Tshiamo Malatji | Amandla 76 | June/July 2021
An environmentalism that relies on an imperialist organisation of the world is not an environmentalism that serves Africa. The Green New Deal (GND), packaged as the most ambitious environmental policy change in the West, falls short.
Green New Deal
The GND is a framework for a varying set of policies to end the use of fossil fuels in the US and transition to renewable energy, creating new climate jobs and halting carbon emissions. It responds to the greenhouse effect of carbon energy which warms our planet and causes climate shocks such as sea-level rise, wildfires, and cyclones. It’s clear that the use of fossil fuels needs to be terminated and the GND is a radical agenda to achieve that.
However, lurking in this policy is an implicit message that the West’s energy use can be maintained by renewable energy and there is no need to change wider energy-use patterns. Mark Jacobson is director of Stanford’s Atmosphere/Energy Program. He states in analysing the GND, “At least 37 papers among 11 independent research groups find that the electric grid can stay stable at low cost with at or near 100 percent wind-water-solar.”
Jacobson is saying the United States can use the same amount of energy in the same ways under the GND. While there is no commitment yet to specific policies, It’s the most widely-known exact plan so far.
But, just like fossil fuels, renewable energy requires expansive raw resource material in order to meet energy demand. This is especially true if the proponents of the GND want to transition quickly while maintaining high energy use. “Vehicles, panels, and turbines require copper, lithium, and cobalt”. The majority of the world’s cobalt, for instance, is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Cobalt mining has been linked to child labour, informal armies, and dispossession or displacement. But related conflict and oppression is true for general resource extraction in Africa.
And these green policies may create an even greater demand for resources. The OECD’s Global Resources Outlook to 2060 estimates that the use of metals will quadruple, from 8 gigatonnes in 2011 to 32 gigatonnes in 2060.
Ultimately, the GND relies on capitalist exploitation to meet its vision. The capitalist doctrine uses its capital and power to seize the productive capacities of others to create goods. A GND that seizes resources from Africa is maintaining capitalist relations. In this context, “Democratic Socialism” is a double misnomer. It is not socialist to exploit Africa’s mineral resources and it is not democratic to collude with war-sponsoring leaders or paramilitaries to achieve this, ignoring the effects of extractivism on the majority of Africans.
Environmentalists in the US should consider ecosocialism – an alternative framework that does not rely on extractivism. If we don’t have the means to create something, we must find another way. If there aren’t enough resources to build a lot of cars, we must invest in community transport initiatives, such as buses and trains. If there aren’t enough resources to build turbines, we must simply use less energy or find ways to collaborate on energy use. A good model is South Africa’s Climate Justice Charter, which offers ecosocialist alternatives for energy, transport, housing and various ways of life.
There is also an inconvenient truth here. Some models of living are unsustainable and cannot be maintained under ecosocialism. Luxury goods and services are only made possible through exploitation. Ecosocialism means changing the way we live. It’s possible that many people living in the West, even environmentalists, don’t want to change their lives of convenience. But it is unjust and unsustainable to meet one’s desires at the expense of oppressed people – and especially by oppressing them.
In any case, it is only a privileged minority that benefits from the West’s riches. So, environmentalists in the West should be anticapitalist and rally people against these wealthy people and corporations.
We can also find optimism in ecosocialist living. This way of life brings communities together and fosters cooperation.
Ultimately, the GND might stop one of the world’s greatest polluters, the US, and help prevent the end of the world as we know it. But it will also maintain the current world as we know it — a world that oppresses Africa. The GND saves the world, but it does not change it.
Tshiamo Malatji is an organiser in Bloemfontein, South Africa, focusing on climate change, food sovereignty and post-natural building as modes of responding to ecological crises.