Co-founder, Labour for a Green New Deal
This article was originally published at the Huffington Post
Like Ocasio-Cortez' vision across the pond, a Green New Deal can do so much more than tackle the climate crisis. It provides a template for building a world of collective emancipation.
Tory leadership bloodbaths and torturous Brexit twists may continue to dominate the news agenda, but out on the streets people have other ideas for our political priorities.
Climate breakdown is continuing apace and, with it, popular resistance. After Extinction Rebellion electrified the climate movement in April, the Youth Strikers took to the streets last week in unprecedented numbers, marching in over 120 UK towns and cities for a Green New Deal. The next day, Momentum activists protested at 50 Barclays branches across the country, demanding it stop funding fossil fuel projects.
We are beginning to understand that climate change is a class issue. The economic system which has condemned 14million people to poverty, with food-bank usage the highest ever, is the same economic system which has left us on the brink of planetary collapse.
What’s more, it’s not ordinary people driving to work that’s causing climate breakdown, it’s the 100 companies responsible for 71% of all emissions. Labour gets this. That’s why Jeremy Corbyn has said that “environmental destruction and inequality not only can but must be tackled at the same time”.
Enter the Green New Deal. A radical programme of investment and regulation to decarbonise the economy and make it work for the many, not the few. Labour for a Green New Deal, the campaign group I co-founded two months ago, aims to use the power of the labour movement to design and implement such a programme.
But we’re clear that this conversation can’t be limited to Labour. To transform a country enwrapped in a cynical culture war, we need to inspire people behind a vision of a brighter future of prosperity and abundance. Across the pond, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has helped develop this vision.
We must begin with a plan for total decarbonisation of our economy, to protect our living world and keep global temperature increases below 1.5ºc. As well as banning all new fossil fuel infrastructure, a Green New Deal would involve an unprecedented renewable infrastructure construction programme to move us to zero carbon by 2030.
Labour’s recently-announced plans to fit solar panels to 1.75million social and low-income households envision a future in which no one struggles to heat their own homes, with energy provided as a right.
It would also constitute a first step towards a new mass jobs programme, with people in every part of the country able to choose from millions of good, green, unionised jobs at their local jobcentre. Trade unions would lead a just transition, working with local and national government to provide (re)training and jobs guarantees.
These jobs wouldn’t just be in home insulation or renewable infrastructure; they’d be teachers, nurses, carers, doing low-carbon work of profound value to society. They’d be well-paid jobs, as we revalue what kind of work matters to 21st Century Britain.
But this is about more than jobs. It’s about who society is run by and for. Labour’s plans for a new, nationalised energy system would harness the power of the state to tackle the climate crisis and fuel poverty, while also empowering towns, regions and even individuals to manage their own energy.
We can go further, empowering communities to control utilities and other infrastructure. If we live by it, we should own it. Pioneering Labour councils would implement local Green New Deals from the bottom up, from sustainable housing to local transport plans. A new report from We Own It shows the way to a system of public ownership which is genuinely accountable and democratic.
This brave new world of democratic control won’t limit itself to public services. As Jeremy Corbyn has said, democracy shouldn’t end at the workplace. Empowering trade unions can be a first step to workers controlling all aspects of their lives.
A Green New Deal won’t simply give us ownership over the economy, it’ll create a society we actually enjoy living in. So it will also include a four-day week with no reduction in pay. Such a policy not only harnesses the potential of automation to give us more leisure time, it has the added benefit of tackling the climate crisis.
With this extra free-time we can enjoy more of our country, thanks to a high-quality and cheap public transport system. High-speed trains will be provided across all areas of the UK. By replacing the decrepit infrastructure found in places like the north of England, we will combat the imbalanced economy we face, boosted by new industry and jobs across the country.
New bus and train routes will not only provide alternatives to individual car use, they will offer a genuinely pleasant travelling experience, with free wifi and charging ports. Why languish in cars stuck eternally in traffic jams, spewing out fumes, when we can glide through our cities in air-conditioned buses and trains?
This new society of universal rights and freedoms will be just that – universal. Healthcare, education, housing, transport, none of it will be limited by migration status. Moreover, our new society of solidarity will welcome in hundreds of thousands of refugees, supporting the right to move and the right to stay across the world.
Such solidarity is eminently lacking in our society. Neoliberalism hasn’t just privatised our rail, energy and water, it’s privatised our very selves. We are told that our problems today, from struggling to pay the rent to a lack of job prospects, are a legacy of our own failures: to escape we need only work harder or develop new skills. The truth that the system is rigged against us is obscured.
In our vision there is no lottery of the market in our lives. Everyone should possess the building blocks of life, and the tools to flourish as well.
Instead we will flourish together – the increasing loneliness of our digital world can be combated by a reinsertion of the value of being together. By reversing the privatisation of public space, we can provide spaces to socialise: public parks, leisure centres, galleries, youth centres, community cafés. Such public luxury can overcome the poisoned chalice left to us by Thatcherism’s logic of ‘there is no such thing as society’.
A Green New Deal can do so much more than tackle the climate crisis. It provides a utopian template for building a world of collective emancipation.