Naomi Klein and Capitalism vs. Climate Change

This Changes Everything_Green Energy FuturesIt’s increasingly obvious that the global economic system, and particularly the current brand of U.S. capitalism, are not really compatible with the actions needed to combat climate change.

Naomi Klein makes this point clear in “This Changes Everything,” which is both a passionate and controversial polemic and a reasoned discussion of the issues and forces stalling, and indeed preventing, a comprehensive response to climate change.

The problem is not the political and ideological divisions or scientific “debate,” which are hard enough to deal with — it’s mainly about money, according to Klein. The book’s subtitle is compelling: Capitalism vs. The Climate. Simply put: “Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war.”

The basic point: Taking climate change seriously means we must seriously “change everything” — our way of life and our economic structures — and capitalism isn’t helping. In fact, it can’t help the cause; it’s hurting it. Doing what needs to be done means “drastic government intervention” and collective action on an unprecedented global scale because the “very habitability of the planet depends on intervening.” This idea is, of course, anathema to the climate denier crowd. Those folks know that the global economy is “created by and fully reliant upon the burning of fossil fuels.” That foundational dependency “cannot be changed with a few market mechanisms.”

“In the short term,” Klein continues, “you might be able to argue that the economic costs of taking action are greater than allowing climate change to play out for a few more decades … But most people don’t actually like it when their children’s lives are ‘discounted’ in someone else’s Excel sheet, and they tend to have a moral aversion to the idea of allowing countries to disappear because saving them would be too expensive.”

As Klein notes, this is both the climate deniers’ intellectual pretzel problem and their mission: It’s always easier to deny reality and claim rampant conspiracies and hoaxes than to allow their worldview to be shattered.

Thus although we are faced with a crisis that threatens our survival as a species, “our entire culture is continuing to do the very thing that caused the crisis, only with an extra dose of elbow grease behind it.” Cognitive dissonance reigns; it’s so easy: “All we have to do is not react as if this is a full blown crisis…then, bit by bit, we will have arrived at the place we most fear, the thing from which have been averting our eyes.”

There are quotes like these on almost every page of this necessary book. Klein makes it sound unsolvable, but she doesn’t quite cross that line. “We have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis.”

Yes, we are stuck because the actions needed to avert catastrophe while benefiting the vast majority threaten the stranglehold that the “elite minority” has on the economy, our political process and most of the major media outlets, Klein says.

We can get unstuck, she argues, once we acknowledge that the free market cannot accomplish what needs to be done. This will not happen easily or without upheaval. There are ways of preventing, or mitigating, the grim future that climate change presents. It’s not simply about spending a lot of money and changing a lot of policies: “It’s that we need to think differently, radically differently” for changes to be even remotely possible.

“The good news is that many of these changes are distinctly un-catastrophic. Many are downright exciting.”

Exciting perhaps but ultimately not wholly convincing. Can, as Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1967, a “radical revolution of values” shift our society from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society? That was nearly 50 years ago in another context, but there is not another 50 years available for the sort of transformation needed to address climate change.

Can, or will, “extraordinary levels of social mobilization” to force action regarding climate change occur? Will we take our smartphones to the streets in massive demonstrations demanding action and sacrifices during another climate change crisis? I’m willing to be taken by surprise by Operation Climate Change.

Image credit: This Changes Everything by Green Energy Futures via Flickr cc

writer, editor, reader and general good (ok mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by

17 responses

  1. The man made climate change movement has been taken over by Marxists who hate capitalism and the USA and want to redistribute our wealth to least developed countries. PCC is often now shown to be lies or false statements indicating the people working on the UN IPCC have th knowledge of a 3 year old. How did you like them making up the claim that 97% of climate scientists are in favor of climate change , or just in favor of climate, based on counting publications rather than polling scientists? What a fraud. Some scientists publish no papers and were not counted. Some published hundreds of papers and were counted as hundreds of scientists. To make it even more unbelievable in its gall and ineptitude, the UN IPCC did not even apply a defined criteria to classify a paper as in favor of climate change! If a scientists felt only 1% of GW is caused by man made CO2 he was counted in favor just as much as a scientist claiming 100% of Gw is caused by man made CO2. What an absurdity. We get garbage in-garbage out from the UN IPCC. We also have seen outright lies exposed like the claim the Himalayan Mountain glaciers were shown to be melting in apeer reviewed journal article. A whistle blowere exposed that deliberate lie. .

    1. And we get garbage in-garbage out from all american besser wisser experts thinking they know everything about everything.

      An assessment of about 200,000 glaciers in the world, some of which have been monitored since the mid 19th century, has found that about two thirds of the current rate of glacial melting is due to human influences on the climate. The study found that about 25 per cent of the global loss of glacier ice that occurred between 1851 and 2010 could be attributable to human influences, but that this rose to about 69 per cent between 1991 and 2010, based on computer simulations of the climate that included natural and man-made effects.

      As Einstein said: “Small is the number of people who see with their eyes and think with their minds.” and “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human
      stupidity, and I am not sure about the former.”

        1. The other side of the argument you refer to is heavily funded by the oil and chemical industries, lobbyists and those opposed to climate change mandates. And probably the Scientologists. You go ahead and side with them, they need you.

    2. I try not to feed the climate trolls, but sometimes its hard to resist. What kicks me is that ultimately this is a quality of life issue, and here we have people trying to prevent the world from providing a better future for its children. Years from now they’ll look back on comments like these in astonishment and wonder why there was so much antagonism towards what is fundamentally an effort to provide a healthy and safe future for generations to come, and opposition to the necessary response to climate change will surely be listed right up there with the worst of human atrocities.

  2. The deniers are right about one thing. It is not a few rich people who won’t let us convert to renewable. Fossil fuel is portable, dense with energy, has huge energy profit. There is no replacement that can provide modern life, indeed even keep 7 billion alive. Think solar powered airliner, battery operated bulldozer, windmill operated steel mill.

    The book I want to read is how to have cars, planes, hot tubs, ski lifts, central heating and a/c, etc etc etc. without fossil fuels. I would even settle for pleasant subsistence. If that existed, I think we could overcome the corporate/political obstacles. Maybe not the conversion problem.

    I don’t agree with the 1% that they are there because they are uniquely valuable, most are “right place right time” or pre-existing advantage (whose kids you are). I do agree with them that the enterprises they profit from is the way we organize the production of modern life through burning fossil fuels.

    There is one practical way to decrease carbon, and that is for each of us to obsessively reduce our carbon as much as possible. Vegetarian, no hot shower, no optional driving, minimal heat and a/c. In the late 2000s economic downturn, co2 emissions went down when people did this because they had less money. Economic stimulus is printing money to enable to resume, and carbon increase has resumed.

    The idea of a carbon tax amuses me. Either the low income people then can’t live, or we redistribute the tax to enable them to burn the carbon we are trying to stop burning. Somebody build a working model of modern life without carbon for me. I want to see it. Everything else is arguing about who takes what hits.

    1. jt95124, I agree with you and have made similar coments. i have not seen any statements about how humans can survive in 2030 or 2050 if all use of fossil fuels is banned. 95% of the people will starve to death because agriculture uses 14% of all the energy used just in the USA. It is nice to claim alternative fuels and energy sources will be available but that is just a guess. So far fusion has not been proven feasible. nuclear is banned because of Chernobyl and the Japan mess. Hydroelectric power is cheap and clean but environmentalists and the EPA have blocked dam construction and have even removed dams so fish can spawn. Dammed rivers are no longer natural habitats for migrating fish. I love it when a delusional green advocate just says ,” We can stop using fossil fuel, somehow.The answer will just be there somehow.” If it is not there and fossil fuels are banned expect people also to die when they freeze in winter. I see the whole proposal now as fantasy land and would like the UN IPCC and climate scientists to return to the real world.

      1. Check out the book “Heat” by George Monbiot. He devotes chapters to how to accomplish many of our currently fossil-fueled activities in a climate/energy-constrained world.

    2. The dirty little secret that no one will talk about, is that there is no alternative to fossil fuels. The alternatives we have are all themselves dependent on fossil fuels.
      Unless we genetically modify humans, your suggestions aren’t going to happen.

  3. “The consensus is in. “The debate is over.” “It is increasingly obvious…”
    You can always tell when someone’s pushing a lie with no factual basis.

  4. The first line is “It’s increasingly obvious that the global economic system, and particularly the current brand of U.S. capitalism, are not really compatible with the actions needed to combat climate change.” If that is not obvious to you, you are on the left of the bell curve and should not be commenting.

  5. Humans have and are forcing serious pressures on the planet’s capacity to sustain not only our civilization but the life of many other species.

    However, this book is rife with ridiculous comments and cherry-picked sources. Klein is a ideologue and her ideas (as opposed to her writing) are amateurish and misleading. Here is a review, open access, of This Changes Everything in our subscription newsletter for corporate environmental managers, which has been published by independent journalists since 1998.

  6. Real “capitalists” and “free market” advocates do not destroy the natural capital, nature’s amazing hidden genetic potentials hidden in every seed, seedling, soil and organic cell and organism and logical system on earth……hidden genetic potentials, genius of nature that humans need every second to keep humans alive day to day and minute to minute.

    Yet our human cash system counts the most critical flows for life, photosynthetic oxygen as O2 the least……the next most critical flow, water as H2O the next least…..the next most critical flow, rich, organic topsoil production and sailmakers the next least, soil to grow food ……even though humans die within minutes without O2, within days without H2O, within months without food….

    Crushing and destroying life and land of nature’s amazing but hidden productivity is not “good business” ….but self-destructive instead.

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