One last connection I will mention has to do with the concept of “repair.” The resolution calls for creating well-paying jobs, “restoring and protecting threatened, endangered, and fragile ecosystems,” and “cleaning up existing hazardous waste and abandoned sites, ensuring economic development and sustainability on those sites.”
There are many such sites across the United States, entire landscapes that have been left to rot after they were no longer useful to frackers, miners, and drillers. It’s a lot like how this culture treats people. It’s certainly how we have been trained to treat our stuff—use it once, or until it breaks, then throw it away and buy some more. It’s similar to what has been done to so many workers in the neoliberal period: they are used up and then abandoned to addiction and despair. It’s what the entire carceral state is about: locking up huge sectors of the population who are more economically valuable as prison laborers and numbers on the spreadsheet of a private prison than they are as free workers.
There is a grand story to be told here about the duty to repair— to repair our relationship with the earth and with one another. Because while it is true that climate change is a crisis produced by an excess of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, it is also, in a more profound sense, a crisis produced by an extractive mind-set, by a way of viewing both the natural world and the majority of its inhabitants as resources to use up and then discard. I call it the “gig and dig” economy and firmly believe that we will not emerge from this crisis without a shift in worldview at every level, a transformation to an ethos of care and repair. Repairing the land. Repairing our stuff. Fearlessly repairing our relationships within our countries and between them.
We must always remember that the fossil fuel era began in violent kleptocracy, with those two foundational thefts of stolen people and stolen land that kick-started a new age of seemingly endless expansion. The route to renewal runs through reckoning and repair: reckoning with our past and repairing relationships with the people who paid the steepest price of the first Industrial Revolution.
These failures to confront difficult truths have long made a mockery of any notion of a collective “we”; only when we reckon with them will our societies be liberated to find our collective purpose. In fact, delivering that sense of common purpose is perhaps the Green New Deal’s greatest promise. Because it isn’t only the planet’s life support systems that are unraveling before our eyes. So too is our social fabric, on so many fronts at once.
The signs of fracture are all around—from the rise of fake news and unhinged conspiracy theories to the hardened arteries of our body politic. In this context, a Green New Deal, precisely because of its sweeping scale, ambition, and urgency, could be the collective purpose that finally helps overcome many of these divides.
It’s not a magic cure for racism or misogyny or homophobia or transphobia—we still have to confront those evils head on. But if it became law, despite all the powers arrayed against it, it would give a great many of us a sense of working together toward something bigger than ourselves. Something we are all a part of creating. And it would give us a shared destination—somewhere distinctly better than where we are now. That kind of shared mission is something our late capitalist culture badly needs right now.
If these kinds of deeper connections between fractured people and a fast-warming planet seem far beyond the scope of policymakers, it’s worth thinking back to the absolutely central role of artists during the New Deal era. Playwrights, photographers, muralists, and novelists were all part of telling the story of what was possible. For the Green New Deal to succeed, we, too, will need the skills and expertise of many different kinds of storytellers: artists, psychologists, faith leaders, historians, and more.
The Green New Deal framework has a way to go before everyone sees their future in it. Mistakes have already been made, and more will be made along the way. But none of this is as important as what this fast-growing political project gets exactly right.
The Green New Deal will need to be subject to constant vigilance and pressure from experts who understand exactly what it will take to lower our emissions as rapidly as science demands, and from social movements that have decades of experience bearing the brunt of pollution and false climate solutions. But in remaining vigilant, we also have to be careful not to lose sight of the big picture: that this is a potential lifeline that we all have a sacred and moral responsibility to reach for.
The young organizers in the Sunrise Movement, who have done so much to galvanize the Green New Deal momentum, talk about our collective moment as one filled with both “promise and peril.” That is exactly right. And everything that happens from here on should hold one in each hand.
The is an extract from On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal by Naomi Klein.