By Federico Jensen
Throughout October and November of last year, the main climate debate in the news in Denmark was centered around the party ‘Alternativet’ and the many international flights their leaders have taken, despite claiming themselves to be a green party and encouraging Danes to fly less(1).
One of the main arguments the leaders of ‘Alternativet’ have used to defend their many flights has been that they ‘offset’ the Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of their travels through investing its “cost” in different types of green ventures , like windmills or carbon sequestration in the global south.
However, this strategy would not work for the whole world, it is clearly impossible to maintain the current consumption patterns alongside the temperature of the globe under the 2 degrees Celsius which scientists agree is the extreme threshold to irreversible climate change. Offsetting your consumption through investment, as the only strategy, is just not realistic. You cannot offset your CO2, once you spilled it, it has been spilled, that is it.
It is like that for every one of us, both, for people who believe in climate change and those who don’t. You can only spill CO2 you cannot offset it. However, you do have a choice. You have a choice of spilling the least possible amount within the capacity you have, for sure. At the same time, this individual choice is still not enough to create the type of structural change that is ALSO needed. Decreasing consumption, increasing green investment and structural transformation need to go hand in hand for humanity to reach the climate goals we have set to ourselves under the Paris agreement.
I believe that the amount of critique the ‘Alternativet’ is receiving for their flights is unfounded. It’s just journalists biting at the easy prey of the ‘moralists’ who still fail, while the people criticizing them offer no solution to the problem themselves. Albeit the criticism to ‘Alternativet’ is fair, to the extent that they only offer as a solution offsetting, the method of critique used by the media was just ugly. We all contaminate, that is the first principle of climate politics society needs to understand. From there, we need to create real solutions. At the very least ‘Alternativet’ is trying to think of a greener world, which is more than what can be said for most of the other politicians around the world and in Denmark.
The example of Denmark offers us a window of discussion on to how it is necessary for all individuals in society to think about the consumption patterns we participate in, while also accepting structural constraints that need to be dealt with outside the framework of the individual. One interesting case of structural change that showcases the difficulty of creating a fair system of climate politics is the ongoing demonstrations of the ‘yellow vests’ in France against the increased taxation of fossil fuels which have now evolved into a full-fledged social justice movement(2).
Regarding the increase in the taxation of fuels, anyone in favor of supporting the transition towards other sources of energy would support the policy. However, the question of who pays becomes crucial as seen by the extent of the protests. Therefore, another principle of climate politics must be the acknowledgement of social justice as an aspect of a green transition. Increasing prices and taxation in products that are unsustainable need to accommodate to the realities of everyday life of the population. If not, it will risk the creation of climate inequality, where people of more wealth get to pollute while people with less wealth must pay higher prices without getting anything in return, something which already somewhat occurs at a global scale between industrialized and non-industrialized nations.
Changing consumption patterns is not enough, and changing policy within the established frameworks for climate politics is not enough either. So what else needs to be done? I argue that the past offers us some routes for the construction of climate politics that are interesting, both for local and global systems. In the US, progressive movements are starting to call for the ‘Green new deal’(3) reminiscing about Roosevelt’s ‘new deal’ and the massive explosion of investment from the state to revitalize the economy through Keynesian economic policy to create jobs that could feed into the private economy(4). This, for example would also work to stop dumping the price of pollution on the least favored citizens and avoid the confrontations we have seen in France.
However, on the global arena, a ‘Green new deal’ will not solve the global inequality that is already present and climate change has been proven to mostly affect those in the global south(5). Therefore, A ‘Green new deal’ is not enough at a global level, rather, a ‘Green Marshall plan’ needs to also be established, where industrialized countries pay the price of climate transitions in non-industrialized countries in a form that is based in long-term cooperation and understanding, and not in predatory development loans as it occurs currently. The Marshall plan worked to bring Europe out of devastation after WWII because the US did not see Western-European States solely as competitors in an anarchical global system, but rather because the US understood the importance of their recovery, both as a way to contain the spread of new authoritarian forms of government and to not repeat the mistakes of the past that led to the rise of fascism in the first place(6). Right now, we found ourselves at a similar crossroads globally, the industrialization and green transition of all countries in the world is the most important goal of our era, and competition for power among powers seems to be standing in the way.
The main question to be answered in climate politics is still who pays for the transition and the costs of change, and yes, it has to be everyone. But an everyone that accepts the real inequalities of both local and global systems of wealth and production. Thus we need to rethink and re-draw everything, and reconstruct frameworks of cooperation and action at all levels. I have argued that the notion of a ‘Green new deal’ and a ‘Green Marshall plan’ can help us in relating historical notions and methods of cooperation to the urgency of the problem. Of course, both the new deal and the Marshall Plan have many critiques and failures attached to their history, but at least both policies looked beyond the established policy tool-kit of their time to achieve massive goals in times of crisis. And let’s not forget, climate change is the biggest crisis humanity will have to confront.
Photo credit: from PxHere, under Creative Commons
About the Author
Federico Jensen is a master degree student of Global Studies at Roskilde University. Apart from his studies he works with tropical forest conservation at a Danish NGO and is the Vice-Chairman of the study board for international studies at Roskilde University. His main interests are the political economy of sustainable development and learning as a path to innovation and development.