We face two global crises, climate change and economic collapse. The answer to both is climate jobs, or what some have been calling a “green new deal”.
If we try to make the needed emissions cuts and maintain the same organisation of production, it would mean a catastrophic fall in living standards. But if we change the source of our energy from coal, gas and oil to 100 per cent renewables, and if we change transport, particularly how we transport goods and journeys to and from work, to public transport powered by renewable energy, the change becomes possible. Unlike the bank bailouts, this could be real investment in our future. Parts of Rudd’s package, such as the proposal to insulate every house, gives a hint of what could be done. But it is not nearly enough.
Instead of pushing emissions trading, Rudd could be investing in green jobs. As companies like coal giant Xstrata threaten 5000 jobs, the government could be stepping in to fill the breach through job creation in renewable energy. It was recently leaked to newspapers that the Rudd government is planning to spend $35 billion on new submarines over 15 years. This is the sort of spending governments make when they are serious about acting.
Instead of machines of war, $35 billion could create 700,000 jobs (or almost 50,000 jobs if spread over 15 years) at a yearly salary of $50,000. Another way to look at it is: we could power all of Victoria on renewable energy within five years for $22 billion, according to a detailed plan drawn up by environment group Beyond Zero emissions. Presumably $35 billion could power half of NSW as well.
What precisely is meant by a “green new deal” depends on who is spruiking it. Barack Obama has used the term, but his rhetoric so far is ahead of reality. In Australia The Greens have take up the term. But rather than demanding the government implement serious investment in renewable energy and public transport, and publicly campaign for what is needed, The Greens see their role as negotiating minor amendments.
They did win some improvements to Rudd’s stimulus package, including energy efficiency measures, and a $435 million Local Green Jobs Package which they claim will create 10,000 jobs. This includes one off grants to community organisations to create employment, money for bikepaths and refurbishing heritage buildings. Even Bob Brown admitted that “these amendments are modest in comparison to the whole package”. They also traded their amendments for a reduction in Rudd’s hand out to tax payers from $950 to $900, with Bob Brown saying “We believe a reduction in payouts to fund the amendments is better than incurring further debt”. But if companies can’t or won’t borrow to create jobs, government has to. Neither Rudd’s stimulus nor The Greens’ amendments will stop the rapid increase in unemployment or deal seriously with the climate crisis.
There is a myth that says the Great Depression of the 1930s was cured by Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal. It wasn’t. The Depression went on and on—what ended it was the Second World War. That war created millions of jobs in the US, Britain, Germany and all over the world. Every great power redirected its whole economy to recruit soldiers and make weapons to kill as many people as possible.
We have to do the same—but to save lives, not waste them.When the US joined the Second World War, the government immediately shut down all car production. Within three months those factories were open again, employing more workers, but with planes and weapons rolling out the door.
The same can be done to build new wind turbines, solar power, railways, trains and buses. If the Rudd government did it, it would light a beacon. People all round the world could demand that their governments do the same.
But it won’t be easy to make our politicians take this step. We need a national campaign for a million climate jobs, backed by trade unions, NGOs and political parties. But that needs to be linked to local fights, so that every factory or workplace facing obliteration can occupy and shout out—“give us the jobs that will save the world.”
By Chris Breen

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