The Green Growth and Innovation Paradigm – John Bloomfield | So Good News
Confronting climate change requires social democracy to invent a new social paradigm.
Europe is at a turning point. After forty years, neoliberalism has run out of steam. The center of gravity in the economic debate is shifting to the left. Increasing recognition of climate emergency has accelerated the forecast shift. The International Monetary Fund, together with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, renewed the “Washington Consensus” and gave the seal of approval to public investment strategies.
The pandemic has reinforced this trend and highlighted the important role of government and public institutions in protecting citizens. In the summer of 2020, the European Union announced a green-recovery plan of 750 billion euros, which includes the creation of a pan-European debt for the first time.
Keynesian and activist government is back. This will allow the weakened social democracy to re-apply its basic principles and build new alliances. To take advantage of this favorable terrain, however, it must offer a challenging growth and innovation paradigm. Five basic steps are required.
Harmony with nature
First, it must recognize that the old model of high-carbon, fossil-fuel-intensive economies has run its course. The main task is not “man’s victory over nature”, but humanity’s work in harmony with it. Social democracy can no longer be the party of traditional industrialization and producer interests. To preserve our common future, a new, low-carbon model of sustainable development must become the “common sense” of the times. This is what the policy architects of the European Green Deal formulated.
This is a major challenge for the mainstream left. British Labour, like many of its European counterparts, underestimates the scale of transformation needed to shift the world’s economies to a net-zero trajectory. It still carries the baggage of the industrial age, relying on long-known but economically unproven technologies such as carbon capture and storage, or expensive and risky technologies such as nuclear power.
Second, it requires a change of language and mindset. The “green industrial revolution” should no longer be the metaphor of choice or the favorite term for “shovel-ready” public investment. It speaks of the industrial age. Instead, social democrats need to adopt the modern language of the 21st century. The potential of a mix of social innovation and the digital revolution to transform “soft” infrastructure should underpin environmental policy and practice. At the moment, they play a “hard” second fiddle to infrastructure investment.
New technology opens up new perspectives in this regard. Cities from Manchester to Milan have responded to the pandemic by reconfiguring their urban systems. Digital platforms and apps offer discounted fares, real-time travel information, integrated transportation options, and bike and car sharing. There are spaces for 21st-century European city mayors to create versions of “platform socialism,” the modern equivalent of Joseph Chamberlain’s 19th-century “municipal socialism” in Birmingham.
A broad alliance of actors
Third, Green Deal policies offer an important role for working people and local communities in the transition to sustainability. This can sometimes be seen as a return to an outdated form of class politics. Choice is neither a simplistic model of business-driven green transformation nor a reassertion of an exceptional labor movement.
A successful sustainability transition relies on a broad coalition of social actors with a common vision. Pluralism must be at the heart of any successful green deal movement. A key challenge is to demonstrate positive opportunities for new broad coalitions that combine environmental and employment benefits, such as the transition to low-energy housing.
We need your support
Social Europe is it independent publisher and we believe in freely available content. We depend on the cooperation of our readers to make this model sustainable. Become a member of Social Europe for less than 5 euros per month and help produce more articles, podcasts and videos. Thank you very much for your support!
Moreover, the scale of the climate emergency and the diversity of progressive forces in Europe mean that social democratic parties need to build broad political coalitions and electoral alliances. This is particularly the case with the ‘first past’ of the parliamentary system in the UK. But, in general, all parts of the left must recognize that the era of mass parties representing the majority of the working class is also a relic of the passing industrial age.
Change your lifestyle
Fourth, the European Green Deal rightly emphasizes the centralization of jobs and material sufficiency for all as necessary co-benefits of environmental measures. However, on the left, this easily shifts to an economic approach that is indirect to social aspirations. The potential widespread appeal of lifestyle changes through a shift to sustainability – for individuals and institutions – is largely overlooked. The fear of being accused of preaching leaves the landscape of unsustainable consumption unchallenged.
The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change includes for the first time a chapter on demand-side measures and behavioral changes, showing that lifestyle changes are an important part of achieving sustainability. In the medium term, a shift to mobility offers convenience, a shift to food offers health and an improved diet, and a shift to buildings offers comfort and reduced fuel consumption. The lack of a positive lifestyle policy is a serious political flaw that a transformative social democracy needs to address.
Fifth, in the interconnected world of the 21st century, there are no nationalistic loopholes. such as parts of the left in Europe La France insoumiseit must be recognized that the economies are still driven by the small and medium-sized nation-states that make it up.
The Green Deal shattered financial orthodoxies that ordoliberals had previously held sacred. The Social Democrats must campaign with others to ensure that this green fiscal capacity of the EU is sustainable. Discussions have already begun on the need for an additional investment fund for NextGenerationEU.
Joachim Lang, head of the Federation of German Industry (BDI), said his organization was open to the idea of EU borrowing to help finance the massive public and private investment needed to meet Germany’s and Europe’s climate goals. “To meet the climate goals, Germany needs an additional investment of 860 billion euros by 2030,” Lang said, adding that the German government should discuss “borrowing and financing at the EU level” to ensure this. Such a move confirms that Europe’s adoption of the Green Deal is not a one-off deal, but a first step towards a green, Euro-Keynesian macroeconomics with the potential to become a world leader on climate change.
A political and cultural challenge
This is a political and cultural challenge that the left must overcome in order to reinvigorate social democracy and fully embrace the climate change agenda. Large-scale alliances are being formed. The Ampelcoalition There was a real breakthrough in Germany. It shows how the climate crisis is bringing the worlds of science, civil society, and business together, reshaping partisan politics and government, building new coalitions in the process.
The historical achievement of socialist movements in the 20th century was not to replace capitalism, but to civilize it. Environmental growth caused by climate change allows us to decarbonize and transform it. A popular climate front is underway. The next few years will test whether the European left can play a decisive role in ensuring the success of this quest for green modernization.
This is from a chapter in a recent book by the European Foundation for Advanced Studies and the Fabian Society. Enduring Values: How Europe’s Progressives Can Win
John Bloomfield is Emeritus Fellow at the University of Birmingham and co-author with Fred Steward of The Politics of the Green New Deal. Political QuarterlySeptember 2020. Together they blog regularly on the green deal.