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Does the Climate Movement Really Mean What It Says?
By Howie Hawkins
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….
Why do so many in the climate movement invoke climate science to demand a target of 350 ppm carbon in the atmosphere—and then turn around and support legislation and candidates that fall far short of that demand?
That’s what is happening in New York. A bill that says right in its text that its target is 450 ppm may be enacted in the current legislative session that ends on June 19 with the support of much of the climate movement.
If New York were a nation-state, its $1.7 trillion GDP in 2018 made it the world’s 10th largest economy, tied with Canada and ahead of Russia. New York is the world’s premier financial and media center. What New York does on climate policy in the next month matters to the nation and the world.
Climate scientists have told us for more than a decade that getting atmospheric carbon dioxide equivalents back below 350 parts per million (ppm) is required to limit the Earth’s temperature rise to 1ºC above pre-industrial levels. That would keep the planet within the climate safety zone for human civilization. 1ºC is the top of the temperature range of the current interglacial period of the last 12,000 years in which agriculture, the material foundation for human civilization, developed. 100% clean energy by 2030 in the rich industrial states—plus drawing down carbon through afforestation, habitat restoration, and organic agriculture to rebuild living soils—is required to meet that target.
Bill McKibben’s 350.org was founded in 2008 on that premise. So why do McKibben, 350.org, and so many of the other foundation-funded environmental nonprofits endorse legislation in New York that says the goal is 450 ppm, 2ºC, and 100% by 2050?
They will tell you half-measures are the best we can get from the people now in office, that half a loaf is better than than nothing. But half a parachute won’t land you safely, as Green Party activist Michael O’Neil explained to a public hearing on New York’s climate legislation.
The climate emergency we face is much more severe than the stronger storms and heat waves we are already experiencing. Escalating at an accelerating rate as we approach 2050, the climate crisis means mass extinctions and collapsing land and ocean ecosystems, agricultural crises and food shortages, economic contraction and increasing poverty, hundreds of millions of climate refugees, and escalating social conflicts and resource wars.
Kevin Anderson, a leading climate scientist at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK warned in 2009 that we face a climate holocaust: “If you have got a population of nine billion by 2050 and you hit 4°C, 5°C or 6°C, you might have half a billion people surviving.” By 2100, ocean heating and acidification could so reduce ocean phytoplankton, the source of two-thirds of atmospheric oxygen, that it may result in the suffocation of animal life on Earth.
When Bill McKibben and others formed 350.org in 2008, they based their goal of getting atmospheric CO2 equivalents back below 350 parts per million (ppm) on the latest science. As McKibben noted at the time, the emerging international goal of 450 ppm was arbitrary. It had evolved from climate modeling begun in the 1970s to determine what would happen if we doubled preindustrial atmospheric carbon from 275 ppm to 550 ppm. While early modeling indicated 550 ppm would cause a 2ºC rise, by 2008 the models said CO2 would have to be limited to 450 ppm to have a chance of limiting the rise to 2ºC. In 2009, the US and the other G8 nations adopted the 450 ppm and 2ºC targets, which was affirmed by the world’s nations at the Cancun climate conference in 2010. That goal was adopted because—well, because that is what had been modeled. It was like searching under a street light for the keys you dropped at night because you can see the pavement there instead of searching down the street where you actually dropped the keys.
The best climate science then already indicated that 450 ppm would lead to dangerous climate change. McKibben cited a talk by NASA climate scientist James Hansen to the American Geophysical Union in December 2007. Hansen said that we have to get CO2 back below 350 ppm. In 2007, CO2 was already 383 ppm. Last month (April 2019) the average was 413 ppm.
Inaction on climate change over the last decade has put us right at the precipice of dangerous climate change. I have reviewed elsewhere the climate science that Hansen, Anderson, and others have developed since 2008 indicating we should set climate action goals of 350 ppm, 1ºC, and 100% clean energy by 2030. For our purposes here, let’s take those goals as the standard for what climate activists should be fighting for and examine why too many in the climate movement are settling for less.
New York Climate Legislation
The New York debate among climate activists over the last few years has been between two bills: the stronger New York Off Fossil Fuels Act (NY OFF) introduced in 2015 and the weaker Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA) introduced in 2016.
NY OFF was drafted as the next step by the grassroots movement that won New York’s fracking ban at the end of 2014. It is supported by a scrappy coalition of local safe energy groups, some larger environmental groups, and the Green Party. Its bottom line goal is zero carbon emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030.
The CCPA is an amended version of a climate bill that has passed the state Assembly every year since 2009 but died in the Republican-controlled state Senate. The Republicans lost control the Senate in the 2018 election. CCPA is supported by progressives in the Democratic Party and its orbiting non-profits. The 2016 amendments added in environmental justice and labor standards, but the climate science that remains cited in the bill was already outdated in 2009. In spite of much public criticism from grassroots climate activists, CCPA says its targets are 450 ppm and 2ºC to justify a 2050 deadline for zero carbon emissions and 100% clean energy.
The two bills differ fundamentally in many respects:
* NY OFF aims for 100% clean energy and greenhouse gas reductions by 2030.
CCPA aims for 100% clean energy and greenhouse gas reductions by 2050.
* NY OFF defines clean energy as solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal – and explicitly not nuclear, biomass, or natural gas and other fossil fuels.
CCPA does not define clean energy, leaving the door open for fracked-gas power plants, biofuels, garbage incinerators, and nuclear power.
* NY OFF bans new fossil fuel infrastructure.
CCPA does not.
* NY OFF phases out nuclear power.
CCPA does not.
* NY OFF requires local governments (all 62 counties plus all municipalities over 50,000 people) to develop detailed Climate Action Plans in concert with a state Climate Action Plan.
CCPA does not.
* NY OFF requires state and local governments to report their progress every two years toward the 10-year target of 100% emissions reductions.
CCPA has no planning requirements for local governments while the state is to report its progress every two years on renewable energy deployment and every four years on emissions reductions toward its 30-year target of 100% emission reductions.
* NY OFF requires net zero emissions for new buildings by 2020.
CCPA has no emissions target for new buildings.
* NY OFF requires zero emissions for all new vehicles sold by 2025.
CCPA has no target for vehicle emissions.
* NY OFF provides for state and local Climate Justice Working Groups composed primarily of residents of low-income communities.
CCPA has a state Climate Justice Working Group composed primarily of state officials and organizations representing disadvantaged communities with no residency requirement.
* NY OFF’s Just Transition provisions guarantee comparable jobs and wages to workers displaced, and reimbursement to local governments for revenues lost, by the closure of fossil fuel and nuclear power plants.
CCPA does not have a Just Transition program.
* NY OFF does not define labor standards stronger than existing labor law for clean energy projects.
CCPA provides labor standards stronger than existing labor law for prevailing wages and apprentice utilization on the big utility-scale projects of more than 250 kW, $100,000 of public investment, or $10 million total project cost, or on public property.
* NY OFF gives citizens legal standing to sue for enforcement of the act.
CCPA does not give citizens legal standing to sue for enforcement of the act.
With Democrats now in control of the Senate, CCPA is the bill that Democratic legislative leaders are using to negotiate with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has his own bill that is stronger on its renewable electricity goals, but weaker on its goal for greenhouse gas emissions with 80% by 2050, the same as the federal government’s goal.
CCPA is promoted by NY Renews with funding from the Tides Advocacy Fund. This coalition’s 174 member groups include 350.org, Sunrise Movement, Peoples Climate Movement NY, Solutions Project, Sierra Club, Environmental Advocates, Working Families Party, Demos, Citizen Action, Democratic Socialists of America, NY Council of Churches, and a number of unions representing autoworkers, communications workers, teachers, nurses, teamsters, transit workers, and service employees.
NY OFF is promoted by 100% Renewable Now, a grassroots coalition of more than 180 mainly local environmental, peace, and church groups, particularly the local groups fighting fracked gas pipelines and power plants in their backyards. The statewide and national organizations in this coalition include the NY Green Party, Food and Water Watch, NY Solar Energy Society, Rainforest Action Network, Citizens Environmental Coalition, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, NY Organic Farming Association, System Change Not Climate Change, a few local chapters of 350.org, NY Code Pink, Abolition 2000, World Without War, and the Troy Area Labor Council. The campaign is coordinated on a shoestring budget by the Green Education and Legal Fund (GELF). GELF’s driving force, Mark Dunlea, helped draft NY OFF and ran as the Green Party candidate for state Comptroller in 2018 on a platform of divesting the state pension fund from fossil fuel interests.
A number of groups are in both coalitions, although they lean toward one bill or the other. The People’s Climate Movement, a NY Renews steering committee member, promotes the CCPA in its public communications these days even though its original mission statement called for 100% emissions reductions by 2030. Food and Water Watch, on the other hand, is one of the stalwart promoters of NY OFF.
Not to be left out with all the talk nationally now about a Green New Deal, two other climate bills were introduced this year. The Green New Deal for New York (GND NY) sets up a task force to complete a plan and legislation by January 1, 2020 to zero out greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and start drawing down atmospheric carbon. GND NY is modeled after the original proposal of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunshine Movement for a Select Committee for a Green New Deal with the ability to bring legislation to the House floor. After that was rejected by Speaker Pelosi, a watered-down non-binding resolution was substituted by AOC and Senator Edward Markey (D-MA). Pelosi won’t bring it to the House floor and not one Democrat voted for the Senate version when Leader McConnell gave them the chance in late March. Many of the groups supporting the NY OFF bill have also endorsed GND NY because of its 2030 target for 100% emissions reductions. But its chances for adoption this year seem about as slim as a federal Green New Deal.
Governor Cuomo also branded his Climate Leadership Act (CLA) as the Green New Deal. Cuomo’s Green New Deal is a far cry from the Green New Deal for New York that the Green Party has campaigned for since 2010. In his budget address about his Green New Deal, Cuomo announced increases in mandates and funding to build 22 GW of new clean energy, including offshore wind (9 GW), storage capacity (3 GW), and both distributed and large-scale solar and wind (10 GW). But those commitments are not in his actual bill. The bill is stronger than CCPA in its 2030 goal for clean electric power—70% for the CLA vs. 50% for the CCPA, while both aim for 100% by 2040. However, with electric power accounting for only 19% of New York’s carbon footprint, the CLA leaves zeroing out the other 81% to an indefinite future date to be figured out by a revived Climate Action Council, now to be authorized by statute instead of executive order. The Climate Action Council created by executive order has been authorized repeatedly since 2009 to develop a state Climate Action Plan. But its reports have been repeatedly postponed, starting in 2010 and continuing into 2019.
Cuomo’s Green New Deal is really just greenwashing for the main thrust of his energy policies, which are flooding the state with imported fracked gas and subsidizing nuclear power. His administration is promoting and permitting expanded and new fracked-gas pipelines, storage, and power plants despite fierce grassroots resistance that has stopped a few of them. Cuomo also committed ratepayers in 2017 to a 12-year, $7.6 billion subsidy for four Exelon-owned nuclear power plants on Lake Ontario. Exelon wanted to close them because they were losing money, but Cuomo wanted them to stay open as carbon-free power sources. Other states, including neighboring New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, are now following Cuomo’s lead in subsidizing aging nukes that should be shut down before they melt down. By its silence on new fossil fuel infrastructure and nuclear power, the CCPA does nothing to turn back Cuomo’s plans for fracked gas and nukes.
A late addition to the mix of climate legislation, the Freedom from Fossil Fuels Act, was introduced in mid April. It calls for “100% fossil fuel free electricity generation by 2030, if practicable, but no later than 2040.” It gives citizens legal standing to sue for enforcement. It speaks to mitigating emissions from sectors other than power generation, but without any mandates or timelines. It openly supports biofuels and, by its silence, continued nuclear power. Its main purpose is to address a major shortcoming of both the CCPA and CLA by calling for a halt to new fossil fuel infrastructure. That purpose reflects the demands of the strong grassroots movements in the sponsor’s district who are fighting fracked-gas pipelines and power plants.
One of these projects in the Lower Hudson Valley district, the 680 MW Competitive Power Ventures fracked-gas power plant, is adding 10% to the state’s carbon footprint. CPV is notorious because Cuomo’s former top aide, Joe Percoco, was bribed by a CPV officer to get the plant permitted. That officer, Peter Kelly Jr., is the son of the former finance chairman of the national Democratic Party who partnered in an infamous right-wing public relations firm with Republicans Charlie Black, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Lee Atwater. Known as “The Torturers Lobby,” their clients included foreign dictators, American politicians, and global corporations. Percoco and Kelly are now serving prison sentences, but CPV is operating without an air permit by permission of a hack judge in the state’s Court of Claims.
All of the climate bills have environmental justice provisions. The CCPA calls for 40% of funds from a carbon tax or cap-and-trade program, if enacted, to be invested to benefit disadvantaged communities.
Cuomo already has other plans for the state’s clean energy funding streams, which he likes to control for his own patronage and pay-to-play campaign fundraising purposes. The biggest current funding stream is a 10-year, $5 billion Clean Energy Fund enacted in 2016.
Climate activists are proposing more funding through a carbon tax. NY Renews supports a carbon tax in companion legislation to the CCPA, the Climate and Community Investment Act (CCIA). A bill with very complicated language, it recapitulates the CCPA’s administrative structures and goals—450 ppm, 2ºC, 2050. Its carbon tax starts at $35 a ton in 2021 and rises to $75 a ton in 2030, raising an average of $7.1 billion annually. 30% would go to rebates, specifically a Low-Income and Small Business Energy Rebate Fund for tax credits, transit vouchers, and utility subsidies. 30% would be dedicated to large-scale clean energy projects. The 40% earmarked for disadvantaged communities would be divided between 33% for projects located in disadvantaged communities and 7% to compensate displaced workers and communities that lose power plants and factories that depend on fossil fuels.
NY OFF supporters back a more straightforward Carbon Tax Billthat also starts at $35 per ton but rises much higher to $185 a ton in $15 yearly increments over 10 years. The revenues would start at $3.5 billion the first year and rise to $14.6 billion by the tenth year.60% of the proceeds from this progressive carbon tax would be returned to low-to-moderate income residents as refundable tax credits to offset price rises. 40% would be invested in renewable energy projects.
Neither carbon tax bill, however, is getting much push from legislators in this session because Cuomo opposes it. Instead, state officials have given on-and-off support to extending Cuomo’s nuclear bailout, based on the social cost of carbon, to other carbon-free power sources.
In the last week of April, Cuomo told a radio interviewer that on climate action “we did most of it in the budget, so I don’t see anything specific for the rest of the session.” In fact, most of the governor’s so-called Green New Deal was removed from the budgetadopted at the beginning of April, notably the funding for 22 gigawatts of clean power he announced with much fanfare in his budget address. Cuomo’s statement may be an opening bargaining position for negotiations with legislative leaders.
350.org Supports 450 ppm
Climate legislation this year, if any, will probably be part of what is known in New York as “The Big Ugly,” a rush of omnibus compromise bills at the end of the session in June that lawmakers have to vote on with little time to read. The Big Ugly is negotiated by the “Three Men in a Room”—the Governor, the Assembly Speaker, and the Senate Leader, only this year for the first time the Senate Leader is a woman. Governor Cuomo has the most leverage because he ultimately has to sign the bills and because he can do much of his energy agenda without legislation by executive order.
The political momentum in the legislature is with CCPA. Nearly every Democratic Senator and more than 50 of 150 Assemblymembers are co-sponsors. The new Democratic majority in the state Senate made the new chair of the Environmental Conservation Committee the new lead sponsor of CCPA. He is pushing to get the Senate to adopt the CCPA, which the Assembly is expected to also pass again. Climate legislation this year will likely be the CCPA. The question now is whether in can be strengthened by amendments. Grassroots climate activists have moved some legislators to favor an amendment to ban new fossil fuel infrastructure. From all sides, from solar to gas, the energy industries are lobbying hard, too.
The senate Environmental Conservation Committee called climate hearings around the state in February where comments were to be limited to the CCPA. NY OFF proponents nevertheless showed up to urge legislators to adopt climate legislation with the faster transition target of 100% clean energy by 2030, not 2050, and with the more detailed planning structures, timelines, and benchmarks and definitions of clean energy provided for in NY OFF.
With 350.org giving them cover, the staffers of the foundation-funded climate groups at these hearings were mostly uncritical cheerleaders for CCPA. They urged the politicians to enact a bill that says 450 ppm, not 350 ppm, is the target, compromising their own organizations’ stated climate action goals. They did what was expedient for them instead of what was right for climate safety. Professional progressives know what they have to do to get paid. How billionaire corporate liberals fund their minions to pull the strings behind the scenes to co-opt, pacify, and line-up grassroots movements behind the Democratic Party has been presented in painful detail many times in CounterPunch: see John Stauber hereand here and “The Insider” here, here, here, and here.
The most important conquest of this nonprofit/industrial complex is the minds of the grassroots activists. Local organizations in which grassroots activists horizontally develop their demands and strategies independently tend to eschew compromised demands and force politicians to respond to them. But isolated and atomized grassroots activists, who are not part of local groups, tend to follow the online messages sent from the top down by the staffs of the progressive nonprofits whose strategic orientation is backing Democrats. The leadership of the well-funded nonprofits tend to limit their demands to what is acceptable to the Democratic leadership so they can be “players” in the legislative process and elections. They talk to Democratic leaders to find out how far they are willing to go. Then they sell the compromises to the grassroots activists and justify it as the left-wing of the possible. When social movements don’t try to change what is possible, they reinforce the status quo.
That’s why the role of Bill McKibben and 350.org in the New York climate legislation debate has been so disappointing. Nobody has been more effective than McKibben in popularizing the urgency of the climate crisis and the climate science behind that urgency, particularly James Hansen’s target of 350 ppm. But when it comes comes to advocating legislation and endorsing candidates, McKibben adopts the self-defeating “realism” of backing legislation and candidates who don’t support the climate action goals he has popularized. He acts as if compromised legislation is all the politicians we have should be asked to do.
The endorsement by McKibben and 350 Action of actress Cynthia Nixon for her primary challenge to Gov. Cuomo featured her support for the CCPA and the target of 100% clean energy by 2050. I was the Green Party candidate in that race, but 350 Action (the 501c4 political arm of 350.org) did not send me their questionnaire, did not respond to my request for one, and when I was able to independently get a copy and send them my answers, they did not acknowledge their receipt. When Nixon lost the primary election, we still could get no response from 350 Action regarding the general election.
Most of institutionalized progressivism in New York also endorsed Nixon, from the post-Sanders campaign organization, New York Progressive Action Network, to the Democratic Socialists of America. The DSA faction that prevailed in opposing a Green endorsement argued that I was “The Can’t-Win Candidate.” At least that was consistent with the goal of DSA’s founding father, Michael Harrington, who wanted DSA to represent “the left wing of the possible within the Democratic Party.” The wing of New York City DSA that thinks the purpose of a socialist movement is to change what is possible did succeed in getting a statement adopted that criticized Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for endorsing Cuomo on CNN soon after the primary. Meanwhile, the Working Families Party quietly made the complex maneuvers required to get Nixon off and Cuomo on to their ballot line after the primary, making Cuomo their gubernatorial candidate for the third straight election.
The Democratic socialists and progressives seemed as starstruck as the corporate media, who smothered the “Sex and the City” star with coverage. Nixon was far from being a socialist or even a Sanderista. None of the socialists and progressives seemed to have checked the Federal Election Commission campaign finance records for Nixon, which show that Nixon gave the maximum allowable $2,700 donation to Hillary Clinton for her primary campaign against Bernie Sanders and also threw in another $5,000 to the Hillary Victory Fund and $2,300 to the Democratic National Committee, both of which infuriated the Sanders campaign for collaborating with each other against Sanders. It was no surprise when Nixon endorsed Cuomo after the primary.
More to the point here, none of the socialist, progressive, and environmental groups seemed concerned or even made themselves aware of what it meant to endorse a celebrity touting weakest climate bill, the CCPA. The left in the Democratic Party then gave Cuomo a free ride after the primary, with no protest of his pro fossils and nukes energy policies, not to mention his conservative economic policies that kept the real estate barons and Wall Street financial oligarchy giving and giving to his campaign to the tune of over $50 million.
McKibben and the Democrats
In middle of the campaign in August, the Democratic National Committee reinstated their Obama-era “all-of-the-above” energy policy language that really means fracked oil and gas and subsidized nuclear power. As a Sanders-appointed platform committee member in 2016, McKibben had helped remove the all-of-the-above language from the Democratic platform. At the same time, however, McKibben had lamented in Politico that most of his proposed amendments to the Democrats’ energy platform had been defeated: a carbon tax, a fracking ban, a fossil fuel extraction ban on public lands, an IMF/World Bank funding ban for fossil fuel projects, an eminent domain ban for fossil fuel infrastructure, and a federal agencies mandate to weigh the climate impact of their decisions.
After the DNC’s return to the all-of-the-above policy, which also welcomed donations from fossil fuel interests, McKibben apparently felt it necessary to explain himself for sticking with the Democrats. Writing in the New York Review of Books, he actually used Margaret Thatcher’s old conservative taunt at the left, “There is no alternative.” Going out of his way to attack the US Green Party, he acknowledged the positive role of Green parties in Europe, Australia, and Canada but argued that America is exceptional. He said we don’t have a parliamentary system where “you can vote for the Greens without being a spoiler.” McKibben confused parliamentary governmental structures with proportional electoral systems. A parliamentary system is where the legislative body elects the executive leadership. A proportional representation election is where each party wins seats in the legislative body in proportion to the vote they receive. The UK and Canada have parliamentary governments where they elect representatives by same single-seat, winner-take-all system as the US does. The UK and Canadian Green parties have really “spoiled” some of those elections by winning seats in their parliaments. Of course, a higher proportion of Greens are elected in other countries with proportional systems.
Not understanding that Greens have won under both winner-take-all and proportional systems, McKibben called on the US Greens to stop running national candidates. He even apologized for his “self-absorption” in voting against “poor Jimmy Carter” in 1980 and for the Citizens Party safe energy candidate, the environmental scientist Barry Commoner. McKibben seems to have forgotten how terrible Carter was for the climate, from the Carter Doctrine of fighting wars for oil in the Persian Gulf to his plan for massive public subsidies for a “synfuels” coal-gasification assault on the climate, air, and water. McKibben lamely concluded his apology for the Democrats by writing, “Election day, oddly, is the only day not to make moral choices.”
What McKibben fails to see is that we are more effective in winning demands by sticking with them even if our candidates don’t win the offices. As the Green candidate for governor in 2010, I ran on a Green New Deal that included a ban on fracking at a time when half of the environmental movement still said natural gas was the lesser evil to coal and thus “the bridge renewable future,” and the other half was calling for a moratorium to study the impact of fracking on water. Democratic leaders, from the Obama administration to New York Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, were touting fracking as a huge economic opportunity.
We called for a fracking ban for climate grounds as well as water and economic development grounds. We gave voice to the grassroots anti-fracking movement in the Marcellus Shale region who already faced the slick fracking interests who were offering too-good-to-be-true promises in economically-depressed upstate New York of gas royalties that would supposedly make them rich if they permitted fracking in their communities. The fracking ban demand caught on with the environmental movement during the campaign. After the election, most of the environmental and progressive groups started demanding a ban on fracking. Anti-fracking activists dogged Cuomo all over the state with that demand over the next four years.
In the 2014 gubernatorial election, Zephyr Teachout in her Democratic primary challenge to Cuomo and me in the general election both received nearly 200,000 votes with the fracking ban as a central demand of both campaigns. After the election, Cuomo, who wanted to recapture the 5% of the vote I received, bent to the political winds and banned fracking. If we had not stuck to our guns and made the fracking ban demand without compromising to appease Democratic leaders, we would not have won it. That, not making politicians’ compromises for them, is how to change what is possible.
The battle over New York energy and climate policy is coming to a heard. On May 16, Governor Cuomo faces a deadline for deciding whether or not to permit the hotly contested Williams Pipeline for gas coming from the fracking fields of Pennsylvania, through residential areas of New Jersey, and under New York Harbor to the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens. On May 17, another public hearing on climate legislation will be held in New York City. The CCPA and NY OFF proponents will make their cases again.
The legislators and the governor are now negotiating in public, with a spokesperson for the governor saying the administration prefers “carbon neutrality versus zero emissions … to have flexibility because we want to be able to do sustainable biofuels [and] carbon capture and storage,” i.e., fracked-gas power plants. 350.org and the Sunrise Movement continue to laud the CCPA. Sean McElwee, whose Data for Progress think tank provided the policy framework and polling for AOC’s Green New Deal, recently chimed in to tout the CCPA in The Nation without mentioning NY OFF or the Green New Deal for New York bill, which is modeled after AOC’s nonbinding congressional resolutions except that it would be binding.
An Ecosocialist Green New Deal
Even if we are able to get a bill passed this year with the 100% by 2030 goal in NY OFF and GND NY, it will not be enough. The climate movement will have to take on militarism and capitalism if it is to win the changes we need on the scale and within the timeframe that the climate crisis now demands. It’s time to campaign for an ecosocialist Green New Deal.
We need to start building renewable energy systems with the massive public mobilization of resources that the US fought World War II with. The US devoted half of its national product to the war effort. It owned and centrally planned a quarter of U.S. manufacturing plant in order to turn industry on a dime to build the “Arsenal of Democracy” that defeated the Nazis. We need nothing less now to defeat climate change. “It’s Ecosocialism or Death!” as Kali Akuna put it recently in an interview on Green New Deal proposals.
The AOC/Markey nonbinding resolution if far from enough. A federal Green New Deal should include a ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure. In order to defeat the greatest threat to our security today—climate change—a federal Green New Deal must make deep cuts in military spending and redirect engineering knowhow and manufacturing plant to building a clean energy economy.
Politically, we can only build the majority support needed to carry though a climate action program with a Green New Deal that links climate security to economic security. The Green New Deal should include an Economic Bill of Rights that guarantees living-wage jobs, incomes above poverty, decent housing, comprehensive health care, and lifelong public education for all.
Capitalists seeking profits in markets are not going to make the clean energy revolution. Exxon and the Koch Brothers are not going to reinvest their fossil fuel earnings in renewables. Big Oil must be nationalized. Investor-owned utilities have every interest in extending for as long as possible the life of the fossil-fueled power and gas heating infrastructure that they now own and profit from. We must socialize power and gas utilities. A public energy system is needed so the people the democratic power to plan and carry through a rapid transition to zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100% clean energy.
Corporate agribusiness relies on pesticides, GMOs, and the depletion of soils and aquifers for short-term profits. It contributes to global warming by destroying the natural carbon sink of living soil. Aside from its climate impact, its pesticides and habitat destruction are leading causes of the mass extinctions of insects and other species that threaten to collapse ecosystems and thus food production. Corporate agribusiness must be replaced by a regenerative organic agriculture, with parity pricing and supply management programs to guarantee working farmers a decent income above production costs.
Drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and into the biosphere through afforestation and habitat restoration will never be profit-making enterprises. They will be public services. So will, as seems increasingly necessary to preserve a safe climate at this late date, a new industry of solar-powered acceleration of the natural weatherization process in the geological carbon cycle that turns atmospheric carbon into solid carbonates in Earth’s crust.
We can’t get to 100% clean energy without converting all sectors of production, from manufacturing and agriculture to transportation, building construction, and urban design. Social ownership of key industries combined with democratic, bottom-up planning will therefore be required to effectively coordinate the inter-related ecological and peace conversion of all productive sectors to clean energy and ecological sustainability.
Ecosocialist system change is what the climate movement should now be fighting for to avert a climate holocaust. We need to get back below 350 ppm. A bill aiming for 450 ppm won’t do. A federal Green New Deal that fails to ban new fossil fuel infrastructure and to demand conversion of most of the military-industrial complex to a Global Green New Deal doesn’t come close to what is needed. It is time for the climate movement to stop compromising its demands to what Democratic politicians are willing to do, demand what is needed, and make the politicians come to them.