What Do Green New Deals Lack? Thoughts On Sustainability Part 3

  1. Green New Deal proposals have become central in Western anglophone political debates, mostly due to the bill presented by US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the support it has received from the group of young activists Sunrise Movement. Another popular figure, leftist Democrat Senator and candidate to presidential elections Bernie Sanders, presented his own much detailed Green New Deal project in August.

Across the ocean, in the UK, the Labour party has lately adopted a motion for an even more detailed Green New Deal put forward by grassroots group Labour for a Green New Deal.

But there are more formulations of a Green New Deal on our tables. The Green New Deal Group (one of the first organisations to name and develop the idea) and the think tank Common Wealth in the UK, the European Greens in 2009, the Green New Deal For Europe coalition (linked to Giannis Varoufakis’s DiEM25) and the US Green Party have all presented different projects under the same title. In addition, the whole programmes by current European and British Greens are basically Green New Deal plans. Finally, the new President of the European Commission herself, Ursula von der Leyen, was elected with a European Green Deal outline in her hands. And surely I’m forgetting someone.

These programmes promise or demand unprecedented government investments directed to (among others) the following more or less shared aims:

a. Create social justice in a redistributive fashion by (1) building a government-funded welfare system for everybody (this is prominent in the US, where Medicare For All is already a motto), (2) generating millions of “green jobs” by b.3, b.4, b.5 and b.6 and (3) transferring energy ownership from the private sector to states and its management to communities.
b. A decarbonisation of economies more ambitious than that of the Paris Agreement, generally setting the deadline in 2030, by (1) sanctioning fossil fuel energy companies, (2) discouraging intensive farming by funding and privileging familiar and sustainable farming and c.2, (3) publicly funding the production of renewable energy and the construction of the necessary infrastructure for it, (4) substituting current transportation systems for wider networks of electrically-powered infrastructures, (5) funding clean manufacturing in Western territories, c.3 and d.
c. Foster energy efficiency by (1) supporting local management of basic resources, (2) fostering local food sovereignty and (3) investing in clean energy research.
d. Redirect private investments to decarbonisation by 1, b.2, b.5 and c.2.
e. Undermine the power of big conglomerates by 3, b, c, f, g and supporting cooperative companies and management.
f. Deepen democratisation by affirmative action of disadvantaged groups and a, 1, c.2 and e.
g. Internationalise the movement and collaborate with Global South countries to alleviate the damages caused by Western imperialism and support their green transitions.

    (Of course, Von der Leyen’s text falls short of most aims just listed.)


    I can’t feel but sympathy for plans such as these. Not only due to the fact that I like their proposals taken one by one, but also because the inclusion of measures to tackle inequalities and the environmental crisis together in the same texts is a sometimes tacit, sometimes explicit recognition that both problems are the result of what in Part 2 of this series was highlighted as the leading goal in our societies: capital growth. (For a development of this idea and comments on alternative models of society, you can check the aforementioned piece, posted on October 30. Don’t miss it, it’s enlightening!)

    Furthermore, this recognition comes with the acknowledgement that wealthy countries have a historical debt with the rest of the world, given the fact that the former have been the great extractivists and polluters, most of the times having stolen from Global South countries.

    Therefore, human interferences in the environment are no longer a problem of just garbage accumulation in some spots, a bit of pollution in the atmosphere and several species disappearing. They are a matter of justice.

    9. However, I have found several important lacks in the bills, electoral promises and manifestos presented under the Green New Deal title and philosophy:

    a. The ambiguity of their understanding of sustainability by not being clear on their account of development.
    b. The absence of provisions regarding robotisation and artificial intelligence, their consequences for employment and the possibilities they might open to help humans adapt to and/or better the new environmental reality.
    c. The absence of proposals or demands with regards to privacy and commodification in the sphere of big data. Scandals such as that of Cambridge Analytica have made public the possibility of using big data for derailing democratic processes much more than the usual, and democratisation is vital for Green New Deals.
    d. (Perhaps) an insufficient democratic deepening, which is a crucial issue. The possibility that it is democratisation what will bring Green New Deals to implementation and not the opposite should be seriously taken into account.

      I will expand on each of them as these Thoughts go forward.

      10.There seems to be no consensus among Green New Deals in relation to the meanings of both “development” and “sustainable development,” which gives way to interesting results.

      Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders don’t mention sustainable development, but their projects, with their intentions of “boosting” and “spurring massive growth” in US manufacturing as long as its “clean” and their highlighting the opportunities for “leadership” by the US, create the impression of having been formulated according to the mainstream sustainable development model, based on the logic of capitalist growth. Sanders even speaks of “an economic opportunity” to make the US “competitive on all sustainable energy technology.”

      Meanwhile, European Greens place the expression at the beginning of their manifesto to subsequently proceed to list policies that don’t fit in the mainstream model. Later on in the programme they will speak of an “economic development that benefits all”, which guide us in the way we must interpret the initial mention.

      Development framed within a capitalist model benefits only some by definition. The unfettered market is an oligopolistic system where a number of fortunes control economic flows and, therefore, everybody’s life conditions, creating and sustaining immense inequalities that reinforce the power of the ones on top to fuel unfettered growth.

      European Greens seem to want to make clear, thus, that theirs is an alternative model of sustainable development. But no explanation is offered. Only the thorough New Green Deal for Europe report, which insists on “development” and “reviving the economy”, invests time and space to openly distance themselves from the mainstream development model and to convey their reasons for it. This is a great text plainly influenced by degrowth and capabilitarianism. (For info on these two theories, again, Part 2).

      Now, if I confer so much importance to clarity on this matter is because it would let us know if the implicit or explicit diagnose regarding capitalism is genuine; and this, in turn, would let us know if we must read the many times abstract specific proposals from the angle of mainstream sustainable development.

      This criticism, by the way, doesn’t affect Labour’s programme and Common Wealth’s “Road Map”. The first one is an impeccable democratic socialist plan based on the empowerment of and leadership by working class and unions. The second draws on notions such as “social goods” and a direct critique of neoliberalism that leaves no room for doubt.

      But things in politics are complex and, to honour that complexity, I myself am going to offer a plausible response to my critique in what has to do with the two most prominent Green New Deal versions. There I go.

      1. I understand that in such a thin welfare state as that of the US, the aims championed by both Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are radical enough for even making members of the Democratic Party fear a massive loss of votes. Moreover, if one reads both texts carefully, it is impossible not to notice how their emphasis on the cooperativisation of resource management and ownership in businesses, on public investments for community-led projects (which seems to point to a democratisation of investments), on the transfer of energy ownership to the state, on the prevention of monopolies, on economic security for all, on ending Global North investments in fossil fuels extraction in the Global South, and on collaborating for green transitions with Global South countries outline a revolution of the US economy. Furthermore, their claims regarding manufacturing growth are subtly framed in the decision of avoiding resource and human exploitation in the Global South and the environmental costs of transportation.


      To me, and despite my dislike for it, being vague in relation to your wider economic framework in the context of US politics, in addition to using customary promises of leadership and market competitivity, could be the sign of a right and necessary strategy to misguide censors. Let’s not forget the horrific image of communism and socialism widespread in US culture. Better for now to compensate the disgusting smells of justice with a bit of capitalist rhetoric.