Further support for a global Green New Deal

The scientific evidence for something like a global Green New Deal is stacking up all the time. This is cutting away at the possibility of the maintenance of ‘business as usual’ over the long-term. The truth is that the latest crisis of capitalism might not lead to a new approach, but progressive groups can use the opportunity to push forward with assembling a positive agenda. The latest information supportive of an international transformation stems from an intervention by Professor Paul Ehrlich. With colleagues, Ehrlich has contended that the extinction rate is greater than most scientists thought. By studying vertebrates on the verge of disappearance, the team has argued that the collapse has profound implications for the sustainability of human life.

For Ehrlich et al., there is a strong connection between the prospects of humans and other animals. If animals become extinct then ecosystems lose resistance and resilience. This has direct consequences for people who live in diverse places around the world. The destruction of fauna therefore can impinge on everyone. Thus, a ‘sixth mass extinction’ should be viewed with the seriousness that is often reserved for the topic of climate change.

It must be conceded that Ehrlich has a record of making dramatic predictions. Over fifty years ago, the scientist caused widespread concern with a text about the impact associated with rapid population growth. Experts have agreed that not all of his controversial narrative became a reality, but they have had to accept that the rising population of the world has been one of the factors that has driven the emergence of the Anthropocene.

Obviously, Ehrlich himself might be sceptical about the value of a global Green New Deal. The point is that evidence and forecasts made by scientists can be used by a wide range of political actors in the ‘Global North’ and the ‘Global South’. The political affiliations of scientists are not always as important as the content of their research. The lesson for the left is that it must embrace science, whilst being aware of the philosophy of science. One of the fundamental weaknesses of the nationalist right is its failure to tolerate the expertise of the scientific community. This is a worry but it is also a cause for hope.

The local aspect of the global Green New Deal

Local advocates for a global Green New Deal are fortunate in that they can learn from the contradictions of earlier political projects. One historic problem with state socialism was the proper relationship between the local and the global. Whilst Vladimir Lenin wanted the Russian Revolution to spread quickly to advanced countries, Joseph Stalin was prepared to build ‘socialism in one country’ and Leon Trotsky preached ‘permanent revolution’ on a worldwide basis. Meanwhile, Mao Zedong articulated a form of Marxism which always had adaptations to national circumstances built in. This ideological diversity meant that ‘actually existing state socialism’ was never a cohesive platform. Conflict between the different schools of thinking was further complicated by the evolution of Western Marxism. Western Marxists like Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno and Louis Althusser came up with complex philosophical discourses that helped to account for the lack of revolutionary class struggle in Europe. Traditionally, green theorists have promoted the idea of local action and global thinking. But this approach might not be appropriate for the promotion of an initiative which has an international dimension from the outset.

Supporters of the global Green New Deal may be tempted to aim their interventions at the highest geographical scale possible. The truth is that only certain actors can make that sort of connection with influential individuals. This leaves open the question of what should be done by people with less extensive networks.

Economists with media knowledge may be able to spread propaganda through the mainstream press. However, the websites with the most hits are unlikely to be open to their pitches. Hence, the use of think-tanks and national political parties remains a valuable strategy for such experts.

Ordinary activists have been affected significantly by lock-down restrictions. Nevertheless, this group can always share information, co-create knowledge and support the work of others. Furthermore, they have the capacity to learn by doing. Those who like the concept of community organising may get involved with local environmental groups. At the same time, less targeted volunteering is an option for those with the resources to consider it as a possibility, because it affords the possibility of influencing other people.

Nonetheless, this multilevel approach to spreading the global Green New Deal is not going to be without its problems. The bitter history of state socialism is a valuable reminder of the tensions and problems associated with introducing radical systemic change. The opposition to democratic reforms can be powerful. It is possible to see that business might not be able to prevent change by itself, while being aware that a lack of unity among thinkers and activists may defeat the same evolutionary process.

To sum up, the potential for a global Green New Deal will be pushed forward best if people choose to direct their efforts at various levels of governance. The fact is that some councils and nations in the UK have begun to take the climate change emergency quite seriously. Such small victories need to be built on to secure a degree of hope for future generations.

Finance and the global Green New Deal

In an era where finance has a hegemonic role in the international economy, it might be assumed that it cannot be part of the solution to the crises of the Anthropocene. There are two major reasons why this position cannot be sustained. Firstly, the global Green New Deal is morally preferable to the status quo. Secondly, continued neglect of the environment would have severe economic consequences.

By looking at one report that examined the relationship between finance and climate change in one country, it is possible to put some flesh on these bones. This recent piece of work, flagged up by James Meadway, was authored by Daniela Gabor and others. Instead of remaining in the realm of the abstract, the notes embraced concrete policy questions.

Gabor et al. examined four issues that would be pressing for a progressive government. Firstly, the report tried to develop a suitable taxonomy with which to distinguish between green and brown activities. Secondly, the report aimed to shift investment and credit towards green activities via the development of an effective regulatory framework. Thirdly, the report hoped to come up with a system for valuing brown assets accurately (bearing in mind the risks associated with their exploitation). Fourthly, the report aimed to boost the provision of funds to innovative green firms by establishing how to induce private sector buy-in.

Obviously, it is not possible to roll out a national agenda to a global agenda in a simplistic way. The truth is that there are important institutions above the level of the nation state. The IMF and the World Bank are just two of the bodies which are in need of reform. Nonetheless, the Paris Agreement on climate change is possible, and there are prospects for international collaboration if a reasonable individual occupies the White House.

Inevitably, orthodox Marxists could disagree with this optimistic vision. For many on the far left, finance is the key driver of imperialism. As such, a positive function for the structure is ruled out of court automatically. Some of the more dogmatic critics might do well to reflect on the planning failures that added to the environmental problems of the Soviet Union.

One has to appreciate the fact that the work of Gabor et al. retains relevance despite the unfortunate general election result of 2019. It can be utilised to influence the policy development that will take place within the Labour Party in the lead up to the next electoral challenge. And information sharing across national borders is possible even when air transport is much reduced.

Businesses are made up of people. And people can change. Hence, it is quite possible for finance to evolve in a less rapacious direction. By developing stronger and more democratic nation states (and international institutions), finance could be disciplined. Such a process would be enormously difficult, given the contradictions of Disaster Monopoly Capitalism, but the scale of the task should not deter progressive economists. After all, the discipline of economics has often given ideological cover for catastrophes, so it is only appropriate that economists make an effort to provide balance to what remains.

The global Green New Deal and business

One of the arguments that can be made against the global Green New Deal is that business will not tolerate the imposition of the necessary regulations. However, there are three points which must be considered in relation to this contention. Firstly, businesses do not form a homogeneous power bloc. Secondly, a lack of response to climate change may detract from future capital accumulation. Thirdly, the current trend towards extreme nationalism is bad for trade and international peace. All these factors mean that nobody can suggest that the prospects for the global Green New Deal are predetermined.

The implications of the diversity of businesses do require some elaboration. Specific firms are tied up with the polluting industries. For example, some multinational banks have been making investments in shale gas. Clearly, such corporations can be targeted by boycotts or by other political actions. However, it is the nation state that retains the power to constrain irresponsible commercial practices. Subsidies can be employed, alongside industrial strategy, to promote renewable energy and reduced energy usage. Furthermore, any bailouts could be made conditional on shifts in the behaviour of the direct beneficiaries.

It is crucial for asset managers to realise that capital accumulation will be adversely hit by the vagaries of the Anthropocene. Even if concerted action is taken, a lot of environmental damage has already been sustained. The fact is that the long-term interests of capital are not served by the continuation of business as usual. The longer people wait to change, the more radical the adjustment shall have to be.

Nationalism is not conducive to business. Neither competitive devaluations nor trade barriers tend to assist in the development of advanced economies. Moreover, an appreciation of the history of imperialism indicates that protectionism and rivalry between empires can easily lead to war. The experience of COVID-19 is a valuable reminder that war-type economies do not benefit all economic sectors. Furthermore, war-type economies are not suitable for building resilience.

Hence, it is possible to see that there is no enduring contradiction between protecting the environment and defending business. This is because all markets are dependent on what is left of nature. A planet that is not fit for humans or agriculture is not going to accommodate economic imperatives for long. The truth is that some business figures are still living in denial. Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg should have woken everyone up, but ideology can be like a sleeping pill. A global Green New Deal is not an impossibility and the sooner more social groups perceive this the better.

The global Green New Deal and pragmatism

Pragmatism is a philosophy that does not always get a fair hearing on the left. Orthodox Marxists have a complete toolkit to work with, while other thinkers may be put off by two aspects of pragmatism. Firstly, the American origins of the tradition could alienate anti-imperialist activists. Secondly, the lack of consensus among pragmatists may fail to impress individuals who want clarity. Nevertheless, if the global Green New Deal is to gain a bigger following within the United States then it might be useful to appropriate a mode of thinking that has historically had an intellectual impact in the heart of empire.

The main question must be whether there is anything about the global Green New Deal which would be incompatible with a pragmatic mindset. It does appear that the policy platform is practical in its nature. This is evident because the American debate about Modern Monetary Theory has indicated that the left on that side of the pond has been willing to consider new analyses of the economic structure. Moreover, the legacy of President Roosevelt shows that a New Deal discourse can achieve cut through in the United States. Furthermore, the radicalism associated with the Bernie Sanders campaigns has highlighted that American youth are now prepared to dream of a better future.

Compatibility is not the only criteria to think about. Dr Cornel West remains a compelling political figure. He has shown how pragmatism does not have to stand on its own philosophical feet. By combining the thought associated with the tradition with diverse ideological influences, he has demonstrated that persuasiveness can be achieved through synthesis.

The beauty of the global Green New Deal is that it is virtually an objective necessity. If something similar to it is not implemented then humans and ecosystems are in for a huge amount of trouble. Hence, a fair-minded pragmatist would be obliged to give the idea a hearing. Of course, a transition to a more sustainable economic system is unlikely to be smooth. However, the status quo is not successful with regard to building economic stability or social cohesion.

Trade unions and the global Green New Deal

Engagement with trade unions will be crucial when it comes to the promotion of the global Green New Deal. In the UK, trade union membership has risen slightly though trade unions remain fundamentally defensive organisations. The harsh lesson of austerity is that rank-and-file opposition to cuts did not translate into waves of serious strike action. Anti-union legislation was important in delivering this disappointing result, and a gap has developed between union leaders and their members. This complexity means that advocates of a global Green New Deal in Britain will have to tread carefully in the future. People who are anxious about their pay and conditions are not always moved by environmental messages.

When it comes to communication, listening is vital. The truth is that we often speak before we think. If we allow someone to express themselves first, we can make them feel much better about the potential of a conversation. By permitting them to make uninterrupted comments, we can show that we do not think we have all the answers. Meaning is co-created, and everyone should bear this in mind.

Of course, it is quite possible to use social media networks to get the global Green New Deal agenda out there. And there are friendly journalists such as Larry Elliott who may advance the arguments via liberal media. Nonetheless, face-to-face communication and Zoom calls are important for persuasive conversations. The narrative of the global Green New Deal shall have to be communicated on a person-to-person basis if it is not to become an elite project.

It is crucial for the global Green New Deal to become an initiative that develops from the top and the bottom of the political structure. For V.I. Lenin, trade union members would not become politically aware without the intervention of a top-down socialist party. It is essential to move away from such a narrow conception of ideology. A trade union member is not simply a worker: everyone is a subject in an era of mass extinction. Without radical intervention in the way the world works, a better wage will not compensate for ecological catastrophe. Ecological consciousness will be bubbling up within the ranks of the trade unions; the task is to enable this process to flourish.

Perhaps the economic meltdown associated with the pandemic will not coincide with popular impetus for the global Green New Deal. However, the economic crisis after that might be sooner than we think. This suggests that there is no time to waste; a greener and fairer world has to emerge, and action must be taken to bring the future closer. Conditions outside the UK could be more propitious, but the task is everywhere similar. Without substantial trade union buy-in, the international agenda is not going to become the common sense it should be.

“Cathedral thinking” and the global Green New Deal

Ann Pettifor has made a major contribution to public understanding of the global Green New Deal. Perceiving that it is vital to make a start on the development of the economic alternative, she has paid attention to assembling thoughts from their foundations. For Pettifor, the global Green New Deal must be Keynesian in nature. However, there may be critics who would want a more democratic and less nationalist global Green New Deal. Either way, the “cathedral thinking” of Pettifor is worthy of critical engagement.

Pettifor is worth listening to for several reasons. For a start, her thinking about debt has allowed her to broadly forecast severe economic crises. Secondly, her accumulated knowledge has illuminated popular understanding of the Treaty of Versailles and Roosevelt’s New Deal. In particular, she has underlined how the American President sent out workers to address the ecological crisis in the Dust Bowl.

Importantly, Pettifor has reminded us that the credit spigot is central to the working of the international economy. Finance, the real economy and ecosystems are linked together in a complex system. Without the regulation of a global carbon budget or a national carbon budget, politicians have little influence over the shape of the extractive community. Multinational banks can have more of an impact over the environment than oil companies, and it is worth bearing in mind that the rate of return on renewable investments can be lower than the rate of return for less sustainable projects. Countries with their own central bank can create credit with fewer constraints than those nations which are more reliant on the dollar or the euro. For Pettifor, an expanded public sector and a more self-sufficient national economy is feasible if green assets receive central bank support. Special bond creation may also be required, with pension funds being levered in by adjustments to the rules. At the same time, Pettifor wishes to retain a mixed economy.

Looking at these ideas in total, one can see that Pettifor has made a valuable stab at starting the conversation. However, Grace Blakeley has pointed out that the capitalist state is not a neutral actor. While one should not view the state as the prisoner or instrument of the financial sector, there might be limits to the permitted level of systemic change. Given that 2030 is approaching fast, campaigners must focus on the circulation and promotion of the ideals of the global Green New Deal. Extinction Rebellion seems to have faded away in the UK so the Labour Party and the Green Party are possibly the best vehicles through which to work.

The recent surge in the opinion polls shows that the Labour Party could mount a serious challenge to the Conservative Party at the next general election. Meanwhile, the Green Party seems to be stuck in the doldrums. This means that thinkers would do well to spread the ideals of the global Green New Deal through the mechanisms of the main opposition party. Pettifor has performed a valuable task by keeping the ball rolling and we should look on her penetrating work as a useful resource for learning and discussion.