Monday, July 21, 2008

The "New Green Deal"

‘The West should have a war on global warming rather than a war on terror."
-- Stephen Hawking, ITV News, Jan. 17, 2007
(quoted in "New Green Deal" at p. 16)
The New Economics Foundation, a self-proclaimed "think-and-do tank" in Great Britain, has just issued its first major report: "New Green Deal" [pdf warning]. It's a 48-page call to action and recommendations for creating in Great Britain an "economy for the 21st Century" to meet the triple threats of (1) climate change with consequent food shortages, (2) peak oil with consequent inflation, and (3) economic slowdown with the consequent credit crunch and failing financial institutions.

(If the link, above, doesn't work for you, register for free at the New Economics Foundation and you can quickly download the report.)

A year in the making, "New Green Deal" is a good read: informative, tightly reasoned, well documented, and thought-provoking. It easily could be a model for America as well as the British isles.

The report contains one alarming forecast:
new analysis suggests that from the end of July 2008 there is only 100 months, or less, to stabilise concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere before we hit a potential point of no return.
That's the bad news. The good news is that the bulk of the report, drawing among other examples on the past successes of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and, somewhat surprisingly, Cuba's successful response to its food, fuel, and credit shortage following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the continuing U.S. embargo against that isolated island nation, maps out a comprehensive and eminently achievable program for meeting the climate change challenge before it's too late.

Brief news accounts by European sources can't do the report full justice, but they are accurate as far as they go:
Key points in the report are that every home must generate its own power, an oil legacy fund must be set up using windfall taxes on oil and gas firms to help pay for green transformation, and carbon should be priced according to its climate impact.
* * *
Interest rates should be cut to help investment in green energy and transport infrastructure, and monolithic financial institutions should be broken up so the failure of one would not destabilize the economy, said the NEF, an independent group.
"We need a modern Green New Deal that has the scale, boldness and vision previously only seen, for example, in Roosevelt's response to the Great Depression" [NEF director Andrew Simms] added.
The report reminds us of just some of the impressive accomplishments of the New Deal from 1933 to 1941:
Roosevelt’s was a huge infrastructure programme aimed at employing four million workers. It paid for over 600,000 miles of roads, over 120,000 bridges, nearly 40,000 schools, 8,000 [public] swimming pools and over two million public toilets.

It also had a ‘green’ aspect. The Great Depression coincided with a wave of natural disasters, including the Dust Bowl and devastating floods. Roosevelt’s New Deal included the Civilian Conservation Corps, which involved millions of Americans in wilderness preservation, promotion of health through outdoor recreation and a balanced ecology.
The New Green Deal at p. 36

As for Cuba, the NEF report points to lessons drawn from the accidental, "unintended" consequences of isolating that nation to the point where it was forced to become almost entirely self-sufficient -- "the closest thing we have to a laboratory example of adaptation to peak oil" -- just as many nations will have to become self-sufficient as the world's climate changes:
Cuba’s eventual transition to a more self-sufficient food system was far from smooth. But it demonstrated that it is possible to feed a population under extreme economic stress with very little or even no fossil-fuel inputs. And, as with war time Britain, there were unexpectedly positive outcomes.

Dramatic reductions in consumption, coupled with other dietary and lifestyle changes (people walked more) altered the health of the nation. As calorie intake fell by more than one-third, the proportion of physically active adults more than doubled and obesity halved. Between 1997 and 2002, deaths attributed to diabetes fell by half, coronary heart disease by 35 per cent, strokes by 20 per cent, and all causes of death by just under one-fifth. These findings were published in 2007 in the American Journal of Epidemiology and carry a profound message about the potential benefits of reduced consumption.

The New Green Deal at p. 31
The report adds:
[I]n spite of its successes (and partly unintentional positive consequences) the Cuban approach thoroughly contradicts the model of development normally sponsored by the international financial institutions. It is highly managed, focused on meeting domestic needs rather than export-oriented, largely organic and built on the success of small farms. It is so different that it has been called the ‘anti-model’ by the World Bank, but with some startled respect. At least one analyst suggests that the Cuban experiment ‘may hold many of the keys to the future survival of civilisation’.

Even allowing for radical differences in history and geography, any politician peering into the future of energy shock, climate change, and rocky economic prospects would be a fool not to learn from how Cuba got it right.

Reading all of this, we were reminded of Barbara Tuchman's remark in her introduction to A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. In an era of "collapsing assumptions," she writes, "it is reassuring to know that the human species has lived through worse before."

If "history repeats" (or at least "rhymes") so, too, may past solutions to mankind's problems provide useful blueprints for its future salvation. The "New Green Deal" report is an encouraging start on that search for our own past successes.

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