I’ll be the first to admit that, on first read, the Green New Deal — that hefty package of legislations designed to tackle global warming — comes off as utopian. “Our charge is about saving the planet,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reminded us, “[The Green New Deal is] kind of…a broader agenda.”
One part of the deal is by no means controversial, it includes all the obvious hallmarks of an environmental legislation: calling for more energy efficiency, smarter grids, and investing in renewable energy sources. But why, we might wonder, do we include reforms in public ownership, indigenous sovereignty and economic equality too? These are “all good values,” as Pelosi says, but is this the time to insist on solving all the world’s problems in one fell swoop?
Most of us will see Pelosi, and others like her, as the counterpoint to proponents of the Green New Deal, or in other words, as the “realists, pragmatists, or rationalists,” opposite the utopians. In broad strokes, these rationalists acknowledge global warming as the paramount threat of this generation (a good start), but they reason from this fact that we can — and should — put aside our (necessary) differences on other issues to unite against this existential threat common to all. Save the world first, they’ll preach; our society comes later.
What belies this rational front, however, is a pernicious naiveté with respect to how the world actually works.
How do you support divestment without understanding that continued invasion of indigenous land is what enables fossil fuel extraction in the first place? How do you tackle the fossil fuel industry while ignoring the political-economic system that keeps it afloat, a system that will just as easily pivot to an exploitative and damaging lithium industry should the need arise? What does it even mean to make the world liveable and sustainable if liveability and sustainability are defined to the exclusion of certain people, let alone species?
Having revealed my hand, let me now reverse the question often directed at us utopians. Tell me, how do you solve this one problem without tackling all the others? That is like trying to make tea without boiling water.
If utopianism entails an unrealistic belief in a perfect world, then the “rationalists” have us beat. In their fantasies, causes and effects are disentangled, problems are neatly apportioned in disassociated chunks, and all we need to do is work through them one by one like your middle-school math homework. We can save the world without really changing it. How convenient!
So, if we’re all going to be utopians anyways, why settle?