You may have heard of the Green New Deal, a transformative idea that is gaining serious attention around the world. It lays out a step-by-step plan to save the world, but more importantly, it says that YES, we can do this, because we have done it before.
The name refers to the original New Deal that came about during a time of tremendous social unrest and hardship when the Great Depression of the 1930s threw a quarter of the U.S. population out of work. It was a time of labour and social protests and riots about economic insecurity and inequality. People demanded action from their government, and President Roosevelt listened. His words are an important reminder for today: “I agree with you. Now go out and make me do it.”
So people did, and Roosevelt fulfilled his promise. The Civilian Conservation Corps employed three million young men to restore the over-plowed and drought-ridden Great Plains; The Works Progress Administration hired millions to construct public buildings. He didn’t get everything right, but, overall, it worked.
Of course, there was a huge backlash from the rich and powerful. It was criticized as fascist and socialist. Big business and the banks tried to overthrow the government, but there were millions in the streets demanding action. Why? Because the New Deal was helping them. The tide turned, a new middle class was created and countless benefits that endure to this day.
A dire warning
The Green New Deal exploded into the climate debate just when the IPCC issued it’s most urgent time line yet in late 2018: to avoid accelerating climate catastrophes that are already upon us, and insure the continued survival of our species we must prevent global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
That requires a 50% reduction in global carbon emissions by 2030 (in a decade!) and then further reductions to near zero by 2050.
A monumental transition to a world powered by renewable energy and underpinned by social and economic justice needs a plan, and the Green New Deal is that plan. It recognizes the fact that our many problems, whether environmental, social or economic, are all completely interconnected. You can’t solve one without solving all the others, and the efforts of one nation will never be enough. The whole world must unite around this common cause.
A just transition
As we have done with the global pandemic, governments will have to step in, provide real leadership, and help people. The Green New Deal includes a “just transition” as we move aggressively away from fossil fuels and into solar, wind and geothermal energies, making sure that those whose livelihoods are threatened are given every possible opportunity to stay employed in the new, 21st Century clean technologies and away from our long tradition of polluting with abandon.
Not only does the plan call for a rapid shift to clean energy, but also a rapid energy upgrade for all existing infrastructure: all buildings will need improved energy efficiency upgrades (which will reduce pollution and the cost to operate these buildings, and improve the comfort of being in them). It calls for a complete and rapid shift to zero-emission electric transportation (better, safer, more comfortable vehicles that cost much less to run and maintain); a return to sustainable, local agriculture (better food quality, better food security, more local agricultural jobs); a rapid restoration of degraded ecosystems (if we save other species by restoring their homes, we save ourselves too by restoring the absolutely critical ecosystem services they provide); planting billions of trees and stopping the destruction of the rainforests (helping to stabilize global weather patterns) . . . and much more.
It not only calls for the creation of hundreds of millions of jobs world wide, but rapid investment in the most excluded communities and nations, guaranteeing health care, food security, education and child care, not just for us, but for everybody on the planet.
Now, says the Green New Deal, we have this once-in-a-century opportunity. We did it during the Great Depression. We are doing it during the Global Pandemic. Now, we must do it again. Let’s come together and fix the world.
Don Pettit is a community columnist living in Dawson Creek and Executive Director of the Peace Energy Cooperative.