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Blueprints for impossible futures

Blueprints for impossible futures

“A People’s Green New Deal” demands a different kind of impossible

Over the past two decades, a proliferation of “Green New Deal” literature has promoted various strategies for changing the structure of the global energy system to combat climate change.  While the term was first coined by the neoliberal economist Thomas Friedman, it has since been taken up by more progressive voices, from Keynesian social democrats to eco-socialists. Sadly, despite the promise of a new wave of climate-conscious legislation, from the European Green Deal and the UN Climate Agreement to the AOC-Markey legislation of 2019, each seems as unlikely as its predecessors to enact substantive change. At the recent COP 26 Climate Summit, for example, the United States failed to join 30 other nations in pledging to phase out sales of new gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040 worldwide. With the US federal government dominated by fossil-fuel friendly Democrats and climate-change denying Republicans, the chances of passing ambitious climate legislation appear bleak. In the absence of real political force, GND proposals often serve as blueprints that respond to a largely speculative question: what would we do if we were in a position of power to create meaningful, lasting, and necessary change?

Instead of offering another blueprint for an impossible future, Max Ajl’s A People’s Green New Deal levels a critique at the genre itself, raising significant questions about the way that plans are proffered, and how most green futures implicitly accept the ongoing violence of capitalist imperialism. Ajl’s work engages critically with a wide spectrum of GND proposals, from policy documents like the European Commission and European Environmental Agency’s “European Green Deal” and Senator Ed Markey and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s House Resolution 109

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The climate response cliff

Climate change is only one symptom of a broader ecological crisis; the rapid loss of wild life is equally critical. Most species other than humans and our livestock, (and pets and pests) have had horrifying drops in population within the last 70 years or so, even if they are not yet threatened with extinction. We and our livestock are now 96% of the mass of land vertebrates, leaving all wild creatures together to comprise a mere 4%. At this rate within another generation there may be virtually nothing left but us and our coterie—and we would not survive that, as we depend on a network of life more complex than we can imagine. We’re also seeing the oceans acidifying, filling with plastic and toxins, and warming; topsoil depleted, rivers and aquifers running dry; and the proliferation of nuclear weapons and power plants leaving sites potentially dangerous for thousands or even millions of years. Various toxins are infiltrating our water, our food and our bodies.

All these threats are related—there are simply too many humans, and the richest segment are consuming and wasting too much per capita. Solutions to climate change will generally solve the other environmental problems as well. Real solutions that is, not the magic tricks of entrenched industrial interests, the dependence on technical breakthroughs unlikely to happen…the greenwashing. Real solutions involve drastic change in the lifestyles of we who live in the “developed” nations.

How drastic? That’s the crux of this essay. We’re caught in an energy trap, the consequences of which keep building. If we had taken sensible and responsible steps when the first signs of depletion and overshoot became apparent around 1980, we could probably have transitioned in the way many proponents of a Green New Deal imagine…

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Can the Green New Deal save us? No it can’t.

Advocates for a Green New Deal are for a collection of admirable goals which it is usually taken for granted can be achieved within a capitalist economy and while the pursuit of economic growth continues.  Here is an indication of the main reasons why these assumptions are totally mistaken.

The fundamental assumption underlying these beliefs is that economic growth can be “decoupled” from resource and ecological demands and impacts. That is, it is claimed that the rate of production and consumption can continue to increase while the resources needed to do this can be reduced to sustainable levels, along with the environmental damage it causes. This comforting faith is widely held, including by major global institutions.

It is disturbing that this tech-fix faith persists despite the mountain of evidence that it is wrong. Anyone still unaware of this should consult the massive studies by Hickel and Kallis, Parrique et al., and Haberle et al.  The second lists over 300 studies and the third lists over 850.

There are some areas in which production is being achieved and/or could be with reduced impacts, and transition to renewable energy is an important instance.  But what matters is whether the overall output of an economy can be reduced as its GDP rises, which is “absolute” decoupling. The above reviews conclude emphatically that despite constant effort to increase efficiency and cut costs absolute de-coupling of resource use and environmental impact from GDP growth is not occurring, and that greater recycling effort and transition to “service and information economies” are not at all likely to achieve it. Despite constant effort to improve productivity and efficiency, in general growth of GDP is accompanied by growth in resource use.

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The Path to a Livable Future Cannot be the Path We’re On

The Path to a Livable Future Cannot be the Path We’re On

Stan Cox has pulled off quite a feat with his latest book The Path to a Livable Future: A New Politics to Fight Climate Change, Racism, and the Next Pandemic. In a relaxed, inviting style, Cox sets unorthodox ideas in a persuasive human and environmental context.

Cox explains:

“The path to a livable future now involves not just reforming an unjust system, or budgeting a little more here and there to ‘underserved’ communities, but abolishing marginalization itself. By co-creating movements from all sectors of society, we organize in ways that are inclusive, open, democratic, and diverse. This is how we become unstoppable, and how we seed our present struggles with the dignified future we collectively envision.” [Italics added]

To be clear: Cox aims to promote radical action in the best sense, that is, by getting down to basics, to roots. Here is Cox:

In my previous book, The Green New Deal and Beyond, I focused tightly on the climate emergency and national public policies that will be necessary to end it. In this book, which zooms out to a wide-angle view of an entire society in rapid flux, I look to the movements now demanding the kind of transformation that’s necessary to get us all through the multiple, entangled emergencies that finally captured the nation’s attention in 2020.

Simply put, The Green New Deal and Beyond [April 22, 2020] is a ‘top-down’ approach grounded in national public policy, whereas The Path to a Livable Future is a ‘bottom-up’ approach grounded in grassroots movements collectively joined. The two books work in tandem to describe the essential ‘transformation’ Cox champions. However, that is just the beginning. Early on, Cox writes:

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Peter Foster: Mark Carney, man of destiny, arises to revolutionize society. It won’t be pleasant

Peter Foster: Mark Carney, man of destiny, arises to revolutionize society. It won’t be pleasant

What Carney ultimately wants is a technocratic dictatorship justified by climate alarmism

In his book Value(s): Building a Better World for All, Mark Carney, former governor both of the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, claims that western society is morally rotten, and that it has been corrupted by capitalism, which has brought about a “climate emergency” that threatens life on earth. This, he claims, requires rigid controls on personal freedom, industry and corporate funding.

Carney’s views are important because he is UN Special Envoy on Climate Action and Finance. He is also an adviser both to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the next big climate conference in Glasgow, and to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Since the advent of the COVID pandemic, Carney has been front and centre in the promotion of a political agenda known as the “Great Reset,” or the “Green New Deal,” or “Building Back Better.” All are predicated on the claim that COVID, and its disruption of the global economy, provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not just to regulate climate, but to frame a more fair, more diverse, more inclusive, more safe and more woke world.

Carney draws inspiration from, among others, Marx, Engels and Lenin, but the agenda he promotes differs from Marxism in two key respects. First, the private sector is not to be expropriated but made a “partner” in reshaping the economy and society. Second, it does not make a promise to make the lives of ordinary people better, but worse…

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What Would a Deep Green New Deal Look Like?

What Would a Deep Green New Deal Look Like?

Wind turbines in the Columbia Gorge. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The Green New Deal has attracted perhaps the greatest attention of any proposal for decades.  It would guarantee Medicare-for-All, Housing-for-All, student loan forgiveness and propose the largest economic growth in human history to address unemployment and climate change.

But the last of these hits a stumbling block.  Creation of all forms of energy contributes to the destruction of nature and human life.  It is possible to increase the global quality of life at the same time we reduce the use of fossil fuels and other sources of energy.  Therefore, a “deep” GND would focus on energy reduction, otherwise known as energy conservation.  Decreasing total energy use is a prerequisite for securing human existence.

Recognizing True Dangers

Fossil fuel (FF) dangers are well-known and include the destruction of Life via global heating.   FF problems also include land grabs from indigenous peoples, farmers, and communities throughout the world as well as the poisoning of air from burning and destruction of terrestrial and aquatic life from spills.  But those who focus on climate change tend to minimize very real danger of other types of energy production.  A first step in developing a genuine GND is to acknowledge the destructive potential of “alternative energy” (AltE).

Nuclear power (nukes).  Though dangers of nuclear disasters such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima are horrific, problems with the rest of its life cycle are often glossed over.  Mining, milling, and transporting radioactive material to supply nukes with fuel and “dispose” of it exposes entire communities to poisoning that results in a variety of cancers.  Though operation of nukes produces few greenhouse gases (GHGs), enormous quantities are released during production of steel, cement and other materials for building nuclear plants…

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Book and Film Expose the Illusion of “Green” Technology: “Bright Green Lies”

Book and Film Expose the Illusion of “Green” Technology: “Bright Green Lies”

Technology can be and has been beneficial in many ways.  Unfortunately, it’s been disastrous in others.  For example, utility “Smart” Meters have been nothing but trouble for people and the environment in numerous ways including fires and explosions (see 12345).  Ditto on 5G (see 12345).

Book and film, Bright Green Lies expose more examples of unsafe technology that are still audaciously but inaccurately being lauded as “green.”

From Bright Green Lies:

The book Bright Green Lies dismantles the illusion of ‘green’ technology in breathtaking, comprehensive detail, revealing a fantasy that must perish if there is to be any hope of preserving what remains of life on Earth. From solar panels to wind turbines, from LED light bulbs to electric cars, no green fantasy escapes Jensen, Keith, and Wilbert’s revealing peak behind the green curtain. Bright Green Lies is a must-read for all who cherish life on Earth.” —Jeff Gibbs, writer, director, and producer of the film Planet of the Humans.

The film Bright Green Lies investigates the change in focus of the mainstream environmental movement, from its original concern with protecting nature, to its current obsession with powering an unsustainable way of life. The film exposes the lies and fantastical thinking behind the notion that solar, wind, hydro, biomass, or green consumerism will save us from climate change. Tackling the most pressing issues of our time will require us to look beyond the mainstream technological solutions and ask deeper questions about what needs to change.

Bright Green Lies – Trailer from Julia Barnes on Vimeo.


Between the Devil and the Green New Deal

We cannot legislate and spend our way out of catastrophic global warming.

From space, the Bayan Obo mine in China, where 70 percent of the world’s rare earth minerals are extracted and refined, almost looks like a painting. The paisleys of the radioactive tailings ponds, miles long, concentrate the hidden colors of the earth: mineral aquamarines and ochres of the sort a painter might employ to flatter the rulers of a dying empire.

To meet the demands of the Green New Deal, which proposes to convert the US economy to zero emissions, renewable power by 2030, there will be a lot more of these mines gouged into the crust of the earth. That’s because nearly every renewable energy source depends upon non-renewable and frequently hard-to-access minerals: solar panels use indium, turbines use neodymium, batteries use lithium, and all require kilotons of steel, tin, silver, and copper. The renewable-energy supply chain is a complicated hopscotch around the periodic table and around the world. To make a high-capacity solar panel, one might need copper (atomic number 29) from Chile, indium (49) from Australia, gallium (31) from China, and selenium (34) from Germany. Many of the most efficient, direct-drive wind turbines require a couple pounds of the rare-earth metal neodymium, and there’s 140 pounds of lithium in each Tesla.

It’s not for nothing that coal miners were, for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the very image of capitalist immiseration—it’s exhausting, dangerous, ugly work. Le Voreux, “the voracious one”—that’s what Émile Zola names the coal mine in Germinal, his novel of class struggle in a French company town.

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green new deal, commune, mining, renewable energy, JASPER BERNES, fossil fuels, finite resources

Mass Education and the Climate Crisis: Lessons from the Pandemic (Part 2)

This is part two of a five-part essay that highlights lessons from the coronavirus pandemic which could advance the fight for a Green New Deal. Part one (published on Resilience.org here) argues that money is not scarce. Part two argues that control of government policy by wealthy elites tends to produce unnecessary suffering and inadequate responses to major crises. Part three argues that plutocracy is incompatible with serious climate action. Part four explores how the public can easily draw very different conclusions and argues that the climate movement must undertake mass education to ensure these lessons are learned. Part five outlines a broad curriculum containing these lessons and many more.

Lesson 2: Plutocracy’s Deadly Cruelty

Many Americans recognize that their government does not represent them. Political scientists have shown that we live in a vastly unequal society where the wealthiest individuals and large corporations control not only the economy, but the political system as well. When the policy preferences of the superrich diverge from the rest of the population, those are the policies typically implemented. Though it possesses some essential elements of a democracy, the US political system often operates as a form of plutocracy. However, discussions of politics tend to explore the surface phenomenon of Democratic and Republican politicians’ approaches to social issues like the pandemic. Seldom does the public hear serious discussion about how political decisions reflect the dynamics of a profit-maximizing economy and the priorities of the wealthy elites that control both parties.

Many crises facing society can be explained simply by reference to the economic goal of profit maximization. When greed is an economy’s central organizing principle, it means that financial self-interest is pursued even at the expense of diverse public interests…

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Wind and Solar Energy Don’t Work


Leftists fantasize that before long, we can dispense with all reliable energy sources–coal, natural gas, nuclear, even hydro–and run our society entirely on wind and solar, two forms of energy that have been obsolete for 150 years.

How can this be, since wind turbines only produce electricity when the wind is blowing sufficiently, which is around 40% of the time, and solar only works when the sun is shining and the panels are not covered in ice and snow–in a northern climate, something like 18% of the time? Obviously the Greenies have a problem. Today, their problem is solved by building natural gas plants that carry the load when wind and solar are AWOL–which is to say, a large majority of the time. Of course, the natural gas plants are dispatchable, which means they can produce energy reliably, at will, 24/7. Which raises the obvious question: if we have to build fully-capable natural gas plants to make wind and solar sort-of work, some of the time, what the heck to we need the wind and solar for?

The truthful answer to that question has nothing to do with the laws of physics, and everything to do with the laws of money. But the Left has another answer: batteries! It looks forward to the day when batteries will store the output of wind turbines and solar panels and thereby turn unreliable, intermittent energy into electricity that you can count on to turn on your lights when you flip the switch.

At American Experiment.org, my colleague Isaac Orr demolishes the Green New Deal fantasy. One basic problem is that wind turbines don’t work when the weather gets cold, which can be fatal in the North, especially when we are experiencing a brutal cold snap:

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Power Down

Power Down

One of the articles of faith I have held for a long time is that we are not, collectively, going to deal with the troubles of our future willingly. We are not going to reduce our energy and resource usage in an effort to mitigate the worst impacts of ecological destruction and climate change, or to otherwise make a better future for ourselves and others. Yes, some brave few will do this for a variety of personal reasons, but the vast majority of us are not willing to make the dramatic personal sacrifices necessary to bring to heel the destructive tendencies of this industrial civilization we call home.

The reasons for that are myriad and they have been discussed at length by people smarter than me. It is a problem that pervades every part of our lives, from the personal to the familial, the social to the cultural, the economic and political. No, there will be no great, grand effort of shared sacrifice; and no, there will be no great, grand Green New Deal that will remake all our industrial infrastructure into a non-destructive, regenerative alternative to itself. We do not appear to have the social cohesion, political leadership, economic resilience, and cultural mores to tackle either approach, and the simple fact is that the modern industrial civilization we have come to demand is not one that is amenable to a sustainable solution; we must just live differently. Unfortunately, there is not enough buy in for that different kind of living for us to transition to it willingly.

That recognition is the foundation of another article of faith of mine, which is that we will deal with the troubles of our time, just not willingly. We will lower our energy and resource usage and turn away from the contours of our current industrial civilization and its trappings, but it won’t be due to a moral reckoning. We will not one sudden day collectively acknowledge the pain and misery we are creating for ourselves, future generations, and all the non-human life on this planet and then change our ways; no, we will simply muddle our way through the cascading failures of this very dumb way of living. Our movement toward a simpler way of life will take place haphazardly, piece meal, and often times cruelly. It will not be planned; it will far more be unplanned chaos and destruction, with too little directed effort mixed in. It will take a long time, but will also happen in a series of sudden bursts, sometimes spread far out and other times on the heels of each other. And it will happen in perfectly unpredictable ways.

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Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh V

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Pompeii (1993) Photo by author

Yet another of my comments for an article on The Tyee regarding energy and how we should approach our coming dilemmas. https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2020/10/02/BC-Needs-Wartime-Approach-Climate-Emergency/


While I certainly appreciate the need to ‘correct’ our global industrial civilization’s path from its current trajectory there is an obvious ‘problem’ with the argument presented here: forcing the wrong ‘solution’ upon society is a recipe for an expedited collapse. As in the movie/series Snowpiercer (where an attempt to ‘correct’ global warming ended up leading to a frozen planet), the human need to ‘do something’ often leads to negative, unintended consequences and, quite frequently, the opposite of what was desired.

A great example of how the above ‘solution’ would likely bring about more quickly the opposite of what is desired is found in this statement: “We must conduct an inventory, determining how many heat pumps, solar arrays, wind farms, electric buses, etc., we will need to electrify virtually everything and end our reliance on fossil fuels.” To me, this shows quite clearly that the ‘solution’ is not to address the dilemmas created by chasing infinite growth, as our ‘modern’ world does, but maintaining business as usual by trying to have our cake and eat it too. It proposes maintaining all the technological, industrial, and energy-intensive baubles/conveniences that fossil fuels have brought us without realising the price that must be paid to do this (in fact, I would argue the impossibility of doing this).

As I have argued several times on these pages, renewables are NOT the panacea they are marketed as. The energy-return-on-energy-invested (EROEI) is markedly lower than fossil fuels resulting in significantly less energy available for end use. They all rely on environmentally-destructive processes for their material input. They depend upon industrial processes in their manufacture that cannot be done without fossil fuels. They use finite resources, some of which are already experience diminishing returns. They cannot replace fossil fuels.

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Whatever Happened to the Green New Deal?

Whatever Happened to the Green New Deal?

The Green New Deal was the signature issue of the Green Party in the 2010s. Howie Hawkins was the first US candidate to campaign for a Green New Deal in 2010 running for New York governor. The Green Party’s presidential candidate in 2012 and 2016, Jill Stein, made “A Green New Deal for America” the theme of her two campaigns.

The ecosocialist Green New Deal proposed by the Green Party’s 2020 presidential candidate, Howie Hawkins, is a 10-year, $27.5 trillion a program to achieve zero-to-negation carbon emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030. It also includes an additional $1.4 trillion a year for an Economic Bill of Rights to a guaranteed job, a guaranteed income above poverty, affordable housing, Medicare for All, lifelong tuition-free public education, and a secure retirement by doubling Social Security benefits.

This ecosocialist approach features extensive public ownership and planning, particularly in the energy, transportation, and manufacturing sectors, in order to achieve its goals in a decade. To support the conversion of industrialized, pesticide-dependent corporate agriculture to organic farms owned by working farmers that rebuild carbon-capturing living soils, the ecosocialist Green New Deal provides income guarantees, parity pricing and supply management for all agricultural products in order to ensure that working farmers and farmworkers have decent incomes and economic security.

The ecosocialist approach recognizes that capitalism’s destruction of the climate and exploitation of people are part of the same process. It recognizes that in order to harmonize society with nature we must harmonize human with human by ending economic exploitation and all forms of oppression. It calls for an ecosocialist economic democracy that meets the basic needs of all within ecological limits.

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How to Get Off Fossil Fuels Quickly—and Fairly

How to Get Off Fossil Fuels Quickly—and Fairly

Researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) discuss panel orientation and spacing for a project on simultaneously growing crops under PV Arrays while producing electricity from the panels in South Dearfield, Massachusetts. The project is part of the DOE InSPIRE project seeking to improve the environmental compatibility and mutual benefits of solar development with agriculture and native landscapes.PHOTO FROM SCIENCE IN HD/UNSPLASH Climate experts share a range of ideas and strategies for envisioning a better future.

When it comes to a just transition, it’s going to take a radical reimaging not only of our economy but also of our culture and the shape of our social structures. YES! co-hosted a conversation with experts from the nonprofit The Land Institute to discuss policy proposals and new ways to rebuild our sense of self and community from the bottom up.

The discussion was prompted by a new book, The Green New Deal and Beyond, by Stan Cox, the Land Institute’s lead scientist for perennial crops. He was joined by his colleagues, Director of Ecosphere Studies Aubrey Streit Krug, and President Emeritus Wes Jackson. The event was moderated by YES! contributing editor Robert Jensen.

Together they share a range of ideas and strategies for envisioning a better future.

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

ROBERT JENSEN: I would propose that the most important word in the title of your book, Stan, is “beyond.” We know the Green New Deal is not a fully fleshed out political program yet, but why do we need to go beyond it?

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Why Cleantech Investment Should be a High Priority Now and after COVID-19

Why Cleantech Investment Should be a High Priority Now and after COVID-19

Prior to the COVID crisis, progression to Net Zero carbon neutral emissions was rising to the top of the policy agenda in many countries. Understandably, the global health and economic crisis has thrown a spanner into the works. It is crucial though, Robyn Owen and Theresia Harrer write, that in our attempts to recover, we tie in the fundamental need for a better funded systematic government-led Green Deal approach to early stage Cleantech funding. 

CC.0 :: Casey Horner / Unsplash.com

The COVID-19 crisis threatens all of our lives. Understandably, it is currently the central focus of government policy globally. Yet history tells us that post-crisis economic reconstruction is most successful where investment is greatest in new emerging sectors. It is crucial, therefore, that investment in the UK is directed towards globally leading innovations for environmentally sustainable development, rather than simply to become more efficient at producing and selling more of the same.

Prior to the COVID crisis, progression to Net Zero carbon neutral emissions was rising to the top of the policy agenda in many countries. There was a widespread declaration of the climate crisis and climate war and a proliferation of Green New Deals—overarching policies for integrated government-led approaches to delivering reduction in carbon use and emissions.

We have argued that an essential element of climate change policies is a recognition that investing in early stage SME Cleantech innovators is crucial. These are companies developing technologies that lower carbon use and which are key to reaching the ambitious goals of an at least 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions set by the UNFCCC Paris Agreement of 2015. However, the costs and risks of investments in the cleantech sectors such as renewable energy, transport, building and communications infrastructure are high.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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