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Listen: The Green New Deal & What it Leaves Out: Reading Act V of Cory Morningstar’s Research

Listen: The Green New Deal & What it Leaves Out: Reading Act V of Cory Morningstar’s Research

Ghion Journal

November 4, 2019
“Listen: The Green New Deal & What it Leaves Out: Reading Act V of Cory Morningstar’s Research”

By Stephen Boni

 

Trojan Horse – The horses of Dali – Lithograph – Surrealist – 1983

For last week’s Words of Others podcast, I read Act V of investigative journalist Cory Morningstar’s ongoing series about the NGO Industrial Complex. It’s a lengthy piece titled For Consent: The Green New Deal is the Trojan Horse for the Financialization of Nature.

As is per usual for Morningstar, she wades through an exhaustive amount of research to demonstrate the contradictions between the prospect of a mass and state-mobilized systems-level transition away from a pollution- and fossil fuel-intensive economy and the planning and underpinnings of such a transition being directed from behind the scenes by groups of powerful people who have every financial and class interest in the world to make sure our current profit-driven way of life stays roughly the same.

This research finds Morningstar taking a deeper look at a variety of intersecting organizations that are both originators and marketers of the Green New Deal, including:

  • Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats
  • Grist Magazine
  • Climate Nexus
  • The Business and Sustainable Development Commission
  • The Blended Finance Taskforce
  • Data for Progress
  • The Sunrise Movement
  • World Resources Institute
  • The New Climate Economy Project
  • Natural Capital Coalition
  •  

    Through her research, Morningstar employs a line of thinking that I would position as “stands to reason”.

    What this means is that, instead of dissecting the text of the current Green New Deal proposal or seeking out direct interviews with key players in the above organizations, she focuses on each organization as an entity, digging into their respective missions, their communications, who finances them, and the ideological backgrounds of and connections between their various elite members.

    By doing this, Morningstar arrives at “stands to reason” conclusions—i.e., based on what she learns, it stands to reason that innovative but status quo-oriented capitalists, working in a loose collective through NGOs backed by multi-national corporations and finance capital, are not creating and marketing a Green New Deal that seeks to reimagine the U.S. economy and move away from consumption as a foundational lifestyle for citizens, or war as a foundational economic project of the state.

    Some readers may see the lack of direct interviews with people connected to the creation of the Green New Deal—and the fact that Morningstar doesn’t really analyze the text of the Green New Deal itself—as omissions to the process of investigative journalism. Indeed, it’s up to each reader to decide whether or not these omissions (and we should note that it’s entirely possible that key members of the above organizations may not want to be interviewed) invalidate Morningstar’s conclusions about the attempt by global elites to use global warming to solve a capitalism crisis rather than to mitigate a climate crisis.

    My own thinking notes these absences, but tends to be appreciative of Morningstar’s research and somewhat content with the belief that I can fill in at least some of these gaps myself. For instance, each one of us has the ability to read the Green New Deal proposal while keeping Morningstar’s research in mind.

    The Green New Deal’s Sins of Omission

    If you pull up the text of the Green New Deal and read through it, which doesn’t take all that long, the proposal actually reads pretty well. Some readers might even wonder, “What’s the problem here? Seems like a bunch of good ideas, overall”.

    However, it’s the absences in the Green New Deal proposal that give the most pause. In a strange way, it brings to mind one of Robert Redford’s best political films from the 70s, The Candidate. In one climactic scene, Redford’s character, a vaguely countercultural type who’s been taking part in a sober debate with his opponent in the race for a California Senate seat, vocalizes how their entire debate has left out all of the important issues they desperately need to be discussing.

     

    While I won’t walk you through every inch of the text of the Green New Deal, here are some issues I noticed when reading it.

    1. At the very beginning of the resolution in section one, we see the use of a kind of linguistic misdirection that Morningstar noted in Act IV of her series. Here’s the quote from the text of the Green New Deal:

    “Resolved, it is the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal to 1) achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers.”

    This is a red flag. As Morningstar explained previously, seeking net-zero emissions does not mean radically reducing the amount of carbon the U.S. pumps into the atmosphere. It means using technology and other instruments to offset or capture the same amount of carbon our society is creating. This means that, as long as we do enough offsetting and enough carbon capturing, our emissions can be allowed to keep on growing. From a climate standpoint, that’s a fake solution.

    1. In section 2 of the text, it states one of the major objectives as meeting 100% of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources”.

    This sounds fairly standard unless you consider the assumptions that underlie the statement. One, that zero-emission energy sources are sufficient to meet current U.S. power demands (they’re not) and two, that the U.S. doesn’t need to reduce its power demands in the first place.

    The absence created by these two assumptions makes the “net-zero emissions” goal all the more relevant as an indicator that the necessity of growth within a capitalist economy won’t be questioned as those in power seek to deal with climate change, a phenomenon that’s been driven, in large part, by a belief that growth=economic health.

    1. While subsequent pieces of section 2—which get into issues of energy and water efficiency for power grids and buildings—can be seen to allay some of these fears, as one goes deeper into section 2, we have this:

    “…spurring massive growth in clean manufacturing in the United States and removing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing and industry as much as is technologically feasible.”

    While we can dig into the available knowledge on whether or not “clean manufacturing” is real or merely something to conduct long-term research and development for, it can again be inferred that the creators of the Green New Deal don’t envision the need for a move away from a mass consumer economy, which requires boundless amounts of energy and waste to operate.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    I encourage readers to visit the text of the Green New Deal themselves. There is much that is worthy in the proposal, including language about mass transit, community decision-making power, public banks and other financial democratization ideas, as well as some basic ideas about changing farming practices and ensuring water quality.

    But, in conjunction with Morningstar’s research, the red flags are definitely there, as well as additional important absences.

    Just a few of these absences include the fact that:

  • There’s no mention of downsizing the U.S. military, which is one of the world’s most rabid users of fossil fuel energy, as well as a massive carbon emitter and creator of toxic pollution.
  • There’s no mention of ending current subsidies paid to fossil fuel companies, nor any mention of potential financial support to the clean energy sector or to households that can’t afford to refashion their use of energy (which, quite frankly, will be most of them).
  • There’s no mention of the environmental impact of the intensive mineral mining, resulting pollution and water use it will take to make all those solar panels, wind turbines and electric car batteries—not to mention the current way those materials are obtained (by exploiting impoverished workers and their children in developing nations).
  • There’s no mention of re-imagining how we use land (re-wilding, for instance) in a country that, after WWII, spread out and suburbanized on the back of the automobile, the airplane, the fast food restaurant and an ocean of plentiful cheap oil.
  • And, the largest issue of all, in many respects, there’s no language that challenges consumption as not only a lifestyle, but as the essential ingredient of a strong economy.
  • In even a cursory run-through of the Green New Deal proposal, it seems to me that any view of Morningstar’s work as simply purist, anti-capitalist, anti-establishment paranoia contains a determination not to see some very obvious issues that could have serious ramifications. All of which is to say, it makes sense to give her research full and attentive consideration.
  • As always, thanks for reading and listening.

    Listen: Don’t Take Movements at Face Value: Reading Cory Morningstar’s Research into Environmental Activist Greta Thunberg

    Listen: Don’t Take Movements at Face Value: Reading Cory Morningstar’s Research into Environmental Activist Greta Thunberg

    Ghion Journal

    September 5, 2019

    By Stephen Boni

     

     

    A few years back, I was working on a writing and interview project for a national nonprofit in which I spent time with professionals who focused on sustainability. I wasn’t hanging out with Julia “Butterfly” Hill or the descendants of Edward Abbey. These were people who were firmly part of the professional class and operating inside the system to varying degrees. Not everyone’s a radical and I found many of my interview subjects to be fascinating individuals who had accomplished worthwhile things.

    However, one issue threw me for a minor loop. During a discussion with a guy who was involved in the financial end of foundation work on climate change and ecosystems, he termed the natural processes occurring in ecosystems as “ecosystem services” that need to be quantified monetarily. “That’s weird”, I thought, so I probed and he enthusiastically explained how financializing the functioning of ecosystems would help the foundation he worked for create “deals” to structure the ways in which they would use their resources to help preserve or restore ecosystems in various parts of the world.

    His explanation made a certain amount of sense at the time, but the framing of natural processes to fit within a concept of markets and payments troubled me. On a planet undergoing constant (albeit often barely perceptible) evolutionary change, as well as continual stress due to the massive impact of capitalist economic models enacted on its ‘body’, I wondered how helpful it was to frame the millions-of-years-old interdependently balanced functioning of ecosystems as, essentially, an enterprise. Enterprises within capitalism seek growth at all costs. Ecosystems and the atmosphere don’t conform to or care about these constructs, so what was this financialization effort really all about?

    In the years since I conducted that interview, I’ve continued to look askance at the idea that we can avoid catastrophic ecosystem collapse by conceptualizing earth’s materials, relationships and processes as nothing more than a new set of markets within capitalism.

    With this uncomfortable feeling remaining near the surface of my consciousness, earlier this year I discovered the investigative journalism of Cory Morningstar (an admittedly late discovery, since she’s been writing for 10 years or more), who does in-depth research into the connections between nonprofits, startups, marketing, movement building, and the long-range planning of politicians and the capitalist class. Her series, the Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg, has helped me get a lot more concrete about the disquiet I experienced as I interviewed sustainability professionals.

    With the backdrop this week of the AOC-allied climate group ‘The Sunrise Movement’ praising presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren (who has done next to nothing for the climate during her time as Senator) for environmental plans she discussed on a recent televised town hall, I thought it would be helpful to continue our podcast reading series—recently given the title “The Words of Others”—with the first section of Morningstar’s 6-part investigation into media celebrity Greta Thunberg and the climate organizations to which she’s connected.

    Morningstar’s work (all six pieces have also been compiled in book form) may prove instructive as those of us who are concerned about our survival on this planet try to focus on what activity can genuinely make a positive difference for the climate, the atmosphere and the health of our ecosystems.

    Listen here:

     

     

    [Stephen Boni is both Ghion Journal’s current editor and a contributing writer. His main interest is in analyzing the workings of empire and exploring ways to dismantle and replace systems of oppression. A conflicted New Englander with an affinity for people, music and avoiding isms, he lives in Oakland, California with his wife and young daughter.]

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