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The Unannounced Death of the Green New Deal: Part 1 – What Happened to the People’s Plan?

Wrong Kind of Green

September 11, 2020

By Michael Swifte

 

 

Is this a people’s plan or is this a process to get elected officials a policy in a timeline that will allow them to promote it around the 2020 election?

 

— John Washington speaking on behalf of Climate Justice Alliance to New Consensus and networks on 18 March 2019 [Source]

 

False Solutions continue to poison, displace, and imprison communities

 

Nuclear, fracking, “clean coal”, incineration and even prisons are offered as economic transition solutions to the climate crisis, but only continue to harm the health of people and the planet. The path of extracting, transporting, processing, and consuming these technologies is paved with communities riddled with cancer, reproductive and respiratory disease, among other devastating health impacts. These false solutions turn low-income communities, communities of color and indigenous communities into sacrifice zones. These do not move us toward a just transition.

 

Climate Justice Alliance, Just Transition Principles, 21 April 2017 [Source]

 

You could say that the Green New Deal died when the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force recommendations came through, or perhaps that was the moment we knew that the Jemez Principles  and the principles of a Just Transition had been abandoned more than a year before? Perhaps they were abandoned shortly after John Washington’s straight forward, perfectly articulated warning to New Consensus? Or perhaps they were abandoned as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey prepared the Green New Deal resolution with it’s “clean” and “net zero” language replacing the language of fossil fuel phase outs and 100% Renewables? Perhaps the Sunrise Movement, New Consensus, Justice Democrats and Data for Progress all fell in line with the net zero language of ruling class carbon accounts while paying lip service to fighting fossil fuels and pushing the advocates for First Nations and frontline communities further from the negotiating table?

I’ve looked and I’ve watched and I may be wrong, but it seems like the concerns of the Climate Justice Alliance fell off the map in March 2019 after they presented their position on the importance of observing the Jemez principles in the development of the Green New Deal to New Consensus and its connected networks. At some point between the first promises of a fossil fuel phase out and no new nuclear energy that were part of the notional Green New Deal endorsed by 350 dot org and 600+ of their NGO friends in January 2019, and the release of the Unity Task Force recommendations, any notion of actually centering-frontline-communities in the development of a Green New Deal were, it seems, abandoned. Not long after the Green New Deal Resolution was introduced on 7 February 2019, 350 dot org’s Julian Brave Noisecat took up a key position at Data for Progress whose September 2018 report on the Green New Deal more completely resembles the net zero language of “clean energy” rather than the phase out language of “100% Renewables”. The exact phrase Bria Viniate used in reference to the Ocasio-Cortez/Sunrise version of the Green New Deal in Vogue shortly before the November 2018 midterms is “100% Renewables”. The new phrase at the center of the Green New Deal after the introduction of the Green New Deal Resolution is “100% clean, renewable and zero emissions”.

 

Key Documents

Jemez Principles: https://www.ejnet.org/ej/jemez.pdf

Just Transition Principles: https://climatejusticealliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/CJA_JustTransition_Principles_final_hi-rez.pdf

People of Color Environmental Justice: “Principles of Working Together” http://www.ejnet.org/ej/workingtogether.pdf

Green New Deal Resolution: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/116/hres109/text

Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Recommendations: https://joebiden.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/UNITY-TASK-FORCE-RECOMMENDATIONS.pdf

Data for Progress – Green New Deal Report: https://www.dataforprogress.org/green-new-deal/

Fake it until you make new plans?

19 November 2018 – January 10 2019

When First Nations groups like the Lakota Law Project celebrated the creation of a Green New Deal in November 2018 they did so after hearing Ocasio-Cortez tell of her experiences at Standing Rock and saying “we have to get to 100 percent renewable energy in 10 years”.

Now, we find ourselves in this struggle together. Every aspect of the Green New Deal must be implemented now.

 

Chase Iron Eyes, Lakota People’s Law Project lead counsel [SOURCE]

In December 2018 Climate Justice Alliance issued a statement that made it clear that it’s primary demand was that Green New Deal builders go to the grass roots and take direction from there.

The proposal for the GND was made public at the grasstops level. When we consulted with many of our own communities, they were neither aware of, nor had they been consulted about the launch of the GND.

 

Climate Justice Alliance [SOURCE]

In January of 2019 Climate Justice Alliance and Indigenous Environment Network made very clear the commitments that would need to be upheld to keep a Green New Deal functioning.

What we want to do is strengthen and center the Green New Deal in environmental justice communities that have both experience and lived history of confronting the struggle against fossil fuel industries,

 

Angela Adrar [SOURCE]

 

The way that the plan was developed and shared is one of its greatest weaknesses,

 

Angela Adrar [SOURCE]

One of the most significant statements, attributable to Angela Adrar, is hard to date. The comment appears in the Green New Deal section of the CJA website but I could not find it in any published documents. It contains a dire warning about “Net Zero” and the burden that will be felt by frontline communities.

 

Allowing for neoliberal constructs such as Net Zero emissions, which equate carbon emission offsets and technology investments with real emissions reductions at source, would only exacerbate existing pollution burdens on frontline communities.

 

Angela Adrar [SOURCE]

On the eve of the release of the letter to congress from 626 environmental groups including 350 dot org Tom Goldtooth from Indigenous Environment Network reaffirmed the need for Green New Deal proponents to engage under the appropriate principles.

We’re asking that leadership of the Green New Deal meet with us and have a discussion how we can strengthen this campaign with the participation of the communities most impacted.

 

Tom Goldtooth [SOURCE]

Speaking upon the release of the letter of 626 groups and in reference to the input from IEN and CJA, Goldtooth indicated that commitment to “real solutions” were hard won. It’s important to note that at the time of the release of this letter Ocasio-Cortez was on record supporting “100% Renewables” having tweeted a call for a “wartime-level” mobilization in a January 2, 2019 tweet. [LINK]

Of course, we really had to assert ourselves on different issues that are very dear to us on seeking real solutions to mitigate climate change.

 

Tom Goldtooth

 

Goldtooth goes on to make it very clear that “real solutions” do not include carbon capture utilization and storage.

The techno fixes are very critical as well. In our analysis, it’s part of the false solutions. Carbon capture and storage, for an example, the technology is still being tested out there, concerns around leakage, and a lot of the private sector, the polluters, will benefit now, only to find out that there’s complications, and really justifying the offset regimes that happen in this scenario to where carbon capture and storage just isn’t working. Carbon capture use and storage and these other areas are very critical concerns with us. We have formed solidarity with other entities that have been addressing this issue as well. And so, we’re very thankful to all the other green groups, the six hundred and twenty some signatures, that they stand with us in looking for real solutions. [SOURCE]

Below is a key passage from the strongly aspirational letter of the 626 groups, January 10, 2019. The claims within have been rendered into empty promises since the introduction of the Green New Deal Resolution. More than a dozen bipartisan bills aimed at expanding fossil fuel extraction are making their way through congress. Bills designed; to expand the refining and use of fossil fuels through 45Q tax credits & modifications to the tax code; develop pipeline corridors; provide support and funding for R&D; and enable the use of financial instruments like private activity bonds. Scarce little has been done by Green New Deal Resolution cosponsors, proponent NGOs or climate justice and progressive NGOs to fight against the bipartisan 45Q bills or indeed in support of the solitary bill designed to eliminate the 45Q tax credit, the End Polluter Welfare Act 2020.

Further, we will vigorously oppose any legislation that: (1) rolls back existing environmental, health, and other protections, (2) protects fossil fuel and other dirty energy polluters from liability, or (3) promotes corporate schemes that place profits over community burdens and benefits, including market-based mechanisms and technology options such as carbon and emissions trading and offsets, carbon capture and storage,nuclear power, waste-to-energy and biomass energy. [Source]

The resolution and the handover to Democrat apparatchiks

4 February 2019 – 18 March 2019

Julian Brave Noisecat was able to see and respond to the language of the Green New Deal resolution before it was introduced. On February 4, 2019 Noisecat made comments published in Politico that show him attempting to bridge the contradiction between fighting for a fossil fuel phase out and fighting for net-zero.

 The language I read was clean, renewable, zero emissions — which is that ‘keep the door open’ approach,” said Julian NoiseCat, policy director with the climate group 350.org, adding that his organization pressed Ocasio-Cortez to include a statement requiring the phase-out of fossil fuels. [SOURCE]

 Noisecat made his comment while he was still employed by 350 dot org. Within a couple of months he would become the Director of Green New Deal Strategy with Data for Progress. While 350 dot org, in theory, still support a fossil fuel phase out, Data for Progress have always used the language as it appeared in the GND resolution. There is nothing that Data for Progress are doing or have done that is strategically supporting a fossil fuel phase out. As reported on January 18, 2019 a few weeks before the GND resolution was published, Greg Carlock, a key author of the Data for Progress – Green New Deal Report published in September 2018, thinks carbon capture utilization and storage is inevitable.

There is no scenario produced by the IPCC or the UN where we hit mid-century decarbonization without some kind of carbon capture.

Carlock also works for the World Resources Institute (WRI) as Manager for Climate Action and Data. WRI have never been committed to phasing out fossil fuels or building 100% renewables.

 

It is firmly understood that going 100 percent renewable in 10 years is technically impossible—like, physically and engineering-wise, it is impossible, [SOURCE] https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/01/first-fight-about-democrats-climate-green-new-deal/580543/

In testimony to the House Resources Committee on February 6, 2019, at a hearing titled: ‘Climate Change: The Impacts and the Need to Act’, Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of Uprose and steering committee co-chair of Climate Justice Alliance reiterated the need for a just transition.

VIDEO: The House Committee on Natural Resources hosted the hearing “Climate Change: The Impacts and the Need to Act”:

 

To effectively tackle climate change, we must invest in a Just Transition toward specifically local, living economies of scale.

 

Just Transition is a vision-led, unifying and place-based set of principles, processes and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy – not just for workers but for whole communities. This means approaching production and consumption cycles holistically and waste-free.

 

This transition away from fossil fuels itself must be just and equitable, redressing past harms and creating new relationships of power for the future through reparations, living wage jobs and economic and social development that aims to address historical harm and discrimination. If the process of transition is not just, the outcome will never be. [Source]

An FAQ document that was apparently released in error on February 7, 2019 in advance of the introduction of the Green New Deal Resolution shows that the team formulating the resolution were cognisant of the implications of the change in language from “100% Renewables” to “100% clean and renewable” or “clean, renewable and zero-emission energy” which became the specific language in the resolution.

 

 Why 100% clean and renewable and not just 100% renewable? Are you saying we won’t transition off fossil fuels?

 

Yes, we are calling for a full transition off fossil fuels and zero greenhouse gases. Anyone who has read the resolution sees that we spell this out through a plan that calls for eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from every sector of the economy. [SOURCE: Green New Deal FAQ Fact Sheet, February 7, 2019]

 

On February 7, 2019 Indigenous Environment Network released their ‘talking points’ on the Green New Deal resolution offering an instant rejection of the “net-zero” language.

The primary goal of the AOC-Markey Green New Deal (GND) Resolution is to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions”. We reject net-zero emissions language (as well as carbon neutral and zero-carbon) because it implies the use of carbon accounting that includes various types of carbon pricing systems, offsets and/or Payments for Ecological Services (PES).

 

We can no longer leave any options for the fossil fuel industry to determine the economic and energy future of this country. And until the Green New Deal can be explicit in this demand as well as closing the loop on harmful incentives, we cannot fully endorse the resolution. [SOURCE]

In response to the release of the Green New Deal resolution the Indigenous Environment Network released a statement on February 8, 2019. In it they make very clear their position on nuclear energy and their concerns stemming from the door being left open for nuclear in the resolution language.

The Green New Deal (GND) resolutio[n], as it is written right now, with no exclusion of nuclear energy to be considered clean energy, would open the door for Yucca Mountain to be reconsidered for dumping the nuclear energy waste. It would create the largest nuclear waste transportation campaign in history, possibly endangering residents in 44 states, thousands of towns and cities, and our Indigenous territories. [SOURCE]

It’s clear from Ed Markey’s dismissive statements at a press conference on February 11, 2019 unveiling the Green New Deal Resolution that there was a clear break in language of and the responsibility for the Green New Deal. His responses suppose that moderate Democrats should be kept happy. At the same moment First Nations and frontline advocates were clearly unhappy.

We’ve drafted it in a way that can get the support of progressives and moderates inside our caucus.

 

Ed Markey

 

That’s what you should focus on. Focus on the resolution.

 

Ed Markey [SOURCES]

The language of the resolution itself calls for the exercise of the same values enshrined in the Jemez principles.

in transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses. [SOURCE]

In her February 13, 2019 piece for The Intercept following the introduction of the GND resolution Naomi Klein did not mention the disappearance of a fossil fuel phase out or note the change in language.  If 350 had pressed Ocasio-Cortez on a phase out like Noisecat says, you would think it ought to be mentioned by 350’s leading light? Klein instead called for vigilance and ensuring responsiveness to pressure from frontline communities.

The Green New Deal will need to be subject to constant vigilance and pressure from experts who understand exactly what it will take to lower our emissions as rapidly as science demands, and from social movements that have decades of experience bearing the brunt of false climate solutions, whether nuclear power, the chimera of carbon capture and storage, or carbon offsets. [SOURCE]

By mid March 2019 the Climate Justice Alliance were pushed to the point where they felt they had to ask some questions about the values held by New Consensus: Who funds it? and, To whom is it accountable?

To this end, in order for us to continue in this process, we have four clear demands:

 

  1. Include both the Jemez Principles and the Environmental Justice Principles of Working Together in all work stemming from this gathering and forthcoming;

 

  1. Disclose and maintain transparency in funding sources, current and emerging, and commit that funding directly to those most impacted, including frontline and base-building organizing groups, alliances and networks for the development of policy priorities and language;

 

  1. Clearly outline who New Consensus is accountable to and who it works for; and why is there redundancy, going into communities where work is already being done when the country is vast and there are so many other places where there isn’t yet consensus;

 

  1. Commit to New Consensus’ participation in a strategy meeting with CJA and allied frontline partners in order to move our collective conversation and possible relationship forward, we would ask that a MOA be entered into between New Consensus and CJA frontlines.[SOURCE]

John Washington presented his strident arguments to new Consensus and GND partners on March 18, 2019 following the reading of the CJA statement by Miya Yoshitani. Robinson Meyer reported in The Atlantic in June 2019 that “difficulties came to a head” that day, but he did not specify which 2 activists raised issues.

The meeting was bumpy from the first hour, when two environmental-justice activists interrupted proceedings to protest the absence of the Climate Justice Alliance, a national network of urban, rural, and indigenous groups. The alliance had been asked to endorse the Green New Deal, but it had not been asked to help write it, the activists charged.

 

But one of the major demands the environmental-justice activists raised at the meeting has gone publicly unanswered. They asked a simple question: Who’s funding New Consensus? [SOURCE]

The Series

In Part 2 of this series I will look more closely at the negative impacts of marginalizing First Nations, frontline and grass roots voices, and how the fuzzy “clean” language of the Green New Deal Resolution left room for all the Democratic presidential hopefuls to capitalise on climate and justice issues, even when their real commitments would put them at odds with a fossil fuel phase out or 100% renewables.

In Part 3 I will look in depth at the neglected battlefields in stopping fossil fuel extraction including the bipartisan bills supporting expansion of the already misused 45Q tax credit making their way through congress, and the forces lining up to profit from the absence of any real commitment to eliminating fossil fuel subsidies from the DNC through the Progressive Caucus and onto the Green New Deal proponents.

Conclusion

Angela Adrar observed that the way the grass roots component of the Green New Deal was developed is its “greatest weakness” and that the “grasstops” announcement of the Green New Deal concept was not preceded by consultation with grass roots networks. We should keep this in mind whenever we think about the Green New Deal. We may never discover what happened after the March 2019 New Consensus meeting, but we do know there is an enormous responsibility on the shoulders of any honest brokers to redress the relationships compromised in the process of delivering policies for Democrat presidential hopefuls.

We should take as a warning and a lesson the words of Mark Charles at the Native American Presidential Forum in August 2019 as reported by Julian Brave Noisecat.

Now, if you have a house that’s built on a bad foundation, you’re going to get cracks in your walls. You’re going to get gaps in your windows. And you’re going to get a creaky floor,” he said, his oration reaching its soaring conclusion. “And you can scream and you can fight about what color to paint the walls, what kind of calking to use in your windows, and what kind of carpet to put on your floor, but until you go into the basement and examine your foundation and do something to firm those up and make those strong—you are never going to fix the problems in the house.” The audience cheered. Some women who had been cautious with their lele’s earlier really let loose.” [SOURCE]

 

[Michael Swifte is an Australian activist and a member of the Wrong Kind of Green critical thinking collective.]

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