Without being pessimistic, 2018 was a very bad year for nature. 2018 saw the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) give us a damning and frankly terrifying ultimatum: keep global warming below 1.5ºC, or in 12 years see the environment reach a breaking point. 2018 was a year without the United States in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Last year oversaw saw the Trump Administration dismiss an exhaustive national climate report that revealed that “Rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on rangelands, and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly disrupt agricultural productivity in the United States.” And, in October, the world saw the election of the Jair Bolsonaro into power in Brazil: a man set on stripping back decades of environmental and indigenous protections in the Amazon, in favour of illegal mining and increased deforestation. On top of this, there were serious concerns over whether Brexit policy could effectively protect the UK environment, with rumours of lobbying over dropping food standards.
2019 is undoubtedly going to be a hard year. With the rise of the far-right, the fight for the environment is going to be more contested than ever. I have some hope, but I am extremely sceptical. Part of the fervour around the election of the Democrats to the Congress, and taking control of the House again in November, was that bold climate change ideas were being championed. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez championed a “Green New Deal” — a bold committee that would not just explore the relationship between the climate change and economic growth, but would a draft bill that would commit to a complete decarbonisation of the US economy within 10 years of being passed. This is the type of exciting and progressive policy we need to see championed; exciting policies being brought forward by young, dynamic politicians and activists driven by a strong moral compass.
And yet, when the House Democrats revealed their Committee Structures on Wednesday, was there any sign of this Green New Deal? No, none at all. Instead, House Democrats created a “Select Committee On The Climate Crisis”; a committee that has no legislative authority and ability to subpoena people to court; a committee made up of both Democrats and Republicans that can be lobbied by outside interests. “Democrats believe that climate change poses a real and urgent threat to our economy”, but I fail to see how such a watered down committee can ever provide a serious alternative to Trump’s climate denial. So much for tough talk on the climate. The House Democrats’ climate committee frustratingly undermines the ideals of a new, radically progressive America that Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez were mandated and elected into the House on.
This encapsulates the problems that could end up being faced in 2019 around environmental policy; progressive environmental policies becoming lost in progressive parties that are scrambling for long-term power. To some extent, I can understand why this ends up happening. Ousting Trump is being fought more on the grounds of alleged criminal activity, rather than his environmental record. I can see the logic. However, denying Ocasio-Cortez and her allies the “Green New Deal” is a sure-fire way of alienating the dynamism of young voices in Congress. These are voices that become drowned out by the old vanguard establishment types like Frank Pallone, who has been accused of being more “concerned about holding onto his power and title, not about the future of our generation or human civilization”.
A reason to be worried
In a world that has shifted dramatically to the right, through deep mistrust of the traditional authority and establishments, there is a lot to be worried about. Jair Bolsonaro — in a funny way of saying ‘Happy New Year!’ — issued an executive order that has transferred regulations and protections of indigenous reserves over to the agricultural ministry — a ministry lobbied by the special interests of a powerful, corporate agro-elite. Reckless and lacking in compassion, Bolsonaro has, in effect, given exploitative corporate power a blank cheque to do as they please. As native groups and natural, untouched landscapes are inextricably linked, not only will Bolsonaro’s policy lead to the discrimination, displacement, and persecution of native groups, but it will push the Amazonian ecosystem to a breaking point. This is a disaster waiting to happen, nationally and internationally.
Democrats would want to stop him in his tracks if they win the power of the White House in 2020. I don’t doubt the fact that they would want to challenge his impending destruction of native groups and ancient ecosystems. What I do doubt, however, is the ability of Democrats to successfully counter Bolsonaro’s eco-fascism without becoming the shining example of how to do radical environmental and economic policy.
2019 has to be the year that progressive and radical environmental policies are listened to and seriously considered. An aggressive far-right agenda has to be matched by an opposition built on radical policy and compassionate progressives — not some watered down, half-baked, superficial establishment ideals that hold little substance. Without being pessimistic, 2019 has gotten off to a poor start.