The current war in Ukraine is not good news for peace and sustainability on Earth. According to Noam Chomsky, the current conflict in Ukraine has a negative impact on the future of peace and sustainability on planet Earth. Truthout, “We are at a crucial point in human history. It is not to be denied. It cannot be ignored.” The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released on February 28, spells out the dire consequences of inaction to human-induced climate change. Where do we stand in our fight against global climate change? Is the Green New Deal making progress?
In the interview that follows, two leading climate activists — Margaret Kwateng, a national Green New Deal organizer at Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, and Ebony Twinley Martin, coexecutive director Greenpeace USA — discuss the significance of the Green New Deal project and its potential power as a transformative policy for saving the planet and creating a more fair and just social order.
C.J. Polychroniou – What would the Green New Deal look like? And can it be achieved within the next decade in the current political climate of the U.S.
Margaret Kwateng: We are living in a moment where nearly all of our lives are being deeply impacted by the climate crisis — especially frontline communities around the world. Whole communities are being destroyed by extreme droughts, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. The IPCC released its latest global assessment regarding climate impacts. This report stated that the climate crisis is occurring now, more quickly and more intensely than expected. People are now more aware of the urgent need for the world to stop burning. The colliding crisis of climate change and the global pandemic has demonstrated that tragedies do not happen in a vacuum; rather, a crisis in one sector has ripple effects throughout our economy and touches on numerous parts of people’s lives. The real solution to the climate crisis requires a transformation in the extractive economic (away from fossil fuel extraction, labor exploitation and corporate profiteering).
We envision a decade for the Green New Deal because this crisis is more severe than any we have ever seen in years. With a vision and a demand for a reorganization of our economy that places life and well-being at the center, our movements are moving forward.
The Green New Deal does not consist of one law or policy. The Green New Deal is an ensemble of transformative policies that can be used to address multiple crises at the same time. The THRIVE Act, which is the Green New Deal Network(GNDN) partnered with congressmembers to introduce the 2021 budget, which called for a $10 trillion investment in order to mobilize the economy and combat climate chaos, racial justice, and economic inequality. This is the floor, not the ceiling, of what is needed to confront these crises.
A Green New Deal that is realized would increase union jobs in renewables, build affordable housing, expand clean accessible public transport, and divest from harsh systems like the military and prisons. It also would invest in community infrastructure. It is not just about restoring the social fabric, but also to create a national community that values care workers such as domestic workers and home care workers; provides justice for those who have been neglected; and reduces the impact of personal, regional, or global crises.
Our current conjuncture of overlapping crises — continued pandemic, climate chaos, chronic racial injustice, democracy under attack and escalating militarization — poses both turbulent terrain to pass bold visionary policies and also the ripe opportunity for intersectional solutions that address these crises together. We must stop spending billions of dollars on war and violent policing in our communities. Instead, we need to redirect investment to renewable energy and clean transportation.
Our job is not to be complacent with the intransigence and obstructionism of our politicians and governments, but to completely shift the political landscape by demanding the full scope of what we require to survive and offering a vision for a future that will allow us all to thrive. This is the power of our movements united behind a truly transformative Green New Deal.
What was the driving force behind the Green New Deal Network’s formation, which brought together racial justice groups, Indigenous groups, labor, and care workers? And what role can the GNDN play to achieve a Green New Deal?
Kwateng: While the demand for a Green New Deal and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal resolution have dramatically shifted the national debate on climate change policy since 2018, the vision at the heart of a Green New Deal has been around for much longer.
Many communities have worked for decades to make Green New Deal-like shifts a reality, often under the banners of climate justice and a just transformation. When coal workers began leaving Kentucky, and communities became fed up with the contamination of their water, they decided to launch. Appalachia’s Bright Future, creating plans for how to move away from disease-causing, environment-degrading fossil fuel extraction to an alternative future together.
Despite their expertise on the ground many communities have been excluded from larger discussions on how to address the climate crisis. The Green New Deal Network’s vision is to be an inter-generational coalition that brings together activists, community groups, workers, and Black and Indigenous organizations in the fight for visionary climate care, jobs, and justice policies.
The work of organizations like the Indigenous Environmental Network(IEN) has expanded the scope of the Green New Deal vision to include more than just electric cars. It also focuses on racial justice, social, economic, and ecological transformation. IEN and its allies were present in October last year. descended on the capitalReal climate justice requires both respecting Indigenous sovereignty, and stopping fossil fuel extracting.
Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GEJA) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are also present to advocate for a dignified and robust care economy as a crucial component of a Green New Deal. They are at the forefront of the climate crisis and will be the backbone of an industry that will need to expand as the climate crises get worse.
Because there are groups ranging from the Movement for Black Lives, to the Center for Popular Democracy, to the Working Families Party at the Green New Deal Network, we are building a united front capable of creating a Green New Deal that doesn’t replicate historically exclusive policies — in leaving out communities like women and Black folks — and instead is able to tackle the multiple crises we are facing. We are working together to create shared policy, elect progressives and hold them accountable, as well as organizing to change the political and social landscape to ensure that all communities can thrive.
What are the obstacles to a Green New Deal in this decade? How can we overcome them?
Ebony Twilley: The Green New Deal was founded on the vision of a world where all people have what is necessary to thrive and the boundaries are respected. Profit-driven economic systems that allow wealthy elites and large corporations to control and exploit land, communities, and legislation are the greatest barriers to realizing this vision. This system puts profits above the well-being and continues the extraction from and commodification the Earth. As you can see, the latest IPCC reportThis is causing a major disruption to the balance of life on Earth.
Unity is the key to breaking down this barrier. Unity is not always easy. As we work to address COVID-19, rebuild our economy, improve racial justice, and build an economy that puts people and their needs first, corporate overlords, and those who do their bidding at Congress, continue to try to pit these priorities against one another in an attempt to divide us. We saw this play out last year when corporations lobbied against the Build Back Better Act attempting to put climate action, health care, workers’ rights and child care on the chopping block, despite all being overwhelmingly popular with the majority of Americans. The Green New Deal Network offers a platform for communities and organizations to come together and work across priorities to create a united front. These crises are interconnected and we must solve them all.
Disinformation is another major barrier that must be removed. Corporations have presented us with false choices over the years between a healthy economy and a healthy planet. Oil and gas companies, in particular, like to hide behind the prospect of jobs and stability to justify their destructive “business as usual.” The truth is, we have a better chance at creating millions of good-paying, stable, union jobs with renewable energy than we do with fossil fuels. Just before the pandemic hit, clean energy jobs outnumbered fossil fuel jobsNearly three-to-one, or 3.3 million jobs. 70 percent fasterThe economy overall is more resilient than the clean energy industry. The clean energy sector also proved resilient in 2020, despite the pandemic and resulting economic crises. 2020 was a record yearFor solarAnd windAs the industry continued to attract new talent, installations were a constant draw. investor interest.
Another disinformation claim is that the current system seems safer. All three departments of Homeland Security and Defense, along with the National Security Council and director of National Intelligence, have issued reports that stated that. climate change poses a threat to national security. It is also being called by financial regulators an emerging threat to the stability of the U.S. financial system. Climate change is threatening our safety and health, most alarmingly. Air pollution from fossil fuels killed 8.7 million peopleGlobally, in 2018, Pollution has resulted from fracked-gas infrastructure increased the risk of cancer for 1 million Black Americans. It has also contributed 138,000 asthma attacks, and 101,000 school days lost for Black children like my boys.
This will be the decade of the Green New Deal, which will address these threats to health and safety by shifting away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform recently held hearings on the fossil fuel industry’s role in spreading disinformation, and at Greenpeace USA, we filed a complaintThe Federal Trade Commission has taken action against Chevron’s greenwashing. These tactics are beginning to be recognized by the public. However, both government and private companies must take action to stop disinformation spreading and those responsible must be held accountable.
Why should people care about Green New Deal Network’s work and mission? How will this work be of benefit to everyday people?
Martin: This question cuts to one area where we can certainly improve, and that’s how we communicate the goals and ambitions of a Green New Deal to our communities, families and friends. I know when a lot of my friends and family hear “Green New Deal,” they recognize the term, but don’t know what it includes or what it would do for them personally. The Green New Deal contains a lot of popular ideas that would improve the lives of ordinary people. Things like clean energy and job investments, affordable housing, paid family and medical leave, and reducing child poverty — all regularly see support of around 60 percent and above in polls. As the Green New Deal Network, we have the responsibility to help people better understand why the Green New Deal is a pathway to securing a better tomorrow.
The Green New Deal is a way to support and encourage one another. These challenges can be overcome by unity, as we discussed earlier. This unity is the goal of the Green New Deal Network. Because the Green New Deal Network’s work is both national and state-based, it covers everything, from large federal legislation in Washington, D.C., up to local fights within our communities. Whether your passion is preventing pollution, improving workers’ rights, building a fairer economy or improving the health care system, there is a space for people to get involved with the state coalitions and the organizations that are part of the Green New Deal Network.
If the Green New Deal Network can achieve the vision of a Green New Deal in federal, state, and tribal governments across the country, then Americans will feel some relief from the oppressive and exploitative forces that pervade everyday life. These forces may seem far removed from their everyday lives, and only exist in the margins for some. These are just a few examples of what is happening every day for others.
The Green New Deal will not solve all our problems — but it will show us that solutions are possible and that a transformation toward a more just, fair, green and equitable society is within our power to make a reality.
This interview was lightly edited to improve clarity.