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Klein writes: "What if we actually pulled off a Green New Deal? What would the future look like then?"

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (photo: Hollywood Reporter)
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (photo: Hollywood Reporter)

A Message From the Future With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

By Naomi Klein, The Intercept

19 April 19


oday, The Intercept launches “A Message From the Future With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” a seven-minute film narrated by the congresswoman and illustrated by Molly Crabapple. Set a couple of decades from now, it’s a flat-out rejection of the idea that a dystopian future is a forgone conclusion. Instead, it offers a thought experiment: What if we decided not to drive off the climate cliff? What if we chose to radically change course and save both our habitat and ourselves?

What if we actually pulled off a Green New Deal? What would the future look like then?

This is a project unlike any we have done before, crossing boundaries between fact, fiction, and visual art, co-directed by Kim Boekbinder and Jim Batt and co-written by Ocasio-Cortez and Avi Lewis. To reclaim a phrase from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, it’s our “green dream,” inspired by the explosion of utopian art produced during the original New Deal.

And it’s a collaboration with a context and a history that seems worth sharing.

Back in December, I started talking to Crabapple — the brilliant illustrator, writer, and filmmaker — about how we could involve more artists in the Green New Deal vision. Most art forms are pretty low carbon, after all, and cultural production played an absolutely central role during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s.

We thought it was time to galvanize artists into that kind of social mission again — but not in a couple of years, if politicians and activists manage to translate what is still only a rough plan into law. No, we wanted to see Green New Deal art right away — to help win the battle for hearts and minds that will determined whether it has a fighting chance in the first place.

Crabapple, along with Boekbinder and Batt, have been honing a filmmaking style that has proved enormously successful at spreading bold ideas fast, most virally in their video with Jay Z on the “epic fail” of the war on drugs. “I would love to make a video on the Green New Deal with AOC,” Crabapple said, which seemed to me like a dream team.

The question was: How do we tell the story of something that hasn’t happened yet?

We realized that the biggest obstacle to the kind of transformative change the Green New Deal envisions is overcoming the skepticism that humanity could ever pull off something at this scale and speed. That’s the message we’ve been hearing from the “serious” center for four months straight: that it’s too big, too ambitious, that our Twitter-addled brains are incapable of it, and that we are destined to just watch walruses fall to their deaths on Netflix until it’s too late.

This skepticism is understandable. The idea that societies could collectively decide to embrace rapid foundational changes to transportation, housing, energy, agriculture, forestry, and more — precisely what is needed to avert climate breakdown — is not something for which most of us have any living reference. We have grown up bombarded with the message that there is no alternative to the crappy system that is destabilizing the planet and hoarding vast wealth at the top. From most economists, we hear that we are fundamentally selfish, gratification-seeking units. From historians, we learn that social change has always been the work of singular great men.

Science fiction hasn’t been much help either. Almost every vision of the future that we get from best-selling novels and big-budget Hollywood films takes some kind of ecological and social apocalypse for granted. It’s almost as if we have collectively stopped believing that the future is going to happen, let alone that it could be better, in many ways, than the present.

The media debates that paint the Green New Deal as either impossibly impractical or a recipe for tyranny just reinforce the sense of futility. But here’s the good news: The old New Deal faced almost precisely the same kinds of opposition — and it didn’t stop it for a minute.

From the start, elite critics derided FDR’s plans as everything from creeping fascism to closet communism. In the 1933 equivalent of “They’re coming for your hamburgers!” Republican Sen. Henry D. Hatfield of West Virginia wrote to a colleague, “This is despotism, this is tyranny, this is the annihilation of liberty. The ordinary American is thus reduced to the status of a robot.” A former DuPont executive complained that with the government offering decent-paying jobs, “five negroes on my place in South Carolina refused work this spring … and a cook on my houseboat in Fort Myers quit because the government was paying him a dollar an hour as a painter.”

Far-right militias formed; there was even a sloppy plot by a group of bankers to overthrow FDR.

Self-styled centrists took a more subtle tack: In newspaper editorials and op-eds, they cautioned FDR to slow down and scale back. Historian Kim Phillips-Fein, author of “Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal,” told me that the parallels with today’s attacks on the Green New Deal in outlets like the New York Times are obvious. “They didn’t outright oppose it, but in many cases, they would argue that you don’t want to make so many changes at once, that it was too big, too quick. That the administration should wait and study more.”

And yet for all its many contradictions and exclusions, the New Deal’s popularity continued to soar, winning Democrats a bigger majority in Congress in the midterms and FDR a landslide re-election in 1936.

One reason that elite attacks never succeeded in turning the public against the New Deal had to do with the incalculable power of art, which was embedded in virtually every aspect of the era’s transformations. The New Dealers saw artists as workers like any other: people who, in the depths of the Depression, deserved direct government assistance to practice their trade. As Works Progress Administration administrator Harry Hopkins famously put it, “Hell, they’ve got to eat just like other people.”

Through programs including the Federal Art Project, Federal Music Project, Federal Theater Project, and Federal Writers Project (all part of the WPA), as well as the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture and several others, tens of thousands of painters, musicians, photographers, playwrights, filmmakers, actors, authors, and a huge array of craftspeople found meaningful work, with unprecedented support going to African-American and Indigenous artists.

The result was a renaissance of creativity and a staggering body of work that transformed the visual landscape of the country. The Federal Art Project alone produced nearly 475,000 works of art, including over 2,000 posters, 2,500 murals, and 100,000 canvasses for public spaces. Its stable of artists included Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Authors who participated in the Federal Writers Program included Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and John Steinbeck.

Much of the art produced by New Deal programs was simply about bringing joy and beauty to Depression-ravaged people, and challenging the prevalent idea that art belonged to the elites. As FDR put it in a 1938 letter to author Hendrik Willem van Loon: “I, too, have a dream — to show people in the out of the way places, some of whom are not only in small villages but in corners of New York City … some real paintings and prints and etchings and some real music.”

There was more overtly political art too, like the highly controversial theatrical productions of Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here,” which opened in 18 cities. Some New Deal art set out to mirror a shattered country back to itself and in the process, make an unassailable case for why New Deal relief programs were so desperately needed. The result was iconic work, from Dorothea Lange’s photography of Dust Bowl families enveloped in clouds of filth and forced to migrate, to Walker Evans’s harrowing images of tenant farmers that filled the pages of “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” to Gordon Parks’s pathbreaking photography of daily life in Harlem.

Other artists produced more optimistic, even utopian creations, using graphic art, short films, and vast murals to document the transformation underway under New Deal programs — the strong bodies building new infrastructure, planting trees, and otherwise picking up the pieces of their nation.

FDR’s critics attacked the arts programs as propaganda, but participants responded that they were true believers. “We were all very ardent New Dealers,” recalled Edward Biderman, one of the celebrated painters in this period. “And when we found [New Deal policies] reflected in the art programs, we were even more enthusiastic.”

Just as Crabapple and I started mulling over the idea of a Green New Deal short film, The Intercept published a piece by Kate Aronoff that was set in the year 2043, after the Green New Deal had come to pass. It told the story of what life was like for a fictionalized “Gina,” who grew up in the world that Green New Deal policies created: “She had a relatively stable childhood. Her parents availed themselves of some of the year of paid family leave they were entitled to, and after that she was dropped off at a free child care program.” After free college, “she spent six months restoring wetlands and another six volunteering at a day care much like the one she had gone to.”

The piece struck a nerve with readers, in large part because it imagined a future tense that wasn’t some version of “Mad Max” warriors battling prowling bands of cannibal warlords. Crabapple and I decided that the film could do something similar to Aronoff’s piece, but this time from Ocasio-Cortez’s vantage point. It would show the world after the Green New Deal she was championing had become a reality.

Soon we had the script, co-written by Ocasio-Cortez and Lewis, who, as the director of our climate documentary “This Changes Everything” and strategic director of the climate justice group The Leap, thinks about the world after we win pretty much full-time. Next came the magic of Crabapple’s art and Boekbinder and Batt’s video design and direction.

Today, we launch the final result: a seven-minute postcard from the future. It’s about how, in the nick of time, a critical mass of humanity in the largest economy on earth came to believe that we were actually worth saving. Because, as Ocasio-Cortez says in the film, our future has not been written yet and “we can be whatever we have the courage to see.”

Please watch and share it. Our hope is that this piece will inspire more Green New Deal art. More than that, we hope it plays some small part in inspiring an actual Green New Deal. Science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson recently offered up this clarifying reminder about the stakes before us:

The future isn’t cast into one inevitable course. On the contrary, we could cause the sixth great mass extinction event in Earth’s history, or we could create a prosperous civilization, sustainable over the long haul. Either is possible starting from now.

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+3 # Steve B 2019-04-19 18:18
A very compelling video and idea ... we can't do what we can't see indeed. The one obvious flaw in the video is ... no white people. There aren't even any white soldiers from WWII! What about the farmers? What about those folks in Iowa who have been hoodwinked by Monsanto and agribusiness, and those in the rust belt who are hoping for factory jobs? Why aren't they represented? Identity politics has peaked and will be a losing game. It's not only about women and people of color. They've been underrepresente d, yes. Because this Green New Deal as presented in this video is so one-sided, it will try to limp along on one leg rather than looking to involve EVERYONE. Don't these folks want to succeed? If the only white people represented are the fossil fuel execs this is a distorted picture indeed and sadly doomed to failure.
+1 # futhark 2019-04-19 22:16
I reject the appellation of "white person". The only "white people" are albinos. If people must be categorized by lines of descent, isn't it more accurate to assign people according to the geographic origin of the ancestors, as is done with most such groups today. What is so hard about using the term "European"? This is more accurate and helps move us away from the antiquated concepts of "white" vs "colored".
+3 # Jude 2019-04-19 23:03
Hey, Steve, please have another look. I saw lots of white folks depicted in this little film. They may not be in the majority, but then we white folks aren’t the majority on the planet, are we? But we are there, and well represented, too.
+4 # economagic 2019-04-20 09:09
Are you the same person I called out on another web site that ran a version of this story WITH the video a few days ago for not viewing beyond the first minute or so?

I don't think this video was targeting white farmers in Iowa, and it was certainly not aimed at rednecks, white supremacists, or other groups that voted in large numbers for T-Rump. There are at most a few thousand WW II veterans of any color still alive. I assume that this will not be the last video on this topic. Perhaps you should contact Ms. Klein and the artists with your suggestion.
-32 # skylinefirepest 2019-04-19 18:42
What would it look like? The country would be stone ass broke so "at this point what would it matter?"
+4 # Steve B 2019-04-19 22:13
Not if we followed the lead of Scott Smith and shifted to taxing payments instead of income. Read about the Financial Freedom Act here ( or check out his interview here ( It will blow your mind ... and will change the game entirely.
+8 # Jude 2019-04-19 23:05
Dear Skyline…, Try imagining where the money might come from. It’s out there, all we would need.
+9 # Observer 47 2019-04-20 17:50
Yep! Cutting the obscenely bloated military budget by 50% and making obscenely profitable corporations pay their fair share of taxes would provide the funding.
+16 # Texas Aggie 2019-04-20 02:59
Since The Green New Deal is cheaper than doing nothing, being "broke" is better than the alternative, You do realize that investing a dollar in something that pays back two dollars is how things are produced, don't you?

When it's cheaper to produce electricity from sunlight than from coal, arguing that we have to keep on burning coal to produce electricity is foolish. And at the rate prices are dropping, solar and wind power will both be cheaper than natural gas. Even electric cars are projected to be cheaper to build and operate than internal combustion cars in less than ten years. So how does facilitating the Green New Deal cause a LOSS of money?

And that doesn't even factor in the benefits of avoiding the costs to society of days of work lost and early death from breathing polluted air.
+1 # economagic 2019-04-20 15:20
So, where did you get your degree in monetary economics? Apparently it was quite some time ago. There are still a few economists--esp ecially those writing introductory textbooks--who still believe in the "Quantity Theory of Money (Locke, Hume, J. S. Mill). There are also still people who believe in unicorns, leprechauns, and a flat earth. The evidence both is monumental.
+8 # margpark 2019-04-19 20:54
I have 3 adorable great grandchildren and I am almost 82. I want my great grandchildren to grow up in the same world I grew up in. And they will not if something isn't done pretty quickly.
+4 # draypoker 2019-04-21 08:09
Quoting margpark:
I have 3 adorable great grandchildren and I am almost 82. I want my great grandchildren to grow up in the same world I grew up in. And they will not if something isn't done pretty quickly.

They can't. Times change. The world we grew up in is gone. I am 80. We were born into a world with 2000 million humans. That was a major difference with todays much larger number.
+9 # futhark 2019-04-19 22:28
Long before James Black began publicizing the effects of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causing increased temperatures planet wide, Shell Oil Company geologist M. King Hubbert in 1956 predicted the foreseeable end of easily extracted petroleum within 2 decades. This was an early warning to those in the oil business that the resource upon which their wealth depended was limited and that they should not delay in finding alternatives. Unfortunately, this was not done to any great extent.

A Green New Deal is imperative if we intend to maintain our high per capita energy consumption lifestyle. Expenses incurred in consequence of continuing to rely on fossil fuels will far exceed the cost of investment in generation of available sustainable and environmentally friendly energy sources.
+5 # economagic 2019-04-20 15:16
That was NASA climate researcher James Hansen. Yes, "Hubbert's peak" (of millions of barrels extracted in a given year). Hubbert was correct with regard to the known reserves at the time. The supply of petroleum has been extended through new technologies and by tapping more and more challenging reservoirs.

In 2005 an old (and rich) wildcatter named T. Boone ("T-Bone") Pickens was calling the peak and buying oil futures eleven years out, the longest available, on the premise they would make his grandchildren rich. The global peak is probably still in the future because there is as yet neither a practical alternative transportation fuel nor decreasing demand for any other reason. When the peak does come it will likely be not because of limited supply due to declining reserves but because of either enforceable global restrictions on its use or rapidly falling demand due to the Sixth Extinction and other aspects of global chaos.
+1 # Jim Young 2019-04-21 22:55
The CIA estimates of reserves, that seem low today, were based on "economically recoverable resources." If you are willing to spend up to 8 times as much, you can recover more, but the remains get even harder to extract. Here they use wind generated power for the oil fields, and were considering small nuclear power systems to make it "affordable." In 2007, a Shell brochure suggested it would take 32 to 64 times as many wells to keep production adequate (and were up to 40 times as many last time I checked.

Back then they suggested they needed $66 bbl (up from $20 for a good profit). They did claim to get the cost down to $40 (profitable,or costs w/o profit closer to $33)with good scale and better tech (Snake Drilling, beyond simpler sounding horizontal drilling). Think harder to extract, more expensive, in smaller pockets, and far more risk to aquifers, etc.

What happens when they can no longer con investors into funding their grabs for the last relatively doable extraction? I want my own solar panels, batteries, wind generator, and clean hydrogen production appliances, and vehicles before they have to raise the prices or destroy the planet.
+13 # PABLO DIABLO 2019-04-19 22:52
Ms. AOC is a GIANT. I wish we had 100 more like her in Congress. Vote Progressive.
+7 # tedrey 2019-04-20 05:07
To those who, intentionally or otherwise, are standing (or lying) in the way, please realize that your choice is between being admired and being despised.
+11 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-04-20 08:12
The video is OK. It is written to children and that is also OK. It does not do much for adults, except to help them appreciate that the future will likely be a lot different from the work they know. And that is good. I like the borrowing from Corneilius Castoriadis about the "radical imaginary" -- the ability to see what you've never seen before through the imagination. Probably this was filtered through Jean Piaget. But it is still child psychology.

Adults need a different approach. We are at a turning point in the industrial revolution. Maybe we are past the turning point. We do have the technology (or much of it) but we don't have the will or the imagination to see what is not currently present. We see only the present and the past. They are not very good guides to the future and never have been.

AOC is just wonderful because she is an imaginary thinker. That what we need in congress. She's off to a great start. She needs our support.

I disagree with skylinefire above -- we won't be stone ass broke. It is the wars of the past that are making us stone ass broke. New green energy and a green economy will be a lot more efficient. I know it is hard to see that but we are learning to.
0 # DongiC 2019-04-22 10:04
Unless you become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. And, I agree, AOC is magnificent.
+2 # John Cosmo 2019-04-21 14:01
I completely support the Green New Deal. It's one of those situations where there's really no alternative if we wish to survive as a country and as a species.

However, I doubt that it will provide the large numbers of good-paying jobs that will support a strong middle-class and reduce the number of people living in poverty. The Green New Deal is not a cure-all and we need other plans in addition to it. We need to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time.

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