This is a book of two halves. The disappointing half, unfortunately, is the contribution of Noam Chomsky. Ranting, railing and rabble rousing – when he is not just regurgitating the works of eminent climatologists that is – Chomsky’s contribution is more a propaganda for his left leaning thinking than a discourse on saving the Planet by employing rational means. The much acclaimed thinker once again exhibits his laughably inadequate and puerile views on India’s internal affairs concerning Kashmir by equating Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party, the BJP with ‘Hindutva’ extremism.
Whatever Chomsky derails, Robert Pollin redeems. An American economist, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and founding co-director of its Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), Pollin provides an impeccably measured view of what he terms the Global Green New Deal – an ambitious target to mitigate if not downright obliterate the perils of Climate Change.
As Pollin informs his readers, in its Fourth Assessment Report issued in 2007, the IPCC proclaimed that if the global average mean temperature was to be stabilized at 2.0 Degrees Centigrade above the pre-industrial average, annual CO2 emissions needed to fall, roughly speaking, between, 4 and 13 billion metric tons by 2050. But as Pollin proceeds to illustrate the premier organisation for protecting our Planet began oscillating in its assessment when, in its Fifth Assessment Report released in 2014, the IPCC reduced the range of necessary emission reductions at 36 – 76 percent (from an earlier 60 – 88 percent), to achieve the same 2.0 Degree Centigrade stabilization point. If this makes your head reel, then digest this: in 2018, the IPCC shifted goal posts yet again, this time reverting to a more urgent and alarmist position!
To a great extent, the trajectory that climate policies take in the modern world, are driven by the philosophy of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism, in a departure from orthodox Economics, represents the nexus between governments and giant corporations where the former allows the latter to pursue the profit element with gay abandon. In the event, the profits of the corporations are adversely impacted or impaired, the governments step in with generous largesse in the form of bail outs.
Then there is also the scourge of what Pollin terms, ‘Industrial Agriculture.’ The use of Industrial Agriculture, according to the International Labour Organisation, contributes to, “soil degradation (the loss of organic matter as a result of over exploitation and mismanagement), Desertification and freshwater scarcity (through inadequate crop and land management), biodiversity loss, pest resistance and water pollution (resulting from change in land use eutrophication [i.e. over enrichment of water with minerals and nutrients, which induces excessive growth of algae], run-off and improper nutrient management.”
As Pollin highlights, Industrial Agriculture also results in four major inter-related channels:
- The use of land for cattle farming, consuming far more of the available earth’s surface than any other purpose, including growing crops for food;
- Heavy reliance on natural gas based nitrogen fertilizers along with synthetic pesticides and herbicides to increase land productivity; and
- The huge amounts of food that is grown but wasted
So is there any way to break this inextricable linkage between Capitalism and Corporation that would ensure preservation of the environment? Pollin proposes a New Green Deal that would ensure a zero carbon emission by 2050. In 2019, Credit Suisse had estimated that the total value of global financial assets was $317 trillion. Investments into clean energy to attain a zero carbon emission scenario by 2050 would involve a sum of $2.4 trillion dollars to be invested over a period of time beginning 2021. This represents 0.7% of the total value of the global financial wealth.
At the heart of Pollin’s Green New Deal lies four large scale funding sources to encourage and support public investments in clean energy. The four sources are:
- A Carbon Tax, wherein 75% of the revenues derived from its levy are rebated back to the public. The remaining 25% would be channeled into clean energy investment projects;
- A transfer of funds earmarked for the military/defense budgets across the world in general, but the United States, in particular;
- A Green Bond lending programme under the aegis of both the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank; and
- The elimination of all existing fossil fuel subsidies and the channeling of 25% of those funds into clean energy investments
Although bold in their sweep and innovative in their wake, it is easy to see objections being raised for these plans. Proposal number two above, involving the diversion of budgets earmarked for defense, to clean energy investments, would more than just stir a hornet’s nest. With China ultra-aggressively challenging America’s economic and military hegemony, and actively pursuing a modernization plan of its maritime arsenal especially in the South China Sea, it is predictable as to what the Trump administration’s reaction would be to such a proposal. More so, considering the fact that this is a Government that has almost succeeded in expunging the world ‘climate change’ from all its official correspondence, cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and dragged USA out of the Paris Climate Change Conference.
“Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet” is at once a highly absorbing as well as an informative work. Robert Pollin brings to bear his enviable experience and conflates the principles of economics with that of the environment. This concoction, is, putting it mildly, delectable. The calm, rational and logical postulations of Pollin serves as a perfect antidote to an unending torrent of diatribe that is ‘Chomsky Speak.’
Overall this is one book that makes the reader not just think about the future that the coming generation will inherit but also about the inevitable role which each one of us has an opportunity to exercise in influencing the direction that such a future would assume.
(Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet – Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin with Chronis Polychroniou a Verso Books endeavour in the USA will be published on 22nd September, 2020)