Our society, and the social and economic systems which is based upon, are not environmentally sustainable: this is a strong sentence, but it is an undeniable fact. Scientists have been expressing their worries for years now, but no effective action has been taken by Governments around the world. However, concerns about the matter are finally reaching the public, also thanks to activists like Greta Thunberg. Young people are also undertaking school strikes to protest against the indifference of Governments and Institutions to take action against climate change. The “Institute of Public Policy Research”, a UK-based progressive thinktank that is considered an influence on Labour policy, recently published the paper “This is a Crisis: Facing up to the Age of Environmental Breakdown”: a meta-study of dozens of academic papers, government documents and NGO reports. The paper reports that human-induced environmental change will lead to catastrophic outcomes in societies around the world, including economic instability, large-scale involuntary migration, conflicts, famine and the potential collapse of socio-economic systems. “In the extreme, environmental breakdown could trigger catastrophic breakdown of human systems, driving a rapid process of ‘runaway collapse’ in which economic, social and political shocks cascade through the globally linked system – in much the same way as occurred in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2007-08,” the paper warns. Until recently, most studies of environmental risk tended to examine threats in isolation: climate scientists examined disruption to weather systems, biologists focused on ecosystem loss and economists calculated potential damages from intensifying storms and droughts. But a growing body of research is assessing how the interplay of these factors can cause the downfall of the natural world and human societies as well: environmental issues amplify and compound existing social and economic problems. The enormously increasing number of floods, droughts and wildfires can damage not only entire areas and businesses, but also prompt a rush of insurance claims and threaten the viability of financial institutions. The paper also warns about the vulnerability of food systems, that rely on just five animal and 12 plant species to provide 75% of the world’s nutrition. This lack of diversity tremendously increases the cataclysmic effects of climate disruption, soil deterioration, pollution and pollinator loss. The rising global temperatures, and the potential shortages of basic resources that will probably take place in the near future, will influence the movements of involuntary migration. The fear of migration has widely been used by politicians as an instrument to gain votes, therefore, such movements will undermine the political cohesion of countries. The IPPR report urges policymakers to “consider these risks as a priority, to accelerate the restoration of natural systems, and to push harder on the “green new deal” transition towards renewable energy”.
In this complex context, the proposal of a “Green New Deal” has emerged from the US Democratic party. This name refers to the position that some candidates are taking to indicate that they want the American government to devote the country to preparing for climate change as fully as Franklin Delano Roosevelt once did to reinvigorating the economy after the Great Depression. The first official document of the “Green New Deal” is a fourteen-page resolution which has been released by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey on February 7, 2019. The program main points are: pushing the United States to use only 100% renewable, zero-emission energy sources within 10 years, with great public-founded investments into electric cars and high-speed rail systems, and the implementation of the “social cost of carbon”. This latter is the cost (in environmental and sanitary terms) of every additional ton of Co2 emissions, which would provide a useful measure to understand the efficiency of methods which aim at reducing them. But the Deal is not only about the economy and the environment, it promises to deliver a deep social revolution: universal health care, higher minimum wages, the opposition to monopolies and their effects on society and labour. The Deal also addresses social and economic inequality, by providing new jobs that meet the new economic needs and strategies. “Frontline and vulnerable communities” would be prioritized in obtaining such new jobs, and would receive a specific education for doing so. The premises are certainly optimal, but…How much would this Deal cost? How would the US pay for it? There are no certain answers to such questions yet. The conservative American Action Forum estimated that a similar proposal would cost US $1 trillion, without taking into account new investments to achieve the resolution’s goals. Another analysis of “ClearView Energy Partners” estimate that US $2.900 billion would be needed just for the transition from non-renewable to renewable energy sources. To face such huge expenses, the Democratic Party proposes a 70% taxation for incomes higher than US $10 million. Another proposed model for funding says that “funding would come primarily from certain public agencies, including the U.S. Federal Reserve and ‘a new public bank or system of regional and specialized public banks.” This model, which has been endorsed by over 40 House members, has been compared to the work of the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW, or “Reconstruction Credit Institute,” a large German public sector development bank), the China Development Bank, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. But what do Americans think about the “Green New Deal”? On December 4, 2018, a poll released by “Yale Program on Climate Change Communication” indicated that although 82% of registered voters had not heard of the “Green New Deal,” it had strong bi-partisan support among voters. A non-partisan description of the general concepts behind a Green New Deal resulted in 40% of respondents saying they “strongly support”, and 41% saying they “somewhat support” the idea. Moreover, the Italian newspaper “Il Sole 24 Ore” reports that the proposal of a 70% taxation for the richest is supported by many: 73% of Democratic voters, 47% of “independent” voters and even a 37% of Republican voters. The Deal certainly aims at socially and economically desirable outcomes, but has raised some criticism. The Republican Party, including the President Trump himself, claims that it is impossible to realize and that it is an attempt of the Democratic Party to gain additional support (especially due to proposed reforms regarding health care and wages). Paul Bledsoe of the “Progressive Policy Institute” expressed concern that setting unrealistic “aspirational” goals of 100% renewable energy, as in the Ocasio-Cortez proposal, “does a disservice to the real seriousness of climate change”, and could undermine “the credibility of the effort”. In a February 2019 interview with “Politico”, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi openly mocked Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution for a Green New Deal, saying “The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it right?”. The following day, speaking at a news conference, Pelosi said that while she hasn’t yet seen the details of the proposal, she “Knows that it’s enthusiastic, and we welcome all the enthusiasm that’s out there … I’m very excited about it all, and I welcome the Green New Deal and any other proposals”.
To conclude, it is undeniable that climate change is happening, at a very fast pace, and that it’s going to disrupt our entire system as we know it today if effective and rapid action is not taken. But, is “The Green new Deal” the so much needed solution? Will it be adopted by the US Government and, eventually, by other countries in the world? We’ll see. In the meantime…recycle as much as possible, reduce your use of plastic and save water!