Beyond the Green New Deal
Is it weird that it would be the pen of a plant breeder who specializes in perennial sorghum, Stan Cox of The Land Institute, that would give us the most concise, careful, and politically serious action program for responding to the climate crisis so far published? For those who know Cox’s previous work, on air conditioning, rationing, and unnatural disasters, it is not very weird at all. His deft pen seldom fails to sketch out problems and solutions for human societies with economy and grace. His latest, The Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can (San Francisco: City Lights, 2020) will surely add to that reputation.
The last year has seen a bumper crop of literature on Green New Deals (GNDs), ranging from the conversational and superficial to more serious engagements with macro-economics and investment strategy. Cox’s book shows with disarming simplicity a critical missing element in much of this literature. What, after all, are we talking about when we talk about climate change? In technical terms, the incineration of tremendous quantities of hydrocarbons and adding gigatons of methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide to the atmosphere. In layman’s terms, burning up coal and oil and natural gas, deforesting, and in so doing, causing the greenhouse effect. How to stop doing it? One must, minimally, stop burning those three substances. One can have or not have the political will, and one can have or not have the needed alternative technologies to replace the carbon-powered-and-forged technostructure. But one thing is for sure: without a carefully planned program to actually eliminate the consumption of fossil fuels, we are going nowhere fast, and we without the means to hole up in Antarctica and space stations are going to purgatory fast. The book’s iron core is precisely a how-to guide for how to ensure those blocks and liquids stay where they are instead of becoming CO2 and threatening to disrupt the lives of billions, and to do so in a way which makes the lives of the planet’s poor better, not worse.