Green New Deal

by John Quiggin on January 14, 2019

The idea of a “Green New Deal” seems to be everywhere, quite suddenly, although Wikipedia suggests it has been around for quite a while and that the phrase was coined by the ubiquitous Tom Friedman. There’s quite a good summary of the various versions by David Roberts at Vox (for those who don’t know him, an excellent source on climate issues in general).

The fuzziness of the term is, in a sense, unsurprising. It seems obvious that any progressive policy for the US must fit this description in broad terms. That is, it must be a modernized version of the New Deal and it must imply a shift to an environmentally sustainable economy. So, I’m going to put up my own version, without claiming that it is the One True GND.

As far as the “Green” part is concerned, it’s urgently necessary to decarbonize the economy, shifting to a fully renewable electricity system and electrifying the transport system. The time when this could be achieved by a price-based policy (carbon tax or emissions permits alone) has passed. A carbon price is needed, but so is systematic regulatory intervention.

Compared to politics as usual, this is a big deal, involving trillions of dollars in investment a complete restructuring of the energy sector, and radical changes to transport systems. It also has the potential for substantial net gains in employment – solar energy already employs three times as many US workers as coal.

But relative to the US or world economy as a whole, a transformation of the energy and transport sectors is not a big enough deal to form the basis of a New Deal. Energy and transport together account for around 10 per cent of the economy, and replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy in this 10 per cent is not going to make a fundamental difference to the operation of capitalism.

Quite a few ideas involving more radical economic changes have been proposed, including a Job Guarantee and Universal Basic Income. I’ve argued for a combination of these. In the specific context of a Green New Deal, the most important demand should be a reduction in working hours, with no offsetting change in wages. That amounts to taking the benefits of increased productivity, and progressive redistribution, in the form of increased leisure rather than increased consumption. It goes along with research findings suggesting that experiences, rather than material goods, are a better source of lasting happiness. To make the argument work completely, we need the further proviso that experiences arising from participation in family and community activities are more genuine than those offered by commercial providers such as tourism operators. I’d be interested to know if there is evidence on this point.

I’m at an early stage on this, so I’ll stop here and leave it open for discussion.

{ 67 comments… read them below or add one }


Francis Markham 01.14.19 at 9:24 am

From memory, I think one consistent finding is that *most* people feel happiest when socialising, volunteering, and exercising, and least happy when doing housework, commuting or paid work – although there is a subgroup of people who love paid work.


Shirley0401 01.14.19 at 10:24 am

RE: leisure/UBI/&c

Juliet Schor has written a bunch about the time v. money issue, among other things I think we as a society should be thinking/talking about a lot more. I stumbled across her work in the aftermath of the financial crash, when for a brief moment it seemed there might be an opening for criticism of our idiotic high-waste high-stress consumption culture.
She also goes into how a move away from prioritizing convenience/efficiency (e.g., cooking a meal from scratch instead of picking something up on your way home from work) has some 2nd and 3rd level benefits which connect to JQ’s point about experiences yielding greater satisfaction than money or stuff.
It’s a bit off-topic, but one thing she spends some time on that I really like is the idea of “true materialism” (I think that’s the term she uses), actually recognizing and appreciating all of the inputs that make an item possible, paying more for well-crafted/durable items, &c.

Anyway. I’m glad to see this conversation is happening again, and hoping this time it’s got real legs. I honestly think we’re never going to make real progress addressing the climate crisis until we address the crisis of overconsumption, the dominance (and bad-faith manipulations) of advertising, and the subtle (or not) way so many people are shoehorned into a long-hours/ high-consumption lifestyle that can so easily influence them to then adopt the values that allow them to get through the day without having a nervous breakdown from all the cognitive dissonance.


Matt 01.14.19 at 11:07 am

To make the argument work completely, we need the further proviso that experiences arising from participation in family and community activities are more genuine than those offered by commercial providers such as tourism operators.

I’m not at all sure what this means, but I worry about it. If my wife and I go take a white-water rafting trip with a company that organizes such things, is this an “experience arising from participation in family activities” or one “offered by…tourism operators”? I’ll say that those were some of our very favorite experiences, and if someone suggested they were “less genuine” than others, I’d tell them to get stuffed, but maybe I don’t see what you have in mind. In general, I think whether this is so will depend a lot on what different sorts of people like, and there is a danger of people assuming that what _they_ like is best. This sounds dangerously like favoring a particular “comprehensive conception of the good” (as people like me are apt to put it), and if that’s so, I think it’s a non-starter, or at least will need _a lot_ more work to make it plausible. But maybe it’s just not put clearly. I’d be glad for some clarification.


nastywoman 01.14.19 at 12:22 pm

Living the major parts of the ”Green New Deal” now for some years – in an area which is ruled by ”the Greens” – I only highly can recommend it – and that’s the truly great thing about ”globalization” – everybody who is skeptical about – how or if it will work – can come an check it out!

That goes especially along ”with research findings suggesting that experiences, rather than material goods, are a better source of lasting happiness”

As –
indeed –
and already mentioned as one of the most important parts of ”the Best Deal” – 6 to seven weeks of payed vacations are a ”must” and proof that ”experiences arising from participation in family and community activities are a lot more genuine than those offered by commercial providers such as tourism operators”.


Louis N. Proyect 01.14.19 at 12:35 pm

Howie Hawkins coined the term. He is a long-standing leader of the Green Party in the USA.


engels 01.14.19 at 1:16 pm

the most important demand should be a reduction in working hours, with no offsetting change in wages. That amounts to taking the benefits of increased productivity, and progressive redistribution, in the form of increased leisure rather than increased consumption. It goes along with research findings suggesting that experiences, rather than material goods, are a better source of lasting happiness. To make the argument work completely, we need the further proviso that experiences arising from participation in family and community activities are more genuine than those offered by commercial providers such as tourism operators

Even if experiences involving family and community > other experiences > acquiring possessions that doesn’t entail that free time > purchasing power because the first two areas are both already increasingly commodified. The kind of experiences matter and most people seem to feel this involves spending money. (I don’t know what you mean by suggesting they’re more ‘genuine’…)


bob mcmanus 01.14.19 at 1:23 pm

must imply a shift to an environmentally sustainable economy.

We are coming onto the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of three books that should have provided the model for the next generations (more than they did.)

Charles Reich: The Greening of America
Alvin Toffler: Future Shock
Stewart Brand: The Whole Earth Catalog

The hippies were right.

Rather than using advanced green technology to reproduce the infrastructure, consumption habits, and societies that carbon built, we need to use technology and politics and government to deconstruct and dissemble what carbon built, from megacities to global supply chains to fast fashion and planned obsolescence. Rather than finding a green way to feed the Colorado River to Los Angeles, we move Los Angeles to 20,000 smaller communities along the length of the river.


steven t johnson 01.14.19 at 3:23 pm

“…decarbonize the economy, shifting to a fully renewable electricity system and electrifying the transport system.”

Travel being one of the prime experiences that enrich people’s lives, I’m not altogether certain that rationing travel miles for people is entirely consistent. On the general subject of electrifying the transport system, it is not clear that solar can provide that much power. I’m not even sure battery propelled ships are practical.

And as to experience, meat rationing (or at an extreme legally obligatory veganism) when exotic foods like tropical nuts or out of season vegetables and fruits are banned because of transport costs, may not provide moral elevation to everyone.

Obligatory population control would affect the experience of family life.

The recycling police however would provide an new experience.

It may be objected that of course no one espousing green would mean to end up cutting the consumption of the masses, that they just mean to cut out the fat so to speak…just like cutting wasteful government spending.

Massive reforestation programs do actually seem to be needed. The demolition of suburbs and replacement by actual cities seem to be a way of replacing concrete and asphalt with green spaces. But disassembling monstrosities like LA or Capetown, “cities” in a desert would seem to be on the agenda too. The thing is, once you start putting massive population transfers on the menu of options, it gets contentious, no?

Green is like anarchism, the devil is in the details.


LizardBreath 01.14.19 at 4:11 pm

Does the scale of the problem look more New-Deal-sized if you think about restructuring housing patterns and the built environment generally to reduce transportation costs? I don’t have any sense at all of the numbers involved, but the idea of reversing sprawl seems both environmentally useful and like an absolutely colossal task.


roger gathmann 01.14.19 at 6:04 pm

I’d suggest that the new New Deal, as it finds a way for humans to coexist with the Holocene, or what’s left of it, on the planet, should also be more upfront on the equality front. Like, what is, quantitatively, an acceptable level of inequality? Myself, I think something like 14 to 50 x median household income and wealth. If we tied taxes to such a project, one of the possibilities is making corporations pay in very severe ways for paying upper management more than 14 to 50x the lowest salaried worker – so that CEO and upper management compensation, if it wants to go stratospheric, has to pull that worker with them. Or it can’t be at all. I’ve heard it suggested that companies will find work-arounds – like making workers sub-contractors. I see no reason that these work arounds can’t be covered in the law. In any case, this is my suggestion: taxation that does intrusively create incentives for the private sector to raise wages.


Glen Tomkins 01.14.19 at 7:17 pm

“That amounts to taking the benefits of increased productivity, and progressive redistribution, in the form of increased leisure rather than increased consumption.”

Isn’t it outdated to leave out services and think of production as only the production of goods? Modern economies are evolving anyway towards more and more production being production of services rather than goods. Scarcity would deepen that trend, and reversing climate change should deepen it even more, but we were headed anyway away from goods and towards services.

As a practical example, consider the bugaboo often raised to defend one or another inhumane non-system of paying for health care, that if we let everyone have all the care they need, soon medical care will comprise some or another scarily high percentage of the GNP. I’m not at all scared by such a prospect. The people no longer needed to mine iron ore and coal, and then to make steel, and then to make goods out of steel; are going to need somewhere to work, especially as we need less and less stuff made out of steel. Why not put them to work at providing medical services? We each consume less goods and more services, but also need fewer hours devoted to making the same amt of goods because of increased productivity

Yes, people should be provided more time off paid work. I don’t think it’s a good idea to call this “leisure”. Life takes a lot of work to get through that no one is going to pay you to do, and you need time to do it right, so that both the work itself and its fruits are fulfilling. As we become more productive in our paid work, we should work fewer hours at that so we’ll have more time for the really important work of raising children, preparing good food, keeping up friendships and keeping up with public policy and politics.

That vital work of living is not what we generally mean by “leisure”, which is more on the order of spending a week or two in Cancun or Ibiza, or watching some TV program. That stuff is the opposite of vital. It’s harmless at best but is often malignant luxury. Very few of us are made for a life of such leisure. I’d be a raging alcoholic myself after two weeks of that sort of life. As we get people so off so much paid work, it’s important to set them towards the real, fulfilling work they’ve been cutting corners on because paid work hours have been too long, and not towards the sort of mindless relief from those too-long hours that are generally meant by “leisure”.


Tom 01.14.19 at 7:18 pm

I believe that the concern of the paragraph

” To make the argument work completely, we need the further proviso that experiences arising from participation in family and community activities are more genuine than those offered by commercial providers such as tourism operators.”

is that, even if the working hours are reduced, in their newly acquired free time, people would engage in activities that consume lots of energy, such as water-skiing or even simply driving, rather than to work, to a museum downtown. If so, while people may enjoy their life more, the deal would not be much green.

I guess one can quantify this effect, at least with some “back of the envelope” calculations. As a side, consideration like these is why economists often recommend to address the market imperfection heads-on ( in this case, by taxing pollution more) rather than addressing indirectly as proposed here.


bob mcmanus 01.14.19 at 7:33 pm

No, the massive vertical megacity is not the ecological answer but the major problem. What, serviced by agribusiness farms and energy farms and cement iron mines and coke ovens for steel. the workers for serving the megacities not enjoying the benefits but not becoming discontent. This is the disaster that the age of cheap oil-steel-transportation has put us into. Simple imperialism from the Age of imperialism. The suburbs are obviously simply an overflow of the cities for commuters who can’t afford urban real estate. We must de-urbanize.

The idea is a string of smaller wooden infrastructure cities pop 10-50k 5-10 miles apart surrounded by farmland forest satoyama providing much of their own energy food structural materials with wind and solar, cooperatives and communes, self-governing and self-sustaining, limiting the need for travel and goods transportation as much as possible.

De-urbanize, dis-aggregate, diffuse, de-concentrate.

Besides in the US with the Senate and Electoral College, it really is the only possible political path for the center-left or left.

To Take Back the Map Democrats Need a Plan to Revive Heartland Cities


Tzimiskes 01.14.19 at 7:34 pm

I think a big part of any green new deal will be making sure that subsidies for the change in lifestyle are at least partially funded by the government. A lot of infrastructure is going to be obsolete, if you ask individual families to pay for it resistance will result as they have to give op assets that are still working fine. Asking families to invest in energy saving home improvements, replace furnaces with electric heating, replace gas with electric vehicles, etc. Will destroy a lot of wealth. Better for the government to finance this with low interest rates rather than have individuals finance it at higher rates.

Regarding working less rather than producing more, I think this will help at the margins but the toughest areas are going to be transportation and buildings. Replacing all this equipment is going to take a lot of hours. I think the question is how to shift the economy to co-ops and co-determination so that employees are making these choices rather than bosses. The government is second best but I don’t think we should be trying to make these choices for people. The tech is there to decarbonize everything, the problem is relative cost. Build systems that let people make these choices themselves once infrastructure is converted to green sources.

Pie in the sky, but not much more so than a successful conversion to green energy in the needed time.


Hidari 01.14.19 at 8:17 pm

While I like the idea of a New Deal (although few people propose anything as radical as Roosevelt actually did….we need a politician not afraid to say: ‘“The forces of ‘fossil fuels’ are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.”)

But perhaps a better role model would be both the changes that the US and UK economies were forced to undertake during WW2, and also the Labour Govt. of 1945.

In other words: mass nationalisations of key industries (including ALL car industries, ALL fossil fuel companies, ALL industries related to aerospace) with a view to either radically reforming them (e.g. ‘planes, cars) or shutting them down (all companies which extract fossil fuels). Presumably the banks and finance industries will also have to be bought under state control, with a view to controlling investment, at least in the short term.

When one puts quantitative targets which must be met by organisations within a set time period, and when the so-called ‘free market’ demonstrates that it is incapable of meeting these targets (the situation now) , then one is by definition saying that the free market has failed and that the State (in the form of a planned economy) will have to step in. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about a Five Year Plan or a 20 Year Plan: the key point is… you are still talking about a planned economy.

Needless to say, there will also be downsides (again like the UK’s economy in WW2): individuals’ usage of CO2 will have to be strictly rationed (at least in the short term) via a ration card: something that will be presumably easier to monitor via smartphone etc. than it was in the 20th century.

So no more ‘plane trips for anyone except selected professions (doctors etc.). And so on.

Or we could all die. So we have a choice.


Z 01.14.19 at 8:28 pm

One thing to keep in mind is that we must act quickly, ideally very quickly, and this means in particular that we cannot wait for industries to change: solar energy may already be bigger than coal, but we cannot wait for the remaining coal workers to retire, we need them to drastically diminish their activity right now (and the same for many industries, from industrial fishing to airplane transportation). Because nobody wants to die of hunger and very few people actually enjoy charity, this further means that we need to think hard into compensation schemes. That’s why the Job Guarantee part is in my view quite important (the Yellow Vests protest in France is a good example of what happens when the compensation part is glossed over).

@roger gathmann I’d suggest that the new New Deal, as it finds a way for humans to coexist with the Holocene, or what’s left of it, on the planet, should also be more upfront on the equality front

Absolutely, if only because the real hard work we need to do requires a society which has a strong sense of its internal cohesion and value, and those cannot prevail above a certain threshold of inequalities (not only economic ones) that contemporary societies have unfortunately passed perhaps two decades ago already. So there is a bit of a conundrum here (we need a Green New Deal, but that won’t happen if we can’t get a more cohesive society, but that entails reducing inequalities, but that requires courageous policies of the scale of a Green New Deal, and ideally a Green New Deal…) but Wo aber Gefahr ist, wächst Das Rettende auch so inverting the proposition, I think a political space is by now open for successful political platforms based on policies that simultaneously reduce inequalities and radically change production and consumption in a way that might save the ecosystem.

Against inequalities, for the ecosystem, that’s where the hope lies, I believe, or “Plus de banquise, moins de banquiers” as I read on a Yellow Vest sign (so all hope is not lost).


Hidari 01.14.19 at 8:38 pm


ccc 01.14.19 at 9:23 pm

John Quiggin OP: “It goes along with research findings suggesting that experiences, rather than material goods, are a better source of lasting happiness. To make the argument work completely, we need the further proviso that experiences arising from participation in family and community activities are more genuine than those offered by commercial providers such as tourism operators.”

As Matt #3 points out the notion of “genuineness” in play here needs needs unpacking. Another feature to specify is for what socioeconomic groups the positive effect is claimed. There is of course a lot of research on the positional goods nature of a lot of consumption by rich people that can be relevant here. Getting rich dude A and B from a position of status competition in terms of the most/biggest yachts to status competition in terms of some other unit that have much less environmentally negative resource inputs is a collective action problem.

Another thing: your case for reduction in working hours doesn’t require the (1) “better than” claim you hint at above. A sufficient claim is (2) “just as good” or (3) “roughly equally good”. Since if a policy scores better in terms of climate change prevention and scores on par in all other regards then it’s all things considered a good policy.

In ideal theory an even weaker claim might suffice: (4) “worse but not so much worse that the badness of that aspect outweights the goodness of the climate change benefit that the reduced working hours reform also brings”. Though this last one is likely harder to get majoritarian popular political support for in non-ideal reality.


Peter T 01.14.19 at 9:51 pm

Think of money as a fluid pumped around the social tree. A New Deal of any sort lowers the pressure, bringing the roots and the crown into better balance. Something absolutely necessary, as environmental issues are cutting into the sustainable flow, and the alternative is collapse. The nub is, though, that the top of the tree has spent the last several decades pumping harder and harder, and is not about to let go of the controls.


Jeff R. 01.15.19 at 3:00 am

The changes being contemplated are going to be massively unpopular and need to be sustained for generations. So a necessary first step for any plan like that is going to be the establishment of a permanent technocratic coup, an undemocratic/antidemocratic order immune to change by any means, not just elections but revolution, corruption or ideological drift among the elite, and escape through capital flight and emigration. A tall order, to say the least. But more realistic than trying to permanently bribe a majority with other perks. (because in ten years if not five they’ll want to pocket the extra day off and go back to meat and off-season vegetables.)


eg 01.15.19 at 3:41 am

And when the usual suspects ask, “but how will you pay for it, there is this:


Omega Centauri 01.15.19 at 3:48 am

I signed up as a potential volunteer on this website: This would seem to be a movement primarily composed of USA youths to push the Green New deal, and hopefully increase the participation of youth in the political process. It remains to be seen how this will work out.


b9n10nt 01.15.19 at 6:46 am

I’d like to suggest a public policy (US) thaf funds a diverse array of communities that are 1) dense, 2) eco-conscious & collectivize transit and are 3) culturally distinct in some way.

We need to discover scalable community models that have a greater chance of reproducing themselves while providing immediate housing assistance that is more ecologically sustainable than what genpop is doing.

hashtag what if instead of using social surplus to fund trillions to evidently disinterested billionaires, we get to work implementing and spreading potential solutions.



John Quiggin 01.15.19 at 7:04 am

@ccc and others. I agree that the notion of “genuine” experience is problematic. I couldn’t work it out for myself so I decided to throw it open for comments, which have been useful. More on this soon, I hope.

To Hidari and others, while we are past the point where a market solution will suffice, that doesn’t mean we need the full power of a command economy to decarbonize the economy. Environmental p0licy has long relied on direct regulation (stigmatized as “command and control”) as much or more than on price-based measures. For example, one possible step would be to require all coal-fired power stations more than 30 years old (or, more or less equivalently, everything less efficient than the most modern ultrasupercritical plants) to close, perhaps with partial compensation. That would shut down nearly the entire fleet by 2030, but it wouldn’t be much different from past measures like vehicle emissions tests and “cash for clunkers”.


Faustusnotes 01.15.19 at 9:32 am

I have been arguing for years hereabouts that we can’t use free market methods alone to solve this problem, pointing out repeatedly that we can’t tax our way out of a crisis of this magnitude and using tobacco control as an example of a minimum set of measures that would need to be implemented to achieve real change. Consistently over time John Quiggin has argued i am exaggerating and a bit of price based tinkering will solve all the problems. It’s nice to see John that you have finally come around to what the scientists have been trying to tell economists for decades: that this is a civilization level emergency and we need radical action, not a bit of taxation. I remember years ago here I pointed out how ineffective a carbon tax would be even on transport and it was all hand waved away with “we can plant some trees or dump a bit of grain in the ocean.”

Well now, thanks primarily to the combination of sanguine economists and vicious American corporate lobbying, here we are: contemplating an urgent and unpopular version of what every scientist has been saying we need to do since 1992. It’s too late and we’re done for.

I think Hidari and Z are right, if this new deal is going to work we are going to need to nationalize and devastate certain industries, pick winners and get very nasty. Contrary to McManus, this is going to mean forcing people into cities in dense housing without cars. It is going to need major changes to consumption patterns but it’s doubtful that will mean a return to simpler modes of production in disaggregated communities: whatever is most energy efficient is going to be the key.

But it won’t matter because Americans are too stupid and selfish to do what needs to be done, and everyone else’s efforts come to nought without America’s contribution.


ccc 01.15.19 at 9:49 am

John Quiggin #24: yeah genuine might not be the best term. I take the core question to be how to shift people from currently desired resource intensive activities with negative externalities re climate change to other activities that (1) have much less such negative externalities and (2) when given the right social and institutional background structure will be supported and desired by people as sources of good things like experienced happiness, social connection, perceived meaningfulness, a sense of accomplishment, and so on. Finding out what satisfies (1) (2) is partly an empirical matter. We shouldn’t preemptively assume that “genuine” will be the best term to capture it.

One thing you might want to look at along with the NGD writing is recent work under the Degrowth heading. See for example this recent post by Jason Hickel , which shares some themes with your post here.

And a recent back and forth between Dean Baker and Hickel


Jim Buck 01.15.19 at 10:11 am

Engels @6. ‘ I don’t know what you mean by suggesting they’re more ‘genuine’…)

On Women’s Christmas Day. (6th Jan) we had more than 50 people round here for a meal: vegan Chick pea curry or Thai green chicken. I cooked and served the lot, all by myself— then did all the clearing and washing-up. I have done this for so many years now that it’s an exhilarating doddle. A genuine experience. Instead of doing that we could all book tables someplace and bask in the servants fake smiles and marvel at how well the grub is presented.


bob mcmanus 01.15.19 at 10:25 am

A More Pessimistic Analysis this contains links

Expropriate the wealth not of the 1% for instance, but the top 33%, meaning everything over $90,000 a year. And yeah, a command economy.

My ideas above were more in line of a personal solution to the coming apocalypse, a way to survive and help a few. Find a small city in the country, organize and make it self-sustaining, find ways to feed, house, and keep people alive locally.

Downsize like hell and get back to nature, because to survive we probably have to reduce commercial (and personal) energy consumption 25 to 50 percent (at least for a while), while allocating another 25% to the conversion.


nastywoman 01.15.19 at 10:27 am

”The changes being contemplated are going to be massively unpopular”

Offering ”the people” five to six weeks of vacations is never ”unpopular”.
-(even in the homeland of: ”I can’t take ANY vacations or I’m getting fired”)

and – YES – ”the deal” has to be ”sustainable” – and has to come with all the other ”deals” -any country – which already have such ”Green Deals” – has already implemented and – please – let’s NOT implement it via some even more time consuming ”revolutions”.

We don’t have the time to go back into (stupid)time – as the current ”FF von Clownstick Episode” proves.
And we nee to make ”the people” much faster understand – that ”Green Deals” are in their own interest – and I’m aware that in the case of ”teh homeland” -(the US) – such… ”understandings” are really… challenged – BE-cause it seems to be – that people living on (”Anglo-Saxon”)-Islands have this tendency NOT trusting any ”deals” – which in ”the rest of the (advanced) world” have already been successfully implemented – especially if the Islanders have the (nationalistic) illusion that ”their” economical -(or other) solutions are the ultimate ”Art of the Deal” –

Soo let’s hope for more ”globalization” meaning ”the flow of helpful information” -(especially from Europe) – that there are ”GREAT Green Deals” to be made -(including payable Health Care) – which even could be ”Make America Great Again”!

And all it takes is a bit of patience -(even if there isn’t any time for patience) – and no more
”Von Clownstick Revolutions”.


Louis N. Proyect 01.15.19 at 1:08 pm


Hidari 01.15.19 at 2:23 pm

Remember that the climate change problem has to be not just dealt with, but essentially solved, by 2050 (2060 at the latest) if ‘Western Civilisation’ is to have a future.

I am acting under the assumption that we are going to do the better part of fuck all for the next 20 years or so…given Trump, and the rise of the ‘alt-right’ generally (all of whom are climate change deniers and capitalists, despite the occasional nods towards ‘populism’).

The irony of climate change is of course that the longer you do nothing, the more radical the things you have to eventually end up doing when you wake up and smell the coffee.

If we act now we could probably get away with a ‘New Deal’..but we aren’t going to act now are we? (I mean, not where it matters, at the political level).

And if we do nothing until, say, 2050 then the economic model that becomes most appropriate is not the UK in 1949 but Russia in 1936.


Hidari 01.15.19 at 2:48 pm

Another point is whether or not the radical transformation of the world economy that is needed is compatible with the continuing hegemony of the (at the moment) oil, coal and gas controlled American Presidency.

American imperial power being ultimately backed up by the American armed forces of which see here:


Hidari 01.15.19 at 3:02 pm

‘Why the (proposed) Green New Deal is the Stuff of Fantasyland’


steven t johnson 01.15.19 at 3:54 pm

“For example, one possible step would be to require all coal-fired power stations more than 30 years old (or, more or less equivalently, everything less efficient than the most modern ultrasupercritical plants) to close, perhaps with partial compensation.”

It is unclear how this decarbonizes the economy. Natural gas is already shutting down coal-fired power plants, but that’s not genuine decarbonization. It’s why the rise of natural gas in power production hasn’t already solved half the problem of emissions. There seems to be an ambiguity in the notion of decarbonization. Nor is it clear what decarbonization can even mean when abstracted from carbon recapture by forests, algae, etc.

In principle the only truly sustainable economy requires use only of truly renewable resources, that is, a stationary one, growing only in response to such technological innovations that use less energy. Of course no previous human economy has actually ever devised such a stationary economy. Many previous civilizations have collapsed, with massive population declines. To my eyes, history powerfully suggests that once a culture dies, it doesn’t come back without massive input from other, more advanced societies.

At this point is there really any possible way to preserve the current world system of nation states and global capital markets other than massive restrictions in consumption for large parts of the population? Compensation for the effects of change already upon us, partial or not, is apparently beyond the status quo. After all, even in the US no one can imagine compensating for shutting down coal mines by income support for coal miners who lose their jobs. One would have thought that, if shutting down coal mines were truly so beneficial to global society as a whole, it would pay the cost of helping those suffering the local effect.

But plainly, this isn’t the case. I conclude it is because the crisis still is not grave enough to justify some sort of world government, much less the unspeakable horror of planned economy. Just grave enough to require social discipline of personal consumption by the masses.


bob mcmanus 01.15.19 at 4:54 pm

Faustusnotes: Contrary to McManus, this is going to mean forcing people into cities in dense housing without cars.

Glad you have the plan. Since urban liberals and Democrats control most of the guns, the US military, and politically control the land areas (transportation routes, water routes) that produce food and solar like West Texas, you shouldn’t have much difficulty. Right?
Won’t be hard to force millions of enraged Trumpsters into your Manhattan skyscrapers, feed them with wheat and rice grown in Central Park.


William S Berry 01.15.19 at 6:13 pm

“It is unclear how this decarbonizes the economy.”

Per unit energy, coal produces roughly three times the CO2 of NG.

NG= CH4 (4:1 H to C ratio); Coal= [CH]n (1:1 ratio, where “n” contains some free carbon, making the ratio around 3:1 instead of 4:1).


Mainmata 01.15.19 at 7:16 pm

I’m going to address the climate crisis in my comment. While you addressed (or began discussion) on decarbonization of the economy (and society in general), one aspect of mitigation/fuel substitution issue that needs to be addressed further is hydrogen-based fuels (often called fuel cells). Their major use has been in rocket fuel but using electrolysis to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen is a well-proven technology that can be used at any scale. (I once developed a proof of concept for incorporating auto-generated fuel cells in a car using solar cells to generate the electricity.) I think we should be looking more closely at fuel cells for transport at least until we can resolve the persistent inefficient battery technology problem.

The other issue you need to consider is adaptation to climate change impacts. Particularly planned adaptation where government plays a decisive role in prevention and adapting to the inevitable impacts. This is especially important since a larger and larger proportion of the world’s population is moving to cities that are frequently on coasts vulnerable to hurricanes, storm surges, sea level rise, etc. Adaptation measures will be enormously costly but will also be a huge employment generator, much greater than mitigation, which, of course, should also be a high priority. The world’s food supply is going to take a major hit due to climate change, in fact, it has already started. Research has begun on developing climate adapted crops but we are far from being ready.


William S Berry 01.15.19 at 10:20 pm

Actually, the ratio of CO2 production from burning coal compared to CO2 production from NG is more like 2:1. Precisely because coal has a lot more carbon, it produces more calories per unit weight than NG.


Matt 01.15.19 at 10:55 pm

I think we should be looking more closely at fuel cells for transport at least until we can resolve the persistent inefficient battery technology problem.

Fuel cells running on electrolytic hydrogen are substantially less efficient than batteries. Lithium ion batteries can exceed 90% round-trip efficiency. The fuel cell option is more like, optimistically, 48% (with 80% efficient electrolysis, 60% efficient fuel cell).

A hydrogen container can store more energy than a corresponding mass or volume of batteries and can be refilled faster than a battery can be recharged, though. Hydrogen fueled fuel cells could be good for replacing fossils in long distance shipping. They might also be useful in conjunction with seasonal energy storage for the grid, e.g. hydrogen stored in underground salt caverns.


Faustusnotes 01.15.19 at 11:11 pm

John Quiggin shows with his comment about retiring coal fired plants over 30 years of age that he again does not understand the scale of the problem. In addition to the fact that they are replaced by gas, which does not make electricity production zero carbon, a great many power plants in China and India are new, and could take 15-20 years to close. That’s too little too late, given (as Hidari reminds us) that we have until 2050 to get to a zero carbon economy(and we need reforestation offsets to cover agriculture, shipping and aircraft). Closing every coal fired power station in the world would reduce a portion of our co2 emissions by 2/3 if they’re replaced with gas – reducing global carbon emissions by perhaps 20%. That might buy us five years at the other end, but it’s not enough and it will require a huge upfront carbon investment as we build gas plants to replace them.

What we will need is more along the lines of: immediate forced end to deforestation in Australia, the Amazon, Indonesia and Africa; a five year plan of complete replacement of coal with solar/wind; nationalization of the global shipping fleet and its immediate conversion to nuclear, with the fleet managed by national navies; a moratorium on fishing; a global cap on meat consumption, distributed fairly by population and not by wealth; complete electrification of all public transport systems and a global moratorium on growth in the physical size of cities. All future development will need to be in carbon zero electricity and high density housing, the energy production and mining industries will need to be immediately nationalized and their current leadership thrown in jail as an example to others. Climate change denial needs to be a criminal offense ruthlessly punished. All of those actions might buy us 10 years, giving us time to decarbonize personal transport, replace gas with renewables, and begin massive reforestation projects.

McManus, I say we need to focus on living in cities because they are way more energy efficient than small rural communities. This is why japan uses far less energy per unit of gdp than the USA, and it would be even more efficient if not for the need for earthquake resistant houses. Dense cities mean (somewhat confusingly for Americans to understand) lower rent, lower transport and lower energy costs, more efficient building costs, and greater equality. Urbanization has been an inexorable force of the 20th century for more reasons than just the hunger of capital for labour. That small low density rural community you imagine will be high carbon. Those people could be in the city, and the town could be a solar farm or carbon sink, with a few people living nearby to manage farms and forests, subsidized by low energy city dwellers.

This is why we are doomed: because at this late stage of the crisis, Americans still don’t even understand what the crisis is or how it is caused, and economists are still confusing carbon budgets and emission rates.


steven t johnson 01.15.19 at 11:47 pm

William S Berry explains to us how the shift to natural gas decarbonizes the economy.
Problem already half solved.


John Quiggin 01.16.19 at 12:21 am

To be clear, the suggestion of shutting down coal plants wasn’t meant as a comprehensive solution. It was an illustration of a non-market measure that would have a significant impact, while not going anywhere near the creation of a command economy. A few other examples:
Public enterprises to invest in renewables (currently under way in my home state of Queensland)
A mandated shift to all-electric vehicles (already proposed for 2040 by Britain and France, could be brought forward to 2030 or earlier
Large-scale publicly funded tree planting

All of these would be massive in the context of day-to-day politics, but would not constitute the kind of transformational shift I talk about in the second part of the OP.


William S Berry 01.16.19 at 1:28 am

“William S Berry explains to us how the shift to natural gas decarbonizes the economy.
Problem already half solved.”

Really? I that what I did?

After re-reading my short comments, I’m not sure I agree; but if you want to give me credit for that, I accept!


Orange Watch 01.16.19 at 3:07 am

So… should we be worrying about doing something about big hydro? Should we at least be worrying about how it’s being ramped up because it’s renewable?


Omega Centauri 01.16.19 at 3:12 am

“looking more closely at fuel cells for transport at least until we can resolve the persistent inefficient battery technology problem.”
mainmata @37
I’d like to turn that around. Electrolysis is not very efficient, maybe 30%, but even if you double that its not so great. Now current Li-Ion batteries are more like 90% efficient. And a 200mile EV battery is a fraction of the cost of a fuel cell. So basically, batteries are here today, and fuel cells still look to be not much better than a lab experiment. Also note that a BEV is much simpler than an ICE car, once battery prices come down, they will be cheaper. The biggest issue seems to be that many people today think that a full recharge that takes longer than filling a tank (couple of minutes), is absolutely unacceptable. Within five years I think we will be able to do long distance as drive 200miles, charge for 30 minutes, drive the next 200 miles. If you think about it, needing bathroom breaks and stretching etc. Thats actually quite reasonable. Clearly some re-education will be needed.

William, @38. The ratio depends upon the power plant efficiency as well. Typical
coal plants are in the thirties, I think “critical” plants, which I think use CO2 as a working fluid are around 40%. Combined cycle steam using gas is around 60%, but this is capital intensive so a lot of gas powered plants perticularly those used for occasional peak useage only user less efficient tech.
In any case with current practice, leakage of methane from well head to power plant is bad enough that the nearterm climate impact of a gas plant is thought by many to be worse than a coal plant.

faustusnotes @40. Well gas replacing coal is not in fact a bridge to a reasonable future climate. We have to start winding down the whole gas thing, end fracking and so on. That won’t be easy politically, but its actually needed. Encouraging more fracking is at the current time counterproductive. But, at least we
are finding that some utilities are already building battery storage instead of
nat gas peakers, because its already more economical. We need to end the nat gas age almost as quickly as we need to end the oil age.
You are on the money with respect to urbanization. The back to nature instinct is not the way to solve our problem -unless a radical population decline (>90%) is part of the change.


bad Jim 01.16.19 at 3:21 am

Burning methane is less carbon-intensive than burning coal, because CH4 +2O2 -> CO2 +2H2O instead of C + O2 -> CO2, and gas is certainly cleaner than coal with respect to other pollutants.

Unfortunately, methane itself is a much worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, so losses in extraction, compression, transmission and storage render it questionable whether its substitution for coal is actually ameliorating climate change. Reducing oil consumption would reduce attendant uncaptured methane release as well as flaring.


Mainmata 01.16.19 at 3:27 am

As I said in a previous comment, the world is already very screwed. To be clear, climate change impacts have positive feedback loops that worsen things. So, for example, as the permafrost melts, enormous amounts of ancient carbon (peat) is released in Canada and Russia that greatly accelerates global warming. Adaptation is the only near term option. Mitigation will help in the middle and long term if we aren’t already dead. But we should still pursue decarbonization.


faustusnotes 01.16.19 at 3:36 am

The EIA can help you here. About 26% of the US emissions in 2017 came from coal, which means that switching to natural gas would reduce these emissions by 2/3, so total US emissions would decline by about 16%. That is not “problem half solved”. Very far.

The EIA charts show that almost all of transportation emissions are from nonelectric emissions, vs. about 2/3 of industrial and 1/3 of household. You can’t reduce a lot of the industrial emissions (coking coal!). If you were to electrify public transport and then make all electricity natural gas you might shift another 10% of the total emissions. What remains is electrification or hydrogenification of cars. But note that the EIA charts don’t disaggregate for agriculture; they do suggest that if the US completely electrified its agricultural systems and could somehow make its fertilizer and chemical production carbon neutral, 10% of emissions would still arise from methane.

You need to look at these charts to understand that you can’t tax your way out of this problem, or fix the problem by faffing around with a few delicate policy changes like retiring old coal plants or moving into wooden houses. This is an extinction-level event for industrial civilization, and it is going to require measures beyond anything our current governments (or most American pollyannas on here) are even able to conceive of, let alone enact.


abd 01.16.19 at 4:06 am

@15 Hidari

Meanwhile, red-blooded truck-loving Southern American men get to break the 4 figure barrier for bragging rights in the ongoing “torque war”:

90% of the time these trucks are driven with an empty cab as passenger vehicles, often with the “Lone Ranger” by himself speeding down the highway to his desk job.

P.S. That’s enough torque to transport, say, 2 long buses filled with 120 people each during rush hour.


MFB 01.16.19 at 6:41 am

The concept of a “Green New Deal” needs to be unpacked.

The fact that the concept’s proponents have put no plans on the table to substantiate the concept is interesting because the global warming crisis has been around for approximately fifty years during which opposition intellectuals have had time to make such plans. Hence, either the intellectuals have failed, the concept’s proponents are staggeringly ignorant about the central issue of twenty-first century human civilisation, or the concept’s proponents do not actually wish to do anything but merely wish to spout rhetoric for self-serving and partisan purposes.

The term “New Deal” is symbolically significant for Democrats, as a time when Democrats were in power and Republicans discredited. However, the actual “New Deal”, which was supposedly intended to end the economic depression of the 1930s, failed to do so; economic depression was only ended by the rearmament which began to reach substantial levels in 1940. The “New Deal” was constituted as a gesture to show the public that the elite were concerned about their problems, and thus avoid wholesale restructuring of socio-economic activity of the kind which actually happened in pursuit of World War II.

Therefore, a “Green New Deal” would be symbolic and ineffectual, which is exactly what we do not want. We cannot wait a decade for an ecological Pearl Harbour to oblige the elite to take action which they clearly are not willing to take. (In any case the “Pearl Harbour” has already happened; the elite would be happy to wait until Yamamoto’s carriers were steaming up the Potomac to enforce the surrender.)

A “Green World War II” is what is needed here. (Much like what Faustusnotes says, although he fantasises about global action, which will not happen.)

What would it look like in the case of the U.S.? The entire coal, oil and gas electrical generating system must be replaced with renewables, which will be extremely expensive as renewables require much more installed generating capacity than fossil does. In order to reduce demand, the current U.S. pattern of indoor temperature control must be scrapped, meaning that all buildings must be restructured to protect them against heat and cold. Furthermore, all oil and petrol vehicles (other than emergency vehicles) and small-scale electrical vehicles, and all private air transport, must be scrapped and thus a vast electricity-based communal transport infrastructure must be constructed. All this has to happen in about twenty years.

I can’t imagine how much it would cost. Assuming it were done sensibly, perhaps it could cost as little as $300 billion a year. That’s $1000 per person. In theory this is not enormously expensive (I suspect it would cost a lot more, however). It’s like a second Defense Department draining U.S. wealth, although in this case it would at least be doing something useful.

However, there are problems with this. Shutting down the fossil fuel industry would be financially disastrous, particularly because the least energy-efficient aspects of the industry (fracking, tar sands and deepwater drilling) are heavily financially leveraged and their destruction would probably cause a financial crash which could easily be blamed on government rather than the industry, by the usual methods which we saw in 2007-9. The oligarchs would be unwilling to pay for the system and would try to shift the burden of cost onto the poor and the middle class, who can’t afford it and who could easily be manipulated to oppose the system.

Some of this could be obviated by the Democrats devoting the next eighteen months to campaigning around the “Green War”, explaining what the problems are, why these problems have been hidden from the public, how the problems can be solved, and why only the Democrats could solve them. If they do that, they might have a chance of a) winning in 2020 (if they don’t do that, the whole plan is pointless) and b) persuading a majority of the public to support the Democrats against the oligarchs. Unfortunately, however, the current Democrats appear to be wholly controlled by the oligarchs. Hence it’s unlikely that the “Green War” would ever happen, and hence the United States is doomed.


Francis 01.16.19 at 7:04 am

It seems to me, in the words of that old folk tune, that it is the responsibility of all humanity to “sit around the shanty, mama, and get a good buzz on”.

Do less? Ok, that’s doing less.


nastywoman 01.16.19 at 7:12 am

”Critique of Green New Deal”
by Louis N. Proyect – posted here by – Louis N. Proyect

”Ocasio-Cortez has made the Green New Deal front-page news after taking part in a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office on November 13th. Most people who just skimmed the headlines on this story might have assumed that this was some kind of protest meant to discredit Pelosi and the establishment Democrats. In reality, it was much more of a bonding exercise of the sort that has been taking place ever since the “progressives” poured into the new House of Representatives making nice with Pelosi and other old-guard players”.

So… ?

”It turns out that the origin of the concept was in op-ed columns by Mr. Globalization himself Thomas Friedman. In a January 19, 2007 NYT op-ed, the arch-imperialist wrote:
The right rallying call is for a “Green New Deal.” The New Deal was not built on a magic bullet, but on a broad range of programs and industrial projects to revitalize America. Ditto for an energy New Deal. If we are to turn the tide on climate change and end our oil addiction, we need more of everything: solar, wind, hydro, ethanol, biodiesel, clean coal and nuclear power — and conservation.


So – in order to get US a Green New Deal -(some other so called ”advanced Western Democracies already have) – wasn’t it GREAT that some ”old-guard players bonded with young “progressives” and even a (otherwise ”silly dude”) like Friedman is all on board for a ”Green New Deal”?

That makes it far more ”realistic” – faaar more faster!


And if now – also – all the idiots and Clownsticks also would get on board – or ”bond” with AOC – WE could start tomorrow!



nastywoman 01.16.19 at 8:03 am

– and at 30+32+33
– and all of these distracting links – and US constantly ”pivoting” might be the major problem – why it might take so long in the US to get a ”Green New Deal”?

Who cares if one of the advocates of such a deal has… some – other ”political hobbies”?
– as we desperately need especially the so called ”Globalists” – and every single ”Conservative” American who cares about ”the American Sea- and Landscape”!


john c. halasz 01.16.19 at 10:04 am

Attributing GND to that neo-liberal idiot savant T. Friedman is nonsense. Ann Pettifor founded her GND group in 2007, back when Gordon Brown was PM. You all remember her? She issued one of the clearest warning of the approaching GFC back in 2006:

But since she’s not a phd. economist, she obviously doesn’t count.

But since then she’s made little headway. She’s currently an econ advisor to Corbyn’s labor Party, and especially to his number 2 McDonnell. But since the Brexit clusterf*ck dominates all other issues, it’s doubtful still that she could gain much effective influence.

I think the point of the GND slogan/branding is that it is dimly remembered and publicly intelligible. But if one takes the ND to mean the FDR policies of the ’30’s + the war economy + the Marshall Plan then the heuristic value of reviewing that history is to recognize how inadequate those measures were. In fact, the resulted in the initiation of the “Anthropocene” era, of which we are currently enjoying the harvest. Dealing with the climate/ecological/natural resource crises would require massive write-down of current ostensibly profitable infrastructure and capital stocks, including the pile of financial assets laid on top of the them, while simultaneously massively investing in alternative stocks and infrastructure together with conservation and demand reduction measures. And that involves massive institutional changes, not just technological “miracles”, since those investments won’t be conventionally financially profitable. IOW a transition to a significantly post-capitalist global order. Since I think that’s little likely to happen, I’d wager that we’re just cooked.


nastywoman 01.16.19 at 11:02 am

‘THE deal” –
as anybody could try to learn from California – where even ”Conservative Ex-Governors” – fight Climate Change in a pretty effective ”Ex-Austrian Bodybuilder and Postman – way”!


faustusnotes 01.16.19 at 11:04 am

The Guardian is reporting a new study that finds a rolling phaseout of fossil fuels could work. In this strategy every fossil fuel burning thing is replaced by a renewable-driven alternative when it reaches the end of its working life. That would be all cars, planes, and powerplants. The kicker though is that the plan also assumes “massive reductions in beef and dairy consumption.”

If that plan is followed the earth has a 66% chance of staying within the 1.5C guard rail. If we start right now. That’s a little bit more extreme than decommissioning power plants over 30 years of age!


bob mcmanus 01.16.19 at 12:12 pm

48: You can’t reduce a lot of the industrial emissions (coking coal!).

What? What? Why not?

Quick google: “2008 U.S. CO2 emissions by category. Global CO2 emissions from cement production (377 million metric tons of carbon in 2007) represent 4.5% of global CO2 releases from fossil-fuel burning”

Wiki: “The cement industry is one of two largest producers of carbon dioxide (CO2), creating up to 5% of worldwide man-made emissions of this gas, of which 50% is from the chemical process and 40% from burning fuel.”

Hmm, doesn’t include transport costs, trucks trains etc moving cement across country or within towns. Probably not the most fuel efficient methods. Add another few percent.

Like I said, I think the low carbon footprint of urban areas do not include the carbon for steel, concrete, aluminum, asphalt etc.

My reaction last night was being reminded of the tight mathematical 19thC economics that proved of course India and China should give up their textile industries and hand looms and just plant cotton to be shipped to Manchester. So much more efficient and better for everybody, and costs of capital so much cheaper in Britain, cause well, science. I see urbanization and high-density housing as just another Imperial scam.
First rule: privilege lies, usually with science claims.

I’m being told Trump Tower and the damn Burj Mohammed in Abu Dhabi and thousands of empty luxury apts are carbon cheaper, better for the environment, and even more ecologically sustainable than a log cabin in Alaska. Just crazy I guess, intuition rebels.


bob mcmanus 01.16.19 at 12:34 pm

You think the world will be saved by Ginza at night…

…I want thousands of Hammarby Sweden pop 25,000. Small and modest, built with wood frames.


SamChevre 01.16.19 at 2:16 pm

Thinking about a “green New Deal” from a different angle, it seems none of the plans above fit the social/class model of the New Deal at all well. (Leaving aside the question of “were those good”–they are certainly part of why the New Deal is remembered favorably.)

The New Deal had three major social/class components:
1) It dramatically reduced the value of financial claims relative to real assets, via devaluation of the dollar and sharp limits on the finance industry. Consequently, financial centers got far worse off relative to manufacturing cities. The key dynamics of the last 25 years have been the opposite.
2) It widened the gap between the 25th and 50th percentiles, while shrinking the gap between the 50th and 90th percentiles. The key dynamics of the last 25 years have been the opposite.
3) It stabilized social positions. The big companies largely locked in their positions; the wealthiest group in society were fairly assured of staying at the top–this persisted through the 1980s’s. The unions limited entry into the trades. And so forth.

Would a Green New Deal be aiming at similar social consequences as the original? The plans above seem much more to be focused on the opposite–at reinforcing the tendencies of the past 25-50 years.


Omega Centauri 01.16.19 at 3:23 pm

Here we have the governor of a large state launching a state level carbon reducing initiative, and calling it a Green New Deal.

The cornerstone of Cuomo’s Green New Deal is to boost New York’s Clean Energy Standard from 50 percent to 70 percent renewable electricity by 2030. To meet this new mandate, the briefing calls for:

Nearly quadrupling New York’s offshore wind target to 9,000 megawatts by 2035, up from 2,400 megawatts by 2030
Doubling distributed solar deployment to 6,000 megawatts by 2025, up from 3,000 megawatts by 2023
More than doubling new large-scale, land-based wind and solar resources through the Clean Energy Standard
Maximizing the contributions and potential of New York’s existing renewable resources
Deploying 3,000 megawatts of energy storage by 2030
Which looks like a pretty ambitious ramping up beyond current “comittments”.


Adam Hammond 01.16.19 at 3:36 pm

We greens have to stop suggesting that a successful future can be one where everyone lives the way WE desire to live. That is motivated reasoning.

The crowning achievement of the human species is the city — a triumph of community action and efficiency. The city is the only hope for surviving our self-created crisis without mass suffering of a scale never seen. Alas, we must contract the human footprint, including energy and food calorie production, into hyper dense areas. The oceans have to be radically unchained, as does more of the surface. The damage is done. We will probably have to give up getting most of our calories from “real” food, which is an awful blow.

And yes, absolutely decarbonize, but lets not pretend that could be sufficient. Ecologically, we are early in an event on par with the asteroid that ended the dinosaurs. It is slower-motion than humans are good at observing. No doubt anyone reading this is doubting it. Nevertheless, we are now experiencing the first ripples of an impact that has already happened.

So now, we are talking about avoiding the brutal deaths of billions of human beings as the convulsions of the natural world break the essential services that we depend on. For a little while right now, you can go and live a simple life closer to nature, but 10 billion people can’t.


Birdie 01.16.19 at 5:02 pm

 It goes along with research findings suggesting that experiences, rather than material goods, are a better source of lasting happiness.

Yes; also we could change what kinds of material goods are interesting/valuable, towards bespoke, artisanal, provenanced, regional/local, or otherwise unique. In general requiring major input from direct human involvement rather than energy-intensive mass-production/distribution for consumer goods. “An extinction-level event for industrial civilization” means that we will have to develop (or luck into) a non-industrial … form of societal organization.

Long-term process, obvs. There be time.


John Quiggin 01.16.19 at 9:09 pm

“That’s a little bit more extreme than decommissioning power plants over 30 years of age!”

The plan you describe involves replacing plants at the end of their commercial life. The example I suggested involves shutting them down before that.


Heliopause 01.16.19 at 10:56 pm

I hate to be a downer, honestly I do, but you all realize that this GND isn’t actually going to happen, right? And even if it does it will be woefully inadequate and far too late? That when the technocratic centrist who was the template for the climate fight took his first, tiny, halting steps toward implementation he nearly precipitated a full-blown revolution? You all noticed that I assume?

Are there lots of historical examples of societies, especially large ones, that willingly made massive, society-wide alterations in lifestyle in a period of a few years because of an abstract, non-military threat? Of people willingly giving up 3/4 of the stuff they like to consume because of some lines plotted on x & y axes? And then replicating this process in every society on the planet in a just a few years? I admit I’m not the most imaginative person on earth but I’m having trouble thinking of examples.

There is no reason not to at least attempt a GND coupled with an end to remorseless growth-capitalism, but let’s be realistic and start thinking more about solving the inevitable problems going forward, e.g. should we build a 30 foot sea wall around Miami or move all the residents out.


Faustusnotes 01.17.19 at 12:09 am

No John, the plan calls for replacing all power plants, planes and cars at the end of their useful life now and forever and radically reducing beef and dairy consumption. That means abolishing immediately all power plants older than 40 years, and abolishing all power plants older than 30 years in 10 years time, along with abolishing most of the worlds cows and a lot of its cars. Also every fishing boat. Consider the sea shepherd fleet (you can find their details online so I cite them as an example): 90% of it has to be replaced with electric or hydrogen ships immediately or be scrapped. That means every non-emergency icebreaker, a large portion of the worlds container ships, and a bunch of planes too. And if we do al that we have a 66% chance of meeting the target.

You need to start taking seriously how big this task is.

McManus, if you want antibiotics you need chemical factories, which need steel, which needs coming coal. There is no alternative to coking coal for making steel.

You also need to carefully investigate your low impact lifestyle ideas to see if they really are as good as you think. A cloth eco-bag for example uses 1700 times as much resources as a one use plastic bag. That means if I get a single use bag every day for five years I have used as much resources as one reusable bag. If I go shopping twice a week and use two single use bags each time then you’re looking at needing to single mindedly use a single eco bag for 7 years before it starts to save resources. Lose or break that bag and buy another one and you’re up to 14 years. The things you think are good for preventing global warming aren’t always good. That’s not to say eco bags aren’t a good idea for other reasons (plastic waste is a global problem) but right now we have one and only one civilization threatening crisis and we need to think about that first. Even your small town wood house scenario isn’t what you think – you haven’t even given us a comparison of carbon emissions for wooden vs concrete houses, just presented the figures for the latter and asserted your point. You haven’t considered the density of housing, the extra transport costs, inefficiency in peripheral services, changes in land use … it’s not that simple.

We can’t use this crisis as leverage to force a particular ideology. We need to deal with this crisis first and foremost. That means no more second rate tax proposals, no weak carbon prices, no fantasies of mid western kibbutzes. It’s all hands on deck to stop the end of industrial civilization.

Also stop talking about other people being privileged. You are in the privileged class. Suck it up and take responsibility.


steven t johnson 01.17.19 at 1:19 am

Global climate change is indeed inescapable. It is not clear to me that a runaway greenhouse effect turning the earth into another Venus is at hand. Indeed, it is not clear to me how much of the catastrophe is the flooding of prime real estate in coastal cities, or a general decrease in the profit rate, or the prospect of a squeeze on the so-called middle classes. .

In other words, if sea levels rise, move inland. If the tropics get to be uninhabitable move to higher latitudes. If farms are less productive, move people out of Bob McManus’ suburban sprawl. People already limit population growth, limit it more. Plant new forests and water them by hand if you have to.

The difficulty of course is that the status quo won’t do such things because it can’t. It works for profit. That is the only measure of human wants, and the environment—human life itself—is not an opportunity cost because neither are profit foregone. (True, regardless of John Quiggin’s new book, which forgets the market defines full employment because full employment is the maximum as measured by profits as resources are distributed according to the dictates of the sovereign consumer’s pocketbook.)

Further, the modern state system which arose to defend national markets and national currency and the national labor system in its peculiarities can’t do such a thing. There will be no concerted action on a massive scale by modern states because there will be no concert of vested interests. Worse, as change destabilizes the weaker states, the more powerful states will attack in the attempt to preserve their interests. And they will succeed, temporarily, perhaps even expanding their power and wealth. In the end, though, the massive depopulation desired now for hoi polloi will strike all. It is unlikely that advanced civilization will magically arise from the ashes.

There is one thing that is clear, that the consensus of the serious thinkers is that revolutionary change is both impossible and undesirable, if there is a distinction.


John Quiggin 01.17.19 at 10:24 am

Faustusnotes, one last try, and I’m done. You say

“That means abolishing immediately all power plants older than 40 years, and abolishing all power plants older than 30 years in 10 years time”

In what possible universe is that more radical than abolishing all plants older than 30 years, starting now?

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