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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/3/19

The NYT Casts Doubt on the Green New Deal's Radical Objectives

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Last Sunday, The New York Times published an editorial on the Green New Deal (GND). It was called "The Green New Deal Is Better than Our Climate Nightmare."

Though its title purports to second the GND proposal sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D MA), the article actually damns the measure with faint praise. It also endorses remedies for the climate crisis much less comprehensive and closer to what corporate America favors than to the broad worker-friendly recommendations of the Markey-Cortez proposal.

By doing so, the authors obscure the proposal's historical connections to FDR's daring New Deal as well as those between climate change and a failed capitalist system itself. Finally, the article's half-measures imply reservations about paying for the GND that show little appreciation for the urgency of dealing with climate chaos and for the fundamental socio-economic changes necessarily connected with transition to a truly non-fossil fuel economy.

Faint Praise

Begin with the article's faint praise. True, the Times editors rightly chastise the Trump administration's policies as "boneheaded," including its denial of the problem, rolling back of Obama-era limits on emissions, opening more lands to oil and gas exploration, weakening of fuel economy standards, and its formation of a special committee bent on debunking the climate crisis.

Granted: all of that reflects the thinking of GND advocates. So far, so good.

But then, the Times editors criticize the proposal first because its initial draft was poorly written by Ms. Cortez's staff and, secondly, because the proposal is too extensive.

As one respondent in the editorial's "Comments" section observed, the Times editorial devoted twice as much space (150 words) to critiquing the proposal's initial "poorly written talking points" as it did to describing the actual resolution (72 words).

Comprehensive Solutions

And what about the Times' disagreement with the broad character of the Green New Deal?

To answer, consider the (in progress) proposal so far . . . It suggests nothing less than a complete overhaul of capitalism-as-we-know-it. In doing so, it purposely parallels the measures implemented by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his original New Deal.

Following the Great Stock Market Crash of '29, the latter didn't content itself with bailing out banks and Wall Street. Instead it more comprehensively addressed the concerns of Main Street providing minimum wage legislation, unemployment benefits, government-funded jobs for the unemployed, and a Social Security retirement plan for all. It also legalized labor unions.

By adopting that strategy, FDR not only addressed the deep-seated problems of capitalism such as widespread unemployment, low wages and huge wealth-disparities. He also met the genuine needs of the country's majority and secured their buy-in to the New Deal despite pressure by the elite to reduce the great depression to a technical matter solvable by the monied classes. The working class was won over; its members' anger against the system was mollified; they put down their pitchforks, Roosevelt was elected four times in a row, and capitalism was saved.

This time around, the green version of the New Deal does something similar. It includes not merely a transition to a renewable energy economy powered by wind and sun, but rejection of any nuclear power options, of technology allowing fossil fuel plants to capture and store their own emissions, and of market-based solutions such as carbon taxes and cap and trade policies. As described by the New York Times, and in the spirit of FDR's program, the GND proposal suggests:

  • Free higher education
  • Universal health care
  • Affordable housing for all
  • Remedies for "systemic injustices" among the poor, elderly and people of color
  • Family-sustaining wage guarantees
  • Adequate family medical leave
  • Paid vacations for all workers
  • Retirement security for everybody

Like Roosevelt's measures, these provisions are aimed at securing the required support of the country's majority who might otherwise be persuaded to continue ignoring the problem by the propaganda of elite climate-change deniers and by the forbidding specter of austerity measures. The generous GND provisions are intended to acquire buy-in on the part of those who also might otherwise be too distracted by simply trying to make ends meet than to comprehend and face up to the very real threats posed by climate chaos.

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Retired in 2014, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program.Mike blogs (more...)
 

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