Clean Tech Versus a People’s Green New Deal

Rich nations’ proposals for greening the economy need to acknowledge that their wealth rests on economic exploitation and ecological spoliation of poorer countries.

he Green New Deal (GND), Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s draft legislation to reduce US carbon dioxide emissions, was literally 2019’s talk of the town.

Climate apocalypse is on everyone’s mind. The spring of 2019 was the season of failed monsoons in Chennai, its reservoirs meters from desiccation. Millennial heatwaves roiled France. Wildfires raged in the United States, and continental firestorms rake Australia. The normally cool prose of scientists has been heating up as well, channeling the anxiety induced by the catastrophic conditions they describe. Reports warning of the disappearance of the world’s flora, fauna, and land increasingly seem like forecasts for the end of the world. Climate change has and will continue to pulverize the global South, where disaster is not on the horizon but has already arrived. Yet at the moment, the most visible environmental legislation — the Green New Deal (GND) — is being made and unmade in the North, the primary polluter and home of the largest corporations.

Like the New Deal to which the GND refers, it aims big. In the words of Demond Drummer, the head of the New Consensus think tank, the quiet catalyst of the GND discussion, it is a domestic agenda for governing, a chance “to see the elephant whole.”

Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s former Chief of Staff, has added that “we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.” Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez has spoken warmly of Tennessee Valley Authority-style programs and “public-private partnerships.” She has put forward the figure of ten trillion dollars as its cost.

Ocasio-Cortez’s draft legislation, much like the draft document from the New Consensus, was bare bones. Its five goals are:

(1) To achieve net-zero emissions through a “just transition;”

(2) Create millions of high-wage and good jobs;

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