I was a private contractor living in a slum of Kuwait City through the summers of 2014 and 2015 when two things happened that started turning me green.
I was frequently humbled living in the small, oil-rich kingdom. Humbled by the clash between two of nature’s most inhospitable terrains: a great sandy desert meeting a great salty ocean. At the boundary where these two titans collide sits a different kind of marvel: a Starbucks. I would frequent the café, and sitting near me one evening was a small gang of loud school boys in their perfectly pressed dishdasha. I kept my distance. (Those kids could get away with murder, especially if one of them were even remotely connected with the royal family.) When they left, each kid unceremoniously tossed his half-full Frappuccino off the balcony into the ocean below. The water there was already so littered with waste that they didn’t even make a splash. I was indignant. “This water is a world heritage,” I thought, “it belongs to me as much as to anyone else.”
My second, and more permanent, realization took place later that year. Another former Marine and I decided to relive the old days by doing a run-swim-run (which is exactly what it sounds like). We left our apartment complex and ran down the broken, dusty streets to the ocean. The beach itself seemed well-manicured, but we still had to be careful where we stepped: hypodermic needles were often buried under the sand. After running the length of the beach, we jumped into the Gulf. But we could not have swum more than one hundred meters before we were forced out, hacking and dry-heaving; sick to our stomachs. Our skin burned all over. This water wasn’t polluted – it was poisoned. I remember my hands and feet trembling uncontrollably for ten minutes after we’d pulled ourselves from the water. We caught our breath, feeling the chemicals crust on our skin in the summer sun, until a child began circling us yelling “Kafir! Kafir!” ( Infidel! Infidel!). Time to leave.
As both the Kuwait Times and personal experience have shown, the (now-closed) Shuaiba Refinery was obviously dumping their waste in the water. However, it is not just the Persian Gulf that is contaminated; this kind of pollution is transboundary. In the way that an ant colony can be thought of as a single organism, so is the Earth itself alive. Pollution in one pocket leaks across borders to infect others.
Today I am all for saving the rain forests and sustainable lumber harvesting, conservation of endangered animals and wildlife sanctuaries; Teslas and solar power. I even support local recycling efforts. Years after my swim in Gulf I have become the kind of person who actually dives into the dumpster to save a glass bottle. Sure, this particular glass bottle is not going to detox the Gulf. But it isn’t about the bottle. It’s about my personal commitment to our ecosystem. I deeply believe that we can all pitch in to reduce the impact that we have on nature.
However, I have stayed mostly on the sidelines of the Global Warming debate, if you can call this public goat rodeo a debate. I must admit that I can get turned off by the beehive of statistics and counter-statistics collected by partisans on both sides – some of whom are happy just to muddy the waters.
It is evident that the earth has shown warmer temperatures in the past two decades, and the preponderance of evidence shows that it is a human artifact. And yet I still have questions that I’m hesitant to answer in our public mudslinging contest – because the answers have secondary baggage associated with them. Here’s the rub: the champion of nature is personal responsibility, not “massive government intervention.” In fact, governmental overhaul is where I get off the train. And if you believe in climate change, then I think you should consider doing the same. So, after years of mostly silent observation on the issue, I have come to two conclusions:
1) You need not be a Lefty or a climate change apostle to care deeply about the environment.
2) Even if we human beings are the cause of climate change, the answer is not socialism.
Regardless of whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, let us continue on the assumption that our climate is being altered by mankind’s irresponsibility. I pump the breaks when the touted solution to our continued environmental woes is more government. If the government can’t seem to oversee the Veterans Administration, get my taxes right, maintain a successful public education program, keep its nuclear arsenal up to date, run a simple healthcare insurance program, handle the DMV, fix crumbling infrastructure, maintain a social safety net, or even balance a budget sheet, why should I expect that more government regulations will positively affect the environment?
Destroying American productivity and individual rights on the altar of *insert agenda here* is the most surefire way to get a national rejection of whatever moral crusade you might have. If that surprises you, then likely Trump’s sweeping 2016 election surprised you too.
While America is making strides to cut back harmful emissions, despite withdrawing from the Paris Accords, other countries are taking advantage of the lull in American’s production ability and they don’t care whom or what they exploit. China, a signatory of the Paris Accords, has not stopped billowing soot into the atmosphere. And China is being eclipsed by India in both population and carbon emission. Many third world countries have no qualms about devastating the environment to gain a leg up against their regional peers.
America is the leader of the free world because of its strength and economy; any moral influence that the United States has comes as the fruit thereof. America’s attempts to influence the world in support of environmentalism, peace, safety, or stability is rooted in our economy and military. Strangling American production through crippling government intervention is how you lose the long fight.
Which means that, if you really believe in environmentalism, you must change the culture, not the government. I lived in Los Angeles for years and, despite their quirks, the locals knew how to influence business with their dollars. If a business wasn’t green in some way, it likely wasn’t making a good profit. Certainly, it is true that government and culture are interdependent and symbiotic. Legislation follows culture and then, cyclically, that legislation influences culture.
Looking at the recently proposed Green New Deal (GND), Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s solution to climate change, it becomes painfully obvious that the end state is not environmental protection; its socialism. The acquisition of the means of production by the people – via the government – has been tried on every continent to consistent failure. In fact, Representative Ocasio-Cortez awkwardly admitted the fact that the GND would “require massive government intervention” to implement, citing the free market’s inability to make immediate progress.
Socialism’s definition and boundaries can be rather chimerical. Often, proponents of socialism use the term loosely and point to the Nordic countries as personifications of their ideals. In 2015 Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders made waves by arguing, in a debate with Hillary Clinton, that the United States “should look to countries like Denmark, and Sweden and Norway, and learn what they have accomplished for their working people.” While the Danish were flattered by such attention, in a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen was quick to clarify that “Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.” Similar arguments about the failure of the famous “third way” have been made in the Swedish context as well. Many Nordic countries have realized the struggles that have come from overemphasizing government regulation and are returning to more mainstream economic policy.
Turning to the GND itself, my problems begin at the legislation’s vaguely worded, zero-sum rhetoric; it is evidence of a hard-Left echo chamber. To be clear: it is a veneer for a clearly political end.
This is not hidden from anyone who might critically read the bill’s text. Beyond government mandated retrofitting and interdiction of private property, the GND is designed to “counteract systemic injustices.” This is why, despite the name, the bill devotes a substantial portion of its legislative effort to causes like healthcare, free college, safe housing, and income inequality – issues that have nothing to do with anything green. This attention is, at best, highly ironic given that the legislation is predicated upon worries that we have only twelve years to avert global environmental catastrophe. Why are we bothering with free college if we are facing massive extinction?
Even more, Ocasio-Cortez’s bill states that it will be funded by a combination of taxes and deficit spending, citing America’s experience with FDR’s New Deal in and around World War II as its model. But during that conflict, the average American had to make titanic sacrifices. The government capitalized on existing civilian factories and even nationalized certain private institutions. There was extensive rationing of all goods and services and every adult male was conscripted – taxes skyrocketed.
Proponents of the legislation suggests that the federal government’s mobilization for the war is what “created the greatest middle class that the United States has ever seen,” and that this intervention will be “an investment,” but I disagree. What lifted the post-World War Two American economy was not government intervention but government relaxation and, conveniently, the complete destruction of any foreign competitor’s production capability. As it turns out, owning a global monopoly on production is a great way to build an economy.
Indeed, the taxes after Roosevelt’s New Deal, and even more so in the Second World War, were overwhelmingly shouldered by the lower and middle classes. In 1929 the average American household made about $1,400 per year, well within the lowest tax bracket of 1.5% for incomes between $0 and $4,000. In 1932, anticipation for the New Deal saw the lowest tax bracket nearly triple. The burden for taxes imposed on lower income families continued to spike until the last hike in 1944: 24% for the first $4,000 income earned – a 1500% increase on those who fall in the lowest income tax bracket. Giant government programs cannot be sustained on the backs of the rich, they require the government to tax the poor.
The economics of deficit spending is a notoriously complicated topic. But the kind of massive deficit spending proposed in the GND is unsustainable over the long term – even within an American economy that currently has a low rate of inflation-to-deficit ratio.
The Green New Deal would massively increase the tax burden on the middle and lower classes. It would increase deficit spending and swamp the federal budget, which is already burgeoning with non-discretionary allocations, with long term obligations.
In other words, there is evidence that the GND is using climate change as a front to accomplish another agenda. Environmental alarmism, whether in poor or good faith, is being used as a Trojan horse. Statements in the text of the bill itself – “wars fought over access to food, water and land will become commonplace,” for example – breed fear, hatred, urgency, tribalism; they speak to the herd instinct of man. And just like the buffalo in the plains, man can be tricked into running himself off a cliff.
What’s the bottom line? The fundamental problem with the GND is that it eliminates any reason that might otherwise tempt half of the American population to move toward an environmentally sustainable future. Because it excludes green conservatives like myself. If environmentalism is continually used as a shell for government regulations then the Right, which favors small government and individual liberties, will never accept it.
I hear the frustration in the Left’s rhetoric, that they are tired of fighting the conservatives to get any meaningful laws past. But, as a conservative myself, I can say: we don’t want laws or regulations. We want reasons to do it ourselves. And whenever these reasons appear to be camouflage for government intervention or collectivism, it further entrenches anyone who identifies with the American spirit of individual liberty. Propaganda is easier than persuasion and government intervention might feel more expedient than a drawn-out public dialogue. Yet using the free market to dictate the direction of environmental policies is the best way to ensure that the air and water stays clean in the long haul.
Jake Davis is a father, husband, brother, and a Christian. He has been deployed worldwide as a United States Marine and then continued his service as a Private Military Contractor.
21 thoughts on “Why I Want Nothing to do with the Green New Deal ”
Using the neoliberal mantra of government can’t do anything right is disingenous, it’s a con of the highest degree. Defund then point to its ineffectiveness, turn over the reigns to the private market under the guise of government and when it fails point to government ineffectiveness (college loans, ACA, military contracts with private sector…), push a mandate that makes the Postal service fund pensions decades in advance of even having the employed…. the neoliberal frame is destriyed when shown the antecedent.
Funny how Eisenhower and FDR aren’t mentioned, you know, the time when Friedman, Hayek and Buchanan hadn’t implemented their ideology?
Ahhh yes, the “free markets”, you mean the plutocrats who have monopolized our governance, resources and public money, well wild man, that is what high federal taxes on too much wealth stops… which brings is to taxes post Bretton Woods, seems the plutocracy knows all too well what MMT can do for them, start with public purpose talk and boom, out comes you with the plutocrats talking points.
Yep, congressional spending is fine and dandy when it feeds you, not so fine when it threatens the pkutocracy.
We’re dine with this bullshit, history isn’t in your sidr here.
Well, this is certainly a new rhetorical gambit when it comes to conservative talking points. Go live somewhere else if you don’t want government. If you actually looked at the evidence, you would know, like the rest of us, that even if we wanted to “take care of it ourselves” that was never an option, and is by now a widely recognized fallacy. Also, if you want to argue against socialism or big government then do that, but don’t just assert it. Overall, very weak piece.
So u r proving that underfunded govt programs dont work? But well funded programs like defense can kill a gnat from 25 miles away? Nice work..
For capitalist ideologues, the military is the one big-government programme they support wholeheartedly. Seeing the disastrous effects of the corrupt, bloated US military and its gigantic cost merely puts a bow on the arguments for socialism and peace-making.
“Socialism’s definition and boundaries can be rather chimerical.” Nah. State ownership and heavy progressive taxation FTW.
How many more reasons do you need than the ones *you* gave yourself? But, as your use of “socialism” as a boogie-man scare word shows, conservatives will never admit there’s a problem that we all have to solve; not when their profits are at stake
The reality is that I am the only person who can give me a reason for believing anything, and there certainly are uninformed reasons that I gave myself growing up. The first part of this piece is about my experience overcoming many of them, the latter is my investigation into the matter and adopting new understandings. Maybe I will pen a piece in the future that explains why so many of us on the right are skeptical of climate change predictions, although the constant call for big government as a panacea is my number one.
Socialism is a boogie-man to the Right. It is undeniable that Socialism (the goal of which “is communism” as Lenin once remarked) has, among many other things, produced untold suffering in its attempts to negotiate the role between citizen and state, and citizen and fellow citizen. What I have learned in regards to America is that there is a necessary function within the government to care for the dispossessed. The Left is as necessary to the existence of the state as the Right and how that plays out is under constant discussion, as it should be. My hope with penning this here, instead of some conservative site is to foster a discussion.
The “problem that we all have to solve” is one that we cannot solve without blending the lines between Right and Left. I am trying as best I can to posit why the right is appalled by the GND with the hopes that it can create an understanding discussion.
Also, I want to bridge a gap with the Left by saying that there are many of us on the Right that care about the environment and would like to see the issue cross the political divisions. In fact, everyone that I talk to feels frustrated, because they don’t know how to express their concerns without being dogpiled or co-opted. In fact, that was the hardest hurdle to overcome before I decided to write this piece.
And this is posted on Public Seminar because …? “Using the free market to dictate the direction of environmental policies …” sure has worked out swell so far. What drivel.
Welcome from the editor, left wing trolls! Yes, this is a conservative author! Your filter bubble has exploded! To answer your questions in order:
1) This is on Public Seminar because we don’t have and ideological litmus test, and we welcome hot takes that provoke debate.
2) The Green New Deal does aspire to a socialist program of comprehensive government action: own it. That would be why it is popular on the left, and why it is enthusiastically embraced by a generation of people for whom socialism is profoundly meaningful. Our author engages from a conservative POV — try engaging him.
3) Socialism does not, in fact, arrive in a day. That is a historical fact. Personally, I would welcome it, but actually, it requires cooperation from citizens. One way to get there would be to persuade skeptics rather than insult them.
4) Lots of government programs in the United States do not work because of incompetence, corruption, and insane bureaucracy. That’s a fact. Look at NYC public housing. Yes, it’s underfunded, but it also functions at a third-grade level, and always has, even when it was better funded.
5) Just because the man doesn’t agree with you, doesn’t mean it’s a weak piece “Go live somewhere else if you don’t want government.” really? That’s a version of “get a haircut, hippie” or “US — love it or ,eave it,” common right wing talking points from the 1960s. Surely you can do better than that.
6) This is not an essay about neoliberalism — if you are going to use the word, learn what it means.
To emphasize: Public Seminar is chock full of people on the left, including yours truly, the executive editor. But our goal is to engage and make people think, and that means not publishing pieces that always approach a problem from one direction.
Thanks for your time, and for your support.
There’s nothing like a good dose of whataboutism to win an argument. Congratulations!
As soon as I read
the author lost me. There is no scientific debate about the existence and extent of AGW. People like him try to pretend there are two sides, but there aren’t. There is reality, as delineated by the 2018 IPCC report and elsewhere, and there is self-centred, capitalist delusion that cares only for how much money can be made before it all goes to pot. The Green New Deal’s faults are all on the side of its relative weakness. It needs to be prepared to destroy capitalism.
Of course there is a debate! How to accomplish an end to global warming, and to reverse its effects, is a huge scientific debate, and this author has clearly come down on the side of having been converted to a belief in global warming, and wanting to do something about it as a conservative. But there is a debate: for example, as it turns out (surprise! we can’t just throw money at it!) buying carbon offset credits, which people have been doing for years, probably has no effect on reducing carbon emissions.
That’s just one example. But of course there’s a debate — and there is a vigorous debate within the Democratic party that is not premised on denialism, but on what can by done and why it matters.
Well, Jake Davis implies clearly that the debate he’s referring to is the attempt by denialists to pretend that they have a scientific case against either the reality of warming or of humans’ role. He’s not someone I’d want as an ally.
You mean you would not want someone as an ally who engaged that debate on the right, decided they were wrong and that climate change was an urgent issue, and wanted to find a solution in keeping with conservative principles to inject into the larger debate — because you don’t engage with conservatives. OK, fine, but then own it.
Anyone who does not believe that legislation on climate change is ineffective and that change must begin with individual responsibility needs to read Amitav Ghosh’s book on climate change for a quick refresher on reality: https://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/G/bo22265507.html
For those who cannot understand why this essay is in Public Seminar, I am disappointed by the arrogance and intolerance of those I seek to call my fellow progressives. How you expect to have solidarity with others while completely dismissing them?
For me, Jake’s argument is passionate and well-written but flawed in several respects. I will take on his statement that “The Green New Deal would massively increase the tax burden on the middle and lower classes”, which misses the crucial point that the middle and lower classes are already the big losers of global warming when increasingly frequent climate disasters destroys their homes and livelihood.
Our experience here in NC, where volunteers (not government), are still donating our time and money to provide basic necessities to our fellow Carolinians devastated by the last hurricane, proves that victims of climate change and those empathetic enough to care about them are the ones hardest hit. Small producers are also hard hit by climate change. Carolina farmers lost 3.4 million chickens and 5,500 hogs in Hurricane Florence, while the communities near hog farms were swamped with toxic manure from nearby overflowing hog waste pits. All of these people were poor and middle class.
I don’t think that the author has an adequately nuanced view either of how global warming is currently destroying the lives of ordinary Americans nor of the strategy being proposed to make our economy carbon neutral. The Washington Post offers a great rundown on the Green New Deal proposal, the primary component of which is not taxing the middle class, but rather setting benchmarks for industry and education of the American people to produce greater innovation and awareness.
I agree with the author that there is a fundamental human arrogance that needs to be addressed and that no regulation will help. In my town, when I celebrated on Facebook our local food co-op’s decision to ban one-use shopping bags, I was trolled by neighbors online whose arguments basically came down to their own unwillingness to change, their laziness and their refusal to pay one red cent extra for responsibly sourced food. Volunteers (not government) pulled 900 pounds of plastic out of our tiny stretch of the Eno River this month; we all know that if the government of NC banned one-use plastic bags, my life and that of my neighbors who do this work for free would be better, not to mention the environment. Why should we have to be alone in fighting this rising tide? Why can’t we get our government to help us?
I am not convinced by the author’s argument that the Green New Deal is just any-old government program nor that government programs have to be dysfunctional. It is neighbors joining with neighbors in collaboration with a federal government that values sustainability over corporate profits that will defeat the corporate agenda that’s killing our planet.
Thank you for your service and for your concern for the environment.
What the Right and Left have in common is the universality of human nature. How we differ is in our approaches to regulating human nature. The basic laws we mutually agree upon and follow in our daily lives as citizens is a “social” construct that acknowledges that humankind cannot be relied upon to “do the right thing.” Regulating production that pollutes as well as the behavior of individual citizens toward the environment falls into this same category.
Your example of using Bernie’s comments on what countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have done for working people and Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen clarification that Denmark is a market economy are not mutually exclusive statements. I would add Switzerland to that group, where I lived for four years. These democratic countries represent all of their citizens — not just the rich. They are highly taxed and regulated, and they are market economies. I personally know why they are consistently ranked, year after year, as the countries with the highest quality of living with some of the longest life spans on the planet.
I like your analogy of the environment as being a single organism — that pollution is transboundary. This is the imagery we need to combat the false idea that somehow we can always safely contain it. I would like to know what you think about the transboundary concept as it relates to the individual freedoms and productivity you feel are threatened by regulation. Can we not also consider the behavior of individuals, industry, and the collective as a single organism? Can you find any demarcations among them?
I wrote a long reply, hit send, and my computer crashed. I hope that I can replicate that again!
I agree that in our discussions between policy, rights, and responsibility the focus is always on the optimization of mankind for mankind’s sake. I truly think that the Right and the Left both want to avoid totalitarianism. It is unfortunate that the calmer heads often don’t have the loudspeakers.
I think that if we were to model off of a European country, the Swiss would be a good bet. I simply do not think that their style of government-to-citizen relationship is what is best for America. However, like we just agreed, you and I are both in conversation about what is best for America and not trying to alter the foundations thereof. A conversation that I do not see happening by AOC’s GND.
Your last paragraph posits some great questions. I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t have all the answers. Yet, what I suggest in the article is that our culture self-corrects, not the government.
What I did not write about in the article was the absolutely paralyzing environmental regulations that are endemic in LA. With those regulations comes the inefficient and indifferent bureaucracies that administer the once-bright ideas. As a short anecdote, a close friend of mine is an architect and real-estate developer. He was barred from developing his property over a single tree and had to pay the government thousands of dollars to identify and catalogue it. Ultimately, his hundreds of thousands of dollars (made up of his life savings) went to a different state without the nonsensical regulations.
My aim is to circumvent the demarcation argument entirely. If we can all agree not to trash our environment, to move to sustainable power, and to reduce emissions then it will be much more powerful than if the government mandated a recalcitrant population to abide by inherently inefficient laws that the public neither understands nor cares for.
Thank you for reading and critically engaging! I hope to hear more from you.
You began your post with the declaration that water is a “world heritage,” and that “it belongs to [you] as much as anyone else.” I am curious to know are there other resources you would include in the category of collective ownership?
I do not understand what you mean by “Legislation follows culture and then, cyclically, that legislation influences culture.” This appears to be central to your argument since you reiterate this point in your reply – “culture self-corrects, not the government.” It is a sincere question and an important one for understanding your perspective. Please explain this for me in greater detail.
Your story reveals that your environmental awakening came to you as a result of your personal experience with pollution. Anything that leads to a greater awareness of the challenges we face is a good thing, but it also highlights the potential reason why you have been unable to connect the issues of injustice to “anything green.” It was only after pollution affected you personally (chemically burned in the Gulf) that it appeared on your radar. Until pollution progresses and transgresses the immediate boundaries of the factory/plant, it is for many people, other than those who are forced to live within the immediate perimeter of the offending plant, out of sight out of mind. It is the poor, the people who work at these places, who bear the brunt of daily exposure to pollution with sub-par wages, inadequate housing, and little to no healthcare. Most people would call these things injustices. If owners and shareholders were required to live in the communities where their companies operate, I believe the Green New Deal would already be the law of the land. As long as owners and shareholders have clean, bucolic places to which they can retreat, it’s easy for them to stay on the sidelines and do nothing. They don’t have any incentive or reason to change other than caring for people other than themselves – and we can see how well that is working. This is that human nature issue I brought up and why we need laws and regulations since human nature is not only a force for good. The fact that human nature is not only a force for good is also acknowledged by the major religious traditions, and these traditions deal with human nature with the imposition of many theological laws and regulations on their congregants’ lives.
While I sympathize with your friend who encountered what sounds like an unreasonable restriction in the name of conservation, an example of a recent Republican free-market solution was to switch a poor city’s water supply from a clean source to a polluted source which caused serious damage to the health of its citizens. Lead is an irreversible neurotoxin and the city is Flint, Michigan. I challenge you to find a comparable act on the part of Democrats.
So that we can better follow each other’s arguments, would you provide the sources for your statistics and claims regarding FDR’s New Deal? Also, what are your sources for your claim that calls for urgent climate action is a Trojan Horse?
I sincerely believe that we can find some common ground on which to build a bridge between the Right and the Left. I believe the challenge ahead can be met by a combination of private and public measures.
This is posted on Public Seminar, because the writers and editors have shown a clear bias towards neo-liberal and neo-conversative ideology. A quick search of the site will find plenty of examples defending these ideas. Perhaps they were, at some point, what’s considered progressive. It’s a laughable assertion to make today.
We are witnessing major political realignments, with populist sentiment spreading across the globe. Doing what was once considered impossible, like universal social programs and raising taxes on top earners, is not just very possible now – there is clear demand for it. The “neo-” ideas of compromise and corporate friendly laws are no longer palatable to the public.
The problem: our intellectual class (see: PS writers and editors) have been conditioned to write off any form of populism as dangerous. Why? Whether they realize it or not, they are part of the American echo chamber of smart people that keeps the status quo train going. They try to turn everything into left-right issues, which are mostly moot. In reality, we have to address the rich-poor and black/brown-white issues.