I’d rather have a border wall than the Green New Deal

Let me be clear: I think the border wall is a terrible idea. It is a huge waste of money and has become symbolic of values which completely contravene American ideals. It even contravenes “conservative ideals”. Do you think Ronald Reagan would have liked a border wall? I strongly doubt it.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has called fighting climate change her generation’s “WWII”. I agree. In part. If we don’t prevent catastrophic climate change, our way of life could cease to exist. Which would be bad. Note however that a potentially mortal condition says nothing about the effort needed to cure the problem. If you get rabies and don’t treat it, you will die. 100%. The cure, however, is a few shots and then problem solved.

Preventing catastrophic climate change is obviously gonna take a bit more than a rabies shot, but a WWII style mobilization? This is what Green New Deal (GND) supporters want you to swallow whole, but is their solution the best, or even a credible, way to solve the problem?

If we want to save the planet, first we should get the objective straight. The strict version of the GND espoused by the Sunrise Group states: “We’re fighting for a just transition to 100% renewable energy within 12 years — the time frame set by the world’s leading climate scientists”. 12 years (ie 2030) is indeed the time frame set out by scientists in a UN report. But not for 100% renewable energy. It’s the time frame to cut emissions by 45% from 2010 levels. It does not say our energy sources need to be renewable. If someone developed a cheap way to reduce 95% of coal and tailpipe emissions, then 2030 deadline solved. But if you’re a hardcore GNDers: not renewable, verboten! It is likely that renewable sources like wind and solar are among our best options to solve climate change. But it is also likely that some forms of pollution reduction or a 5% dirty fuel could help. If you truly fighting a war, you do not remove these options for fixations on some airy ideal.

But it gets worse (the GND that is). Even if we don’t limit our choice of technologies, getting emissions down by 45% in 12 years is going to be a formidable task on a tight schedule. It would make sense to concentrate our efforts on the goal and not waste energy on other things. Like jobs. Should we, as a society, try to make sure people have means of support? Yes absolutely. But that has nothing to do with climate change. If the best way to solve climate change involves creating jobs, great. If it involves job destruction, then…let’s worry about jobs in 2031. Or in separate legislation. Because if we don’t solve the climate problem and fry the planet, jobs really aren’t gonna matter. Ditto for “to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of……….”. An admirable goal which we should be thinking about as a society. But separately, in a way which doesn’t distract from the climate goal. When we fought WWII we devoted all our efforts to solving the problem, defeating Germany and Japan. We did not say hmm Stalin’s gonna be a problem down the line, so we might as well go after him too. And Franco. Had we done so, it would have been catastrophic. The full-fledged GND runs the same risk.

It gets even worse. War sometimes requires questionable weapons and in times of great peril, foregoing them is a very difficult decision — think the bomb. The GNDers go one step further, however, and want to marginalize very effective, very non-WMD type pollution control mechanisms, i.e. prices and markets. The latest from AOC softens the stance and allows for a small, non-central role to carbon taxes. But as detailed here, it should be front and center.

What little progress we have made on controlling emissions to date has been driven ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY by markets and prices. This has been lucky: the cost of wind, solar and gas has gone down, while the cost of coal has stayed stagnant. Had this been reversed, we would be polluting more. However there’s a very easy way to make markets work: add the cost of pollution back into the price. This can be in the form of tradable emissions permits (cap and trade) or carbon taxes. Both work and the nice thing is that you can set them to levels consistent with the 45% goal and just let the (much maligned) human self-interest work. Uneconomic polluting energy sources become unprofitable so self-interested corporations shut them down. Conversely, technologies which can cut emissions become very profitable, so greedy corporations rush to invest in them.

Don’t believe prices work? Think back to 2008. Gas prices skyrocketed. Consumers responded by foregoing SUVs and moving closer to work. US consumption of petroleum products dropped by 5.8%, the largest annual decline since 1980 (any guesses what happened then?). And because prices work, carbon taxes work. And cap and trade works.

The real elephant in the room — which would ground the GND even were it at all realistic — is that the US is becoming less of the emissions elephant in the room. That would be China, India and the developing world. It will be difficult to get them to get their emissions down. But not impossible. Rising middle classes are clamoring for less pollution and governments are at least paying lip service to cuts.. An efficient market solution in the US could serve as a beacon. A hugely expensive set of bloated blathering policies at cross-purposes to the actual solution will just create confusion.

Silver bullet efficient clean technologies would make the task of climate control much eaiser. It has been suggested that the real spending should not be on jobs etc, but on researching the type of cheap clean technologies which would lessen the burden on the third-world. While some of the large dollops of government spending might end up like Solyndra, given the seriousness of the problem that’s probably an acceptable cost (as mentioned before, setting the cost of pollution high enough through market mechanisms will also have this positive effect on research).

Which leads us to the Real Green Deal:

  1. Enact robust carbon taxes and/or a cap and trade system without loopholes
  2. Get rid of dirty energy subsidies (these do the exact opposite of what carbon taxes do) and other regulations/barriers which entrench traditional energy sources
  3. Use some of the carbon tax/cap and trade revenue on clean technology research (yes revenue not huge bloated costs we need a class war to fund)
  4. Share technology and create incentives for the developing world to join a system of carbon taxes/tradable emissions permits

Simple. Efficient. No class war needed.

Not the stuff to inspire gaggles of hyperventilating volunteers to support your next campaign. But it’s a plan that actually might work. 3) will be the hardest and not under our control. But without 1) and 2) to set an example, 3) will be much less likely.

That Silly Wall

In the hopefully unlikely case that the border wall does get built, I expect a wiser future generation (or the next administration) to tear it down and the history books will record how silly it was. Silly, but correctable. If, however, we let the GND misdirect our climate efforts and fry the planet, we may not have the luxury of history books anymore.

What is the Green New Deal?

There’s been a lot of buzz about the Green New Deal since members of the Sunrise Movement organized a sit-in outside Nancy Pelosi’s office in December. They were joined by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), which should come as no surprise to those that followed her primary campaign. As early as June 2017, she spoke of the importance of climate change and “switching our energy economy.” That same day, she pushed for a select committee on the Green New Deal, much to the shock and chagrin of older members of the House, who balked at the notion of a freshman changing the way things are done in Washington.

A mere month later, one cannot go a day without hearing about the Green New Deal, even on Fox News where it has been reduced to “banning cows and airplanes.” So what is it, exactly? For those who are interested in the full language of the document AOC released, I have transcribed the section that details the goals of the project in this same article on my blog:

Full Details of the Green New Deal

However, in summary, the Green New Deal is a proposal for a 10 year national mobilization effort to overhaul the energy economy through a combination of upgrading and expanding current energy infrastructure, as well as building new infrastructure. It involves research and development, working respectfully with indigenous and “frontline and vulnerable communities”, in other words women, elderly, homeless, youth, people with disabilities, migrant communities, de-industrialized communities, and depopulated rural communities. The Green New Deal is bold in that it seeks to meet 100% of our power demand through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources, but it is also empathic in that it is pro worker, pro union, and seeks to guarantee not only a federal job with family and medical leave and paid vacation, but health care, housing, access to clean water, clean air, and food for all people of the US. Yes, it’s ambitious. But as JFK once said, “if not now, when? If not us, who?”

Currently, the Green New Deal is just a policy proposal or a “nonbinding resolution.” It does not detail particular legislation at this time. However, it may still be up for a vote in the Senate, as Mitch McConnell and the GOP intend to use a vote to ridicule Democrats for what they are painting as an attempt to take away cars, cows, and airplanes. While the resolution itself has no mention of this, they seized on a document released from AOC’s office in error, which does in fact address some of these concerns. The sensible interpretation is that AOC and her office were referring to reducing the harmful emissions of our current transportation system, rather than removing it entirely, which would be the most absurd proposition of the modern age. She has since joked on her twitter about how she likes visiting her family in Puerto Rico too much to ban airplanes. Furthermore, Mitch is seeking to take advantage of the disparity between progressives and centrists in the Democratic party by forcing Democrats to take a stance that might be at odds with AOC and other progressives supportive of the Green New Deal.

The good news is that recent polls show that 80% of registered voters support the Green New Deal, which means that yes, majorities in both parties support this resolution. That’s even more support than the 70% of Americans that support Medicare for All. While it’s possible that this could change, it’s promising, and certainly more unifying so far than any other policy proposals we’ve seen in a while.

Sources Not Linked in Post:

Document Viewer : NPR
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McConnell Plans To Bring Green New Deal To Senate Vote
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The Green New Deal needs a theory on cities, fast

Promising start tho (Time/Saul Loeb/AFP — Getty Images)

Last week, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey introduced a resolution outlining the broad ambition of the Green New Deal. It’s a stunning document that calls for the full transformation of the American economy and society to a degree that our political system has seemed incapable of producing for decades. Given the urgency of the climate and inequality crises, this failure is untenable. The Green New Deal offers a very exciting beginning to how we solve these problems.

However, because we’re at the beginning, there are still a lot of unknowns. There is plenty of time to address what, for my money, is the biggest blindspot in the resolution: cities.

Right now the only implicit mention of cities is about public transportation and high-speed trains (which are both great). That misses the challenges and opportunities inherent to cities for fighting climate change and economic injustice. It needs a theory on cities, fast.

Cities will win or lose the future of our planet

One of the least appreciated stories of the late 20th century is the rapid transition of humans from rural or urban living. The global urban population went from 750 million in 1950 to over 4 billion today. More than 53% of humans live in cities, the first time in recorded history that more than half have done so. The UN expects it to increase to 68% by 2050, largely driven by growth in Africa and Asia (though demography is tricky to predict.)

The explosive growth of cities across the world is in part a reaction to the problems outlined in the Green New Deal — climate change and economic injustice. Climate change is making large swaths of rural inlands and coastlines unproductive and even uninhabitable, causing a mass exodus to cities that is destabilizing many regions.

The triple blow of neoliberalism — globalization, privatization, and deregulation have created an economic race to the bottom between countries that have left millions of urban dwellers in the US and internationally in poverty or near poverty. The disgust many Americans feel about the now cancelled Amazon HQ2 “contest” has been happening on a global scale for 40 years. As capital has been allowed to flow across borders, labor has not, which leaves a lot of people vulnerable and powerless.

It is safe to say that the future of our planet will be decided in cities. If we get the growth and development of cities right, we stand a good chance of addressing climate justice, economic justice, and social justice at a global scale. If we don’t get cities right, we’re screwed. It’s that simple.

The Green New Deal doesn’t do enough to address cities right now, so let’s fix that. This is something it and Congress can do a lot about. Allow me to pitch why cities are so important to the success of the Green Neal Deal going forward.

Cities promote density — which is the foundation of modern justice

We know that cars are terrible for the environment, but the bigger problem is that car-centric development is terrible for our health environmentally and socially. This development in 20th century America — commonly known as sprawl — was deeply racist and deeply unjust.

The government and private industry subsidized the exodus of white families to the suburbs, where they built generational wealth. The same forces blocked communities of color from doing so and instead exploited and/or neglected them in cities. This eighty-year government project is where the racial wealth and health gap comes from.

Zero-emission standards outlined in the GND solve direct pollution from cars, but they don’t solve this structural legacy of discrimination. There is simply no way to address climate change, economic justice, and social justice in the US without fundamentally rebooting the built environment towards density. With density comes greater accessibility, agency, and opportunity for all income-levels.

Luckily, we have existing infrastructure to accomplish this — in cities. The problem is that we don’t have enough of them. Few American cities have a high level of density or the means to achieve it right now. Even the ones that do, like New York City, have terrible accessibility and affordability challenges that make it hard to live there. As a result, the urban revival that has been talked about over the last 10 years is mostly bullshit. We’re still a sprawl nation.

For the Green New Deal to deliver in practical ways, it must focus on cities and demand that we abandon the 20th century car-centric, racist assumptions caked into our land-use policies. That means it must address everything from land-use to building codes that promote low-density and separate commercial and residential life at a city, neighborhood level, and individual building level.

We need to promote density in our cities and connected inner suburbs so we can create greater accessibility for the disabled, elderly, and families with young children. We can provide all income-levels, particularly historically marginalized communities, with more agency and opportunity when they are integrated into the built environment. And we can change the energy and transportation habits called for in the GND.

Cities rely on socialism to work and it does

Neoliberalism has pushed public ownership and engagement out of favor in America over the last forty years. They have been replaced by the much more individualistic ideas of corporate shareholder value and consumer identity. That’s a big reason why our physical infrastructure is crumbling, our institutions are fraying, and our civic culture is stratifying.

We need to make all three work to tackle climate change and inequality. Doing that requires abandoning neoliberalism and embracing a new commitment to shared, publicly controlled action. That means socialism — in the American tradition that has quietly and successfully worked in cities for over a century.

You might bring up the fire department or public transportation as good examples of socialism to your angry uncle at Thanksgiving, but cities themselves are the best example of socialism working in America. Public transportation and housing, public schools and hospitals, public libraries and parks — these are all deeply ingrained institutions that make cities possible for all residents at all levels of income and types of background. They were all the products of public-minding government in the Progressive and New Deal eras.

None of these institutions are in great shape today, but that’s not because of problems inherent to socialism. It’s because neoliberalism has crept into cities and attacked these institutions for multiple generations. A failing public institution is an opportunity for private profit. As bad as NYCHA or the MTA is today, the fact that they are even working at all is a testament to how well built and managed they were for so long — through strong public commitment and vision.

There is no way the GND can work unless we embrace public ownership and engagement at a renewed level. We can start be reviving American socialism that built these treasured public institutions in cities.

But cities have more people than power right now

The Constitution does not recognize cities and has a rural-bias that artificially limits the power of urban centers in American politics, both at the state and federal level. This is partly because cities are classified imperfectly in the US — overall more people live in surrounding suburbs than cities themselves, which doesn’t reflect the economic and cultural ties between them (and ignores the legacy of race-based decisions white enclaves made to secede from cities.) Given the problems facing the US and cities’ abilities to address them, this disconnect is untenable.

The GND must embrace Constitutional reforms that empower cities. This means adding representation in Congress (we need more reps and more states), abolishing the electoral college and, perhaps most radically, a realigning existing state boundaries to better incorporate natural urban geographies.

Some of these ideas sound outlandish and are probably unfeasible in the short-term, but they are also necessary to talk about. The GND is about injecting big thinking back into politics as much as it is about climate change. Introducing long overdue structural changes to our government to make cities as powerful as they should be must be a central pillar of that effort.

The Green New Deal is a work in progress. Critics can dismiss it for where it is right now, but activists are focusing on where it is going. And all roads lead to cities being its primary weapon against climate change and inequality.

Pete Harrison is ceo/co-founder of homeBody and a member of NYC-DSA.

Howie Hawkins Is Running for Governor to “Demand More”

April 12, 2018Howie Hawkins of Syracuse announced today that he is running for Governor to demand more progressive reforms and system change. Hawkins finished 3rd in the 2014 Gubernatorial race. His 184,419 votes moved the Green Party up to the 4th line among ballot qualified parties.

“Progressives need to raise our expectations and demand more,” Hawkins said. Topping his list of winnable reforms are single-payer health care, fully-funded public schools, a ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure, and 100% clean renewable energy within 15 years.

Hawkins will campaign as an eco-socialist. “We are demanding more than piecemeal reforms. We are demanding system change. Capitalism’s blind, ceaseless growth is devouring the environment. As long as workers are bound to a fixed wage and capitalists take the remaining value that labor creates as profit, the rich get richer and the rest of us struggle to make ends meet. We need more social ownership and democratic planning to provide a decent standard of living for all that is ecologically sustainable,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said it was time to “clean up the culture of corruption in Albany. Cuomo sells his office to the highest bidder, relentlessly extracting massive donations from the real estate industry, Wall Street, lawyers, and insurance firms. We need to replace pay-to-play with full public campaign financing.”

While the Green Party has always opposed the construction of new fossil fuel projects such as the CPV power plant in Orange County, Hawkins said that the recent corruption conviction of Cuomo’s former top aide required the state to rescind the permit for the plant.

Hawkins called for a Green New Deal as “the alternative to Cuomo’s corrupt corporate welfare posing as economic development.” By transitioning to 100% clean energy and investing in public infrastructure and services, the Green New Deal aims to achieve full employment with jobs in clean energy, mass transit, public housing, public broadband, education, and health care.

“Third terms are normally unproductive for Governors, as their ideas have already been tried and their most talented staff members have long since departed. This is especially true with Cuomo and his unusually high staff turnover rate. His performance in this year’s budget was particularly weak, with the Senate Republicans blocking most of his limited progressive agenda. It is clear his prime interest is running for President,” Hawkins noted.

Hawkins said his 5% of the vote in 2014 has forced Cuomo to compete for progressive voters by adopting a number of Green demands, including the ban of fracking, the $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, and tuition-free public college.

“The historic role of third parties has been to force issues neglected by the major parties into public debate — issues like the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, the 8-hour day, Social Security, and ending segregation. The Green Party has increasingly been playing this role,” said Hawkins.

The Green Party’s 1998 ticket of drug policy reformers Al Lewis for Governor and Dr. Alice Green for Lt. Governor helped to launch the movement to end the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Jason West and Rebecca Rotzler, the Green mayor and deputy mayor of the village of New Paltz, performed the first same-sex marriages in New York in 2004, instigating the movement for marriage equality that is now New York law.

In 2010, Hawkins brought the demand for a ban of fracking from Greens in the Southern Tier, including Green town board members, into the gubernatorial campaign. The fracking ban demand convinced the many environmentalists to support a ban rather than their positions at that time of promoting fracked gas as the “bridge fuel” to renewable energy or calling for a moratorium while fracking was studied. After Hawkins ran on the ban again in 2018, Cuomo adopted the ban two months after the election.

Hawkins added that his campaign will help Greens win elections, not just win reforms. “By retaining the ballot line, we can elect more Greens to local office. Winning local elections is the foundation for electing state and congressional Greens in the future. We need to elect Greens because even when the major parties adopt our reforms in name, they too often water them down,” Hawkins said.

As examples, Hawkins said that Cuomo’s implementation of $15 minimum wage is too slow and incomplete upstate, while his Excelsior Scholarship Program falls far short of universal tuition-free public higher education.

Hawkins, a recently retired Teamster, will ask for the Green Party nomination at its state convention in Albany on May 19. The Green Party is committed to ecology, grassroots democracy, non-violence, and social and economic justice.