Is the Green New Deal a mirage?
It seems that a New Green Deal is proposed as the solution of all world problems. Peter Bierl in the German magazine Jungle World on June 3rd 2021 in his artcile „Dare less realism“ (Wengiger Realismus wagen) questions the assumptions of that promise, compares it with Rossevelt´s New Deal and comes to the conclusion that the situation is different today, partly due to digitalization and would need a new left which formulates realistic measures beyond the logic of capital accumulation and economic growth ideology. In his article “Dare less realism”, the “Green New Deal” seems to be a kind of egg-laying woolly milk pig: the economy is booming, everyone finds tolerable work with fair wages and the downfall of civilization does not take place. And that without revolution, general strike and barricade fighting, because the state is investing a few trillions.
No wonder that the idea is gaining more and more supporters. In 2009 the Greens entered the European election campaign exclusively. Then Bernie Sanders and other left-wing Democrats took up the concept in the United States. The British Labor Party adopted a manifesto for a “Green New Deal”, and a large part of the German Left Party is now also calling for it. A successful “Green New Deal” would be nice. It is more likely that the dreams will burst and the lack of prospects will get even worse. At the end of 2019, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) announced a “European Green Deal”. US President Joe Biden does not call his project that, but programs such as “Build Back Better” and the “American Jobs Plan” also promise huge start-up funding to renovate the infrastructure, digitize the economy and society, and switch to renewable energies many new jobs.
Ecology and economy will be reconciled, is the promise. Steady, but ecologically sustainable economic growth secures jobs and helps with ecological restructuring so that by 2050 only as much greenhouse gas is emitted as can be absorbed through carbon sequestration. There is applause from the radical left because a social upheaval that ends misery and environmental degradation seems light years away, while the relapse into barbarism has long been underway. Time is running out, only an enlightened eco-bourgeoisie can save us, goes the argument. Final panic may be understandable, but it only causes an already marginal radical left to give itself up. The model is the „New Deal“ of the thirties of the Democratic US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Its prerequisite was, however, what is missing today, a movement of militant workers, and in addition, the Soviet Union still appeared as an alternative, not knowing the conditions there. After the Great Depression, strikes, uprisings and looting took place in the USA, factories were occupied, land and houses were defended against eviction. The protest of impoverished World War II veterans in Washington, D.C., was ended by the army with tanks and machine guns – they were not allowed into the Capitol like the Trump mob in January.
Only against this background was Roosevelt able to push through social reforms, the bosses hardly resisted trade unions in the factories that channeled the anger of the workers. John Maynard Keynes, who provided the theoretical blueprint for the „New Deal,“ urged the bourgeoisie to compromise with the wage earners; otherwise it will evoke the social revolution. Nevertheless, mass unemployment only disappeared with the outbreak of the war. Nowadays, with higher productivity, it is illusory to expect many jobs to be created. It no longer takes 8,000 workers to build a dam like the Grand Coulee Dam, one of the flagship projects of the Roosevelt era. Due to the advancing digitalization of economics, many jobs will disappear in the foreseeable future, especially in the service sector. Nowadays, more and well-paid jobs would only be created with a huge surge in growth, but that would be an ecological catastrophe. The enthusiasm for a “Green New Deal” signals that politicians are developing an awareness of the crisis that conforms to their rule. They want to do the task of the ideal total capitalist, which consists in preserving capitalism in the long term. In the current situation, this includes several tasks that the market cannot cope with. Government intervention is necessary to finance infrastructure, research and development, guarantee profits through subsidies and public demand, and promote consumption, in the USA for example through checks for US $ 1,400 to private households. In addition, environmental degradation has reached a level that endangers the stability that is essential for capital realization when several hundred million people have to flee because large areas of the global South become uninhabitable at temperatures around 50 degrees Celsius, and especially the citadels of capital in the global North are threatened by pandemics, desertification, water shortages and massive fires.
Despite all the manifestations of international cooperation, there are national ideal total capitalists who want to make the capital they represent fit for international competition. The Greens promise that Germany can remain a leading export nation with new, environmentally friendly goods. This model is based on wage dumping and exacerbates the differences in Europe. Von der Leyen’s program actually reads: »Europe first«, but it could fail because the EU is a confederation whose internal national competition has not been eliminated. The US government, in turn, wants to push back Chinese competition. While the „New Deal“ resulted in a simple „more“ – more growth, more jobs, more profits – the „Green New Deal“ is also intended to save the ecological conditions that people need to live. The decarbonization of the economy that the AfD is fighting is quite conceivable, because capitalism could function without oil and gas.
The contradiction between capital accumulation and environmental destruction would not thereby be eliminated, but rather reproduced in new forms. Grow or die, is the principle of capitalism, and that includes a constantly increasing consumption of raw materials, energy and space. Take electric cars, for example: Their production also consumes raw materials. For lithium and cobalt alone, which are needed for vehicle batteries, forests are destroyed and enormous amounts of water are contaminated; the land consumption for streets and parking lots does not differ from that of gasoline and diesel vehicles and electricity does not simply flow from the socket.
A higher CO2 price, as demanded by the Greens, would particularly affect low and middle incomes. If the income is returned directly to the citizens, as the party promises, then the question arises as to how the ecological steering effect is to be achieved. While the „New Deal“ was financed by high taxes for companies and the rich, Biden and the Greens do not even want to completely reverse the tax cuts of the past few years. Why not set an upper income limit of 3,000 euros, everything above that is taxed away, especially since the size of the „ecological footprint“ depends on the size of the wallet?
A “Green New Deal” would certainly be better than nothing if solar systems and wind energy, as well as the infrastructure for another form of mobility, were to be expanded. Every ton of CO2 that is not released into the atmosphere is good. To see „Sleepy Joe“ instead of the fascist grimace on the screen is a relief, and Biden makes more progressive politics than the overrated Barack Obama. A successful “Green New Deal” to stop climate change, give people a perspective and slow down neo-fascist movements, that would be nice. Only degrowth and capital utilization are incompatible, ecological capitalism is impossible. It is more likely that the dreams will burst and the lack of prospects will get even worse.
Bierl comes to the conclusion:
“ Turning away from growth is necessary to end environmental degradation. Auto production must fall by 80 percent, as well as the aircraft industry, the production of many chemical substances must be stopped, the animal industry, which, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, produces 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gases in addition to endless suffering, must be abolished . Under capitalist conditions that would mean impoverishment for wage earners. The necessary shrinkage of the economy is only possible without mass misery in a society of social planning of the production and distribution of consumer goods beyond commodity production.
That is why a radical left is needed that dissects half-measures and contradictions and develops a socialist-ecological perspective and thus offers orientation. This includes a strategy of „revolutionary reforms“ (André Gorz, 1967), which means demanding what is necessary and not what is considered realistic under the dictates of capital. The abolition of capital utilization is necessary, but not a catchy slogan. It must be concretized in order to attract people, for example in questions of housing, health care and care, the environment and mobility, but above all work, which must be reduced in society as a whole, in order to enable everyone to live at leisure.”
Even if the Green New Deal was implemented, many goverments already know that even the targets of the Paris Climate Accord might not be reached. Therefore it is interesting to see that they already add programs for the adjustment to climate change damages and catastrophes to their infrastructure programs like building higher dams against rising sea levels building higher and mor of that and prepare for higher global temperatures and more ecologic desasters-. It is also doubtful If new technologies like artificial meat , hydrogene,etc. will bring an alleged qualitative growth that doesn´t negativly effect the enviroment. However, it is also a question if such a new left will emerge and if their program is really realistic or if it is itself another mirage.
Similar sceptisism is voiced against Putin- Russia´s New Green Deal by Konstantin Sinomov in the Moscow Times on April, 28th. 2021:
“A Newer, Greener Putin?
Given the current political reality, Russia’s future green policy will likely turn into a corrupt struggle for government funds at the environment’s expense.
President Vladimir Putin recently delivered two speeches with enough climate-related content to prompt Russia’s clean energy proponents to begin speaking of a “new, green Putin”.
The first was an address to the Federal Assembly that carried an important message on the climate and environment. The next day, Putin spoke at the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate in Washington.
In fact, this was not the first time Putin had joined the Western climate mainstream. After all, he was the one who authorized Russia’s participation in the Paris Agreement (even if it was done strangely — by decision of the prime minister without ratification by parliament).
Still, Putin’s rhetoric has changed since then.
To compare, consider Putin’s speech at the Valdai Club in the fall of 2019. The gist of it was this: Although the anthropogenic factor of global warming is very doubtful, we’ll play along because the West is serious about these climate issues. For us, it’s easy because all of our natural gas, hydro and atomic resources make the Russian energy sector very green.
The main idea was not to cause any harm to business or let it fall victim to carbon taxes and the like.
Russia’s infamous Decree No. 666 was signed in the same spirit. That caused an outcry from this country’s green lobbyists because it called not for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but increasing them from the current 50% of 1990 emissions to the new goal of 70% by 2030. Now, however, Putin has declared the goal of cutting Russia’s accumulated net greenhouse gas emissions below those of the European Union.
Almost like in China
It would appear that Putin is getting serious about the climate. His motives are clear: he wants to find at least some common ground with the West, and particularly with the U.S. Now that Joe Biden is in the White House, the climate is a great place to start.
It’s also possible that Putin is emulating Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom the West is showering with praise for his pledge to make China carbon neutral by 2060 — a dubious promise he delivers with a remarkably straight face.
And when Xi says nice things about the climate, nobody questions him about the treatment of the Uighurs.
Seeing this, Putin might have concluded that the more he talks about the climate, the fewer questions he’ll have to answer about his treatment of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Does this mean that Russia is using the climate as a ploy to “greenwash” more uncomfortable issues? Not completely.
The Russian authorities are eagerly looking for any Keynesian ideas that will lead to an economic breakthrough, and a “green economy” fits the bill perfectly. Officials would have to create an artificial demand for new technologies, thus spurring the creation of new jobs, an increase in industrial production and household incomes, and so on.
This is why a serious circle of green lobbyists has formed around Putin and is urging him to get ambitious on the climate. It includes several groups.
The first is composed of officials who want to create a new flow of government funds from which they can skim as they distribute it to others, or profit through other schemes connected with carbon taxes and the like.
The second groups consists of potential manufacturers of green equipment.
The third is state-owned banks that will profit from credit they extend to green programs backed by state guarantees.
The question naturally arises as to who will pay for the transition to green energy. Russia is not like the U.S. that can run up a sky-high national debt, or the EU that openly plans to shift the costs to suppliers of hydrocarbons and products with a high-carbon footprint — an approach China is expected to follow.
Russia has no money in its coffers to pursue green energy, nor would such a course be a moneymaker. However rosy a picture the proponents of a green transition in Russia might paint, it could never generate export revenue comparable to that of oil & gas. It is a sad but simple truth. Russia sells gas to Europe simply because the resource is in short supply there. When it comes to green energy, though, Europe can produce all it needs, as can China.
Whereas the U.S., Europe and China already produce their own green energy equipment, Russia would have to import those technologies.
And even if Russia were to somehow produce massive amounts of green energy and could fill a niche in the EU or Chinese markets, everything would depend on the cost of transporting that energy — which is currently 7–8 times more expensive than transporting gas.
The story with hydrogen is about the same: no one has made an impartial calculation of the cost of transporting hydrogen or methane-hydrogen mixtures through gas pipelines that takes technical difficulties and safety issues into account, or of exporting hydrogen by sea in the form of ammonia.
Russia differs significantly from China in this respect. China is the world’s largest importer of oil and gas, but it can also produce wind and solar power stations. And, because China has the rare-earth metals necessary to make batteries, it can produce electric cars inexpensively.
It turns out that only a large raw materials business can fund a country’s green policy. As Anatoly Chubais, Putin’s special envoy for sustainable development goals has said, the government must finance its own green transition. Any country unwilling to “feed” its own “green army” will wind up feeding another country’s instead
Raw materials producers are still hoping to find a cheaper way. They are placing their bets on planting forests and buying green certificates — that will be used to pay for the very same planting of forests. They also want to recalculate the absorption capacity of Russia’s forests and ecosystems to their own advantage. Main point: The problem is that Russia does not intend to make real improvements to the environment for the simple fact that leaders are completely indifferent to the genuine ecological problem.
This is the saddest part. Officials are using ostensibly more ambitious and high-sounding green rhetoric as a smokescreen for domestic political problems and lobbyists are using the transition to green energy as a way to raise money for pet projects. Every attempt at bureaucratic modernization in Russia ends the same way, with government funds flowing into the pockets of shrewd officials and the industrial and financial structures to which they are closely tied.
As a result, the raw materials business will simply pay off the green lobbyists — who will spend that money on their personal projects. So what if Norilsk Nickel paid a nearly $2 billion fine for its Arctic oil spill: will the chronically polluted city of Norilsk become an urban paradise as a result?
As disappointing as it might sound, any honest observer can see that Russia’s green policy is simply another struggle for government funds, and not for a better environment.“
But different to Western regime changers , the Green Party and Konstantin Simonov, Peter Bierl thinks that even if you had a democratic capitalist society in Russia and a Green New Deal comparable to the USA or EU, this would not solve the funadamental anatgonism between capitalist growth and the ecological limits of growth.