Naomi Klein Adresses Climate Change

by Brian McGraw on November 10, 2011

in Blog

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The Competitive Enterprise Institute gets a disapproving nod from Naomi Klein in her latest essay for The Nation:

Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who specializes in harassing climate scientists with nuisance lawsuits and Freedom of Information fishing expeditions, angles the table mic over to his mouth. “You can believe this is about the climate,” he says darkly, “and many people do, but it’s not a reasonable belief.” Horner, whose prematurely silver hair makes him look like a right-wing Anderson Cooper, likes to invoke Saul Alinsky: “The issue isn’t the issue.” The issue, apparently, is that “no free society would do to itself what this agenda requires…. The first step to that is to remove these nagging freedoms that keep getting in the way.”

(Before we go any further, Horner addressed this FOIA complaint earlier this week, after Lisa Jackson suggested that those engaged in asking for taxpayer funded communications that they are entitled to under the law were “criminal.” )

She’s going to call us on this — right? She doesn’t want to end capitalism as we know it, she just wants a large carbon tax so we can dot our landscape with windmills in the next few decades and ride off into the sunset on our new carbon-free ponies. Well, no, she’s going to largely confirm that she believes unfettered capitalism is going to destroy the world, and we need to reorganize society around localized organic farming or community co-ops or something:

Here’s my inconvenient truth: they aren’t wrong. Before I go any further, let me be absolutely clear: as 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists attest, the Heartlanders are completely wrong about the science. The heat-trapping gases released into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels are already causing temperatures to increase. If we are not on a radically different energy path by the end of this decade, we are in for a world of pain.

But when it comes to the real-world consequences of those scientific findings, specifically the kind of deep changes required not just to our energy consumption but to the underlying logic of our economic system, the crowd gathered at the Marriott Hotel may be in considerably less denial than a lot of professional environmentalists, the ones who paint a picture of global warming Armageddon, then assure us that we can avert catastrophe by buying “green” products and creating clever markets in pollution.

The fact that the earth’s atmosphere cannot safely absorb the amount of carbon we are pumping into it is a symptom of a much larger crisis, one born of the central fiction on which our economic model is based: that nature is limitless, that we will always be able to find more of what we need, and that if something runs out it can be seamlessly replaced by another resource that we can endlessly extract. But it is not just the atmosphere that we have exploited beyond its capacity to recover—we are doing the same to the oceans, to freshwater, to topsoil and to biodiversity. The expansionist, extractive mindset, which has so long governed our relationship to nature, is what the climate crisis calls into question so fundamentally. The abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal—and acutely sensitive to natural limits, including the limits of human intelligence.

So in a way, Chris Horner was right when he told his fellow Heartlanders that climate change isn’t “the issue.” In fact, it isn’t an issue at all. Climate change is a message, one that is telling us that many of our culture’s most cherished ideas are no longer viable. These are profoundly challenging revelations for all of us raised on Enlightenment ideals of progress, unaccustomed to having our ambitions confined by natural boundaries. And this is true for the statist left as well as the neoliberal right.

Though I applaud the honesty, her viewpoint is about as marginalized in the climate debate as those average-Joe conference attendees she mocks in her introduction. The centrist/moderate left view is that a large carbon tax or cap-and-trade system is necessary, and many believe a high-enough price is sufficient given global participation (though you can definitely find more views similar to Klein out there). Though (as I understand it) the Heartland stance is that this is not the optimal idea in the present, its hardly an end to capitalism, or globalization, or whatever other wealth-creating system Klein has focused her axe on. Throughout modern history, relatively-free markets have produced the highest living standards, health, etc. ever seen before in the world, all the while dealing with various carbon copies of Naomi Klein screaming from the top of their lungs that humanity is doomed at every turn.

And yes, some of those that attend political conferences or are very involved activists have crazy views, and unfortunately they are often the most vocal. Such is life, just look at some of the destructive –yet marginalized — demands coming out of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Let’s end with a few more of her terrificly bad ideas:

Climate change demands other forms of planning as well—particularly for workers whose jobs will become obsolete as we wean ourselves off fossil fuels. A few “green jobs” trainings aren’t enough. These workers need to know that real jobs will be waiting for them on the other side. That means bringing back the idea of planning our economies based on collective priorities rather than corporate profitability—giving laid-off employees of car plants and coal mines the tools and resources to create jobs, for example, with Cleveland’s worker-run green co-ops serving as a model.

Agriculture, too, will have to see a revival in planning if we are to address the triple crisis of soil erosion, extreme weather and dependence on fossil fuel inputs. Wes Jackson, the visionary founder of the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, has been calling for “a fifty-year farm bill.” That’s the length of time he and his collaborators Wendell Berry and Fred Kirschenmann estimate it will take to conduct the research and put the infrastructure in place to replace many soil-depleting annual grain crops, grown in monocultures, with perennial crops, grown in polycultures. Since perennials don’t need to be replanted every year, their long roots do a much better job of storing scarce water, holding soil in place and sequestering carbon. Polycultures are also less vulnerable to pests and to being wiped out by extreme weather. Another bonus: this type of farming is much more labor intensive than industrial agriculture, which means that farming can once again be a substantial source of employment.

Outside the Heartland conference and like-minded gatherings, the return of planning is nothing to fear. We are not talking about a return to authoritarian socialism, after all, but a turn toward real democracy. The thirty-odd-year experiment in deregulated, Wild West economics is failing the vast majority of people around the world. These systemic failures are precisely why so many are in open revolt against their elites, demanding living wages and an end to corruption. Climate change doesn’t conflict with demands for a new kind of economy. Rather, it adds to them an existential imperative.

Here we have support for labor intensive industries, a call for centralized planning for collective priorities, and a 50 year farm bill — all known for their negative correlation with wealth creation. I wonder what she thinks of genetically modified foods.

What gets conveniently lost in the far left’s characterization of the climate-deniers (I’m confident they’re trying hard to understand) is that much of the debate is focused on the extent to which temperatures will rise from a doubling of carbon dioxide and the effects this will have on the world. And on the eve of the latest attempt to secure global climate efforts, we have a new study which is rumored to be appearing in the well known Koch-funded right-wing cabal known as Science magazine, which believes that the IPCC has overestimated the upper bounds on climate feedback from a doubling of CO2:

There is word circulating that a paper soon to appear in Science magazine concludes that the climate sensitivity—how much the earth’s average temperature will rise as a result of a doubling of the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide—likely (that is, with a 66% probability) lies in the range 1.7°C to 2.6°C, with a median value of 2.3°C. This is a sizeable contraction and reduction from the estimates of the climate sensitivity given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), in which the likely range is given as 2.0°C to 4.5°C, with a best estimate of 3.0°C.

This is only one study (and its not the only one predicting low sensitivity), but perhaps the world isn’t headed off the cliff that Klein believes we’re headed off.



Bob LaVelle November 10, 2011 at 3:44 pm

You do not answer her central point. In the field of medicine, perpetual growth is called cancer. How does an economy that pulls the natural world through itself continue to grow ad infinitum? How does an eternally, perpetually growing subsystem (the economy) of a finite system (the world) continually expand without wrecking its host?

Peter S. Mizla November 11, 2011 at 7:34 am

Peter Mizla Nov 11, 2011, 7:08am EST
The climate system does change. However the question that must be asked is HOW? over the last 500,000 years we have had glacial periods – and warmer interglacial periods like now- the last interglacial warmer then today was the ‘Eemian’ 125,000 years ago- when it was about 1 degree C warmer then now- but these periods of warmer and cooler where caused by slight changes in the earths orbit, and the tilt of the axis. And they took far longer then the warming we are seeing now.

We have seen warming of 1C degree since about 1950 which is unprecedented in the planets geologic history in such a short period of time- Sources;
The Hadley Climate Center

‘Cycles’ of climate change in the more distant past where indeed caused by ‘natural events’- on tectonic and volcanic activity over tens of thousands of years-

the last great warming event was the ‘PETM’ 55 million years ago- when vast amounts of carbon – C02 and cH4 (methane) where induced by heavy continental shift and volcanic activity- temperatures rose 5-7 degrees C over 20,000 years )very swift in geologic time)

C02 is now being introduced 10,000 times faster! This means humans in burning fossil fuels for energy are now adding carbon into the atmosphere at an unprecedented pace!

If we continue on a BAU track- we could do in less then 90 years, what the PETM did in 20,000 yrs.

The earth has cooled ever since the PETM- however scientists can now go back and get approximate C02 levels to nearly 20,000,000 yrs to the Miocene when C02 was as high as today (393ppm) sustained in time- at that time there was no ice in the arctic or Greenland year round- the Western Antarctic ice sheet did not exist- and sea levels where 100 feet higher then today.

The science is air tight on global warming- and the facts are truly frightening.

R.J. November 13, 2011 at 11:41 am

The science is NOT airtite by any stretch of the imagination with respect to age. It is full of holes, full of falsified data, and full if what comes out of the rear end of a horse as far as I’m concerned. Anyone who says a matter is settled and no further investigation need take place is an activist not a scientist.

Ms. Klien shows us her true stripes in this one paragraph:

Climate change demands other forms of planning as well—particularly for workers whose jobs will become obsolete as we wean ourselves off fossil fuels. A few “green jobs” trainings aren’t enough. These workers need to know that real jobs will be waiting for them on the other side. That means bringing back the idea of planning our economies based on collective priorities rather than corporate profitability—giving laid-off employees of car plants and coal mines the tools and resources to create jobs, for example, with Cleveland’s worker-run green co-ops serving as a model.

That’s Marxism through and through and, like Marx lamented the effects of the industrial revolution in his “Manifesto”, his modern day counterparts are still at it with their call for “centrally planned economies” that put the concerns of the “collective” ahead of “corporate profits”. Pathetic. You “watermelons” are losing the argument. Only an imbeciles would conclude that throwing trillions of dollars down a hole to effect a mitigation of “AGW” that would be both barely measurable and unnoticeable is anything but economic suicide! Futhermore, only a wealthy country has the means and the money to clean up it’s environmental messes. Destroying the engine that produces that wealth virtually guarantees a dirtier environment. The ten most polluted places on earth are in third world basket cases, not the western civilized world. You peole are too stupid to “manage” the earth and I do not wish to be an “ant” in a colony or a “cog” in your collectivist wheel fantasies of utopia…You and your ideas must be defeated.

The earth’s eventual destruction and by extension all life on it is a certainty. The only hope we have, that life has, is our ability to continue to developed new technologies and that is going to take money, lots of it. The modern advances we all enjoy today came Crome the minds of the individual pursuing his interests not the collective shoving them down our throats! If new, cleaner forms of energy are going to be found, it will be done that way, not yours.

Charlie November 16, 2011 at 6:07 am

If you don’t agree that the earth is in crisis, then you are bullshitting yourself! 7 billion people already live on planet earth with population continuing to explode. China and India and Brazil and other developing countries are rapidly increasing demand for natural resources and commodities that well eventually become more and more scarce and thus more and more expensive. Scarcity coupled with greed may readily lead to wars over resource distribution. Failure of the world, its peoples, its governments, its institutions to renounce unrestrained growth and instead embrace sustainability will surely doom the planet. Yes– sustainability and fairness would require wealthy societies to give up the pursuit of more and more wealth and more and more greedy consumption and perhaps even to sacrifice some wealth so that other societies can have a fair share. I wish I could believe that any of this change of attitude and action is possible. Given that economic and political power is already heavily concentrated in self-centered, gain-greedy oligarchs– and that that power grows unrestrainedly– perhaps economic collapse or some catastrophic natural disaster is the only thing that might save planet earth as a viable ecosystem for human life survival. Sure, I would like to believe that new technology and entrepreneurship will save the planet without any change in current economic and political trajectories. I just don’t see how it could happen.

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