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From a Green New Deal to a Green Economy

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
17th February 2013


Excerpted from Atlee McFellin :

“Green New Deal policies are a massive shift from the neoliberal orthodoxy of the last few decades. Just like the Republican Party’s almost unanimous support for destructive trade agreements, most Republicans oppose Green New Deal types of policies as well. It doesn’t matter that their opposition is based on flawed or even outright fabricated ‘analyses.’ Their opposition is based on the interests of who pays for their political campaigns. The oil and gas industry alone spent almost $64 Million in the 2012 election cycle, 90% of which went to members of the Republican Party. Meanwhile, clean energy and low-carbon companies are growing and building a political force of their own. This is growing and will, over time, provide a counterforce to the oil and gas industry and their stranglehold on Capitol Hill. The American Council on Renewable Energy represents many of those clean energy companies and their trade associations. Similarly, the push for an energy efficient economy is finding a new political voice in the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. In many ways the green economy movement is at the forefront of the push to fundamentally transform the economy with other similar movements trailing close behind.

What’s perhaps the most exciting and promising aspect of the movement for a green economy and a Green New Deal is that it’s bringing together a host of different organizations representing communities and constituencies that haven’t often come together over the years. The movement for a green economy and a Green New Deal came to prominence in 2009-2010, as so-called Cap & Trade policies and others were on the verge of passage. The Alliance for Climate Protection, a non-profit organization with Al Gore as its board chair, was leading the charge by acting as a coordinating entity of sorts with numerous member organizations helping provide a degree of direction to the movement in general.

Now called The Climate Reality Project, its focus has shifted more towards general public education around climate change. This is likely a result of the inability to pass comprehensive climate change legislation during President Obama’s first term and the drastic decline in public belief around the role of human activity in causing climate change. It seems few expected such a drastic assault by the extreme right in spreading disinformation like the manufactured “Climate Gate” scandal.

Labor unions, manufacturers, and environmental organizations are coming together through organizations like the Apollo Alliance and the Blue-Green Alliance (recently merged). They are made up of both public and private labor unions like the United Steelworkers Union, environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, and even manufacturers of all sizes. Small and medium-sized businesses are part of this movement through the Advanced Energy Economy. Local chambers of commerce have even joined the fight through Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy. Ceres is bringing together a wide variety of companies and investors small and large to address climate change and build a green economy. Broad umbrella organizations have emerged representing all types of community-based local organizations. 1Sky is the biggest of these organizations and recently merged with 350.org under the 350.org name to create a large advocacy organization made up of hundreds of thousands of members in the U.S. and a still larger global movement. It tackles many of the traditional environmental issues, while also advocating for Green New Deal policies. The Green Economy Coalition recently emerged as a global network to strategically support the expansion of the green economy at a global level in advance of the UN’s Summit on the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit this past June of 2012.

Low-income communities and communities of color are part in this movement too. Green For All has been pioneering the creation of green jobs, career-track jobs that pay a living wage, have benefits, and address environmental issues at the same time. They lobby Congress on environmental and Green New Deal policies, develop innovative policy research, while assisting coalitions of organizations in cities to implement green job creation strategies and helping green businesses grow. Providing empowering opportunities for traditionally marginalized communities is a vital aspect of this growing movement, which is why Green For All and others similarly working to create and expand opportunities low-income communities, communities of color, and others who have traditionally been passed by when economic opportunities arise.

There are other organizations and efforts within this larger movement for a Green New Deal. The Smart Growth Alliance is pioneering a new national opposition to sprawl and support for public transportation at the same time. There are even signs that working to rebuild our urban cores around public transportation and the remediation of brownfields can be done in ways that empower traditionally marginalized communities. (4) Numerous other organizations are starting sustainability initiatives aimed at involving themselves in one way or another in this movement for a green economy and a Green New Deal. ICLEI, Local Governments for Sustainability, is a network of local governments from around the world focused on the best ways for governments to leverage their resources to best build the green economy.

Outside of the public policy arena, organizations and institutions all across the country are launching sustainability initiatives as part of a truly massive movement. Colleges and universities and joining this movement through the American Association for Sustainability in Higher Education. Countless think tanks have emerged to focus on renewable energy and clean tech to workforce development, bio-based alternatives to petroleum-based chemicals, and much more.

This movement isn’t the only game in town when it comes to transforming the economy. Alongside the push for a green economy are a few other movements with the goal of fundamentally transforming the economy in one way or another. The green economy movement is much more expansive though, but aside from the work of groups like Green For All, it’s very much a “double bottom line movement.” Unlike traditional economic approaches that stand firmly on the belief that profit should be pursued above all else, that considerations of externalities like the environment only hinder profitability, the green economy movement is based on the belief that profitability and environmental sustainability can go hand in hand. As will be discussed in a subsequent article, the sharing economy, solidarity economy, and new economy take the goals of the green economy one step further, emphasizing a “triple bottom line” of people, planet, and profits. Just like the recognition that environmental sustainability and profit aren’t mutual exclusive, these other movements stress that the well being of communities can go hand in hand with environmental sustainability and the well being of the economy overall.

When the green economy movement first came on the scene with the ascendency of Van Jones to become President Obama’s green jobs advisor, some claimed it was part of a Communist conspiracy. Despite the irrational rantings of Glenn Beck and others, there is a strong push within this movement to more fundamentally transform the economic system as a whole. It just doesn’t have anything to do with traditional or “actually-existing” forms of Communism.

Given the frightening reality of climate change, the manipulative push-back from powerful corporate interests, and the longer-term economic stagnation that stands before us, it is likely that the green economy movement will increasingly take on the task of a more fundamental and structural transformation of the economy. The structural imbalances of power continue to thwart attempts to transform the economy on Capitol Hill. Examples like the Citizens United decision and the corporate assault on our democracy will likely force the green economy movement to fight for a more fundamental transformation of the dominant values and institutions in the U.S. This includes the nature and structure of major corporations as well as the nature of the political system overall. This is why an increasing unity between the green economy movement and other efforts to transform the economy are so important. The broader triple bottom line framework and transformational focus of efforts around sharing, solidarity, and a new economy must increasingly creep into the green economy movement; finding greater ideological and organizational unity.

We can already see the rise of a considerable mistrust of the entire notion of a green economy, evidenced by terms like ‘green washing’ and the decline in belief regarding climate change. A poignant example of this mistrust can be found with criticisms of the recent “Rio +20 Summit.” The 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development was meant to produce a renewed transformational focus on revamping the global economy for the planet and its poor. It showed little signs of achievement though. What’s more, this mistrust was codified into an alternative summit hosted as the “People’s Summit Rio+20.” It concluded that the green economy movement was fundamentally broken. As noted in one of their concluding documents, only by redirecting efforts towards the original goals of an Earth Summit, transforming the global economy into something that benefits the planet and its poorest, could the green economy find salvation.

From the perspective of the planet’s poorest and the organizations working with them, the green economy doesn’t represent opportunity. It represents a friendlier face of a global capitalist economy that has exploited them and their natural resources for decades. And just as the Alliance for Climate Protection became The Climate Reality Project in the face of public mistrust and disbelief in the realities of climate change, if the green economy movement wishes to win the hearts and minds of the American people, it has to not just educate but to create tangible and immediate solutions for individuals and communities struggling in the wake of our broken economy. This is why the other diverse movements to transform the economy have such a vital role to play. Each of them provide unique lessons for creating solutions today.

The green economy has been growing in the U.S. for decades, but if its going to go to the next level to transform the overall economy during these delicate beginning years of the 21st Century, it needs a mass movement behind it. The only way that’s possible, the only way the movement for a green economy becomes an impassioned charge from communities all across the country, the world for that matter, is for it to place the well being of those same communities into the forefront of it’s goals. When the movement to build a green economy transforms itself from a double bottom line to a triple bottom line movement, finding ways equitably support and interact with even the most marginalized communities, it’s firmly on the path to victory.”

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