It’s Not Those Pushing the Green New Deal Who are Naïve About Our Current Crisis

by on February 18, 2019 · 4 comments

in Environment, Under the Perfect Sun

The Moderate Threat to Climate Action

By Jim Miller

As heartening as the emergence of the Green New Deal as a political rallying cry and litmus test of sorts for the early field of Democratic presidential candidates is, the predictably negative response in other quarters is equally dismaying.  Of course, the most obvious naysaying comes from the Republicans and the rightwing media following the lead of a president who suggests that snowstorms and cold weather are evidence that climate change isn’t happening.

But that’s not the real problem.

Indeed, one might argue that Trump’s knuckle-dragging anti-intellectualism on climate science and the environment combined with his administration’s war on nature in the form of the corporate takeover of the Environmental Protection Agency and the increasingly reckless gutting of environmental regulations have rallied a significant portion of the public to recoil from his nihilism.

On the subject of climate change, for instance, the most current polling shows that, as the Atlantic recently reported,

“Even as President Donald Trump has cast doubt on climate change, most Americans have rejected his position. Record numbers of Americans describe climate change as a real and present danger.”

In fact, with 73% of Americans now agreeing that global warming is happening, according to the New York Times , there is real reason for optimism that the public might be ready for a response commensurate with the existential threat we face despite Trump and company’s ridiculous bluster.  That’s why it’s not so much Trump’s dismissal of climate action as “radical” that’s worrisome as it is the feckless grumblings of “centrist” Democratic pundits and politicians who can’t quite seem to grasp the gravity of our moment.

Just as the fear of being labeled “socialist” scares this stripe of Democrat away from talking about progressive taxation and/or Medicare for All, the religion of cautious incrementalism also makes it impossible for them to embrace an aspirational policy goal like the Green New Deal that challenges the current neoliberal hegemony.

Yes, “moderate” Democrats acknowledge climate change and embrace the Paris agreement (which is not enough), but they just can’t seem to get their heads around the fact that calling for bolder, game-changing action on the climate is not evidence of ideological extremism or political naiveté but rather the only reasonable chance we have to address the crisis in the 12 years scientists tell us we have to stop the worst impacts of the catastrophe facing us.  In this regard, physics doesn’t care about political “realism,” and the consequences of runaway climate change won’t politely wait for our presumed pragmatic saviors to get their ducks in a row.

In sum, if we don’t act boldly and quickly on climate and the environment it will be too late.

End of story.

Thus, while one might reasonably take a gradualist approach to healthcare, economics, or a host of other issues, in this case arguing that it’s not “realistic” to push for zero carbon emissions in a decade–so we shouldn’t even try–is a kind of suicidal blindness in the name of moderation.  But what if being “moderate” in this case is really simply the victory of our current ideological paralysis (which does not allow us to imagine anything outside of market-based solutions) over reality?

Consider just one of a number of stories of late about the disturbing signs of an ominous future, this one in the Guardian, “Plummeting-Insect Numbers Threaten Collapse of Nature’” :

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.

The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

As this piece notes, the race to ecocide is on in earnest,

“The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is ‘shocking’, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: ‘It is very rapid. In 10 years, you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.’”

While industrial agriculture as we currently practice it is a central factor here, climate change is also key as it is with regard to a host of other dire outcomes such as sea level rise, extreme heat, health care crises, poisoned oceans and air, and much more.  And one thing is certain: insects aren’t waiting for proper political circumstances to die. The ecosystem isn’t polling Midwestern states to see when the right time is to collapse. The natural world we depend on, dear reader, doesn’t care if we aren’t ready to address its impending demise.

Maybe it’s time that people of good will left their smug political comfort zones and came to terms with our deadly serious non-political reality which constitutes the real national/global emergency.

If they don’t, we’ll all be toast soon enough.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

retired botanist February 18, 2019 at 5:33 pm

Thank you, Mr. Miller, for this breath of oxygen. In trying to address the problem with a ‘centrist Democratic” point of view, I feel like I’m just beating my head against the wall! In a post on another column, one person’s view was that the NGD and similar concepts are not worth entertaining, and that we must compromise and vote to the middle… the “unicorn tears” if you will. This is exactly the danger of the “gradualist” approach.

As a biologist, I realize that I drill down on the recalcitrance of the American public to grasp the significance of applying the wrong tools to our environmental problems. We seem to get that there’s a problem, whether its climate change or the annihilation of species, but we want to apply tools, like ineffective political parties, to the problems, and we end up perpetuating more ‘spinning in place’ and just blatant denial- even if its somewhat “informed denial”…

I have just finished Kingsolver’s novel, Unsheltered, in which she eloquently addresses this inability and, at the risk of being long-winded here, would like to post a few paragraphs from the Afterward she wrote, about how she came to conceiving the premise for the novel, because I think it speaks beautifully to the problem. She writes:

“I’ve been thinking a lot about the end of the world. A morbid preoccupation maybe, but not an easy one to avoid when THE END has migrated into everyday banner headlines. I’ve been alerted to the end of truth in journalism and the honor of elected officials. Democracy itself is on notice, along with thoughtful political discourse, civil leadership, civility period, not to mention more urgent concerns like affordable education or a reliable pension at the end of a career. And it gets worse. I’m now required to contemplate the end of species, coastlines, and the formerly steadfast ice on the North and South poles. Truths that most of us have counted on all our lives are abruptly in doubt. It appears there will not always be more fish in the seas.
It’s tempting to say this is nothing new, that the long human story is punctuated with periods or commas of suggestion that now we’re watching the end of everything. The fall that came in the guise of genocide or natural disaster gave history far more pause, of course, than the one that turned out to be a total eclipse of the sun.
Doom is everywhere, but commonly overstated. New technologies and revised moral codes aren’t necessarily fatal, they just make familiar skills and behaviors obsolete, shattering age-old trusts in the name of progress. Whether it’s really the end, or the dawning of an unrecognizable new day, it amounts to the same thing: when the rules of the past no longer help with navigating the future, it feels like the sky is falling…”

In my view, this is what we need to address: the old tools aren’t working for the new issues, and the new “tools” aren’t being recognized and appropriately applied to the problems.


Sam February 19, 2019 at 4:41 pm

… and now enter Bernie Sanders, splitting parties and ensuring another 4 years of Donald Trump and his policies of destruction. I weep for my son’s future.


Roderick T. Long February 21, 2019 at 4:57 pm

There are left-wing reasons to be skeptical of the Green New Deal also:


Aaron February 21, 2019 at 9:10 pm

“…there is real reason for optimism that the public might be ready for a response commensurate with the existential threat we face…”

I’ll believe that when I see nuclear power embraced.

“Maybe it’s time that people of good will left their smug political comfort zones and came to terms with our deadly serious non-political reality which constitutes the real national/global emergency.”



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