This article is part of The Nation’s 150th Anniversary Special Issue. Download a free PDF of the issue, with articles by James Baldwin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Toni Morrison, Howard Zinn and many more, here.
Excerpted from the February 1, 1999 Issue
Environmentalism has been one of the ascendant social forces of the twentieth century, but it will not succeed in the twenty-first century if it does not deliver economic well-being as well as ecosystem salvation. To many, this seems an impossible task. But repairing our ravaged environment could become one of the biggest economic enterprises of the coming century, a huge source of jobs, profits and general economic well-being.
One model is the New Deal that President Franklin Roosevelt launched in the thirties to propel the US economy out of depression. After all, today’s economic problems are strikingly similar to those of the thirties: instability, inequality, overcapacity—too much money at the top and too little at the bottom to generate enough demand to keep the system churning forward. The basic function of the New Deal was to restore demand to the economy by, among other measures, guaranteeing workers a minimum wage and putting the unemployed to work in government-funded public works projects.
Why not revive those New Deal policies but apply them in a green and global fashion? The program could be called the Global Green Deal. Will this cost money? Without question. But there is lots of money available; we’re just spending it foolishly now. In the United States military spending remains at bloated, cold war levels nearly ten years after the Berlin wall fell. Amid such excess, even a minor redeployment of resources can yield large gains.
A Global Green Deal that put people to work restoring our ravaged environment would yield enormous economic and social benefits to the vast majority of the earth’s inhabitants, to say nothing of their descendants. Such a fundamental shift in direction will not happen by itself, however. FDR pushed the New Deal because millions of unemployed people were in the streets, just as Richard Nixon got out of Vietnam because Americans of all stripes were opposing the war. It’s time to confront our next President with similar pressure on behalf of a Global Green Deal.
Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation’s environment correspondent, has been contributing since 1984. He is the author of HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth (2011).