Tag Archives: environmental issues

Greening the New Deal or the Green New Deal

New Orleans       Sure, I’ve read about the Green New Deal.  I know it’s a liberal-left litmus test.  I know US Speaker Nancy Pelosi has derided it as impractical and essentially irrelevant, while others are waving the banner.  I’ve read the arguments that we need to transform the economy and its fossil-fuel dependency.  I wanted to know more about the details behind it all.  I got a flyer via email as a Mellon Community Fellow at Tulane University saying that Rhiana Gunn-Wright, who they identified as a “policy architect for the Green New Deal, was going to be speaking there to the public in conversation with Jennifer Parker, an editor for the New York Times Opinions page.  I thought, hey, what better way to find out the real details than going to hear the key policy person behind the whole shebang?

By the time I navigated rush hour traffic uptown and then a parking place as near to the campus as I could find, I was eight minutes late at the starting bell, and in smallish lecture room it was standing room only.  Gunn-Wright and Parker were likely in Yale at the same time and buddies there.  Gunn-Wright was a Rhodes scholar, native of Chicago, which she referenced several times, and policy person at the New Consensus, a newly minted think-tank of sorts that is trying to graft a policy structure and implementation plan to the Green New Deal.  She was witty, engaging, whip smart, and politically spot-on, and trying to work her magic in order to engage the young student audience in the room.  She believes there needs to be a movement to affect the changes we need around climate and that young people are critical in driving that movement.  She hopes they see the Green New Deal as a map of demands for change.

In her remarks she referenced the Roosevelt New Deal and the changes it made to the American economy as the kind of sweeping change that was needed now.  In her telling the policy slant was more about spreading the tent widely by creating income equity and security for all Americans, ending the environmental injustice that poisoned racial and lower income communities, creating responsive alternative institutions, and flipping the script to put local interests and people first, rather than the national government.  She offered a laundry-list of policy and political reforms that were needed.  She saw all of this as a priori to specifics on the environmental side.  Sure, there would be new and different jobs and lots of them, she argued, but they would be unobtainable without offering families health insurance and living wages for example.  Sounds good, right?

Specifics were harder to nail down.  In answer to a Parker question about her vision, she mentioned a Climate Protection Plan that would need to be established.  There would need to be a specialized agency created, maybe at the Cabinet level, to coordinate all of the moving pieces for this transformation.  The grant cycle would have to be disrupted so that local interests prevailed and got the resources.  In this “utopia,” New Orleans for example might be a center for studying and implementing “eco-system restoration” or some such.  Redistribution would be required.  If we count on existing institutions, in her words, we’ll be “assed out.”

Gunn-Wright mentioned, amusingly, that critics had referred to the whole plan as the “Green Dream Deal,” and how much she had almost wished that had been the name for the whole program.  There’s insight there.  I might have come looking for the real deal on policy details, but in the Green New Deal, the process at this point is as important as the policy, and it encourages dreaming before it is ground down to specifics in the flesh-eating machine of politics.

Gunn-Wright isn’t the backroom, green visor policy nerd trying to figure out how to win votes or make special groups happy right now by tweaking this or that.  She’s the dream weaver trying to rally people to the cause.  She doesn’t want to talk about airplanes and hamburgers, but top to bottom transformation of global economies, governments and societies, she only wants to hear how many lives we are ready to save now, and how we are going to prevent 55 million people from this death and destruction by 2050.

You have problem with that?  She’s ready to get in your face!  She wants to look around and know you are with her on this, and that you are ready and set to go.


Putting Communities and Environmentalists Together

Lyon     We showed up at the Alternative Bar close to what we thought was showtime to meet a half dozen of the organizers of what was billed as a showing of the documentary and a “debate” on various questions it might provoke.  They said there were more people on the way, and so we chatted and waited.  Seven PM came, and eight PM went, and although the film didn’t begin, to our amazement, the crowd swelled.  When we finally began on this leisurely schedule, the house was packed.  We counted fifty that had somehow squeezed in, and it could have been another twenty if there had been room.  There was a large picture window, and person after person came up, read the sign out front, peeked in, and then abandoned all hope and went on their way.

By 930PM, we cut The Organizer off somewhere around 2007, and the questions began.  Many in this largely young crowd were environmentalists.  They had specialized in direct action.  Before the film one of the organizers told me about a national action in Paris where they had joined 2000 others earlier in the year to protest at governmental and corporate headquarters in the center of the city.  Increasingly, they had recognized that they lacked a sustainable base that was widely representative of the broader population.  Certainly, this is a challenge for many climate and environmental movements, so it was encouraging to hear that they were trying to build bridges to our affiliates the Alliance Citoyenne, ReAct, and our emerging independent union in Lyon, UNITI.

The bar was a money maker, I was told.  They were in a busy part of town, rent was a bit over 1000 euros, the staff was all volunteer, and they sold beer and wine.  It was a meeting place for their issues and others.  Sometimes they hosted events like this one and showed movies.  One of the organizers said the bar was part of a wider movement in parts of Spain and France.  Very interesting!  Sadly, they reported, it did not do well enough to allow them to pay a staff person, but they hoped for the future.

The debate was not a debate, but a question-and-answer about how one starts small and grows.  The notion of “community” is not widely accepted in the same way in France, so part of the questions sought to parse how the concept translated, and whether it was geographical or much broader as we understood it to be.  I had been briefed that there were already some tentative conversations about possible partnerships between our organizations and their efforts.  We encouraged those discussions.  There’s great potential for such a partnership, and, as the documentary indicated, climate and environmental concerns are everywhere for our communities now.