‘The interesting thing about the Green New Deal is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all… Do you guys think of it as a climate thing? Because we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.’ So said Saikat Chakrabarti, former chief of staff for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and generally acknowledged author of the Green New Deal.
Sometimes it is wise to find out what ideas’ originators actually think. That is true for documents that have lit up our lives, such as the US Constitution, as well as for those that have darkened them, such as Mein Kampf.
This is true as well for the nascent Green New Deal, which President Joe Biden has essentially adopted as his own. Even if Congress fails to pass it entirely, Biden will seek to impose many of its goals through administrative diktats on gas-powered cars, land use, airplanes, any form of fossil fuel and nuclear power. Green New Dealers will also extend the welfare state, including to those who choose not to work.
As Chakrabarti indicated, the Green New Deal is not another environmental ameliorative, but something far more fundamentally transformative. The Biden administration’s embrace of it is somewhat surprising given that the likely economic fallout of this plan – particularly for the working class – made both Biden and House speaker Nancy Pelosi distance themselves from it during the fall campaign. But now the Green New Deal has resurfaced, having made the metamorphosis from a leftist fantasy into a serious political initiative.
Environmental puritanism and its consequences
The deep-seated sense of pending apocalypse that grips Western elites is driving the shift to draconian and radical policies. Some politicians, like Oregon’s Earl Blumenauer, have called on Biden to declare ‘a climate emergency’, which would essentially give the White House a blank cheque and unlimited power to impose its vision.
For environmental puritans like Blumenauer, climate sin is equivalent to sex and gluttony in the original Massachusetts version. For a generation, environmentalist advocates have prophesied an imminent climate disaster that would, if not met with extreme action, threaten the very future of humanity. Such catastrophism, as a 2021 paper by two Carnegie Mellon professors demonstrates, undermines the climate-change movement’s credibility. This assertion is also made in environmentalist Michael Shellenberger’s devastating Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.
Remarkably, despite this record of distortion, climate hysteria has become the abiding faith of the dominant media, universities and a large swath of the corporate establishment, particularly on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley. Some have even embraced the hardly capitalist notion of degrowth, an ideology which suggests, in essence, the Western working and middle classes must sacrifice comfort and aspiration to save the planet. (Often at the urging of the world’s wealthiest people, with their grand estates and private jets!)
Although most industrial unions backed Biden, the first clear victims of his embrace of the Green New Deal are obvious: people working in energy and fields that depend on reliable and affordable energy, such as oil workers, truck drivers, factory and logistics workers. For example, a move to ban fracking – which vice-president Kamala Harris has supported – would, according to a US Chamber of Commerce report, cost several million jobs. This will be made much worse by the green turn against nuclear power and natural gas, notes long-time environmentalist Ted Nordhaus.
Under the Green New Deal, displaced workers will be placed on the dole, or encouraged to take a job in the ‘green economy’. Yet these jobs, notes a recent Building Trades Union study, pay far worse, and are less likely to last long or be unionised, than those in the conventional energy industry. ‘It’s pie-in-the-sky bullshit about these green jobs being good middle-class jobs, because they’re not’, said Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, in conversation with Politico. ‘I’m concerned about union members and union families being left behind… and I think they’ve already been left behind.’