What the Green New Dealer Wants in Terms of Justice

Sunrise Climate Stories, poster signed by Gulf South Marchers, photo by Rachel Warriner
Speech delivered by Marco Garcia for Sunrise Climate Stories event.
David Hume, the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, once pointed out that, in a world of abundance and balance, the “virtue of justice would never once have been dreamed of.” With complete economic security and a fair and habitable climate, the need to give each their due would seem unnecessary. Our lives would be preoccupied with higher pleasures. “Music, poetry, and contemplation” would be our business. “Conversation, mirth, and friendship” would be our amusement.

The world of abundance and balance sketched by Hume is not unlike the one imagined by supporters of the Green New Deal. In their book, A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal, a group of writers envision what a radical Green New Deal would mean: "plentiful access to the basics, like food, drink, shelter, health care, dental, education, music, art, and green spaces." The Green New Deal resolution says as much. It calls for all people of the United States for generations to come to have clean air and water; climate and community resilience; healthy food; access to nature; a sustainable environment; and justice.

That is what the Green New Dealer wants in terms of justice: for everyone to get their due.

Hume also imagined that, in a world of scarcity and imbalance, the “strict laws of justice” would be suspended and replaced by the “stronger motives of necessity and self-preservation.” Confronted with an uninhabitable world, wherein “the utmost frugality and industry cannot preserve the greater number from perishing, and the whole from extreme misery,” justice would give way to division and hostility.

The world of scarcity depicted by Hume is the one supporters of the Green New Deal seek to avoid. The latest version of the Green New Deal aims to keep the world from warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, which experts say is necessary to prevent the worst effects of climate change – for example, permanent drought in Southern Europe, formidable hurricanes in the Gulf South, and unchecked dengue fever across Latin America.

That is what the anti-Green New Dealer wants: for justice to give way to selfishness.

In truth, a habitable and flourishing world is also the most just. And we should only expect a “war of all against all,” to quote the British thinker Thomas Hobbes, under a climate-changed world.
Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland, Géographie des plantes Équinoxiales: Tableau physique des Andes et Pays voisins, from Essai sur la géographie des plantes, 1805, hand-colored print, 24 x 36 in., Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, © Copyright The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Arpillera made by women from the town Melipilla. Women make wool and cook in the foreground, 1995. From Art Against Dictatorship: Making and Exporting Arpilleras Under Pinochet by Jacquiline Adams