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Interview With Max Ajl: What Internationalist Green New Deal Would Look Like

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For the “Unauthorized Disclosure” weekly podcast, hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola are joined by Max Ajl, who is a doctoral student in development studies at Cornell University. He speaks to them from Tunisia, where he is conducting research on the environment and agriculture as it relates to decolonization and post-colonial development.

Ajl discusses the Green New Deal, backed by numerous progressives, and offers a constructive critique that takes into account the impact of climate change on the global south.

During the interview, Ajl describes the origins of the Green New Deal and the limits of what Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed. But Ajl notes many issues like climate debt and developmental aid for countries is missing in this America-focused plan.

Ajl addresses how the Green New Deal fails to deal with the massive pollution from the U.S. military industrial-complex and contends that this represents a larger issue with much of the left in the United States, which can be Eurocentric in their support for global policies.

And Ajl assesses the impact of U.S. policies that have exacted an impact on countries in the global south and then outlines the kind of considerations that need to be made so that a collective response to climate disruption is inclusive and internationalist in its goals.

Overall, Ajl maintains we should not fight the Green New Deal. We should struggle to put issues on the table and seize an opportunity to develop a much stronger plan for dealing with global climate change.

Listen to the show by clicking the above player or go here.


“One thing that is extremely central is of course dismantling the military,” Ajl contended. “The military is a major polluter. It uses a huge portion of public spending. It also doesn’t do anything very good. In fact, it only does bad things for the rest of the planet, where it’s used to kind of destroy any type of government that tries to carry out a development path that veers from the path which the U.S. would prefer.”

Ajl added, “The U.S. should be speaking in terms of not exporting clean technology but climate debt and climate reparations, which means that it both needs to immediately shift itself to zero emissions energy in our overall production system but also would need to help other countries make that shift.”

He also said the U.S. must “neutralize or liquidate the petroleum industry” because it is a major repository of domestic power.” It is a sector that will “destroy the rest of the planet if petroleum continues to be mined and exported, as is currently happening.”

None of the above is on the agenda of anyone pushing for the Green New Deal. It does not seem feasible, according to Ajl, and so in the short-term, these ideas probably will not make into the legislation.

That does not mean the public should ignore the reality of how the vast majority of U.S. oil pollution comes from the U.S. military industrial-complex.

U.S. military bases are some of the most contaminated sites throughout the world. Yet, the Green New Deal apparently does not explicitly address this problem.

“Not only is the military not mentioned but in fact the draft legislation didn’t mention expropriating or otherwise eliminating the fossil fuel corporations, which are, of course, the major vested interests in preventing a transition to any sort of clean economy, be it capitalist, socialist, or anything else,” Ajl said.

Ajl argued this reflects a larger conversation happening among individuals who are part of the U.S. left over the meaning of socialism.

“Does socialism just mean giving everyone universal health care? Does it mean demilitarization? Does it mean everyone in the world having access to food, housing, and good public transportation systems and health care?” Ajl asked.

“There’s many socialists who have advocated that it should encompass the entire world, and there’s other socialists that have been very Eurocentric and argued essentially it should be restricted to Europe and the United States and that you should cater to the lowest common denominator of a kind of global north redistributive sentiment, and even chauvinist or racist sentiment.”

“These are two different visions for the world, and I think it’s very important to put them on the table so that especially people who want to get involved in political work can understand,” Ajl continued. “Do they want to live in a world where everyone has access to these fundamental needs for human life or do they [just] want that Americans, Japanese, and northern Europeans can get this stuff? I think that’s a fundamental choice that’s pushed under the table or very much minimized.”

To Ajl, a bill that does next to nothing to address the massive pollution of the U.S. military is a result of reluctance to confront entrenched power.

An internationalist Green New Deal that was considerate of the global south would go well beyond a plan for net neutral emissions, which does not mean removing greenhouse gas emissions but rather finding a way to absorb or balance out reductions—probably through technologies.

Ajl described one proposal for dealing with carbon emissions from planes is to shift from fossil fuels to agrofuels. These are “synthetic fuels” that can, for example, be made from sugar cane or ethanol. But depending upon this proposal would worse the food crisis in global south countries by spurring a shift away from production of cereal or food grains to focusing on the export of crops to American and European consumers.

Another proposal the Green New Deal leaves room for would “create a built-in incentive to continue emitting carbon dioxide emissions.” It encourages the development of machines to suck carbon out of the atmosphere or to block sunlight.

“Especially for technologies for blocking sunlight from hitting the Earth, you have to keep pumping them into the atmosphere once you’ve started pumping them into the atmosphere,” Ajl said. “Otherwise, the Earth will warm up considerably, and of course, you can’t dump this stuff into the atmosphere in perpetuity.”

“What you’ve done is postponed the problem and eventually it will hit back on the planet in a much worse way, and this is all keeping in mind that global warming is going to disproportionately damage the global south, which of course has not been responsible for the great bulk of greenhouse gas emissions.”

“There’s kind of this notion to muster people behind this notion of the Green New Deal with Ocasio-Cortez as this figurehead and to kind of bring the environmental movement insofar as it exists in the U.S. behind this program,” Ajl asserted. “But at the same time, a lot of the achievements of the environmental movement of the ‘90s and 2000s, in terms of putting issues like environmental justice and climate debt on the agenda, or the notion that the wealthy in wealthier countries owe other people developmental aid in order to help them develop in the clean way. All of that is something off the table because of this very nation-state, America-focused Green New Deal.”

Ajl concluded, “When you focus on the ecology, the ecology actually doesn’t very much respect national borders. If you start ripping apart components of the biosphere, if you start having mass insect extinctions, if the bees start dying off, if large icebergs start going into the sea, if the methane in the tundra and the permafrost and the Arctic and Greenland, if they start melting, you can’t control these issues by building large walls on the border.”

“What will happen is the entire ecological system will be negatively affected and start to collapse and thus the kind of national myopia, which is implicit in a lot of these proposals, will suddenly come back to harm everybody.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."