Bringing an end to fossil fuel extraction will be an upheaval that requires widespread consent. This is why a Green New Deal is only possible if it engages with and energises the masses to accrue a mandate.
We’re living through one of the biggest democratic and political crises of our lifetimes. In the UK we have a government that no longer serves its people and has commandeered our democratic processes to serve its own interests.
Democracies are buckling the world over, unable to withstand the appetite of monsters created by a bloated financial sector. The world’s richest 26 people hold the same wealth as the poorest 50 percent.
Those very same 26 people saw their wealth grow by 12 percent in just one year, while that of the poorest half fell by nearly the same amount. Many have viewed the economy to be under the control of democracy, but concentrated economic power has constantly put it under threat.
Democracy is the rule of the people. But a capitalist economy only answers to the market - and therefore says to hell with people and planet.
This can be further embodied by the extremes of neoliberalism further entrenching power and cracking down on dissent with little to no regard for the rule of law or the democratic process.
‘The city’, boardrooms, golf clubs and private jets are the very real centres of decision-making, completely at odds with popular democracy but with little or no democratic oversight.
Often purposefully so as the corporate world has encroached into the very social fabric, at odds with the empowerment of ordinary people and facilitated by those elected to govern.
Because our financial systems are inherently extractive, plundering human and environmental capacity, it has enabled the elite to drain resources for their maximum gain, regardless of the damage it causes.
This naturally pushes democracy into further decline as the lack of real power over our own futures pushes the rest of us towards disengagement and cynicism.
But we’re reaching the breaking point of democracy and the natural world. The planet itself is commanding we respect its boundaries or forfeit survival, and the have-nots that took the least for themselves, will pay first.
The good news is that the crises we face today - economic, social and climatic - are interlinked. We can overcome them all by reviving democracy, giving it an entirely new life through a transformative national action plan with the potential to drastically reorient our economy, environment and democracy.
The Green New Deal is a plan first proposed in 2007, and is now quickly gaining fresh momentum. It proposes we change the way the economy is organised.
This is a radical and far-reaching plan to transform almost every aspect of society by taking control of the financial markets and putting intrinsic value in the wellbeing of people and nature over short-term profit.
It’s a vision that will put ordinary people at the heart of wholesale transformation; centring and supporting those left behind by the current order.
In practice this means reimagining the ways in which our democracy works, tearing up the rule book and forging new pathways to prioritise empowerment of people like you and me.
It means greater levels of access, accountability and transparency. We need a democracy that not only accommodates diverse perspectives, but firmly places them at the heart of decision-making in the understanding they know what’s best for them and their communities.
In reimagining democracy it’s not difficult to picture new ways of working. From local people’s committees to national citizen’s assemblies, we can create spaces to ensure change isn’t forced upon the majority by a tiny minority within Westminster.
Some may argue that increases in democratic engagement will necessitate increased and incompatible commitment to participate. This sentiment runs even truer in the context of the rapidly elapsing period of time available for to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions within the scope required to prevent irreversible climate breakdown.
Meanwhile, ensuring those that are currently being affected are provided with the international support to navigate unpreventable climate breakdown to come, and build resilient societies for the future.
However, in order to ensure a just transition and prevent the replication of the same economic and political models that have caused this crisis, there must be an allowance for a careful democratic process that engages all voices, with nobody and no community excluded.
It’s a gigantic task. Bringing an end to fossil fuel extraction will be an upheaval that requires widespread consent. This is why a Green New Deal is only possible if it engages with and energises the masses to accrue a mandate.
It's a necessary endeavour we must undertake if we want to avoid the worst effects of climate breakdown, but it also gives us a brilliant opportunity to reimagine democracy as we know it.
If we wish to break apart the status quo and build a new system that serves us, we can no longer allow a periodic exercise of representational democracy to be the beginning and end of an engaged population.
It’s imperative that our communities are empowered and valued to make the decisions they have most knowledge about and will subsequently be affected by.
Creating ways of working in which power is held in the hands of ordinary people requires the creation of new cultures and the immediate removal of vested interests from democratic spaces.
We need to empower people at all levels of society, in all places we associate with one another - our homes, workplaces, schools, local communities, and with service providers - only with this radical repowering of individuals can we collectively have the power to change our society entirely.
Fatima Ibrahim is co-executive director of Green New Deal UK. Jake Woodier is an organiser with Green New Deal UK and works for the UK Student Climate Network. This article originally appeared in condensed form in the 14th October printed issue of The Big Issue.