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This article is a criticism and condemnation of a self-declared “major” “modern money theory – green new deal initiative” written by the economist Bill Mitchell and disseminated on his website. According to his wikipedia page William Francis Mitchell was born March 1952 and is a professor of economics at the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia and a notable proponent of modern monetary theory. The page says that Bill Mitchell coined the term, “modern monetary theory”, also known as, “MMT”.

In a blog on September 1 2019, which is being shared across quite a few green leftist groups on social media in the Anglo-Saxon culture, he reported that he and others are “putting together a major MMT-green new deal initiative in Australia which will have global ramifications. It will bring together MMT with climate action and indigenous rights interests. .. we will issue a ‘white paper’ in the coming months to articulate what we conceive as a jobs-first, equity-first MMT-green new deal might look like.” (Reference 1)

His message is being shared amongst other places in a group called “The Gower initiative for modern money studies” who laud it because there is “the growing acceptance of the modern monetary theory (MMT) position that reliance on monetary policy has not been a success and that a period of fiscal dominance is emerging. Part of that shift in policy focus should be to frame the challenges of the green new deal in a much more sensible way – avoiding ridiculous questions such as ‘how are we going to pay for it’ and statements such as ‘we cannot afford it’ when the proponents are constructing those questions purely in terms of not having ‘enough currency’ to facilitate the required real resource shifts. #GreenNewDeal #ClimateCrisis #MMT.” (Reference 2)

Another group, the global institute for sustainable prosperity, avidly proposes that “it is possible to truly have a sustainable economy on top of improving basic social and health services throughout the United States. We are here to help encourage communities to take part in educating others. Lecture will begin with an introduction to understanding modern monetary theory (MMT) by Fadhel Kaboub. During the theory into action half of the presentation with Steven B. Larchuk, the focus will be on health care, infrastructure, education, climate change, and a proposal for breaking the ice through federal funding of 100% of Medicaid” (Reference 3).

They also recommend that people attend another economist Stephanie Kelton’s “sustainable prosperity conference” in Adelaide, Australia, sometime this year. (Reference 4)

Of course the most famous advocates of the global green new deal are politicians of the Democratic party in the USA including Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and their advisors and supporters.

In his August 8 2019 blog entitled “[t]he green new deal must wipe out precarious work and underemployment”, Bill Mitchell says that “[i]n mapping out what I think are the essential aspects of a social transformation that we might call a green new deal, eliminating precarious work is one of the priorities – it is intrinsic to creating a more equitable society in harmony with nature.”

Though Bill Mitchell calls it a social transformation, one of my fundamental disagreements with Bill Mitchell and the Gower initiative for modern money studies and the other groups and economists and politicians mentioned, is their belief that whether or not there will be a social transformation, what is really needed more than anything else is a benign state with absolute sovereign power and agency.

That Bill Mitchell has such a belief is evident from the title of his book Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, 2017). I have not read it, but the existence of the sovereign state is clearly thus in his view a necessary precondition for implementing his “major” “MMT – green new deal”. He wants to reclaim the state. He needs a state in order to exercise absolute sovereign power over the citizens, in order that, amongst other things, his state can have monopoly control over the national currency, its creation and management. He says that “[t]he green new deal will require a massive fiscal stimulus and many new job categories created and filled.”

Before assessing the money part, – which I may not even do in this article, or at all, because why should I enter into a discussion on how much money and from where and for what should be made available by the various national and presumably international and possibly even global financial authorities for the global green new deal, when I consider this exercise a fundamentally genocidal proposition -, it is important to assess the ecological part.

No more money can be put into circulation than is feasible. There are resource limits. Even MMT economists accept that. And one resource limit for the global money supply is the stable atmosphere. Another is land. A third is population, a fourth is nitrogen, and so on.

The stable atmosphere is preserved if the activities of humans and animals are part of a flux of around 100 – 120 billion tonnes of carbon (360 – 440 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide) circulating in the biosphere every year.

As an aside we should mention that this flux has not much to do with the overall amount of oxygen in the atmosphere. Humans and animals breathe in the oxygen deposited in the atmosphere over a period of half a billion years or so. Sometime 55 million years ago the part of oxygen in the atmosphere stabilised at 21%. Even if all living beings on earth were burnt to cinders and there were no more plants exhaling oxygen, the part of oxygen in the atmosphere would barely change by a tenth of a percent or two. Like fossil fuels in the ground, the oxygen in the air was deposited there over half a billion years or so and is not likely to be affected by the annual carbon flux very much.

On the other hand, the short term average global temperature of the earth that is linked to the carbon dioxide concentrations and the methane concentration in the atmosphere is a different resource all together. This resource, the resource of a stable temperature, has been destabilised multiple times over geological time, but never so far terminally for humans, since the first appearance of homo habilis two point eight million years ago.

For the last 200’000 years the 360 – 440 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide that are exchanged between the atmosphere and the plants and animals and rocks and oceans every year have kept the concentrations in the atmosphere within the broad range of 180 – 300 parts per million. Then suddenly after the 19th century period of deforestation, industrialisation and the removal of fossil fuels from underground, the concentrations shot up to 350 ppm by 1988 and 415 ppm by 2019. The last time carbon dioxide concentrations and the matching methane concentrations in the atmosphere were at this level was 3.5 million years ago.

One may think a few parts per million here or there does not make much difference. But organisms whether they are small like humans or large like the biosphere are delicately balanced chemical systems. Police in the town of Riga in Latvia once picked up a man with 7.22 parts per million of alcohol in his blood. The report went on to say that an average person would vomit at around 1.2, lose consciousness at 3.0 and stop breathing at a level of about 4.0 parts per million. Thus if the norm for the biosphere is 180 – 300 ppm, and the present level is 415 ppm, and the projected levels are between two or three or up to five times this, this is a potentially lethal dose for those animals such as humans that are not made either for such levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere nor for the matching levels of methane to go with that or the potentially upto 10 degrees Celsius warming that goes with such levels too.

Assuming we as a human species do want to make a concerted effort to stop concentrations from going any higher than 415 ppm, and supposing we want to call into being a programme to bring the concentrations back down to between 180 and 300 ppm, would the continued emissions of carbon dioxide and methane that would be associated with manufacturing the machines needed for a global green new deal be part of any even half-way responsible plan? No. All emissions of carbon dioxide have to stop now. After all carbon dioxide molecules sit in the atmosphere for 100 – 200 years. There are still around 2000 billion tonnes of excess carbon dioxide, from burning fossil fuels since 1953, in the atmosphere, the impacts of which are yet to come.

I have published the calculations of the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the proposed global green new deal before, but I repeat them here.

In 2018 the total emissions from all companies and countries added thirty seven point one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This should be compared with the one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year in the two thousand years during the during the Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum when temperatures shot up and stayed up for six million years after the event. Today our capitalist forest and fossil fuel burning event, that has been taking place since the 1750s or so, has a temperature rise of ten degrees Celsius programmed into the system. Not one of the two hundred odd fossil fuel companies that have been supplying this commercial energy since the beginning of the twentieth century has been closed down despite the fact that we know that it is very likely that ten degrees Celsius temperature rise due to their pollution will occur in the next one hundred years, possibly even sooner.

Now assuming that wind, solar, wave and other commercial renewable energy technologies are manufactured for the global green new deal using fossil fuels, and assuming a rate of sixty Watt hours of energy required for manufacturing and transporting every one thousand Watt hours of such renewable electricity generation, and assuming every one in the world is going get the green new deal implemented for them, we can calculate the global carbon dioxide emissions planned as a constituent element of this proposal.

I am assuming an installed capacity per person of two thousand Watt of wind and a net capacity factor for wind of fifty percent, and four thousand Watt of photovoltaic electricity generation capacity and two thousand sunshine hours for the solar electricity systems per annum, so annual electricity consumption per person in the world will be eight million seven hundred and sixty thousand Watt hours for wind and eight million Watt hours for solar electricity. So lets take eight million Watt hours consumption per person per year from electricity consumption supplied under the New Green Deal.

In this scenario we are leaving aside the fact that electricity is not as versatile a fuel as petroleum. We are assuming that the green new deal is going to supply eight million Watt hours per person per year for energy for cooking, heating, cooling, water pumping and charging an electric bicycle. This is seven times more than all the energy Indians are using today, ten times less than what Americans are using, five times less than energy consumption in the European Union, four times less than in the UK, five times less than in Switzerland and four times less than in China.

The global green new deal would involve a complete change in the kind of work a person does. Instead of working on machines powered by commercial energy, all human beings would be working in forestry and agriculture with just some small quantities of renewable energy for water pumping and cooking energy. However if we look at the plan in more detail, we find that, even if all excess consumption of commercial fossil fuel energy is given up, and even if we make these major changes to they type of work we all do, global green new deal will not keep emissions down enough.

This can be proved by calculating whether or not sources and sinks can be balanced. A sink is a plant or tree that absorbs carbon dioxide and gives out oxygen, and a source is an animal or water body or other ecosystem that is emitting carbon dioxide from breathing or methane and carbon dioxide from decomposing. We are assuming an emission factor of one gram of carbon dioxide emitted for every Watt hour of fossil fuel energy burnt. So the total carbon dioxide emissions from the global green new deal are calculated as eight million Watt hours per person per year multiplied by 60 Wh of petroleum or coal or nuclear based energy required for manufacturing and transporting this renewable energy infrastructure multiplied by 1 gramme of carbon dioxide which is 60 multiplied by eight million multiplied by one which is four hundred and eighty million grammes or four hundred and eighty kilograms of carbon dioxide per person per year. So if we multiply that by ten billion people that is four point eight billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year from running electricity on the global new green deal. If we add our breathing of one kilogram of carbon dioxide every day per person from ten billion people, that adds up to a a total of five point one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide being emitted from the use of renewable energy every year.

Now what about the sinks? Agriculture, forestry and other land use activities were the source of between nine and fifteen billion tonnes of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere every year in the years from 2007 to 2016. The natural response of plants and forests and other land based sinks to this human-induced environmental change was to absorb in their sinks around eleven point two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in those same years. Thus there are between eight hundred thousand billion tonnes and three point eight billion tonnes of carbon dioxide sequestration missing in this system. And this is without taking into account the thirty seven point one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere every year from burning fossil fuels, which is not being absorbed by any plants or forests at all.

In fact land is simultaneously a source and a sink of carbon dioxide due to both human and natural activities and due to direct effects and positive feedback, and this makes it difficult to separate human from natural fluxes. Global models estimate that if all the oceans, forests and land are taken together, there were between two point six and seven point eight billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from land use and land-use change being added to the atmosphere every year from the year 2007 to 2016. These emissions are mostly due to deforestation, and they are only partly offset by afforestation / reforestation, and due to emissions and removals by other land use activities.

Thus even if the thirty seven point one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions this year from burning fossil fuels were stopped instantly next year, we would still be emitting between two point six and seven point eight tonnes of carbon dioxide too much globally every year from faulty land use practices.

Thus remembering that we want the biosphere to keep engaging in its natural system of homeostasis even now as we have already programmed ten degrees Celsius temperature rise in the next century into the system, can we really allow ourselves to add another five point one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere from some global green new deal?

And how can we, in addition, continue to use land in such a way as to cause additional emissions of between two point six and seven point eight billion tonnes every year, emissions that are destroying plants instead of growing them and thus destroying the sink capacity of the biosphere?

Leaving everything else aside, – for example, that plants grow faster with higher carbon dioxide concentrations, that this may only be in the longer term, that we do not even know whether sinks will persist at all or not, or what other natural feedback effects of temperature rise and continued deforestation will be, that therefore all calculations may be off completely, and that we humans have no idea how to reverse the ten degrees Celsius warming already programmed into the system but that the biosphere may have plans that we have no idea about, – the only sensible and sane course of action to adopt is to err on the side of caution and not emit any greenhouse gases of any kind any more into the atmosphere other than what we emit as part of the natural carbon flux between plants and animals of which we are a part.

A final nail in the coffin of the global green new deal idea is the slow rate at which the capitalist market installs renewable energy systems. Annual installation rates have never been more than one hundred and seventy-one thousand million watts capacity every year. Assuming one third new capacity is from wind and two thirds from solar under the global green new deal, we would need to install thirty four million million watts of renewable energy capacity under the global green new deal. For this the capitalist market would take one hundred and ninety eight years at existing rates of installation. And not only that. If we assume that business as usual continues under capitalism until everyone has eight million Watt hours of renewable energy 198 years from now, the corporations and their consumers will be adding at least the existing thirty seven point one billion tonnes carbon dioxide every year for 198 years into the atmosphere until every has completed the switch over. Thus the rate of increase of concentrations of carbon dioxide will continue rising for another one hundred and ninety eight years. Assuming a growth rate of one percent, the annual rate of increase will go up from two point one one parts per million in 2019 to fifteen parts per million per annum one hundred and ninety eight years from now. Over these one hundred and ninety-eight years the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will add up to one thousand seven-hundred and forty five parts per million, a level not seen since the early Eocene fifty four to forty eight billion years ago, when levels were between one thousand and two thousand parts per million.

Trees such as birch, cedar, chestnut, elm, and beech flourished during the Eocene Epoch in some regions. In western India dipterocarp elements occurred along with taxa such as swintonia, pterospermum, diospyro and others. The earth must have been completely covered in forests. Aquatic and insect life were much the same as today. It is difficult if not impossible to know whether or how the human species or any other species will evolve and adapt to a temperature rise of ten degrees Celsius and to carbon dioxide levels of one thousand to two thousand parts per million as prevailed during the Eocene Epoch and as will prevail in the next century.

And it is even more difficult to know what will happen to the few remaining animal and plant species that humankind has not yet caused to go extinct. Will they survive in the coming years of rapid global heating? Will new species evolve or is the global heating caused by fossil fuel burning causing changes that are much too rapid for most species to adapt to in the short term? Could all living beings barring perhaps bacteria go extinct in the near future, until over millions of years the biosphere settles back into a new and different type of homeostasis with very different common species?

A worldwide mobilisation against the global green new deal is likely to bring out the stark and irreconcilable contradictions and conflicts and the inherent opposition between industrial workers on the one side and agricultural and forestry workers in the world on the other. It is a conflict between developed and developing countries, between urban and rural workers, and between god fearing realists and technological optimists. It is actually a conflict between those who trust in behaving like animals in the best possible sense, and those who are willing to continue on the genocidal path of runaway global heating by emitting man-made carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels.

References

1 http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?cat=58

2 https://gimms.org.uk/

3 https://actionnetwork.org/events/green-new-economics-modern-monetary-theory-theory-into-action

4 https://mmt-adelaide-2020.com/

Anandi Sharan is a social activist


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3 Comments

  1. Why are so many of us so blinded to this oncoming reality you describe so well? The answer is in our biological/neurological evolution. We have a neurotic/psychotic cranial defect that now in this new Age is about to spell our end.

    So here is the question for our new “Anthropogenic Age”: How deeply implanted is this deficiency in our DNA eukaryotic chromosomic brains?

    Now to the big question:

    Can we change? The grim reality is that nature’s unfolding truth emerges only with the active participation of the human mind.

    Do we psychologically neurologically have the ability by means of some sort of “experience to overcome this thinking imperfection and replace it with a new form of synchronous thought and behavior that can establish for Homo sapiens coexistent unity and inter active equilibrium with all life and nonlife on the planet?

    And then the even bigger question: If not, what then?

    http://www.inquiryabraham.com/

  2. To regain hope, look at new, benign technology. We can now produce synthetic fuel for $1.50/litre from only wind and air, and easily sequester extra carbon if taxed to do so. We can 3-D print small robots that can keep track of every plant in an organic permaculture, and compare it to others worldwide for seed selection.
    The hard part seems to be getting back ownership of the land and machines, to focus on the problems of the majority, instead of the whims of the greedheads. In Canada, the GND seems to be a new bandwagon loaded up with all the old struggling causes, with no interest in new members or any perspective on the magnitude of the new problem.

  3. David Kennedy says:

    Money is a human construct, a notional token of real wealth.
    All other forms of life have lived successfully without it.
    Economists are obsessed with it, a purely imaginary if ubiquitous construct allowing greater freedom to trade resources, goods, and services in such a way as to make a profit.
    It panders to two important addictions of the human brain: greed and excitement. It allows profits to be made out of manufacture and trade, while providing the excitement of gambling: risk-taking in pursuit of winning.
    Religious philosophies have warned of the dangers of usury to the human soul. They have spoken of camels, needles, and rich men. In vain! Addiction beats salvation.

    ADDICTION BEATS SALVATION: herein lies our future, that of humankind as well as that of the biosphere. There is as much chance of humans giving up their addictions as there is of them curbing the causes of global warming, or any of the other similarly dangerous developments resulting from human behaviour in satisfying their addictions.
    Stored carbon, in the form of fossil fuels accumulating in the earth’s surface over hundreds of millions of years, is being burnt within a few hundred years, transferring this carbon into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. Temperatures rise.
    Normal blood temperature is about 36 degrees Centigrade. Proteins denature at temperatures moderately higher than blood temperature. Vital life processes depend on these proteins. Air conditioning is a temporary solution. It cause the transfer of more carbon from earth to atmosphere and causes still higher temperatures. Likewise with fridges and freezers.
    Anandi Sharan has admirably detailed the facts concerning the Carbon Cycle and the biosphere’s delicate equilibrium relevant to temperature. Will he be heeded? Will addicts forego their addictions? Will they acknowledge their addictions? Will addiction once again beat salvation? Is it already too late?