displaced indigenous peoples and disrupted local wildlife.”
GW recorded one murder sparked by wind power. Murders traceable to “clean” energy will certainly increase if it out-produces energy from fossil fuels. The largest mass murder of earth defenders that GW found in 2018 was in India “over the damaging impacts of a copper mine in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.” Copper is a key element for “clean” energy.
Myth 10. One watt of “clean energy” will replace one watt from use of fossil fuels
Perhaps the only virtue that fossil fuels have is that their energy is easier to store than solar/wind power. Solar and wind power are intermittent, which means they can be collected only when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. Storing and retrieving their energy requires complex processes that result in substantial loss of energy. Additionally, the characteristics of solar panels means that tiny fragments such as dust or leaves can block the surface.
Therefore, their efficiency will be much less under actual operating conditions than they are under ideal lab conditions. A test described by Ozzie Zehner found that solar arrays rated at 1000 watts actually produced 200-400 watts in the field. Similarly, Pat Murphy notes that while a coal plant operates at 80-90% of capacity, wind turbines do so at 20-30% of capacity. Since they perform at low efficiencies, both solar and wind energy require considerably more land than misleading forecasts predict. This, in turn, increases all of the problems with habitat loss, toxic emissions, human health and land conflicts.
Myth 11. “Clean energy” is as efficient as fossil fuels in resource use
Processes needed for storing and retrieving energy from intermittent sources renders them extremely complex. Solar/wind energy can be stored for night use by using it to pump water uphill and, when energy is needed, letting it flow downhill to turn turbines for electricity. Or, it can be stored in expensive, large and heavy batteries. Wind turbines “can pressurize air into hermetically sealed underground caverns to be tapped later for power, but the conversion is inefficient and suitable geological sites are rare.” Daniel Tanuro estimates that “Renewable energies are enough to satisfy human needs, but the technologies needed for their conversion are more resource-intensive than fossil technologies: it takes at least ten times more metal to make a machine capable of producing a renewable kWh than to manufacture a machine able to produce a fossil kWh.”
Myth 12. Improved efficiency can resolve problems of “clean energy”
This is perhaps the most often-stated illusion of green energy. Energy efficiency (EE) is the same as putting energy on sale. Shoppers do not buy less of something on sale – they buy more. Stan Cox describes research showing that at the same time air conditioners became 28% more efficient, they accounted for 37% more energy use. Findings such as this are due both to users keeping their houses cooler and more people buying air conditioners. Similarly, at the same time as automobiles showed more EE, energy use for transportation went up. This is because more drivers switched from sedans to SUVs or small trucks and there were many more drivers and cars on the road.
EE parallels increased energy consumption not just because of increased use of one specific commodity, but also because it allows people to buy other commodities which are also energy-intensive. It spurs corporations to produce more energy-guzzling objects to dump on the market. Those people who do not want this additional stuff are likely to put more money in the bank and the bank lends out that money to multiple borrowers, many of whom are businesses which use the loans to increase their production.
Myth 13. Recycling “clean energy” machine components can resolve its problems
This myth vastly overestimates the proportion of materials that can actually be recycled and understates the massive amount of “clean” energy being advocated. Kris De Decker point out that “… a 5 MW wind turbine produces more than 50 tonnes of plastic composite waste from the blades alone.” If a solar/wind infrastructure could actually be constructed to replace all energy from fossil fuel, it would be the most enormous build-up in human history. Many components could be recycled, but it is not possible to recycle more than 100% of components and the build-up would require an industrial growth rate of 200%, 300% or maybe much more.
Myth 14. Whatever problems there are with “clean energy” will work themselves out
Exactly the opposite is true. Problems of “clean” energy will become worse as resources are used up, the best land for harvesting solar and wind power is taken, and the rate of industrial expansion increases. Obtaining power will become more vastly difficult as there are diminishing returns on new locations for mining and placing solar collectors and wind mills.
Myth 15. There Is No Alternative
This repeats Margaret Thatcher’s right-wing perspective which is reflected in the claim that “We have to do something because moving a little bit in the right direction is better than doing nothing at all.” The problem is that expanding energy production is a step in the wrong direction, not the right direction.
The alternative to overgrowing “clean” energy is remembering what was outlined before. The concept of conserving energy is an age-old philosophy embodied in use of the word “reduce.” Those who only see the horrible potential of climate change have an unfortunate tendency to mimic the behavior of climate change deniers as they themselves deny the dangers of alternative energy.
Kris De Decker traces the roots of toxic wind power not to wind power itself but to hubristic faith in unlimited energy growth: “For more than two thousand years, windmills were built from recyclable or reusable materials: wood, stone, brick, canvas, metal. If we would reduce energy demand, smaller and less efficient wind turbines would not be a problem.”
Every form of energy production has difficulties. “Clean, renewable energy” is neither clean nor renewable. There can be good lives for all people if we abandon the goal of infinite energy growth. Our guiding principle needs to be that the only form of truly clean energy is less energy.