Socialist economist Naomi Klein speaks truth to power once more in her recent book, This Changes Everything, Capitalism vs. The Climate. She is convinced that climate scientists are correct in their predictions that our current course of unbridled carbon pollution will threaten both the natural environment and the civilization built upon the favorable conditions of the past several thousand years. She proposes that the struggle against environmental destruction and the struggle against poverty are one in the same.
Klein attempts to mainstream the combination of these two concepts into the term “climate justice.” Two news reports in January 2015 lend this idea support. A NOAA/NASA analysis shows 2014 as the globally warmest year in recorded history. The charity Oxfam presented evidence at the World Economic Forum conference in Switzerland that 1% of the world’s population will come to control 50% of the world’s wealth in 2015. Wealth-producing carbon pollution wrecks the atmosphere and impoverishes people at the same time.
Conservatives, a.k.a, free market capitalists, a.k.a. “neoliberals,” continue their concentration of wealth and the CO/2 level continues to rise. Neoliberals breathe the same air as the rest of us, so what are they missing? Klein speculates that the ideology of low tax, low regulation libertarianism has become so ingrained that the right wingers fundamentally cannot admit the truth of global climate change. To do so would challenge their identity.
Climate disruption cannot be addressed solely by individuals or even by entire countries. “Global warming” is already creating disasters everywhere and will only get worse. The response to this must be one of hyper-regulation and internationalism on a previously unknown scale. Which is to say that if Klein’s hypothesis is correct, then the neoliberals are not only wrong, but more than wrong. If global warming is true, then their entire belief system (and thus their personal and ideological identity) is demonstratively false. The destruction of America (and the world, for that matter) is preferable to admitting that their beliefs and lives are a sham.
Corporate interests putting profits about patriotism is nothing new, but the stakes are very high. What will happen to democratic government when climate disasters pile up in an overwhelming way?
Rather crazily, the renewable energy technology needed to significantly mitigate climate change already exists and putting that technology into place would create far more jobs than the ones produced the carbon industry now. Thus saving the environment plus economic opportunity for an ever great number of people equals social justice.
Arrayed against common sense is the well financed greed of the carbon industry. That wealth is used to buy media, politicians and elections. And where that isn’t enough, industry shills have infiltrated several once effective environmental organizations (The Nature Conservancy, et. al.) to effectively neutralize much of the threat those organizations might pose to our corporate overlords.
Klein’s well researched book thoroughly explores these and other issues, but I will skip to the Now What? question. Having exposed the fearsome forces arrayed against us who believe that saving nature and civilization is a higher value than continuing on a course of neo-fascism and corporate corruption, Klein proposes a surprising remedy. Her solution seems to reside in faith that “Blockadia,” small unit citizen action, has a chance of prevailing against greedy, destructive corporations. Yet at the very beginning of the book she makes the opposite argument that the small scale actions of recycling, driving less, etc. is of minor consequence compared to the scale of the environmental disasters facing us.
If her premise that we are facing certain destruction is correct, then her solution of grass roots citizen action, while admirable, doesn’t seem to rise to the level of the problem. She rightly accuses many of us, corporate-types and social activists alike, of not taking the problem of carbon pollution seriously enough, leading both billionaires and conservationists to propose easy solutions that ultimately won’t work. She suggests that many of us don’t have the courage of our convictions, and doubtless this is true.
But if admitting to the likelihood of an apocalyptic future is a first step in avoiding that future, then voting for a green candidate or boycotting a local mining operation just will not be enough. Klein’s well documented criticisms of our current economic and political system call not for wishy-washy actions (Occupy Wall Street, etc.) but for a thorough anti-corporate, anti-carbon revolution. She is an economist, not a political theorist, so maybe economic analysis goes only so far. She does warn, however, that the longer we wait to address the issues of social justice, the more draconian will be the remedies once we admit to having no choice but to change or die.