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The Green New Deal and Accursed Wealth

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Given this failure to imagine epochal change it's all too plausible to conjure a future incarnation of Sarah Palin decrying, at some point during the program's projected ten-year mobilization, "How's that Green New Dealy thang going for yah?"

On reading Al Gore's hopelessly Pollyannaish and wrong-headed op-ed, I was emboldened to return to his seminal work, Earth in the Balance Ecology and the Human Spirit, 1992. Maybe 'return' is too strong a word. Full disclosure - although the hardback book had sat on my classroom shelves in the room where I taught 'Green World History' to 10th graders in the mid '90's, I had never gotten much further than the blurbs on the back cover by the redoubtable, Bill Moyers, M. Scott Peck and Carl Sagan. Having now read it, I realize that although Al Gore may not have invented the internet, he can certainly lay claim to a good portion of the intellectual authorship of the Green New Deal.

Earth in the Balance rose to number four and remained in the top ten of the New Times Non-Fiction Best Seller List for almost six months after its publication in June 1992. But it was, I suspect, a book much purchased, and little read. Resolution 109 has the virtue of brevity - but in many respects, it ploughs the same ground. Gore's exposition of the ills that plague the planet is admirable: melting icecaps, methane release in thawing tundra, desertification, deforestation, species extinction, a prediction of on-going increases in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causing "catastrophic changes in global climate patterns", loss of wetlands, the privatization of seed genetics and the loss of germplasm resources in wild refuges threatened by development, atmospheric pollution, toxic waste, the plethora of plastics, and methane production from garbage dumps it is all there. In short, he claims we are "bulldozing the Garden of Eden". However, as Timothy Morton might suggest, whatever its veracity, it is also horseshoe-in-a-boxing-glove propaganda, and like most tomes dedicated to the ecological apocalypse, its impact can be relied upon to be in inverse proportion to the gloom of its dystopian vision. Nonetheless, it is an encyclopedic review of the most pressing environmental issues, extant early 1990's, and is important in its recognition of the "intricate and interdependent web of life" in which both humans and non-human species are entwined.

His solution to the planet's dilemma covered in the last one hundred pages of the book is the development of a 'Common Purpose' which makes "the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization". He proposes 'A Global Marshall Plan' which will contain five strategic goals: stabilizing world population; development of environmentally appropriate technologies; economic 'rules of the road' under which the ecological consequences of production are reflected in the market place; international agreements that will ensure the success of the scheme; and the establishment of a cooperative plan for educating the world's citizens about our global environment.

In Gore's vision, the United States will take the lead and primary financial burden in attaining the goals of this ambitious project with the success of which, if you will allow a moment of extreme understatement, the last twenty-seven years has not dealt kindly. Do we have any reasonable hope that the next decade will prove more receptive of the Green New Deal?

Moore suggests that the theoretical separation of mind and body promoted by Descartes, was shadowed by the similar binary of Society and Nature. It was these foundational intellectual presumptions of Modernity, he suggests, that allowed for, "the exploitation of labor-power and the appropriation of nature" which led to the half-a-millennium drive towards capitalist commodification, now manifested in a planetary crisis. The Green New Deal, like its antecedent, Gore's 'Global Marshall Plan', will create barely a bump along this road to perdition.

Considering global warming, Moore writes, ""the appropriation of Cheap Nature has not only compelled capital to seek out new sources of cheap labor-power, food energy, and raw materials, but to 'enclose' the atmosphere as a gigantic dumping ground for greenhouse gases". This is perhaps, to turn on a word, the new 'Enclosure Movement', accidentally engineered as a convenience to capitalism and as dramatic in consequence to our daily freedoms as the eponymous nineteenth century movement that foreclosed the options of young John Clare, the poet, along with millions of others throughout the British Isles. In its new guise, it is foreclosing the future of billions.

It was the ideas of Descartes and Bacon that created a space, in the early seventeenth century, for a scientifically founded modernity. The climate emergency - the planetary crisis - now demands, not a Green New Deal which recycles Gore's still-born 'Global Marshall Plan', but the attempted closure of modernity through a complementary revolution in thought an intellectual foment capable of turning back the rapacious appetites of capitalism.

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John Davis is a practicing architect in Ojai, California. He has taught Environmental Humanities at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles and at Viridis Graduate Institute. He blogs on history and the environment at  (more...)
 

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