Saturday, September 20, 2014

On Naomi Klein's Climate Change Battle

Suzanne DeChillo/
The New York Times
So far, I've just dipped into This Changes Everything, but the introduction alone is a compelling read.  I made my way through Shock Doctrine several summers ago, and it broadened how I think of the world.  This should be an interesting trip where even the Nature Conservancy doesn't escape scrutiny.

A review by Drew Nelles in today's Globe & Mail summarizes some of her ideas, and raises a contradictory message found in the book:   "If capitalism itself is the problem, what does Klein mean when she writes that '[t]here is plenty of room to make profit in a zero-carbon economy'...." I think it just shows how deeply we're into the mindset of capitalism, and that we need to be given a bone.  It's too hard to alter the entire ideology, so some remnants remain to get us involved.  Many people are still hoping to stop the burning of fossil fuels without affecting our lives too dramatically - and I wonder if it's possible to do, as Klein seems to suggest here, or if it's just the only message that people will accept at this point - enough to also accept that "oil companies will have to be forced, through popular pressure and legislative action, to let themselves die - to become as fossilized as the long-dead life forms they suck from the Earth" (Nelles).

Klein can also be seen in a Democracy Now interview last Thursday where she explains some of the ideas in the book.  (She's a much better writer than a speaker, though, so I edited out the "yeah, well"s from the the following bit of the transcript.)

She explains the two tactics necessary to our survival, championing Germany as the model for improvement:
I think two things need to happen at once, and this is what the German experience shows us. You need to have bold national policies, like you need to have feed-in tariffs. You need to have clear goals—how much of your grid is going to switch to renewable energy, by what time. You need to have the right incentives in place. I think what Germany shows, too, is [the flaws with thinking] that it’s a big problem, so we need only big solutions, and [arguing] in favor of nuclear power and industrial agriculture. But actually, what Germany shows is that the fastest transition we’re seeing anywhere in the world is happening through a multiplication of small-scale solutions, with well-designed, smart national policies. But that’s not enough. You also need to say no to the fossil fuel companies. So we need to close those carbon frontiers, right? We need to have clear no-go zones—no drilling in the Arctic, no new tar sands, and wind down the tar sands. We need to enshrine these fracking moratoriums into law. We need to turn the moratoriums into bans, and we need to expand them. So, it’s the yes, on the one hand; it’s the no, on the other hand. my country, in Canada, I think there’s a really clear connection with respecting indigenous land rights, because some of the largest...pools of carbon are under the lands of some of the poorest people on the planet, and much of it is under indigenous land. So, there are tremendous fights being waged by indigenous people around the world to keep the drillers out of the Amazon, to slow down the tar sands. But one of the most important things that needs to happen is that the benefits of this new economy ... the people who have been hurt the most, who have been on the front lines of the extractive economy and have got the worst deal in the unequal exchange powered by fossil fuels, need to be first in line to benefit, so that there are real options beyond just extractive economies, because people are being asked to choose between having running water and having an extractive project in their backyard which will potentially poison their water. That’s a nonchoice. People need better choices than that.
  We'll see how the march goes tomorrow.  I'll be in Toronto in a thunderstorm.  It offers some pathetic fallacy for the TV crews - one way or another.  


  1. Paul Krugman wrote an interesting recent piece in the New York Times, Marie, suggesting that the both putting a price on carbon and embracing alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power, are economically viable and would not inhibit but, in fact encourage, growth.

    Here is the link:

    1. "Climate despair is all wrong.... If we ever get past the special interests and ideology that have blocked action to save the planet, we’ll find that it’s cheaper and easier than almost anyone imagines."

      A good piece. Now to convince politicians to ignore the oil lobbyists - and a few other powerful voices with strong oil interests.

      But can we generate enough energy that our lives are unaffected by the shift? And can it be done quickly enough " a rather terrifying 2017" (Klein, 23)? George Monbiot says no and encourages some nuclear use OR the legislation or persuasion of rationing personal and corporate energy use.

      However a bumpy ride it might be towards keeping fossil fuels in the ground, it's the only path left to us.

  2. I think the profit reference may come from the school of Steady State economics. This economic model fixes the economy as a sub-set of the environment. For example, the use of renewables is not to exceed their renewal rate. Births are matched to deaths via family planning. There is no growth in production but there is growth - and profit - in knowledge, in finding ways to make goods better - more durable, upgradeable - and in improving quality and enjoyment of life. In other words the focus shifts from maximizing production of junk to more thoughtful production of generally more useful and enjoyable products. Manufacturers then compete for access to finite resources based on the merits of their products. Produce flimsy junk and you're out of business.

    1. That much of this is just going back to an older way of doing business, is hopeful so long as we can see sustainability as the new form of progress rather than having access to tons of crap.

  3. BTW, I'm just starting it too. It does seem engaging.

    1. I actually got a bit teary-eyed already. I need a thicker skin to get through this stuff.


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