Jake Woodier says a Green New Deal is the path to tackling both the climate and economic crises
In October 2008 the government announced a £500 billion finance package to tackle a crisis, demonstrating the vast state resources available when deemed necessary. But it dashed hopes of an economic turning point to tackle multiple crises simultaneously. The crisis prioritised was the global financial crash – the banks were too big to fail. Another – climate change – was still tomorrow’s problem. Meanwhile a group of progressive thinkers proposed a Green New Deal (GND), a transformative economic programme to tackle the climate crisis and address an economy ripping apart at the seams. However, spearheaded by the UK, global politics took a ‘business as usual’ fiscal approach to the global financial meltdown, stifling momentum for the early conception of a GND.
A decade later the climate crisis is still in practice tomorrow’s problem. Global efforts still face a lack of ambition, conflicting interests and resistance by powerful actors. However, across the Atlantic, hard work and deep organising by the Sunrise Movement for the GND emerged with support from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. This launched the GND across US politics and became a marker in the Democratic primaries for those most committed to climate action. Ocasio-Cortez and fellow Democrat, Senator Ed Markey, submitted a resolution for the Federal Government to introduce a GND. The momentum subsequently returned to reinvigorate the climate movement in the United Kingdom, from the climate strikers to Green New Deal UK. Last September Green MP Caroline Lucas and Labour’s Clive Lewis proposed the Decarbonisation and Economic Strategy Bill, the first attempt to legislate for a GND in the UK. Meanwhile, Labour for a GND successfully campaigned for the Labour Party to adopt the policy at the 2019 conference.
It’s important to view the GND not as a singular policy, but a transformative programme centred on the needs of people and environmental protection above profit-seeking and growth. Practically, the idea involves leveraging the power and resources of the state to intervene and finance the transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable economy. This must address historic and current injustices, recognising the causes of climate change and inequality as interrelated as we transition away from fossil fuels. To deliver on such a scale we need collaboration, ambition and resolve to challenge the current political establishment and powerful vested interests enriching themselves under the status quo.
What could Westminster legislation mean in practice? One example is the ‘Warm Homes for All’ policy – a mass retrofitting of housing stock – championed by the Labour Party in the 2019 election campaign. The policy wouldn’t just improve people’s lives and health, it would reduce bills and return money to those who need it most. With domestic housing accounting for a fifth of UK emissions, wholesale retrofitting is also necessary to achieve ambitious emissions reductions. The plans would create hundreds of thousands of jobs and stimulate local economies after decades of under-investment. Under a GND, jobs created would provide meaningful work, fair compensation and union security.
We can also envisage applying a GND to transport. Replacing traditional petrol and diesel vehicles with electric models won’t sufficiently reduce emissions so wholesale change is necessary to swap traffic jams for trains, buses, bicycles and pathways. A GND would treat transportation as a public good to end our reliance on cars and provide truly affordable, efficient methods of travel that don’t cost the earth.
This is just a glimpse of a GND’s potential to reorient our economy and social values to cherish things that matter to us all: well-paid and secure jobs, safe and warm housing and sustainable public services.
To advance a transformative GND programme in the interests of the majority, we must build a social movement too powerful to ignore. This means rebuilding connections in villages, towns and cities across the country while maintaining an internationalist outlook. It means demanding GND thinking at Westminster and all levels of government wherever possible. It means working with trade unions, especially those that represent workers in high emissions sectors, to guarantee a just transition. It means working within legislatures at all levels to drive impact and enact GND policies at the local, city and municipal level while the government drags its heels. Nottingham’s target for carbon neutrality by 2028 demonstrates what’s achievable outside Westminster politics.
A Green New Deal organised by and for the majority can topple our extractivist economic system that’s treated people and the planet as expendable in the pursuit of profit. A world that works in the interests of everyone, a world in which clean air, water, and a safe climate are valued is eminently possible. The effects of climate breakdown are already apparent, but worse is to come if left unchecked, with consequences that are near-unimaginable. We’re rapidly running out of time to do so, but we must organise for that better world before it’s too late.