United States: Green Party debates Green New Deal
By Don Fitz
October 11, 2019 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — Despite the furor over the Green New Deal (GND), many of its supporters have no idea of the wide variety of views on it, especially within the Green Party (GP), where it originated in the United States. From June through August, Missouri Greens held public discussions contrasting at least three distinct GP views to those from the Democratic Party (DP).
In June, the Green Party of St. Louis hosted a forum “The Green New Deal: Promise and Problems.” It led off with Ben Eisenberg of the Sunrise Movement describing his concerns with climate change and the extreme need for political groups to demand a switch to “100% clean, renewable energy” by 2030. Local Greens had coordinated an Extinction Rebellion protest at corporate Earth Day in April and realized the widespread appeal of the DP congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) approach.
Henry Robertson of the Missouri Green Party followed, criticizing the popular DP perspective that climate problems require “a massive, urgent response.” He emphasized the destructiveness of economic growth and concluded “massive is not the cure for massiveness.” Robertson pointed out that “steel can’t be mass-produced without fossil fuels” and insisted that the Earth has hit its limits, meaning that production must be cut back.
Howie Hawkins, who spoke next, was the first to run for office on a GND platform as the 2010 New York Green Party candidate. He said that his original US program for a GND seeks 100% renewable energy by 2030 along with the right to single-payer healthcare, a guaranteed job at a living wage and affordable housing. It would create 20 million jobs and end destructive extraction. The GND would mount a World War II-scale mobilization by investing in green businesses. A candidate for the Green Party nomination for president, Hawkins took issue with the AOC version which he said watered down the GND without acknowledging that its origins were more radical. Many think that the Hawkins view is the only one held by Green Party members; but that is not the case.
As the last panelist, I emphasized that the GND focuses on producing energy from different sources rather than producing less energy. It is based on the belief that human happiness comes from an increasing quantity of possessions, something that flows directly from capitalism’s urge to infinitely expand production. Most of my comments focused on “15 myths of clean, renewable energy” which are detailed in Links.
Briefly summarized, solar and wind energy are not “clean” because they rely on toxic process during various stages of production. Nor are not renewable because they require non-renewable minerals to create them. Despite myths that they do not contaminate water, do not require much land use, and have no effect on wildlife or human health, “alternative” energy does all of these. Despite assumptions to the contrary, many people are not joyous to have “alternative” energy harvested or its necessary components mined near their homes; environmental defenders are killed for opposing it; it is not efficient in resource use; and energy efficiency and recycling will not solve its difficulties. The most problematic myth is that “There is no alternative” to alternative energy – large numbers of environmentalists and humanists have long advocated less energy use via changing production to what people of the world need rather than what corporations in rich countries desire for profit.
No one on the panel or in the audience had any disagreement with Medicare-for-All, jobs with a livable wage or affordable housing. There were serious discussions however on whether a World War II-type mobilization would help or hinder the environment and if, instead of creating millions of jobs through massive investment, could we lower unemployment by shortening the work week? With much of the discussion challenging Hawkins’ reliance on increased energy production, he promised to think more regarding the concerns raised.
His participation in two other panels revealed the conclusion he reached from that thinking. The first was during the evening of the opening day of the Missouri Green Party (MOGP) convention on August 10, which included Amy Ramirez, Jim Evans, Dario Hunter, Hawkins and me.
Ramirez, the young director of the Springfield Missouri Sunrise Movement began with a pitch for the progressive Democrat’s GND which has goals of increasing the minimum wage, creating millions of well-paid green jobs and approving Medicare-for-All.
Evans, representing Renew Missouri, had played a key role in blocking the building of a coal-powered plant in Kansas City, Missouri. He endorsed the financial and ecological advantages of the Democrat’s GND. Evans said: “What we need to talk about is stewardship, taking care of our resources … conservation.” Having views similar to many in the Green Party, he noted “These are the words that we can use to get the point of ‘less’ across. If we are more efficient, then we use less and save money.”
Hawkins, in his second trip to Missouri in three months, reminded the audience that he authored the first GND program in the US. Then he criticized the Democrat’s program for watering down his plan by allowing nuclear power, ignoring the military budget and leaving polluting industries in the hands of capitalists. Hawkins linked his ideas to ecosocialism, saying that a GND must challenge capitalism.
The audience then heard from Dario Hunter of the Ohio Green Party, who is also seeking to be the GP nominee for president. Just as Hawkins claimed that the DP version of the GND was too weak, Hunter criticized Hawkins’ version for lacking what was necessary for the Greens. Hunter also referred to a World War II-type mobilization but said that the GND must be part of a far greater effort. He claimed that the Hawkins version said nothing about world geopolitics. As the US outsources production it simultaneously outsources its carbon footprint, which results in understating how much carbon this country is actually responsible for. Hunter said that his program, called the “Green Path Forward,” (GPF) includes many ideas such as banning single use plastics which are ignored by the GND.
Speaking last, I noted that Hawkins observed shortcomings in the DP program, Hunter realized that the GND ignores countries outside of the US, but that all of the programs discussed that evening omitted the single largest source of environmental catastrophe – the massive increase in useless production. I emphasized that it does little good to prevent the shattering of human civilization by climate change by proposing a huge expansion of toxins and species extinctionbrought about by covering the globe with solar panels and wind mills. What humanity truly needs is to provide decent lives for everyone by reducing (rather than increasing) energy production.
This led to multiple audience comments concerning, “How in the hell can we decrease production in a society inundated with capitalist propaganda that the road to ecstasy is paved with buying more stuff?” One person brought up the need to reduce dams, which are ruinous for aquatic life and do not appear in printed forms of the GND. Others spoke of job loss resulting from decreased production of damaging products. That point flowed into talking about a shorter work week, something else left out of GND proposals.
Reducing hours of labor fed directly into the question: “How would you win over voters?” While people rarely want to give up what they have, they will much more readily forego what has not yet been put on the market. We discussed the idea that many people would gladly give up new gadgets designed to fall apart or become out of style if lowering production meant spending more time with friends and families.
The discussion was drawing to a close with panelists giving their final comments when Hawkins dropped his bombshell. With a history of being a Green Party candidate for multiple offices, he announced that telling people we need to produce less is no way to get elected. Several of us were stunned. It was not so long ago that people could not get elected by proposing civil rights in the South; those who first opposed the Viet Nam war were not popular; and the first supporters of gay rights were definitely not popular. The only way any of these were made popular was by those willing to “swim against the current.”
Instead of advocating what was necessary for human survival, the audience heard that Green candidates should put a wet finger in the air to find out which direction populist winds were blowing. Three months after Hawkins told Greens in St. Louis that he would think about the negative potential of “alternative” energy he told his Springfield audience that the best way to deal with it was to ignore it.
The next morning MOGP members and interested onlookers again gathered for a panel of those looking to be the presidential nominee of the Green Party. Hawkins and Hunter returned and were joined by David Rolde and Dennis Lambert. They had been asked to make opening statements regarding what would be their priorities as president.
Hawkins said that the goal of his campaign would be (1) putting forward an ecosocialist GND, and (2) advancing Green Party electoral campaigns. Hunter announced that support for renewable energy is embodied in his GPF which aims to address CO2 emissions globally rather than just in the US.
Rolde maintained that climate change is caused by capitalism and his solution would be to return the economy to the people because they will have ideas on how to fight it.
Lambert has worked for a non-profit group assisting veterans to get the support they need and believes that helping people to become friends is the best way to overcome hostility.
The candidates and audience brought up several issues that everyone seemed to agree with: ban fracking; empower communities (especially communities of color); ban assault weapons; stop single use plastics; halt US military adventures abroad; decrease the US military by at least 50%; reverse decrees by the Trump administration; decriminalize marijuana.
Though important, these issues side-stepped the concern brought up the night before. So, I asked if, given the devastating effects of mining for products to produce solar/wind power, did they believed that “clean” energy is truly clean. Hunter responded that we should move toward the cleanest technology that is available. Rolde believes that we should have a planned economy so that production does not cause pollution. Lambert indicated he was aware of problems with “clean” energy but felt that renewable energy was the only way forward.
Environmentally-minded listeners were again astounded as Hawkins quipped “clean energy is by definition ‘clean’.” My first thought was that such reasoning would mean that using the label “non-violent death penalty” would make an execution by definition non-violent, or that instead of being a contradiction in terms, “military intelligence” would by definition be intelligent.
Hawkins maintained that clean energy could be accomplished by “restoration techniques,” but that left me trying to figure out what techniques would “restore” a species made extinct by habitat destruction. It reminded me of Barry Commoner’s term “linguistic detoxification,” which is when industry attempts to “detoxify” poisons by labeling them with euphemisms.
The series of discussions left Green New Deal supporters with as many questions as concrete proposals: Should every GND program call for an end to fracking, nukes, dam building and nationalization of polluting industries? And, if the GND calls for nationalizing fossil fuel production, should it also call for nationalizing all industries associated with solar/wind power? Likewise, if the GND’s approach to fossil fuels is to “leave them in the ground” then should it also call for leaving in the ground the myriad of substances necessary for “alternative” energy? Most important, should GND supporters explicitly state if their program would result in an increase or decrease in the total amount of energy produced?
Don Fitz (firstname.lastname@example.org) has taught Environmental Psychology at Washington University and Fontbonne University in St. Louis. He is on the Editorial Board of Green Social Thought, newsletter editor for the Green Party of St. Louis and was the 2016 candidate of the Missouri Green Party for Governor. A version of this article appeared in Green Social Thought.