FEATURES HOW TO THE SAVE THE PLANET
There is precedent in our history. Just as the collective endeavour of defending a nation in the Second World War provided the occasion for previous generations to forge a fairer and more prosperous society, so too the collective endeavour of defending and repairing our planet can provide our chance to do the same. For a time after 1945, the spirit was: “we’ve won the war, now let’s win the peace.” The link between the two halves of that was more than rhetorical. The necessities of wartime had required that the unthinkable be thought in myriad ways. The country’s sense of the possible was expanded and demobilisation freed up resources, which were set to work building a new welfare state.
Across the Atlantic a dozen years earlier, Franklin Roosevelt was installed as president with a mission to—in his own words—“wage a war against the emergency [of the Depression]” just as though “we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.” The figurative enemy was a ruined economy—the Dust Bowl, soup kitchens, boarded up banks—much as a ruined ecology moves into view as the enemy today. Roosevelt launched his New Deal with an imaginative flair. The basic aim was simply putting people to work, but they were employed with real vision. For example, through the Civilian Conservation Corps youngsters were set to plant trees, build shelters and stock lakes with fish, activities which made many of the great American national parks what they are today. Beyond the economic effects, the New Deal taught Americans how to hope again, although it is now rightly criticised as very much favouring white Americans and even reinforcing segregation.
A GREEN NEW DEAL
The phrase “Green New Deal” is a shorthand for the approach we need: tackling climate change through a great civil mobilisation of people into purposeful work. It was coined in Britain, under the auspices of the New Economic Foundation a decade ago, although the time didn’t prove right. In fighting the Great Recession, the Labour government only dipped its toes in green water, for example with a programme of insulation. With many jobs on the line, more of the stimulus was focussed on cutting VAT, a proven way to get Britons spending at speed. But looking back, it’s hard not to regret that we weren’t more imaginative. Some of our actions then—such as the car scrappage scheme—now rank as missed opportunities. Yes, the new cars being subsidised were lower in emissions than the old bangers they replaced, but how much better placed might the UK car industry be today if all the resources had gone into getting ahead of curve on battery-powered cars and infrastructure?
Now, however, the Green New Deal is back, thanks in part to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old phenomenon who rebelled against the Democratic establishment to get nominated for her seat, and who is barely six months into her first Congressional term. After the failed “cap and trade” legislation and technocratic arguments of the Obama years, which were never enough to inspire idealists, nor—more pragmatically—to see off the forces of ruin, Ocasio-Cortez has seized on the need for a more visionary way ahead.
“A CLIMATE PLAN OF CAMPAIGN MUST ENCOMPASS MOBILE DIVISONS, A LAND WAR AND THE HOME FRONT”
It is time to bring the Green New Deal home. I am co-chairing a new IPPR commission with Green MP Caroline Lucas, former Conservative MP Laura Sandys and people from science, business, the youth movement and trade unions to develop a detailed plan. Our report will be out next year, but we already have a sense of the principles.
The vision is to create meaningful work for people across our country, especially in areas that have for too long been locked out of prosperity. It is to have an industrial strategy that puts Britain at the forefront of the green transformation. And it is to use that transformation not merely to avert disaster, but also to help people enjoy better lives.
As with a campaign of war, our figurative fight to save the planet must be planned across a number of fronts. There will be mobile divisions, a land war, but let’s start with the home front: changing the way we insulate and heat buildings, including 27m homes across Britain. Almost one fifth of UK emissions come
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez— still just 29—has made the Green New Deal a political possibility
Right: Too much meat and Dakota underwater (bottom)