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How a Green New Deal could transform our lives

How do we move from moments to movements? In the midst of an environmental emergency, the co-founders of Green New Deal UK tell Dazed

Hannah Martin and Fatima Ibrahim are co-founders of Green New Deal UK and the authors of a recent report by Common Wealth, “Green New Deal Politics: From Grassroots to Mainstream

As an environmental movement, we can agree there is much to worry about. In the ten years since the original Green New Deal was proposed, there has been no real progress on tackling climate change. In 2019, we are facing a period of huge uncertainty; on the horizon could be a no-deal Brexit, a financial crash or yet another General Election. Yet this is also a period of our history where the opportunities for seismic shifts in public opinion are multiplying and the government are feeling the heat. We’ve seen youth strikes take place almost every month since February and many every week across the UK and organising the largest ever UK climate justice protest in September calling for a Green New Deal as the key solution to this emergency.  

October 2019 has seen another explosion of direct action for the climate. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets, some of them defying prohibitively punitive legal sections as part of Extinction Rebellion’s ‘October Rebellion’. They have slept in the road, marched on the financial sector and created spaces for conversation and debate by occupying key sites across our capital city.

None of this would have happened without the huge organising effort from people across the country over the past 12 months. And while many of these mobilisations have been inspiring, it’s impossible to ignore that some of this activity has been alienating. People who were trying to get to work at 7am on Thursday morning were blocked from getting public transport – a few of whom resorted to completely indefensible violence as a result. This action (though opposed by over 70 per cent of Extinction Rebellion supporters and carried out by one of the many decentralised groups) could be an indicator of why it is so important to ground campaign actions and moments in a wider strategy which involves organising at the local level. Would this action have been received more positively if its members had been grounded in the locations they chose to take action? If they had spoken to people to understand what their concerns might be with being delayed in their commute? Might this have made them rethink the action and its strategy? Maybe.

“While many of these mobilisations have been inspiring, it’s impossible to ignore that some of this activity has been alienating”

Given the shifting context and political moment we are in, we believe the time has come for the climate movement both to offer up real, tangible solutions to an economy that has both abused people and planet. And while doing so organise effectively with all communities, especially those hit hardest by climate crisis, until we win them. The alarm has been raised and now we need to bring this country together, unified around a common vision of what a low-carbon future could look like. 

While it’s sometimes difficult to see as it’s unfolding, we’re in the midst of a wave of radically creative climate activism. People are inspired, angry and focused and that is a good thing. What we also know from looking to history as well as what’s happening right now is that alongside direct action, some of the most successful campaigns also have organising at their core. Today’s climate activism needs to be seen in the context of recent successes by groups like Sisters Uncut, who combined organising with incredibly clear and radical direct action to bring domestic violence service cuts up the political agenda. They worked alongside those who had been impacted by the cuts, prioritising making their meetings and organising spaces inclusive and diverse whilst also create show-stopping actions like turning the fountains in Trafalgar Square red, or occupying a prison and turning it into a domestic violence shelter full of creative and political education. 

Or take the London Renters Union, who are working in communities to bring power back to those impacted by the housing crisis, and away from landlords and estate agents. More than just symbolic actions, their protesting efforts against unfair renting practices helped end Section 21, a crucial piece of legislation that made it easier for landlords to evict tenants. 

The anti-fracking movement has been steadily organising and building local relationships and local wins – often in areas outside of London – for eight years, and this week we saw Cuadrilla rolling away their drilling equipment in Lancashire for hopefully the final time. 

Because it is interested not purely in carbon targets but in the flourishing of whole communities, the radical idea of a Green New Deal for the UK could be a positive and unifying answer to these crises. The idea of a Green New Deal saw an enormous surge in support last year when progressive U.S. representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez unveiled her radical vision for a just transition. But its roots go back deeper. The Green New Deal is a plan first proposed in 2007, as a collective societal mission to transform our economy. It’s an ambitious ten-year national action plan to tackle climate breakdown in a way that improves peoples’ lives and builds a fairer, more democratic society and economy. It would totally decarbonise the economy of the United Kingdom by creating millions of new well-paid, secure, unionised jobs across the country. By overhauling the finance system and surging investment in green industries, it would make sure we provide healthy and fulfilling livelihoods for all workers and communities, including those in high emissions sectors - often those hit hardest by climate crisis.

At the same time a Green New Deal would transform our economy – with greater democratic participation, accountability and common ownership – empowering communities who are currently marginalised. For any climate solution to be truly holistic we must begin to respect natural ecological limits, for example, rewilding and restoring vital habitats and carbon sinks, including forests and wild areas, and ensure the provision of clean water, air and green spaces. 

“A Green New Deal would have global justice at its core, supporting all peoples and countries to decarbonise quickly and fairly”

Finally, a Green New Deal would have global justice at its core, supporting all peoples and countries to decarbonise quickly and fairly, in line with timeframes set out by science. The Green New Deal will ensure the UK does its fair share to tackle climate breakdown – and more – to account for historic emissions and the exploitation of resources and communities, particularly those in the Global South.

This is a visionary plan, and one which matches the severity of the economic and ecological crises we are in. However, the reality is that a Green New Deal only stands a chance if it’s able to galvanise a broad-based movement, not just a campaign, and one that can create the political space for those in power to adopt it.

That’s why it’s time for us all to start organising so we can move from creating moments to movements with depth and breadth. We need to see groups like Extinction Rebellion move towards a model which trains, enables and encourages their decentralised groups to do the hard work of mobilising and organising people from communities whether they be geographical or communities of interest, to build power and win big solutions.