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Stop Polluting Our Green New Deal

As climate protests sweep across Europe, neoliberals are misusing the name “Green New Deal” to push new kinds of market incentives.

"Italian Landscape with Umbrella Pines" by Hendrik Voogd, 1807. Rijksmuseum / Wikimedia

Just last month, Al Jazeera ran a story about a congestion tax in New York City — a $12 fee for driving into Manhattan. The headline called it a “litmus test” for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal. Quite incorrectly, the article claimed that just like AOC’s proposal, the tax would raise prices for everyday people. It suggested that if New York failed to pass this small measure because of popular opposition, the much bolder agenda of the Green New Deal would be dead in the water.

The Congresswoman from the Bronx fired back. “It’s sloppy to call any + all climate plans ‘Green New Deal’ policies,” she tweeted. “Green New Deal policies center jobs + justice in frontline, working communities as we transition our economy + infrastructure. Not all climate policies are the same.”

The Green New Deal can seem all-embracing. To some, it refers to jobs — either as a generator of well-paid employment, or a threat to existing industries in which people work. To others, it conjures up images of socialized housing surrounded by wind farms. To others still, it is a set of specific rules and regulations, or financing mechanisms, or institutional infrastructures enabling a transition to a zero-carbon economy. It can be framed in terms of capitalist incentives or socialist transformation.

In a sense, this breadth of meaning is the Green New Deal’s greatest strength — the call for such a program is a broad tent, uniting activists and politicians around the globe. But this is also its major weakness.

With even conservatives like Michel Barnier — currently the frontrunner for the next European Commission presidency — talking about the need for a “Green EU Deal,” a failure to set a bold standard for our green transition threatens the environmental agenda as a whole.

A neoliberal “Green New Deal” — based on taxes on working families and the continued extraction of wealth from our communities — would betray the demands of the young climate protestors. In doing so, it would squander what may be the last opportunity to bury the sadism of our economic model before it destroys us. In other words, the cooptation of the call for climate action is a death sentence. It could be lethal not only to the possibility of a socialist future, but also to the hundreds of millions of people whose lives could be devastated by climate change and rising inequality over the next century.

This is why we launched the “10 Pillars of the Green New Deal for Europe,” our challenge to all those who would steal and misrepresent our vision. To them, we say: you don’t deserve to call your policies a Green New Deal unless they meet our principles of scale, boldness, justice, community empowerment, job creation, equality, and action.

Escaping the Binds of Neoliberalism

The Green New Deal has been around for a while. Thomas Friedman, who incorrectly claims to have coined the phrase in 2007, recently pitched a transition that is “geostrategic, capitalistic, economical, innovative and patriotic” — one in which “Father Greed” continues to capture wealth through advancements in solar and wind energy.

He calls on carbon taxes to fund community colleges and high-speed internet. Clearly, these are the two great needs in a country ravaged by inequality, culture war, racial injustice, crippling health care costs, and a predatory economic elite.

This vision is plainly inadequate. It not only falls far short of the original New Deal, which promised “Relief” to alleviate poverty and create jobs, “Recovery” to reboot the American economy, and “Reform” to target the causes of the crisis to prevent one from happening again.

It also falls far short of what we need to do to solve our climate and ecological emergencies. Even if all the nations of the world met their woefully inadequate commitments under the 2016 Paris Agreement, we would be on course for 3 degree warming in this century, causing untold suffering for hundreds of millions of people.

But Friedman’s view holds appeal for all those who would profit from our transition. And as long as the details of the GND remain vague, the program will be exposed to capture by capitalist interests.

The good news is that, around the world, progressives are answering the challenge. Ocasio-Cortez has single-handedly pushed the GND onto the American political agenda — and put wind in the sails of radical environmentalists everywhere.

In Europe, the Labour Party is calling for a Green Industrial Revolution — a bold Green New Deal by another name. On mainland Europe, Yanis Varoufakis’s Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 has been calling for a Green New Deal since 2016. It is on the back of these ideas and this momentum that activists have launched the Green New Deal for Europe campaign.

In theory at least, the rise of Green parties entering the European Parliament for the first time ought to create space for an ecologist agenda. But this historic opportunity also creates an obligation on us to put pressure on political decision-makers and make sure we get the radical change we — and our planet — need.

The Ten Pillars of the Green New Deal for Europe

The vision for a Green New Deal for Europe is based on ten fundamental principles. They aim to unite the demands of a broad constituency and lay the groundwork for political debate in Europe:

  1. Faced with the emergency of the climate and ecological crises, winning slowly is the same as losing. The Green New Deal, then, must meet the scale of the challenge with sufficient investment in an economic transformation that respects our planetary boundaries, not only decarbonizing our economies but also reversing biodiversity loss.
  2. The burden of our transition cannot fall on the shoulders of working families, so the Green New Deal must be grounded in Keynesianism: the money must be raised by public banks issuing green bonds.
  3. The green transition cannot be a top-down process. Instead, the Green New Deal must be infused with democracy, empowering citizens and communities to make the decisions that shape their futures.
  4. Europe — like the United States — is mired in a mix of unemployment, underemployment, and precarious employment that fails to generate prosperity for working families. The Green New Deal must be a program of job creation, providing a decent job to all those who seek one.
  5. But it must also move beyond a job guarantee and raise the standard of living for all. For example, the Green New Deal must construct millions of sustainable homes and smart energy grids, addressing the crises of housing insecurity and fuel poverty.
  6. The standard of living generated by the Green New Deal cannot be clawed back by the interests of capital. So the Green New Deal must create structures that entrench equality within and between countries — regardless of race, sexuality, gender, age, or ability — by taking the interests of finance head on and challenging its pursuit of short-term gain for the few over long-term prosperity for the many.
  7. The Green New Deal is an opportunity to reimagine our future. It must harness our collective knowledge and invest in technological advancements that will liberate us from labor — not increase shareholder value.
  8. Measuring progress through GDP growth is at the root of our crises of inequality and environmental devastation. So the Green New Deal must abandon the dogma of GDP growth and focus on what matters: health, happiness, and the environment.
  9. Because we cannot solve the environmental crisis on our own, the Green New Deal must redress the colonial legacy of aggressive pollution and resource extraction across the Global South. It must support others in their green transition and ensure that the supply chains that drive the green transformation are committed to principles of social and environmental justice.
  10. Finally, the Green New Deal must graduate our environmental politics from negotiation to action. After nearly thirty years of failed negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Green New Deal is an opportunity for a decisive shift towards credible, specific measures targeted at every area of our societies.

Taken together, the Green New Deal offers us a framework for a radical reimagining of our societies. By entrenching democracy and equality at the heart of the transition, it can set the stage for our postcapitalist future. By calling on state funding by existing public institutions, it is politically pragmatic and can be put in place tomorrow. And it can transform citizens into economic agents, dismantling our neo-feudal economic model in which the few hold sway over both our politics and our lives.

Unequal and exploitative power relations are at the root of our environmental crisis. So it’s essential that any policy calling itself a Green New Deal lives up to these standards. No durable solution to this catastrophe can be based on our model of extractive capitalism — on Friedman’s “Father Greed” and the growth needed to feed it.

If it manages to entrench the principles of equality and economic justice in the United States and Europe, the Green New Deal can be a launchpad for a new global economic settlement. This could finally enable millions around the world to share in prosperity and build durable democratic institutions untainted by global corporations and the exploitation they create.

That is why we must set the bar high. As new Members of the European Parliament prepare to take their seats in Brussels, we need to remind them that a Green New Deal cannot betray these ten basic pillars.

Given all we know about the effects of the climate and ecological crises, it’s not a stretch to say that compromising on these principles is murder.