The Global Green New Deal

April 26, 2021 at 9:51 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Book Review

Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political l Economy of Saving the Planet. By Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin. Verso. 2020. 157 pp.


In recent months, we have heard frequently about the Green New Deal. But what is it?

If you want to find out, I can think of no better resource than Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin’s new book, Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal.(GGND)

Chomsky, as you probably know, is a linguist, historian, philosopher and activist who is frequently designated the nation’s “foremost public intellectual.” Pollin is a distinguished economist with a special interest in the environmental crisis.

One of the things that makes GGND a go-to resource is that it’s laid out in such an orderly fashion and is so accessible, an accessibility underpinned by the book’s question and answer format. And the same question is sometimes asked of both experts, resulting in somewhat different but overlapping  angles on the issues addressed.

The first chapter, “The Nature of Climate Change,” reminded me of the basic proposal structure I learned years ago: always start with the problem statement. And I love that Chomsky begins with what I have long considered his fundamental doctrine, that the two greatest problems facing humanity are climate change and nuclear war.

Chomsky illustrates this “doctrine” by starting his discussion of climate change with the bombing of Hiroshima and the ongoing nuclear buildup since then. Then we learn that the years immediately after the introduction of the “technological madness “ of nuclear weapons also saw the beginning of the massive rise in fossil-fuel emissions. Because of the skyrocketing of these emissions since 1945, the time available to avoid “tipping points,” that is “moments at which effects of global warming will become irreversible,” may have shrunk to zero and is at best thirty years. Chomsky and Pollin then detail the causes of these skyrocketing emissions, from industrial agriculture to deforestation to air pollution to the neoliberal capitalist enforcement of the privatization of everything.

The second chapter of GGND lays out the relationship between capitalism and the climate crisis, beginning with the Republican Congress ‘s blockage of the COP21 climate change treaty in 2015 and every other aspect of Obama’s climate change agenda, under the massive influence of the highly class-conscious corporate world, especially the fossil fuel magnate Koch brothers.

And a major part of the problem is that a huge segment of the electorate goes along with this rejection of climate remedies because the government has, for decades, paid little attention to their desperation, driving miners and unemployed factory workers out into the streets. Most people forget that even Republican presidents once spoke out against Texas oil millionaires and established federal environmental agencies. Then in the 1980s,  federally subsidized corporations like Exxon Mobil, with no oversight from the government, took extensive measures to deny climate change, no matter the accompanying likelihood of the destruction of the planet. The only solution, Chomsky and Pollin argue, is a shift to local, green-energy worker-owned and managed enterprises, including manufacturing. 

Chapter three, the longest and most challenging, explores the elements of the “Global Green New Deal” essential to saving the planet. The goal of the GGND, we learn, is to achieve the 45% decrease in global net carbon emissions by 2030 and reach zero net carbon emissions by 2050, which was mandated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018. And to accomplish this in a way that “also expands decent job opportunities and raises mass living standards for working  people around the world.” In order to do this, nations must shift 2.5% of the global GDP to massively expanding energy efficiency standards in buildings, autos, public transport and manufacturing as well as shifting to clean renewable energy sources. 

The authors stress that these changes will completely pay for themselves over time. They likewise emphasize that the only way such a program can succeed is if there is a total commitment to what they call a “just transition,” that is, that the employment level and living standards of those currently involved in the fossil-fuel-driven industries are maintained and even improved in the new green economy. The authors also totally reject the notion that nuclear power can play any part in a GGND because of the dangers of radioactive wastes, spent nuclear fuels, the theft of nuclear technology for weapons building, and nuclear meltdown. 

Also rejected are carbon capture and sequestration—pumping CO2 into the ground–and massive aerosol injections; widespread reforestation is cheaper and less dangerous. The notion of “degrowth” advocated by some environmentalists is likewise rejected because we have to grow a clean energy infrastructure even as we degrow the fossil fuel economy. 

Finally, in chapter four, “Political Mobilization for Saving the Planet,” the authors highlight the impressive people’s movements of recent years, like the 2019 global Climate Strike, Extinction Rebellion, and the imposition of serious green targets in many countries and some US states. These all point the way toward possible change. 

Nonetheless, and interestingly enough, Chomsky and Pollin employ their extraordinary analytic skills to raise serious questions about activist tactics that are based more in abstract theories than in analyzing local contexts. Weekday demonstrations that shut down public transportation for example, alienate  working people. Indeed, the authors argue that aiming for the establishment of a completely socialist society is not a viable tactic because of the short time remaining before irreversible climate disaster. Ultimately, Chomsky and Pollin return to their conviction that the critical factor in climate stabilization around the world is the GGND’s commitment to “expanding decent work opportunities, raising mass living standards, and fighting poverty in all regions of the world.” 

May we come together to achieve such a world.

(This review appears in the Spring 2021 issue of Kerux, the newsletter of Pax Christi Metro New York. https://nypaxchristi.org/kerux-2/ ).

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