Probably, you know for a fact that the 6th Great Extinction is upon us. And industrial GHGs are the cause. Settled science, case closed. The time for debate is over, the time to act is NOW.
However, there are still Norte Amerikanos who are not yet convinced that CO2/Global Warming is in fact an “existential threat.” A lot of folks consider it a “maybe problem” or “potentially big problem somewhere down the road.” But based on multiple polls over the years [cite?], very few seem to consider it more urgent than jobs, taxes, healthcare, and war.
(And BTW there are half a million dead Iraqis, and millions of starving Yemenis, who might contest the “top existential threat” status of climate change, had they a voice.) Maybe 40-70% of the US populace, depending on how the subject is framed, is not yet signed onto the Global Warming Apocalypse.
Thus, it might be worth teasing out other possible benefits of the ambitious & visionary #GreenNewDeal of AOC & Co, and how best to frame / integrate / expand them.
(Heretical thought: it might even be feasible for the GND to stand without the climate change tentpole!)
Here are a few we were able to come up with pretty easily. Perhaps there are yet others.
By definition, weaning the US off fossil fuels would wind down myriad forms of NON-GHG, non-climate related ill-effects from fossil fuel extraction (fracking & its myriad issues, offshore spills, groundwater and surface water contamination, coal leach ponds), processing (refineries must have a lot of local pollution impacts, though we don’t hear much about them), transpo (pipeline & train spills, brownfields) & exhaust fumes (mitigated mostly in the US & EU, less so elsewhere).
So yeah, in general fossil fuel infrastructure is very polluting – something ‘denalists’ might even admit.
Fossil fuels have truly been a Devil’s Bargain for humanity by providing the highly compact, transportable, once-very high-energy surplus (ie, they give/gave lots of excess energy over the embodied energy required to extract, refine and move them to point of use – “EREOI” / Energy Returned on Energy Invested). Inarguably first coal, then oil, now natural gas, have provided the energetic cushion on which Western Civilization flourished, with all the leisure & luxuries of urban middle-class life. (It’s even arguable that fossil fuels saved the forests of Europe and America.)
But, let’s be honest. With PV manufacturing almost entirely in China, we don’t see what is involved. The scale-up of renewables infrastructure (STORAGE as well as solar & wind) by a factor of 10-100X will most definitely have its own enviro impacts, on multiple levels – resource extraction for the lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare metals needed for Li-Ion batteries, electromagnets and chips for EVs and current silicon-based Photovoltaics. Already there is renewables NIMBYism afoot across the US. Gigantic windfarms and concentrating solar plants have a real impact on bird and bat populations. PV panel waste will have to be dealt with soon, as well as the nasty hexafluorides involved in semiconductor fabs. For the moment, environmentalists are not really focusing on this. The good thing is, there is time for them to integrate End-of-Life and mitigation strategies into the long-term implementation plan of the Green New Deal.
BUT, lacking really solid data to compare massively magnified renewables eco-impacts vs those of the incumbent fossil fuel infrastructure, I’m inclined to think they will still be less / less noxious. I hope.
2. Remove a key pillar of US Empire & interventionism – US foreign policy has explicitly considered oil a national security matter since the end of WWII, no matter where it is found in the world. Oil access, or even just keeping a thumb on the geopolitics around oil-rich regions, justifies US regime change projects, destabilization and direct bombing/invasion. Iran. Iraq. Libya. Syria. Next up – Venezuela? Also tension in the South China Sea – one of the main transit points for oil tankers. Cutting the US’s oil dependence would also pull the rug out from the “Arms for Oil Deal” with Saudi Arabia, who — needless to say — in turn have funded reactionary Islam around the world. Also, robust GND would undermine the #petrodollar trade strategy – a key buttress of US wealth and global dominance. This will be a dangerous transition – but in fact, it’s already underway, as Russia and China build their own alternative banking and trade frameworks, the Belt Initiative, and countries start to trade oil in other currencies than the greenback.
3. GND, in its current formulation, includes soil and ag initiatives. This is actually the most direct approach to mitigating regional “Climate Effects” – drought and regional warming can be offset by restoring local hydrological cycles, improving soil microbiomes, returning vast tracts of monocrop ag to wilds or at least organic family farming, transpiration, enhanced carbon capture in the soil, etc. More forests = Biotic Pump effects, more terpene aerosols to nucleate more clouds, more clouds = more rain and cooling. Restoring degraded lands, installing berms and swales to capture rainwater and recharge aquifers, needs to be done anyway, ‘CAGW’ or not. And would give lots of people meaningful jobs for decades. Urban environments can be immediately cooled by 2-8 degrees fahrenheit simply by adding more trees, changing garden styles, and painting surfaces white. (See UCLA study on urban warming effects.)
4. Successful rollout & results from GND would give progressives the ‘political capital’ needed for further de-militarizing the US economy, and reducing the influence of the military-industrial and fossil fuel lobbies on Congress. After all the biggest single source of pollution and CO2 is actually – the US DOD!
There are many complex, inter-dependent technical and economic challenges to the grand vision of GND. Future posts will continue to explore and unpack.
For the moment, AOC’s NewConsensus think tank & Sunrise/Justice activists are running on good intentions, much needed diversity and a fresh energy.
But OTOH, so far, they seem to be working off the default climate playbook — ala Bill McKibben’s 350.org – with the addition of regenerative ag & holding factory farming up for examination. (Cowspiracy seems to have made its mark!) Maybe they haven’t really “looked under the hood” and critically assessed the assumptions in supposedly settled “Climate Science” and some of the dubious funding sources behind the climate NGOs (Chesapeake Energy, really!).
We close with a disturbing suggestion:
That the climate / renewables movement may serve as a fall-back bulwark or misdirection strategy for Anglo-American financial / deepstate capitalism – by deflecting peoples’ righteous anger (and we have everything to be angry about, with multiple biospheric tipping points, insect decline especially!) away from the underlying financial set-up to the energy infrastructure, which can be perfectly well swapped out without changing the fundamentally predatory, relentless-growth-at-all-costs aspects of the System. (Read Cory Morningstar & WrongKindofGreen in particular.)
Certainly, many argue that 19th century style utopian/communist Revolution w capital R simply isn’t possible, or desirable. It depends so much on your analysis of what past revolutions turned into, of ‘human potential’, pragmatic trade-offs (better a known than an unknown evil), and the real nature of the current systems we live under (“Breakaway Civilization” anyone? “Food for the Moon”?).
So we should be satisfied with changing what we can change — or so the logic goes — which will improve things on certain fronts, without upending the system in its entirety, which will inevitably (?) entail… violence and suffering on a pretty big scale.
Thus, give GND the benefit of the doubt, for the moment?
See where it goes.
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