Green New Deal is socialism? OK to laugh out loud

February 22, 2019 GMT

In a recent column, I wrote of the dangers in American politics of litmus tests — as in who is a true Latino, American, etc. There is, however, one litmus test that should be applied to every single politician, those running for city councils as much as those running for president.

Let’s call it the climate change litmus test.

Simply, we are now at or too quickly approaching that long-feared tipping point of global calamity — extreme weather conditions that wreak hunger, deprivation, scorching heat and drought, water scarcity, massive wildfires, rising sea levels, flooding and, of course, death. Heck, much of this is already happening.

And we’ve been driven there in what seems zero to 60 in a relative flash — in global-timeline terms, anyway — by the inaction of the fossil fuel industry’s useful, um, tools.

Once upon a time not so long ago, we knew these useful tools by their outright denials. As in, nope, not happening; just look at this snowball, see, no global warming; there have always been valleys and peaks in global warming; the climate has always been changing.


Some of this still goes on, but the denial has evolved, becoming both more sophisticated and even more clearly ideological, as in the ideology of profitable business-as-usual over the environment and survival. What they have in common is they are employed to obstruct action.

The sophistication sounds something like this: Look, I’m no scientist, I don’t know. I’ll leave that to the experts. Or, yes, of course, climate change is real, but I don’t know how much of it is caused by humans. Or, of course climate change is real, but the proposed fixes will derail industries and the economy.

As for the I’m-no-scientist dodge, you may not be a scientist but it doesn’t take much to notice that nearly all those scientists looking at the issue say climate change and the extent to which humans are contributing pose an existential threat. But what all these not-quite-denial denials really amount to is an excuse to do nothing.

And we are way beyond that. These folks are likely worried about the existential threat climate change poses to the fossil fuel industry. But the trend toward cleaner energy — yes, including natural gas — is well underway. And we must weigh the threat to a sector or sectors against the threat to the entire economy, not to mention the ability of our children to avoid a dystopian future.

Then there are the ludicrously ideological reasons to do nothing — the denial in and of itself a litmus test of purity in some quarters. This sounds something like this: The Green New Deal is a socialist plot to deprive you of your freedoms and the American way of life, including your cars, airline trips and, gasp, your cows.


Have you noticed that lately President Donald Trump is labeling everything with Democratic fingerprints on it as either socialist or radical? This is no accident. Trump is the master of stoking every racial, ethnic, gender, tribal division or fear he can find for political gain. The commie-pinko-socialist hysteria is long-standing, often premised on a false understanding of socialism — that Scandinavia’s version is the same as in Stalin’s and Khrushchev’s Soviet Union. These days, labeling the Green New Deal as radical or socialist is meant to evoke a Democratic plot to turn America into Venezuela.

But here’s what the Green New Deal really is: aspirational. It is a nonbinding resolution that calls for carbon-free energy in the U.S. by 2030. Will this happen? Not likely by then, but there are many credible ways to get us there someday soon. And “soon” is the key. The Green New Deal’s appeal is its call for urgency. Yes, there are non-environmental items in there, but again all nonbinding.

You see, the science of climate change is not at all controversial. Emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere cause warming underneath, which causes warmer oceans, which cause extreme weather conditions, including the hottest years we’ve had since we started recording this. And human activity has been releasing more of these emissions into the atmosphere.

So, if we’re going to apply an absolute litmus test on our politicians, it shouldn’t be about Medicare-for-all (also many ways to get to health care for all), guns or even the Green New Deal. Whatever politicians’ feelings about that last item, the test lies in their answer to whether climate change is an existential threat that demands action? As in, now.

And if some politician tells you therein lies the path to Venezuelan socialism, laughing out loud is perfectly permissible — even as you weep because it is uttered by someone who represents you or wants to.