The future of humanity is threatened by two great— and intertwined—challenges: the climate crisis and the escalating great-power conflict between the United States and China. In order to overcome the climate crisis, we must replace great-power conflict with global cooperation. This will be particularly important when it comes to addressing global climate injustice, a crucial but frequently overlooked part of the struggle to end the climate crisis.
To overcome the climate crisis, we need a radical trans- formation of the global economy. A good model is a Global Green New Deal: the extension of the principles of the Green New Deal across borders. This would include the creation of a global clean energy economy that generates abundant good, green jobs in all countries, led by public investment. Although this would not yet be a post-capitalist global society, it would create better conditions to build more powerful socialist movements worldwide.
A Global Green New Deal is necessary in order to end the current conflict between economic development and climate action in the Global South, where the need for economic development is pressing and strong climate policies can make scarce opportunities for development seem even scarcer. Creating new green jobs in all countries would also eliminate the sense that workers in different countries are trapped in a zero-sum competition for scarce jobs, a mind- set that underlies much of the popular support for dangerous nationalist politics in the United States and around the world.
But a Global Green New Deal cannot take shape with- out global cooperation. It requires transfers of both capital and technology from the countries rich in assets to the countries of the Global South that have been blocked from accessing these resources (or robbed of them) through decades of neoliberalism and generations of colonialism and imperialism. Such transfers are also matters of justice: of reparations owed by higher-income countries to lower-income countries that have contributed the least to cli- mate change but suffer its worst impacts.
The United States and China could accelerate progress toward a Global Green New Deal if they could work together. The two countries have respective strengths when it comes to clean technology: The United States is the world leader in research, while China is the world leader in building the industrial capacity to produce a wide range of important clean energy technologies. The United States is also the center of global finance capital and a powerful network of international alliances, while China is the top financier of infrastructure projects across much of the Global South through the Belt and Road Initiative. There is much to criticize about these aspects of both countries, but realistically, these are necessary building blocks of a Global Green New Deal.
Unfortunately, the escalating U.S.-China conflict leads in the wrong direction. As recently as two years ago, China expressed willingness to engage with the United States to provide clean energy technology and financing for Global South countries, but these overtures were blocked by the Trump administration. Now, through legislation such as the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which passed the Senate this June, both parties in Congress are continuing down the path of blocking any such cooperation with China.
In addition to undermining the prospect of cooperation, the zero-sum logic of great-power conflict encourages countries to invest in weapons of war rather than the tools we need to save us all from the climate crisis. This path leads not only to continuing climate change but also the widespread violations of human rights we can expect from escalating nationalist conflict, proxy wars, or even the nightmare scenario of direct warfare between the United States and China. Already, many countries in the Asia-Pacific region are caught up in an arms race, empowering nationalists, militarists, and heavy-industry polluters across borders, at the expense of the progressive forces in each country that support the most aggressive action on climate change. As I write this, the U.S. Senate is looking to pass one one of the largest military budgets in history, based primarily on the supposed threat of China, with the Biden White House reportedly refusing to entertain questions about military spending because they are “petrified of being seen as soft on China.” Meanwhile, key climate provisions have been cut from both the bipartisan infrastructure deal and even from the Build Back Better package, which together are a fraction of the size of the military budget.
We face two potential paths. One, based on global cooperation to build a Global Green New Deal, leads us to a more just and sustainable world. The other leads us to mounting calamities from both climate change and nationalist conflict. The vast majority of the U.S. foreign policy establishment is organized around the second path. One of the tasks of the U.S. Left is to build the power necessary to force them to come to their senses and replace those who refuse to do so.
For more analysis of the U.S.-China conflict, its root causes, and other difficult questions, including the need to continue to address human rights abuses in China while building U.S.-China cooperation, see “U.S.-China: Progressive Internationalist Strategy Under Biden” by Tobita Chow and Jake Werner, published by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung NYC.
To voice your opposition to the new cold war and the USICA, sign on to the DSA open letter to Congress. Check out the DSA International Committee’s webinar with Vijay Prashad, Tings Chak, and Richard Wolff. —Eds.