Climate politics are today bursting to life like never before. For four decades, market fundamentalists in the United States and United Kingdom have blocked ambitious efforts to deal with the climate crisis. But now, the neoliberal hegemony is crumbling, while popular climate mobilisations grow stronger every month. There has never been a better moment to transform politics and attack the climate emergency.
The vision of the Green New Deal that has taken shape in the United States in the past few months is in many ways a culmination of the U.S. left’s revival. The Green New Deal’s modest ambition is to do all that this moment requires: decarbonise the economy as quickly as humanly possible by investing massively to electrify everything while bringing prodigious amounts of renewable power online; all this would be done in a way that dismantles inequalities of race, class and gender. The Green New Deal would transform the energy and food systems, and the broader political economy of which they are a part.
Massive new public investment would create work for millions of people, guarantee everyone who wants one a decent job, invest disproportionately in poor and racialised communities, and establish truly free, universal public services like Medicare for All and free education from preschool through college.
In the longer run, we hope that confronting climate change will also be the occasion for breaking from capitalism. We see the Green New Deal, like its namesake, less as a particular suite of policies than as a multi-decade effort to write a more humane, sustainable, and democratic social contract. But whereas the New Deal ultimately saved capitalism for capitalists, we aspire to channel a new wave of mass mobilisation in a more radical direction.
On each side of the Atlantic, a militant working-class movement, galvanised around the promise of a green economy built on living wage union jobs, should be in the driver’s seat. We must bring environmental justice movements together with Friday school strikers, Extinction Rebellion with the nurses, teachers and care providers whose work is as essential to this transition as that of solar and wind engineers.
Fortunately, the shift away from the too-small, too-white environmentalism of old has begun in the U.S. The 2014 People’s Climate March put 400,000 people in the streets in New York, with black and brown frontline community members in the lead. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose family hails from Puerto Rico, is taking cues from a climate justice movement led most notably by women of colour. Beyond AOC, some of the strongest supporters of the Green New Deal in Congress have been Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Deb Haaland, and Ayanna Pressley—Palestinian, Somali, Indigenous, and Black Americans now leading the progressive wing of the Democratic party. The broad popular struggle to attack climate change and inequality together is being led most visibly by representatives of the country’s multiracial working class.
We know we can’t solve a planetary problem on our own; we see US emissions reduction as crucial not least because it is a condition of possibility for global cooperation. Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement was seen by many as a catastrophic break from international climate negotiations. But the international climate process has made little progress—due in no small part to U.S. intransigence and backdoor deals that have torpedoed agreement after agreement and given other countries cover. In this, the UK was too often a willing partner.
We need new kinds of international negotiations and institutions that can pick up the considerable slack left by UN climate talks. A starting point could be an initially small group of countries with governments committed to Green New Deal principles setting collective, binding policy goals, and sharing ideas and practices with anyone embracing the common objectives. Countries at different levels of wealth would be welcome, with particular commitments commensurate to their specific conditions, and mechanisms for redistributive financing and technology transfers among members. This climate justice grouping would ideally grow over time, forming a more ambitious parallel to the UN Process.
To be sure, new institutions of global governance won’t achieve their goals without grassroots pressure. For decades, a wide range of left movements and parties, community groups, peasants’ organisations, unions, and others, have worked on transnational campaigns to bring some justice to supply chains from below, ranging from fruit production to jeans manufacture to oil and mineral extraction. Social movements’ tools have included direct action to block production or shipping, strikes, campaigns for public and private procurement policies, voluntary product labelling, ethical investment advocacy, and more. But with Green New Deal regimes providing institutional channels to radically restructure the economy from above, we would hope for more effective organising across borders from below. This would push states to adopt bolder and more egalitarian policies, while further strengthening peasants’, workers’, and communities’ autonomous economic power. This popular alliance-building could happen in both sprawling gatherings like the World Social Forum, and via more focused, issue-specific networks.
Our vision of sowing popular power and transnational solidarities is the exact opposite of the Fortress Europe that is currently hardening, with its violent border policing and authoritarian rule by bankers. Of course, only some aspects of Fortress Europe are designed to block movement—it is also committed to capital mobility and financial deregulation. Borders and cages for migrants—but open doors for the investor class. Europe’s institutions must be radically reformed.
On both sides of the Atlantic, the left must offer a vision to transform global and regional economic institutions that opposes right-wing calls for economic nationalism—and its mythical domestic harmony between the interests of workers and bosses. But we can’t abdicate trade to the Davos elites either.
We must also address real grievances with the deceptively-named “free” trade regime. For instance, the idea of a Green New Deal club outlined above could extend to trade policy. What would this look like? For starters, rewriting trade agreements to include stringent labour and environmental standards, including full accounting of carbon emissions in manufacture and transport; reforming the rules governing investor arbitration courts to open them up to lawsuits from labour, environmental, and indigenous activists; and holding US and UK companies accountable for social and environmental impacts throughout their global supply chains. We would abolish restrictive intellectual property rules, which at present deprive the whole world of the benefits of scientific and technical innovation while locking poorer countries into cycles of economic dependency.
We’re inspired by the organising in defence of free movement from the British left, as Brexit threatens to harden British borders and deport thousands of Europeans who have made their homes in the UK. We’re similarly heartened by the outcry that met the denial of public services and threat of deportation made against members of the Windrush generation. There can be no left revival, and there can be no climate justice, in one country alone. With xenophobic politicians gaining steam in Europe and around the world, we will need much more organising along these lines to build support for welcoming immigrants and refugees, especially as the climate crisis intensifies, and to rectify the damages of European and American colonialism.
Of course, the cross-Atlantic Green New Deal movement has a lot to learn from the left and the world further afield. We’re learning from French public transit policy, German codetermination in industry and sectoral bargaining, Costa Rica’s plan for rapid decarbonisation, Scandinavian models for modern welfare and housing, the national ban on large-scale mining in El Salvador, European examples of public utilities, the federation of cooperatives in the Basque region, organising against extractivism in Ecuador, coping with disastrous flooding through popular mobilisation in Kerala, indigenous rights victories in Canada, Brazil’s landless movement organising, and much more.
Researching ways to scale up and democratise existing climate policies will be one of the Green New Deal’s great contributions to global justice movements. As academics, journalists, policymakers, organisers and more turn attention to the twin crises of capitalism and climate change, we hope a transformative Green New Deal can bolster their efforts, arming movements and politicians to hit the ground running. It wasn’t just the wealthy backers of the neoliberal revolution that made them successful, but their commitment to transforming the definition of economic common sense by any means necessary. We might not have a transatlantic coterie of billionaires willing to fund think tanks that help them secure their own self-interest. But we are part of an exploding movement of popular forces who are sick and tired of inequality, and who want to stop climate breakdown.
And as we work toward a new, no-carbon internationalism, we also have a vision: ending inequalities and stabilising the climate; caring for our communities and the planet; and winning freedom and dignity for the many, guided by a solidarity that knows no borders.