Enough is Enough: It’s Time for a Real Green New Deal

With fires raging across the western United States – leaving in their wake human and wildlife death, upended lives, and what looks like apocalyptic Martian wastelands – renewed calls for a Green New Deal (GND) are intensifying. But with these renewed calls comes a renewed responsibility to speak honestly about our climate crisis and what a truly appropriate response might look like. The time is upon us to stop pushing childish fantasies about our energy future and to finally face the difficult realities that stand before us.

Too much information is too readily available for the GND’s naïve, short-sighted narrative to prevail much longer. Michael Moore’s recent Planet of the Humans – now with almost 10 million views – punched a hole straight through the logic of the GND, and the film’s success can be measured by the howls of protest and attempts at censorship by those in its crosshairs. People are waking up to the fact that no so-called renewable energy technology advanced in the GND narrative is possible without fossil fuels at every step of the way. Plenty has already been written about the mountains of waste solar panels and high-tech wind turbines leave behind at the end of their markedly short lives. And if private one-on-one conversations or the accumulation of online articles are any indication, people (including many you wouldn’t suspect) are even waking up to the macro-problem of overpopulation, a topic becoming less and less taboo with each passing day.

The secret is out. The very black cat is out of the bag. We dare hope that there is now enough momentum for a new wave of sober understanding to uproot and replace the withering old perpetual-growth-through-technology paradigm.

It’s time for a real Green New Deal – one that speaks honestly about our predicament and doesn’t sugar-coat what to do about it. We desperately need a mature, adult conversation about humanity’s most pressing problem with a public that’s been patted on the head and treated like children for far too long. People deserve authentic truth-telling and an end to the feel-good distortions and deceit.

Building on the work of many brave souls – researchers and ordinary folks alike – The REAL Green New Project is advancing a realistic alternative to the GND. Its core premises are:

The climate crisis is a just one symptom of our overshoot crisis – too many people consuming and polluting too much on a finite planet. Along with the other equally problematic symptoms of overshoot – biodiversity loss, topsoil erosion and soil infertility, deforestation, desertification, and so much more – the climate crisis cannot be dealt with in isolation. The cancer at the core of all these problems must be cured: there must be a major contraction of the human enterprise if the patient is to survive.

We need to understand which renewable energy sources are viable before embarking on an energy transformation. Plenty of red and yellow flags have been raised about the so-called renewable energy technologies being advanced by the GND. A growing body of literature shows these allegedly “green” alternatives to be technologically challenged, ecologically unsustainable, and socially unjust. It’s unfathomably short-sighted to advocate for a wholesale switch-out of energy regimes for all of civilization without fully understanding whether the new one will even work.

We cannot solve the problems caused by unsustainable techno-industrialism with more unsustainable techno-industrialism. Technology has become a delusional crutch that society leans on in the face of any crisis. It’s a form of denial that helps us avoid the hard work of critical self-analysis.

“Net zero” emissions is a delusional façade. It would have us believe we can continue using fossil fuels (no worries about the ecological destruction from getting it out of the ground and transporting it) and employ – you guessed it! – yet unproven technologies to capture the emissions and pump them into the ground (no worries about the high-pressure injection of Mother Earth, not to mention the possibility of gas leakage, earth tremors, or other unnatural disasters the injections can cause). Bottom line: we need to phase out fossil fuels altogether.

There’s no free energy lunch. All advanced energy technologies require ecologically destructive and often socially unjust mining of increasingly scarce elements; long-distance fossil-powered transportation of minerals and ores; and more fossil fuels in the refining, manufacturing, and installation processes – all of which generate copious, often toxic waste. And those defunct wind-turbines and solar arrays at the end of their short lives? We’ll recycle them!, says the GND. Not so easy when, after decades, there is yet no viable recycling method that works, is scalable, isn’t a net energy sink, and is cost effective. Simply ignoring or wishing these problems away won’t make them disappear, and kicking the can farther down the road in the hopes of a miraculous technological breakthrough is just another delusional crutch we don’t have time for. Today’s so-called green technologies aren’t really renewable and don’t offer long-term solutions.

Societal scale-back and transformation is inescapable. Fossil fuels are a one-time inheritance. The modern age of techno-industrialism that most of us take for granted is but a brief blip on humanity’s timeline. Only ten of 10,000 human generations have been around to enjoy it. Fossil energy powered the Industrial Revolution and grew the human enterprise, but in the process, it created the ultimate predicament: human ecological overshoot. Find an abundant, cheap, and equivalent substitute for fossil fuels – and the predicament advances to global collapse. Pretend we can maintain the status quo by using existing (non)-renewable technologies subsidized by fossil fuels – and the predicament advances to global collapse. The most desirable, and certainly only humane, way down is a managed contraction of the human enterprise facilitated by unprecedented international cooperation and a complete transformation of the energy, material, and spiritual foundations of human well-being.

Beyond re-shaping the narrative, The REAL Green New Deal Project is setting out to understand which renewable energy sources are actually sustainable, what that will mean for the type of world that’s possible, and how these findings can inform a blueprint for action. In the process, it faces other difficult subject matter to which the GND turns a blind eye, such as empire, humane population reduction, the crisis of democracy, and economic de-growth.

To everyone who, with the best of intentions, is calling for a Green New Deal: please, venture outside the mainstream narrative, widen and re-focus your lens, and be one of the first to step forward and lead when it’s not yet popular to do so.

Help us sound the cry for a real Green New Deal.

Megan Seibert is Executive Director of The Real Gree New Deal Project and Dr. William Rees is a bio-ecologist, ecological economist, and former Director and Professor Emeritus of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning.