Editor's Note: On February 7, 2019, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced the Green New Deal Resolution. You can read it here. Please ask your members of Congress to support this resolution by clicking here.
In a nutshell . . .
The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and our sister nonprofit, Regeneration International, fully endorse the Green New Deal (GND) as the most promising policy-level vehicle for achieving the large-scale transition to an organic, regenerative food and farming system, while at the same time cleaning up the environment, advancing social justice, restoring urban and rural food and economic security, and restabilizing the climate.
The Green New Deal (GND) sets an ambitious goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2030-2050, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. This is achievable only if the GND includes programs and policies that will rapidly scale up both the transition to renewable energy alternatives (in order to reduce/eliminate future emissions) and the transition to organic regenerative agriculture and land-use and land-restoration practices (in order to draw down and sequester carbon already in the atmosphere).
To achieve these large-scale transitions will require the public support and political will to confront the corporate dominance of our democracy, perpetuated by lawmakers who take campaign donations from the fossil fuel and industrial agribusiness industries.
Absent the necessary political will, we must build a massive, broad-based social movement if we hope to see the promise of the GND fulfilled. This movement must ensure that embedded within the GND’s final plan is a slate of programs and policies that recognize that the solution to global warming must also include programs and policies that will scale up regenerative farming and land use as a means of drawing down and naturally sequestering carbon in healthy soils.
What is the #GreenNewDeal?
The GND, still a work in progress, is a set of ambitious goals aimed at addressing global warming and income inequality, in part by rapidly transitioning to a fossil fuel-free economy while at the same time guaranteeing everyone who wants one a job and a living wage. Its authors refer to it as "a 10-year national mobilization."
The latest version of the GND was launched by the Sunrise Movement. The organization’s co-founder, Varshini Prakash describes it as “an umbrella term for a set of policies and programs that will rapidly decarbonize our economy, get all of us off of fossil fuels and work to stop the climate crisis in the next 10 to 12 years.”
Prakash told Rolling Stone that the initiative has three pillars: 100-percent clean energy by 2050; investment in communities “on the frontlines of poverty & pollution;” and the guarantee of a quality job for “anyone ready to make this happen.”
The Sunrise Movement, with support from newly elected progressive Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), has demanded that the U.S. House of Representatives establish a GND Select Committee, and endow the committee with legislative and subpoena powers.
The committee, as envisioned by GND backers, would spend the next year consulting with experts including scientists, lawmakers, labor unions and business leaders, to map out a “detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan” capable of making the U.S. economy “carbon neutral” while promoting “economic and environmental justice and equality.” Following a year of intensive research, the committee would release its plan, in January 2020, followed two months later by draft legislation.
Unfortunately, on December 20, 2018, House Democratic leaders responded to the backers of a select committee by resurrecting the 10-year-old Select Committee on a Climate Crisis, described as a “recommendatory committee to the Energy and Commerce Committee and the environmental committees.” The Dem leaders rejected the call for legislative and subpoena powers. They also rejected the Sunrise Movement’s call to bar members who have accepted donations from the fossil fuel industry from serving on the committee.
Prakash responded by saying that the movement would need to take the GND “beyond the Beltway, and to the American people,” alluding to previous statements about setting up a citizen-run select committee to carry out the GND mission and exert pressure on federal lawmakers.
In the meantime, about 45 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have so far pledged support for the GND and more than 600 public interest organizations have endorsed the deal, as well as five U.S. Senators and leading Democratic Party candidates for President, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
It’s not just about climate
The Sunrise Movement is a group of young activists fed up with the collective failure of political leaders in both parties to boldly and aggressively address the climate crisis. But in the process of addressing climate change, the GND also aspires to address a broad range of social, environmental and economic justice issues.
It has long been the position of OCA and our sister organization, Regeneration International, that all of these issues, which also include health, forced migration, food security and food sovereignty, are interconnected, and as a result, require holistic solutions.
Ocasio-Cortez, the GND’s leading champion in Congress, described the GND this way: “This is going to be the New Deal, the Great Society, the moon shot, the civil-rights movement of our generation.”
Climate activist Naomi Klein praised the deal as “not a piecemeal approach that trains a water gun on a blazing fire, but a comprehensive and holistic plan to actually put the fire out.”
What can regenerative agriculture do for the GND?
The majority of the GND’s backers, the mass media and to a large extent the alternative and progressive media, consistently portray the GND almost exclusively as a plan to address global warming and jobs creation by rapidly transitioning the U.S. away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy.
But this characterization, which is only partially correct, makes the GND vulnerable to criticism.
The seven goals outlined in the draft legislation to create the GND Select Committee include these two: iv) eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries, including by investing in local-scale agriculture in communities across the country; and vi) funding massive investment in the drawdown of greenhouse gases.
It’s unclear yet if the drafters of this document have connected the dots between reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector, and “funding massive investment in the drawdown of greenhouse gases.” Do the authors yet understand the power of regenerative agriculture and land-use practices to naturally draw down and sequester carbon? Or are they focused on a technological fix to achieve carbon drawdown?
We believe it’s critical that “funding massive drawdown of greenhouse gases” includes funding the large-scale transition to organic regenerative agriculture and land-use which we already know is capable of drawing down excess carbon from the atmosphere.
When GND proponents focus narrowly on emissions reduction as a means of achieving “zero fossil fuel emissions by 2050,” they invite criticism from skeptics who claim this goal, however worthy, isn’t feasible. And in fact it probably isn’t—if the plan to achieve zero emissions is defined exclusively by the transition to renewable energy.
What is feasible? Achieving net zero emissions—through a combination of reducing emissions by transitioning to renewable energy and drawing down CO2 from the atmosphere, using the power of regenerative agriculture and land-use practices, including reforestation, wetlands restoration, and restoring prairies and grasslands.
When discussing the GND’s climate goals, we must differentiate between “zero” emissions and “net zero” emissions. It may well be impossible to achieve “zero” emissions by 2050, no matter how many resources we throw at developing clean energy technologies—if that’s all we do.
We need to do more. For the GND to accomplish its climate goals, it must spur two large-scale transitions: the transition away from fossil fuel use toward renewable energy, and the transition away from industrial agriculture, a huge polluter and greenhouse gas emitter in its own right, toward organic regenerative practices that draw down and sequester carbon. The latter transition would have the added benefit of reducing emissions associated with industrial agriculture, which among other things, include the enormous nitrous oxide and methane emissions from factory farms and synthetic fertilizer production and use.
In the case of both of these proposed transitions, scale is critical. In his recent New York Times column on the GND, Tom Friedman said: “Clean energy is a problem of scale. If you don’t have scale, you have a hobby . . . But you can’t mitigate climate change as a hobby.”
This is equally true when it comes to building an alternative to the industrial food and farming system. As we, and our sister organization, Regeneration International, point out: The potential for regenerative agriculture to reverse global warming is huge—but only if these practices are adopted, rapidly, on a large scale. We can’t address global warming, one small farm or hobby farm at a time.
For more on agriculture's role in the GND, read or download this Fact Sheet.
What could the GND do for farmers and consumers?
OCA has long advocated for better policies, including better Farm Bill policies, that would support and incentivize farmers whose practices both draw down and sequester carbon and produce healthful, pesticide-free, nutrient-dense food.
But given the urgency of the climate crisis, and the influence of industrial agribusiness and fossil fuel industry lobbyists over our political process, this approach—chipping away at Farm Bill policy—provides little hope of achieving transformational, much less rapid change.
Elizabeth Henderson, New York organic farmer and longtime supporter of organic regenerative agriculture, says that the newly passed Farm Bill barely touches the structural and fairness issues that led to our current disaster for family-scale farms and the food security of this country. Henderson recently wrote:
The farm crisis of the 1980s that never really went away has resurfaced with a vengeance. In 2013, aggregate farm earnings were half of what they were in 2012. Farm income has continued to decline ever since . . . Despite the shortage of farm workers, their wages remain below the poverty line. People of color and women are often trapped in the lowest-paying food system jobs and many are forced to survive on SNAP payments. The tariff game of #45 is only making things worse. The farm consolidation that has taken place has grave consequences for the environment and for climate change as well.
Henderson argues that the GND’s job and living wages guarantee must include jobs on farms:
If farms are guaranteed prices that cover their costs of production, farm earnings will be high enough to pay farm workers time-and-a-half for overtime over 40 hours a week, like workers in almost every other sector of the economy.
The GND’s guaranteed jobs and $15 dollar/hour minimum wage proposals would mean more income for farmworkers and more money in consumers’ pockets. Consumers would be able to buy more locally produced, nutrient-dense organic food. This in turn would generate more income for local farmers and food producers, who under current economic conditions increasingly are being forced into bankruptcy, or having to sell out to big corporations with vast financial resources economies-of-scale advantages.
The GND’s call for universal healthcare also means farmers wouldn’t have to take on second jobs in order to provide health benefits for their families. This could help improve productivity and financial independence for small farmers.
Our vision for the GND includes a “New Food Deal” that builds out a new regenerative food economy, putting people to work restoring soil and landscapes, growing food, building food sourcing supply chains, operating local Mom and Pop grocery stores, and setting up early adopters to learn and teach growing, management, nutrition, food prep, recycling and more in regions all over the country.
In addition to benefiting farmers, farm and food workers and consumers, this new regenerative food economy will emit lower emissions than the industrial food system while at the same time building healthy organic soils to provide a natural carbon sink.
But how will we fund it?
How will these large-scale transitions, to renewable energy and regenerative agriculture and land use, be funded? How can we promise, as the GND does, jobs for everyone who wants them? Not to mention free tuition and Medicare for all?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is calling for higher taxes—up to 70 percent for the wealthiest Americans. This plan instantly drew fire from conservatives, who in 2017 voted to lower taxes for corporations and the wealthy.
Yet as economist Paul Krugman pointed out in a recent op-ed in the New York Times, the tax rates proposed by Ocasio-Cortez are hardly radical. In fact, they’re in line with pre-Reagan era tax rates, when the U.S. middle class was still thriving. Krugman cites Peter Diamond, Nobel laureate in economics and “arguably the world’s leading expert on public finance,” who thinks a 70 - 80-percent tax on very high incomes makes sense.
What we see is that America used to have very high tax rates on the rich—higher even than those AOC is proposing—and did just fine. Since then tax rates have come way down, and if anything the economy has done less well.
Higher taxes would provide part, but not all, of the funding needed to implement the GND’s policies and programs. The GND draft resolution should include, like the original New Deal, according to Ellen Brown, chairman of the Public Banking Institute and author of 12 books, “using a combination of the Federal Reserve, a new public bank or system of regional and specialized public banks, public venture funds and such other vehicles or structures that the select committee deems appropriate, in order to ensure that interest and other investment returns generated from public investments made in connection with the Plan will be returned to the treasury, reduce taxpayer burden and allow for more investment.”
For more on federal funding for the GND, read Brown’s article here.
It’s an old concept with a new twist
The Green New Deal (GND) is modeled in part after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, a series of programs, public work projects, financial reforms and regulations enacted by then-President Roosevelt between 1933 and 1941. Roosevelt’s New Deal was credited in part with restoring prosperity in the U.S. following the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The idea of a “Green” New Deal is more recent, but not entirely new. Tom Friedman called for a “Green New Deal” in 2007. He later expanded on the idea in his book, “Hot, Flat and Crowded.” According to Friedman, Barack Obama made a “Green New Deal” part of his 2008 platform, “but the idea just never took off.”
In 2009, the United Nations drafted a report calling for a “Global Green New Deal” to focus government stimulus on renewable energy projects.
The idea that agriculture should play a role in any Green New Deal isn’t new, either. In May 2012, the European Green Party published a policy paper entitled, “The Agricultural Dimension of the Green New Deal: Towards Sustainable Agriculture as the Rule.” Its authors made the case that a “Green New Deal” that included a transition to sustainable agriculture was needed to address the multiple economic, social, environmental and ideological crises facing Europe—including the “deepening of social inequalities, the depletion of natural resources, the ongoing problems with poverty and hunger and more broadly the increasing societal unease with the fast pace of globalisation.”
Today’s Green New Deal, which acknowledges many of the same issues as the European Greens outlined, stems directly from the outrage experienced by young activists who believe we are fast running out of time to address the looming global climate crisis, and that nothing short of a radical, and transformational plan will suffice.
So what should we do, and how should we do it?
Right out of the gate, establishment Democrats signaled a lack of political will to fully embrace and push forward the GND by rejecting the plan’s call for a Select Committee with legislative and subpoena power.
That means we, the people, will have to lead the charge by electing new leaders, and building a powerful social movement.
Eric Holt-Giménez, agroecologist, political economist and editor of Food First, echoes the Sunrise Movement’s position that “to create a policy sea-change, we'll need both strong, broad-based movements and responsive, elected leadership.”
In a recent article, Holt-Giménez wrote:
The Green New Deal will need copious amounts of political will, and there are only two ways to create that: big money or the power of social movements. Compliant politicians and the unbridled accumulation of wealth got us into this mess. It's up to social movements to get us out.
OCA, and our sister organization, Regeneration International, aim to build broad statewide and national support for the GND by helping to organize state coalitions, similar to the one launched in Virginia, to lobby state and federal lawmakers.
These coalitions will be tasked with making sure that the final version of the GND includes policies and programs to expand carbon-sequestering organic and regenerative food and farming, rebuild rural and urban infrastructure, and guarantee a $15/hour minimum wage, Medicare for all and job training for all food chain workers, including farmworkers, restaurant workers and retail workers.
Some of the programs and policies we will lobby for are:
1. Subsidies, tax incentives, minimum crop price guarantees (parity pricing), supply management (keeping supplies balanced with need so that prices are stable), anti-trust enforcement, and marketing incentives for farmers, ranchers, and other land managers to improve soil health, increase soil carbon, adopt agroecological and regenerative practices (no till, crop rotation, cover crops, planned rotational grazing, agroforestry, silvopasture) and other forms of ecosystem and watershed restoration, as well as to ensure the survival of family-scale farms and ranches.
2. Support for farmers to make the often difficult, multi-year transition to certified organic, holistic livestock management, and regenerative practices.
3. Changes in regulations making it easier for regenerative and transition to regenerative farmers (especially small producers) to process and sell their products, for example meat and dairy products, not only locally (direct to consumer, retail, wholesale, institutional) but across state lines, regionally and nationally as well.
4. Public investment (and incentives for private investment) in regenerative food and farming infrastructure such as farmer’s markets, food hubs, processing facilities, storage facilities, marketing coops, and farmer training centers.
5. Loan programs and loan guarantees for land acquisition or leasing and infrastructure improvement for individual farms, ranches, and urban agriculture projects.
6. Support for public procurement by government agencies and public institutions for organic and regenerative food and other products. Governments around the world spend trillions of dollars a year on public procurement, a significant percentage of which are food, fiber, and other agricultural products.
7. Support for school and campus organic gardens, local farm-to-table cafeteria food policies, and development of school and university curriculum to stimulate student awareness and provide hands-on experience in regenerative food, farming, and land restoration practices, as well as food preparation, cooking, and nutrition education.
8. Subsidies for programs to provide jobs and job training in regenerative food and farming projects for youth and disadvantaged groups such as unemployed workers, women, and immigrants.
9. Taxes on carbon-emitters and agro-chemical companies to subsidize regenerative practices and projects.
10. Elimination of subsidies for degenerative energy, food, farming, and land use practices.
11. Lobbying cities, states, regions, and nations to sign on and begin to implement the global “Four for 1000: Soils for Food Security and Climate” Initiative to sequester excess atmospheric carbon and reverse global warming. Over three dozen nations, California, and a growing number of municipalities have already signed on to the 4/1000 Initiative.
In addition to organizing the food and farming movement to push for the GND, we will work with climate, environmental, social and economic justice organizations to build broad support, beyond the food and farming movement—a strategy we have long advocated for.
Quoting Holt-Giménez again:
Many food activists seem to operate under the assumption that we can somehow change the food system in isolation from the larger political-economic system in which it is embedded. Changing everything in order to change our food system seems like an impossibly big task. But the food system can also be a lever for whole systems change. The Green New Deal just might be the fulcrum upon which the farm, food and climate movements can pivot our society towards the just transition we all urgently need and desire.
Our GND consciousness-raising campaign will require us to approach and build alliances with a multitude of civil society and political organizations who have their own pre-existing issues and agendas, and may not yet fully understand the regeneration paradigm shift.
This is why the combined, holistic economic-climate perspective of the GND is so important. We will have to carefully craft the content and style of our messages and educational materials, and carefully select our public messengers, including influential grasstops.
It also means broadening and amplifying our message (and our power) by uniting radical, liberal and even conservative voices wherever possible, in rural and urban areas, without sacrificing our basic principles and goals. Once we build new alliances with broader segments of the body politic, we can then more effectively lobby and influence politicians and generate public policy change.
Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit grassroots consumer advocacy organization. Ronnie Cummins is OCA’s international director. To keep up with OCA’s news and alerts, sign up here.