"Throughout the nation men and women, forgotten in the political philosophy of the Government, look to us here for guidance and for more equitable opportunity to share in the distribution of national wealth... I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people. This is more than a political campaign. It is a call to arms."
— F.D. Roosevelt, U.S. president 1933 to 1945
You may have read in Pique a few weeks back that a Whistler chapter of the Green New Deal (GND) held its inaugural meeting, with substantially more people than expected turning out to discuss this global grassroots movement. You may also recognize the idea as being put forth by a group of U.S. Democratic congresswomen led by the indefatigable Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Despite what can be gleaned from the news, however, it's difficult to know exactly what a GND is all about, its connections, and why such an initiative is important at this time.
First, a little history. The name itself borrows from the historic New Deal in the United States, a series of programs, public works projects, financial reforms, and regulations enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt between 1933 and 1936 in response to widespread need for "relief, reform, and recovery" from the Great Depression. These included relief for the unemployed through government job programs and welfare: bank reform (such as insuring individuals' deposits); relief for farmers through agricultural reforms that lowered crop production and pushed up prices; the institution of Social Security for seniors; and political power shifts (liberals and conservatives, populating both Democrat and Republican parties at the time, realigned, with most liberal-minded folks joining the Dems in supporting a New Deal coalition while conservatives—no surprise—generally opposed this intrusion of government). The New Deal was a broad response to a crisis that had resisted all other forms of melioration and required direct intervention.
The GND represents an ambitious vision for tackling the climate crisis through a just transition off fossil fuels, in a way that also addresses other crises faced by humanity—from the job losses/contractions and affordable housing issues of economic inequality, to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and halting the rise of racism. Given the relative inaction of politicians on these issues, people from all walks of life are convening in towns around the world to define exactly what this pushback to a currently destructive status quo will look like. The GND turns on the need for—and potential power of—collective action.
No surprise that the Sunrise Movement—America's take on the thriving global youth climate uprising—is at the roots of the GND. This collective grabbed onto the idea with some newsworthy action—occupying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office during the orientation for new members of Congress earlier in the year. Sunrise has also been organizing around the GND nationwide, and recently wrapped a "Road to the Green New Deal Tour" that included more than 200 town hall meetings whose spillover into countries like Canada follows a similar blueprint.
It's also no surprise to see heavy advocacy for a GND from Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis & Co. over at TheLeap.org, as its tenets fully align with many of The Leap's proposals. The Leap is also behind a worthy animated video summary (youtube.com/watch?v=k7p27E6hzvk) that outlines the GND's "... ambitious plan for how we can eliminate poverty and create millions of jobs while tackling the biggest threat of our time: climate change. It involves massive public investment in clean energy, transit and climate adaptation work. But the vision is bigger than that: it's about transforming our entire economy to be safer and more fair, and give everyone a better life."
Naturally, such lofty ideas scare some people. They criticize the GND's heavy reliance on government spending, its broad focus, and seemingly unrelated (but in essence intimately linked) targets. Most frightened are those Chicken Little business leaders and politicians who think that a GND advocates for complete deconstruction of society as we know it, and that it's just too much change for anyone to contemplate. Of course, they're way off. Better to think of the GND more as a "living renovation" in which we tenants remain in the building while a few rotting cornerstones, pillars, and beams are carefully and thoughtfully removed, to be replaced by something that makes the overall building stronger, more resilient, and, ultimately, more habitable.
In other words: with ecological thinking as the prime directive in such an economy, nothing would be lost to its participants for changes from which they only stood to gain.
Leslie Anthony is a science/environment writer and author who holds a doctorate in connecting the dots.