Green New Deal or Globalisation Lite? Green New Deal or Globalisation Lite?


The new green Keynesianism still rests on productivist assumptions


In response to global climate crisis and the breakdown of international financial institutions, green new deals are being discussed in local, national, regional and international settings. But the word ‘deal’ gives the lie to new, for these are mostly trade-off packages designed to hold together the narrow political arena of business-as-usual. The Transatlantic Green New Deal, the Global Green New Deal, as well as British and Australian versions, look rather like a revved-up Hobbesian social contract, drafted in the realisation that life under global capitalism is more ‘nasty, brutish and short’ than ever before. The outline of the contract is on the table, but only one voice is represented in the text.


Class difference appears only as an employment statistic and the systematic exploitations of race and gender that underpin the global economy are ignored. The neocolonial South, the domestic North, and material nature at large, remain sites of subsumption in green new deal discourse. Rosa Luxemburg recognised the geographic periphery of capitalism, today called ‘the global South’, as an indispensable source of new labouring bodies and markets for the accumulation process. Subsequently, feminists in the North identified a ‘domestic periphery’ of capital in women’s freely given reproductive labour time. And just as the exploitation of colonised peoples and women is taken for granted in capitalist production, so too is the ever yielding ecosystem—as is indicated in concepts like the ecological footprint and ecological debt. Each of these three forms of life is silently colonised in the productivist economy.


The first requirement of a green new deal should be to help people understand how the dominant global system relies on this abuse. And how everyday injustices are rationalised by the old idea that a fundamental contradiction or dividing line separates humanity from nature. The artificial separation of economics from ecology is one result of this cultural contradiction. But bringing this ideology to consciousness, and acknowledging that it is both Eurocentric and gendered in origin, is a first step in gaining the confidence to reject unsound institutions and policies. So far, however, there is little socio-cultural analysis or political reflexivity in the various green new deal programs. Like the financial crisis, the ecological crisis tends to be addressed in Keynesian style as a failure of governments to manage markets. The deals reinstate an overly optimistic 1990s ecological modernisation strategy—calling for a kind of green welfare state based on profitable technological innovations. Basically, the approach is directed at saving capitalism, without any deeper engagement with its real bottom line—healthy people in a healthy ecosystem.


The Transatlantic Green New Deal


The Transatlantic Green New Deal, prepared by Worldwatch Institute for the Boell Foundation in 2009, outlines the dimensions of the climate crisis as follows. It concedes that in industrial economies the main emission sectors are buildings, 35 per cent; steel manufacture, 27 per cent; transport, 23 per cent; and cement and paper production close behind. The paradigmatic measure is that 1 tonne of steel will result in 2 tonnes of CO2. Meanwhile, Worldwatch cites an International Energy Agency (IAE) estimate that it will cost US$45 trillion to transition out of oil, a figure put forward by the IAE in support of the nuclear option.


The intercontinental blueprint calculates that the United States and the EU as leaders in world trade together consume approximately a third of global energy resources and emit approximately a third of greenhouse emissions. This figure contrasts sharply with estimates from the global South, whose periphery claims that its own 60 per cent of humanity produces only 1 per cent of global emissions. Worldwatch states that it is in favour of ‘fundamental green transformation’ and it cautions against ‘restarting the engine of consumption’ but it also resorts to the doublespeak of ‘a new paradigm of sustainable economic progress’. For instance: properly designed carbon-markets can be effective instruments for meeting a societal goal while tapping into the discipline and efficiencies of markets … But markets for ecosystem protection, whether to conserve the atmosphere, waterways, or species, are not silver-bullet solutions; the economic logic of markets may not match the scientific necessities of ecosystems (emphasis added). Unfortunately, the clarity of this last sentence does not characterise the Transatlantic blueprint as a whole. If ‘the economic logic of markets may not match the scientific necessities of ecosystems’ , equally, the mathematically derived logic of engineering ‘may not match the scientific necessities of eco-systems’. Under the influence of the humanity versus nature contradiction, the separation of abstract disciplines into economics or engineering means that it is very difficult to arrive at commensurable measurements of natural processes.

Nevertheless, this methodological weakness does not limit the reliance on technological efficiency in the Transatlantic Green New Deal, buoyed up as it is with scientistic rhetoric and management hubris. Take, for instance, the line that ‘the annual costs of reducing gas emissions to manageable levels would be around 1 per cent of global GDP’. What is the empirical basis of this judgement? Reliable data on aviation and agro-industrial generation of greenhouse gases is still hard to get hold of; estimates of the volume of global emissions rely very much on informed guesswork; and the translation of emissions into dollars is as arbitrary as the GDP construct itself.


Worldwatch recommends gearing up education for scientists, engineers, and technicians; welfare through green jobs; a ‘leapfrog’ into sounder production methods; energy renewables, water harvesting, smart grids, efficient refrigerants, plug-in vehicles, fast rail and bike paths, recycled scrap, and leasing household goods in preference to purchasing them. There is faith in energy savings through dematerialisation, such as nano-broadband and teleconferencing, but at the same time the blueprint acknowledges that computers—the medium of all contemporary knowledge making—are both ‘voracious users of energy’ and toxic to dispose of. The authors recommend that carbon markets and water banks be encouraged, but note that there is no political will among governments to fund ecosystem protection programs directly. The Transatlantic New Green Deal refers to the Millennium Environmental Assessment observation that 60 per cent of ecosystem services have been destroyed since World War II, but its own equally culpable instrumental rationality appears in the statement that ‘Eco- systems are “natural infrastructures”’. Overall, this green new deal statement is heavily infused with psychological denial. There is not an inkling of the basic incompatibility between capitalist accumulation and ecosystem integrity.


If the ecological conceptualisation of the Transatlantic Green New Deal is weak, so too is its sociological framing. The new social contract is on the table, but its terms are plainly limited to the perspectives of entrepreneurs, workers and consumers in the global North. Thus, a number of EU states are experimenting with environmental tax revenues, yet as the authors point out, it is important that governments do not create exemptions or subsidise bad practices: more can be done to rationalise current tax systems, which tend to make natural resource use too cheap and labor too expensive. Using eco-tax revenues to lighten the tax burden on labor (by funding national health or social security programs through eco-taxes rather than pay-roll taxes) would help lower indirect labor costs and boost job creation without hurting workers’ interests.


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