Beyond the Green New Deal: Eco-Socialism and Decolonization
By Michael Novick
Environmental catastrophes in southern Africa and in the U.S. Midwest underscore the fact that life-threatening damage from capitalist-induced climate change is happening already.
Hundreds died as a result of the cyclone in Mozambique and elsewhere, where the resultant flooding has caused an “inland sea.” Record flooding in Nebraska and elsewhere has caused multimillion-dollars of destruction, and more flooding is anticipated. Native communities in South Dakota have been hit particularly hard, with industrial and other waste contaminating drinking water sources.
Things are getting worse, despite the Paris Accord, with or without Trump and the U.S. Tim Radford of Climate News Network reports British meteorologists warning that although 2018 broke all records for greenhouse gas emissions, 2019 will see even more carbon dioxide added.
Some point to the Green New Deal introduced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Edward Markey as the answer. Apparently it has been rendered DOA as far as Congress is concerned, via a “stunt vote” by Mitch McConnell in the Senate. But the impact of U.S. economic and military actions around the world make it clear that more than a “new deal” is needed, that decolonization and demilitarization are central to overcoming global climate injustice.
As the Indigenous Environmental Network has pointed out, the Green New Deal leaves much to be desired:
“The IEN applauds the Green New Deal resolution for its vision, intention, and scope. … From sea level rise to loss of land, Indigenous frontline communities and Tribal nations are already experiencing the direct impacts of climate change, and we are encouraged to see these congressional leaders … help Indigenous communities and Tribal nations protect their homelands, rights, sacred sites, waters, air, and bodies from further destruction.
“However, …we remain concerned that unless changes are made…, the Green New Deal will leave incentives … to continue causing harm to Indigenous communities…. the most impactful way to address the problem is to keep fossil fuels in the ground. We can no longer leave options for the fossil fuel industry to determine the economic and energy future of this country. Until the Green New Deal can be explicit in this demand and close the loop on harmful incentives, we cannot fully endorse the resolution.”
The IEN identifies several major problems with the Green New Deal:
1. Its goal of “net-zero emissions” implies the use of “carbon accounting” including carbon pricing systems and/or Payments for Ecological Services. This provides opportunity to fossil fuel industries to continue extraction and combustion. Geo-engineering technologies like Carbon Capture Sequestration can be claimed as producing net zero emissions as well as “building green infrastructure.” Carbon trading allows polluters to buy and sell permits to pollute, and privatizes the air that we breathe.
2. “Renewable/Clean Energy” needs to be clearly defined. Burning “bridge fuels” like fracked gas, municipal waste and biomass, nuclear energy and large-scale hydroelectric dams all pose major environmental justice concerns.
3. Restoring and protecting threatened and fragile ecosystems is linked to supporting climate “resiliency.” Restoration projects could be used as climate mitigation schemes. Programs like Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) “financialize” Nature and turn its “carbon-sink” capacities into commodities to be sold in speculative markets.
4. Compensation for farmers might include funding for GMOs and/or Climate Smart Agriculture, so-called “carbon farming” for “offsets” of industrial pollution.
5. Weak language on indigenous peoples sovereignty: Its “stakeholders” don’t explicitly include indigenous people. IEN suggests the following language instead:
“The Green New Deal must be developed in transparent and inclusive consultation … and partnership in recognition of the sovereignty and self-determination of federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes and villages including all …rights secured under treaties, statutes, executive orders and federal and state court cases. These projects will also include …Native Hawaiian organizations and State recognized Tribes. Acknowledge the … Tribes that develop … their own Free, Prior and Informed Consent laws [for] Indian Country, inclusive of their lands, waters, territories and resources; and off-reservation hunting, fishing, medicine gathering, food gathering, cultural and spiritual practices…”
Indigenous people worldwide pay a heavy price for U.S. practices. U.S. imperialism continues to have primary responsibility for damage to the climate. According to the University of Michigan, in 2018, 80 percent of the energy consumed in the U.S. came from oil, gas, and coal. Only 11 percent came from so-called “renewables”; 40+ percent of that was biomass, which requires a large amount of land and energy to produce and still causes carbon emissions. And that doesn’t include all the U.S.-destined production and energy consumption that has been off-shored to low-wage countries.
According to PopularResistance.org:
“The U.S. is the largest crude oil producer in the world. … [At the end of March,] Mike Pompeo met with oil and gas industry executives to remind them of their role in fueling wars to control the world’s oil. Bill Van Auken reports, ‘Pompeo’s speech provided a blunt description of U.S. predatory aims across the planet that involve the interests of [its] energy conglomerates.’ [Pompeo] was open about U.S. imperialist aims regarding oil in Iran and Venezuela.”
The U.S. military is responsible for the worst and most widespread pollution on earth, yet this goes unreported by corporate media and unaddressed by U.S. environmentalists. It wasn’t the focus of restrictions at the UN Climate Change Conference. Global operations of the U.S. military (wars, interventions, over 1000 bases around the world and 6,000 facilities in the U.S.) aren’t counted against U.S. greenhouse gas limits. According to Steve Kretzmann, director of Oil Change International, “The Iraq war was responsible for …more than 60 percent [of the emissions as] that of all countries. . . . [M]ilitary emissions abroad are exempt from national reporting requirements under U.S. law and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.”
So people in the U.S. must struggle to keep hydrocarbons in the ground, resist U.S. militarism, and uphold the sovereignty of indigenous people. This includes offering concrete alternatives, like the Mutual Aid centers in Puerto Rico, or the clean water programs supported by Puerto Ricans in Action in Los Angeles, to recovery efforts controlled by U.S. NGOs and the military. Puerto Rico is as damaged, ongoing, by U.S. colonialism and disaster capitalism, as by Hurricane Maria. That’s why the Puerto Rican Federation of Teachers, in the documentary “Lucha Si!” and in their daily organizing, make it clear that decolonization and Puerto Rican sovereignty is the solution to the privatization of schools being imposed under the colonial government’s austerity programs and the U.S.-imposed “PROMESA” financial junta that controls the island nation’s finances in order to prioritize repayment of debt to vulture capitalists. On the occasion of getting the PR Department of Education to reverse the closing of several schools, Mercedes Martinez, the union president, said, “Everything is possible, if we fight. More than ever proud to have been arrested with 20 comrades for defending public education.”
Similarly, to respond to the devastation in Africa, we must support self-determined grassroots efforts. More than 1.5 million people have been affected across the three Southern African countries, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. The Chimanimani district in Mozambique has been cut off by torrential rains and winds that swept away roads and bridges knocking out power and communication lines. Global Citizen offers specific ways to help victims, as well as general guidelines for providing conscientious assistance to formerly colonized peoples.
Decolonization as central to the struggle for sustainability and climate justice goes well beyond the current Green New Deal resolution. As eco-socialists in the Democratic Socialists of America acknowledge in their paper on an eco-socialist Green New Deal, we must “demilitarize, decolonize, and strive for a future of international solidarity.”
They call for abandoning global military domination, and building consensus throughout the Global North for de-carbonization that outpaces less-industrialized countries, who have contributed the least to and are suffering the most from global warming. The U.S., they propose, should welcome refugees, share life-saving technologies freely, and provide mitigation resources requested by peoples in the Global South.
Their proposal continues, “Recognize the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples… Accept the decisions of Indigenous communities regarding future green infrastructure projects that impact their lands…. Remove United States military presence… around the world; end military aid and arms exports; and demilitarize our borders.”
This is a step forward, along with acknowledging that we must solve the climate crisis and the inequality crisis together: “Climate remedies in the context of austerity will produce a popular backlash…. [I]neffectual gradualism and corporate obedience … [have] proven to be a dead-end for humanity. We need rapid, systemic transformation that heals the stratification of wealth and power while putting de-carbonization and justice at the forefront.”
Unfortunately, this same anti-colonial, anti-racist and anti-militarist orientation is not necessarily reflected in local implementation plans. The DSA-LA resolution on an eco-socialist Green New Deal in Los Angeles talks about “green jobs” and a bit about integrating work around housing and homelessness, and around immigration issues, but doesn’t use an anti-colonial or anti-racist lens, and is silent about issues of militarism, local military-industrial complex industries or extractivism.
There is a strong need to sharpen up such proposals so that the axiom, “think globally, act locally” doesn’t liquidate the essential role of the military and colonialism in creating the current crisis, or the role of self-determination and conscious solidarity in overcoming it. A truly eco-socialist approach would take on militarization of the police and the border, the toxic conditions in prisons, and related issues to help explain why we need to end capitalism and colonialism, not cut a deal to give them a new lease on life. Capitalism kills—its life is our death.
One positive aspect of the local proposal is that it does identify the need for mutual aid projects as a basis for organizing. As the threat of climate change increasingly becomes the deadly reality, we cannot afford to leave survival to the right-wing or racist survivalists. The left must step up to promote anti-racist collective common solutions in the process of uprooting and replacing the system that is to blame. “Survival pending revolution” was the basis for the Black Panther Party survival programs, and such efforts are needed more than ever today, to hasten the day when massive reforestation and restoration of grasslands and wetlands destroyed by capitalism and colonialism can begin to restore the natural carbon cycle. To de-carbonize, we must de-colonize.
Michael Novick is a longtime anti-racist with the Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART). He is also a labor activist and a member of the local station board of KPFK 90.7FM in Los Angeles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Versions of this article have appeared in Turning the Tide: Journal of Intercommunal Solidarity from Anti-Racist Action LA and in Change Links Community Calendar & Progressive News.