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The Green New Deal and Accursed Wealth

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Green New Deal is charged with creating millions of high-paying jobs unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security which will counteract systemic injustice
Green New Deal is charged with creating millions of high-paying jobs unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security which will counteract systemic injustice
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Accursed Wealth! O'er bounding human laws,

Of every evil thou remains't the cause:

Victims of want, those wretches such as me,

Too truly lay their wretchedness to thee:

Thou art the bar that keeps from being fed,

And thine our loss of labour and of bread.

Al Gore missed this memo, written at some time between 1809 and 1813, by the poet John Clare in Norhamptonshire, England. However, in his latest op-ed, It's Not too Late The climate crisis is the battle of our time and we can win, in the New York Times, September 22, 2019, the former Vice President helpfully notes that the fastest-growing occupation in the United States is solar installer and the second fastest-growing is wind turbine service technician. The loss of Clare's world is un-remediated. The loss of our world, apparently, is salved by the growth of mostly low-wage 'green-tech' jobs. Clare, at least, identifies the cause of his loss Accursed Wealth, or, as we might call it today, capitalism.

Gore, in his best, ever youthful, Gee-Wiz journalese proclaims that, ""we are in the early stages of a sustainable revolution that will achieve the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution and the speed of the digital revolution, made possible by new digital tools". John Clare's erstwhile bucolic freedom had been proscribed by the British parliament's Enclosure Acts early in the nineteenth century, under which he lost his rights to the common lands that were seized for the benefit of proto-capitalist land-owners newly cognizant of the wealth generated by grazing sheep. Wool, like cotton, was a fiber fundamental to the modern capitalist ethos whereby the acquisition of wealth transcended the interests of both humanity and the natural world.

There is, it must be admitted, something quite wonderful about wearing a sweater knitted for one by someone near-and-dear, of hand spun wool. Similarly, there is enormous gratification in living in a house that produces all its power needs through panels attached to its roof; but we should not for a moment imagine that wool and photovoltaics, despite their benign potential, are not grist to the capitalist mill. As Clare recognized over two hundred years ago, 'Accursed Wealth' had overtrodden human laws. As many understand today, capitalism is the financial system that while it seemingly underpins our entire civilization and is responsible for many of its most alluring aspects, has also fatally wounded what Earth-system scientists understand as a coupled human-natural order.

After two hundred years or more of extravagant exploitation, it is getting increasingly difficult, as Jason W. Moore writes in Capitalism in the Web of Life, 2015, "to get nature, including human nature, to yield its 'free gifts' on the cheap" - be they land for grazing sheep or producing the rare earth elements such as indium and tellurium, used in photovoltaics.

Gore is an unrepentant capitalist, eager to put nature to work in new and different ways. An exploitative capitalism is similarly baked into the Green New Deal (Resolution 109 of the 116th Congress). While the Resolution promotes "a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal era", and resolves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through "economic transformation", it remains premised on the same economic model that sparked the Industrial Revolution. It is this economic model, however dressed in green vestments, that now ravages the planet with for-profit industrial, commercial and institutional development, as well as connective and energy infrastructure all of which feed on labor and resources brutishly extracted from the earth, albeit with sophisticated electronic assists.

Resolution 109 further notes that climate change, pollution and environmental destruction have exacerbated the 'systemic injustices' which afflict 'frontline and vulnerable communities'. In response, the Green New Deal is charged with creating millions of high-paying jobs, unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security which will counteract systemic injustice. How will this be achieved? By a combination of federal and state incentives to individuals and businesses resolved to fix the problems within the same old economic parameters. The United States will achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions, create new 'green' jobs, invest in infrastructure and secure clean air and water, promote climate and community resilience and ensure 'access to nature' and a sustainable environment within an economic ideology that presumes a supine natural world, that as Moore notes, "has sustained capital accumulation over the past five centuries".

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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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