By Jedediah Britton-Purdy
Mr. Britton-Purdy is the author, most recently, of “After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene.”
Feb. 14, 2019
Supporters of a Green New Deal gathered late last year in Washington.CreditCreditJim Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency, via Shutterstock
“Everyone is lining up to endorse the Green New Deal — or to mock it. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand have all endorsed the resolution sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts.
Conservative critics predictably call it “a shocking document” and “a call for enviro-socialism in America,” but liberal condescension has cut deeper. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, essentially dismissed it as branding, saying, “The green dream, or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?” Others have criticized it for leaving out any mention of a carbon tax, a cornerstone of mainstream climate-policy proposals, while embracing a left-populist agenda that includes universal health care, stronger labor rights and a jobs guarantee.
What do these goals have to do with stabilizing atmospheric carbon levels before climate change makes large parts of the world uninhabitable? What has taken liberal critics aback is that the Green New Deal strays so far from the traditional environmental emphasis on controlling pollution, which the carbon tax aims to do, and tries to solve the problems of economic inequality, poverty and even corporate concentration (there’s an antimonopoly clause).
But this everything-and-the-carbon-sink strategy is actually a feature of the approach, not a bug, and not only for reasons of ideological branding. In the 21st century, environmental policy is economic policy. Keeping the two separate isn’t a feat of intellectual discipline. It’s an anachronism.
Our carbon emissions are not mainly about the price of gasoline or electricity. They’re about infrastructure. For every human being, there are over 1,000 tons of built environment: roads, office buildings, power plants, cars and trains and long-haul trucks. It is a technological exoskeleton for the species. Everything most of us do, we do through it: calling our parents, getting to work, moving for a job, taking the family on vacation, finding food for the evening or staying warm in a polar vortex. Just being human in this artificial world implies a definite carbon footprint — and for that matter, a trail of footprints in water use, soil compaction, habitat degradation and pesticide use. You cannot change the climate impact of Americans without changing the built American landscape.”