Global Green Deal

By Hertsgaard, Mark | Earth Island Journal, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Global Green Deal


Hertsgaard, Mark, Earth Island Journal


A winning strategy: Globalize anti-globalization

Anti-globalization forces scored a major victory at the World Trade Organization talks last December, but what's next? The alliance forged in Seattle between labor, environmental and other activists has the potential to transform American politics by empowering a civil society counterweight to the increasingly corporate-dominated system of the 1990s. But to achieve this, the alliance must enunciate a clear, compelling vision of a better society and how to get there.

One idea of great promise is the Global Green Deal, a practical yet transformative program to environmentally retrofit human civilization from top to bottom. Led by governments - but making full use of market mechanisms - the Global Green Deal would put people and corporations to work at tasks essential to our future: leaving fossil fuels behind in favor of energy efficiency and renewables; averting the looming global water crisis by installing drip-irrigation systems; halting the catastrophic epidemic of species extinctions (and the forest destruction that drives them) by reducing our demand for wood; and so on.

The idea is to renovate civilization from top to bottom in environmentally sustainable ways -- retrofitting everything from our farms to our factories, our garages to out garbage dumps, our schools, shops, houses, and offices -- and to do so both in the wealthy Northern Hemisphere and the impoverished South. Such a program would not only generate a great amount of economic activity, it would be environmentally restorative activity -- the only kind the Earth can afford anymore.

Moreover, this activity would be labor-intensive, and thus create the millions of jobs needed to maintain living standards in the North while also tackling poverty in the South. And make no mistake: poverty is central to our environmental predicament. Most people around the world care about saving the environment, but for the poor in particular, putting bread on the table comes first. In a world where at least one billion people lack gainful employment, an environmental restoration plan that does not create jobs has no chance of success.

The perilous state of earth's ecosystems leaves humans little alternative but to pursue this kind of environmental transition. The good news, though, is that, if we're smart about it, we can actually make money in the process. Such establishment voices as AT&T and Japan's Planning Ministry have predicted that a global environmental retrofit would be the biggest economic enterprise of the 21st century: A huge source of jobs, profits, and poverty alleviation.

A "Global Green Deal" is also a winning strategy for domestic American politics. The anti-globalization movement's success in Seattle was based largely on what it was against -- a global trading system that elevates corporate freedom and profitability above human rights, decent working conditions and a healthy environment. But to maintain its momentum, the movement must now make dear what it is for -- a healthy environment and a prosperous economy This is a crucial strategic point. Even the strongest defense can never yield more than a draw. If our side wants to start winning for a change, we need to take the initiative and think big.

The Greening of Washington

The Global Green Deal starts from a fact well-known to Earth island Journal readers but much less appreciated by opinion leaders and the general public: we have in hand most of the technologies needed to chart a new course. In particular, we know how to use oil, wood, water and other resources much more efficiently than we do now. Increased efficiency -- doing more with less -- will enable us to use less resources and produce less pollution per capita, buying us the time to bring solar power, hydrogen fuel cells, drip irrigation, and other futuristic technologies on line.

Increasing efficiency also produces far more jobs than anti-environmental behavior does. …

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