A foreign policy specialist is arguing that progressive forces can drive down greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs, revive public faith in the possibility of a better world, and halt the rise of the ultra-right, all by zeroing in on self-styled populists’ utter failure to respond credibly to the climate crisis and contrasting that gap with the potential for a global Green New Deal.
There is no denying the ultra-right has considerable momentum, John Feffer writes in a recent op-ed for Newsweek. Over the last 10 years, he notes, right-wing administrations in Brazil, Hungary, India, Poland, and the U.S. have “joined forces with autocrats in Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Thailand” to undermine “the rule of law, democratic governance, and the gains made by social movements that have expanded the rights of women and minorities.”
He traces the global success of the far right to its deft wielding of a politics of fear, particularly alluring “to all those who feel threatened by the more rapid movement of capital and people across borders.” Community voices, meanwhile, have “failed to articulate a clear alternative.”
But all is not yet lost, and the radical right has “an Achilles’ heel,” says Feffer. “It has no credible response to the most urgent threat facing the planet: the current climate crisis.”
This vast policy gap holds the answer for a unified, global front of legislators, activists, civil servants, and the public, all of whom can find that response in some variation on a Green New Deal. What is required, he writes, are policies that address not just the climate crisis, but also the myriad economic and social injustices that both feed it and spawn from it.
Green New Deals currently being proposed across the world do just that, Feffer says. Europe and Canada are pushing plans with similar scope to the version offered by young progressive U.S. Democrats, while New Zealand’s recently released “well-being budget” deliberately “combines a reduction in carbon emissions with improving the livelihoods of those left behind by globalization.”
And the job creation potential of a Green New Deal is not just for wealthy nations. Feffer notes that an infusion of money into the Green Climate Fund—the main UN mechanism to fund climate action by developing countries—“would help the Global South leapfrog over existing dirty technologies” and “reduce the massive displacement of people who would otherwise be forced to migrate to find new opportunities—or more habitable land—abroad.”
Such a world, with more stability and less economic apprehension, could undermine the tried and true radical right strategy of “ramping up fear” to win elections, Feffer states. “It’s time to turn that around and revive a politics of hope.”
Meanwhile, a recent exchange of letters between two veteran activists stands as a compelling reflection of just how hard—and how urgently necessary—it is to assert and nourish such hopeful politics. In the exchange, published by Waging Nonviolence, the two activists, 33-year-old Yotam Marom and 82-year-old George Lakey, offer different perspectives on the concept of hope.
To the younger Marom, hope seems elusive: “It feels like I’m standing with my three-year-old daughter on one of those flat escalators slowly churning toward the edge of a cliff, wondering how much more life she’s going to get to live before we get to the edge.”
The elder activist, meanwhile, sees cause for optimism. “I feel lucky to be alive now because this is the best chance in my lifetime to make really big progressive change,” Lakey writes.
Together, the two letters tell the story of a common condition among those fighting both the climate crisis and the rising tide of the right: an undercurrent of despair that can sap at their determination. “Climate change makes the stakes completely existential, and puts a time limit on what we can do about it,” writes Marom. “I live with a quiet dread, a constant sadness at the loss people around the world are already facing, a nagging fear of what’s to come and a sort of ashamed hopelessness about what we can do to stop it.”
Marom writes that depression is common among his Millennial generation, along with a sense that the current labour and environmental movements are “not prepared for the task ahead.” On good days, he writes, he sees rising social change and can “almost taste a Green New Deal.” On most days, “I think: too little, too late.”
Lakey, too, admits to moments of despondency: “My housemates sometimes see me crying as I read the morning newspaper over breakfast,” he writes. But he also sees powerful signals emerging that were absent from earlier eras in the fight for social and environmental justice: signs that “the system itself is cracking,” and that from it will come far better things. Increasing economic polarization and a “decline in government legitimacy,” while frightening to many, can bring opportunities for “a loosening, a setting in motion.”
And the climate crisis itself is “the game changer,” Lakey writes. “The dynamics unleashed by climate change can promote unity in a larger, broader, and more visionary mass movement powerful enough to take on the 1%.” Citing Bill McKibben’s observation that “even Congress cannot suspend the laws of physics,” he says the “growing failure on the environmental front produces what political scientists consider a recipe for rapid change and even revolution: the demonstrated inability of a government to solve the basic problems faced by society.”
Stressing the importance of non-violence and a refusal to adopt counter-productive “shame-and-blame” tactics, Lakey notes how “training organizations like Momentum, Wildfire, and Training for Change [are growing] rapidly to meet the movements’ need to drop old divisive habits,” while nurturing a shift “from one-off protests to sustained campaigns.” The morale and unity those campaigns produce become “an excellent antidote to despair.”Such a “movement of movements” has the potential to gain more ground than any efforts from the 1960 or ’70s, and may even force “the economic elite to give up its dominance,” says Lakey. He concludes by urging Marom and his generation to stay the course: “For you, me, and everyone who hungers for a fresh start for our country, let’s make this happen.”