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Jim Goodman: The Green New Deal could change the way society eats

Jim Goodman: The Green New Deal could change the way society eats

CAFO cows

The number of CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations, has shot up in the past decade -- as have concerns about their impact on water quality and quantity.

The Green New Deal, on its face, is a plan to decarbonize and transform the energy sector, but in the big picture it outlines a remedy to the inherent economic and social problems of capitalism. While the ultimate solution to those problems would be a different economic system, perhaps a social democracy, we must consider the GND as part of a solution.

Can capitalism and socialism co-exist? Well, while the top 1 percent love both capitalism and the social largesse showered upon them at the expense of the rest of us, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez noted of the GND, “It’s all about how our economy should work.”

The president tweeted, “I think it is very important for the Democrats to press forward with their Green New Deal. It would be great for the so-called 'Carbon Footprint' to permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military — even if no other country would do the same. Brilliant!" The tweet shows his total inability to understand or to care about this real national emergency as it unfolds daily under his watch.

While centrist Democrats would move ever closer to Trump and the Republicans, new members of Congress eagerly took up the possibilities of the GND. One can only hope that neoliberalism, neocolonialism and the Third Way are in their death throes, as those political mindsets would immediately put the GND “off the table,” just as they did single-payer health care, despite strong public support.

The GND contains a plan that industry and the centrists reject as impossible to achieve. Read: Not enough profit for private industry. They object to a system that would benefit society in general, a system that would close the wealth gap and hopefully prevent climate disaster. Looking at the big picture, long-term societal good will never be valued as highly as a good quarterly corporate profit statement. As long as it’s profitable, omnicide is OK.

The Green New Deal is important because we are beyond the point where we can save the planet simply by making better personal choices or lifestyle changes such as driving less, flying less, recycling, and converting to renewable energy. Those of us who can, of course, should make those choices. The global elite, the captains of industry, the wolves of Wall Street could care less — as long as there are people and a planet to exploit to maintain the lifestyles to which they have become accustomed. The poor, in the global South, cause far less climate impact than we in the industrialized North, but they, like the poor everywhere, bear the brunt of the impact from globalization and environmental racism. For good reason they must be more concerned about their day-to-day survival than about using paper or plastic.

Capitalism maintains the institutions of poverty, just as it enables sexism, racism, class privilege, lack of opportunity for the young and lack of dignity for the aged. Indigenous peoples, as has always been the case, are pushed off their lands to satisfy the needs of colonial governments and corporations for oil, minerals or eminent domain for “the greater good.” Corporate needs have always far outweighed the sovereign rights of the indigenous and the earth.

The Green New Deal, as introduced, is a resolution, not legislation — although we can assume that eventually legislation will result. It has specific goals and suggestions for achieving them, but it leaves room for the specifics to be defined by groups or movements interested in making serious societal change.

Industrial agriculture is energy intensive, depending on fossil fuels for growing crops, the manufacture of fertilizer, pesticides and plastics, and of course transportation in a global economy. Industrial agriculture has increased the monoculture production of corn and soy, used in animal feed and processed food, and increased concentration in livestock production.

A GND should incentivize integrated local and regional agricultural production and marketing, less production of monoculture crops and fewer concentrated animal-feeding operations (CAFOs). Encouraging a shift to more acres planted to grass and permanent cover would sequester more carbon in the soil, provide the possibility of more animals on pasture and fewer in confinement, and an overall lowering of livestock numbers, thereby encouraging people to lower their consumption of animal products.

Many would say our present industrial farming system is working just fine — obviously, there is plenty of food, at least for those who can pay for it. Plenty of commodities for global trade, plenty of profit for the multinational corporations. But a fair profit for farmers? Not so much.

Farmers and farm workers, like all other workers, deserve to have one of those jobs, as the GND notes, “ensuring economic security for all.” Farmers being for the most part independent business owners are assumed to, by their skill, determine their own wage. But unlike other independent businesses, farmers do not set their prices. Farmers buy at retail and sell at wholesale.

The GND can take significant acreage out of row-crop production, encourage more farmers to convert to organic/sustainable farming practices, and promote a less-intensive system of animal production, in part by returning to the pre-1980 system of parity pricing, commodity production management, farmer-owned grain reserves and environmental stewardship. If the GND embraces this, farm products will be worth more.

Fair prices for farmers and fair wages for farm workers will put them in a position to make better choices in the way they farm, the quality of food they grow and the way they care for the environment. Fair wages for everyone will allow everyone to do better, farmers included.

And while it may not totally address the entirety of the economic and social change that must happen, the Green New Deal can perhaps help move us to, as James Baldwin said, “Make America what America must become.”

Jim Goodman considers himself "a re-purposed dairy farmer" from Wonewoc, Wisconsin.

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