Posts Tagged Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything Bryan Walker Oct 06

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Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate places the battle against climate change firmly in the context of the struggle for social justice. Fighting climate change means reordering the ways our economies are structured. The pillars of the reigning economic paradigm – privatisation, deregulation and lower taxation paid for by cuts to public spending cannot serve us for this purpose. Public spending, on the scale of a Marshall Plan for the earth, and robust public institutions are required.

Klein is no friend to neo-liberal capitalism quite apart from the climate issue, but she considers climate change adds existential urgency to her political and economic concerns. The Heartland Institute, whose sixth international conference she attended, is right, she suggests, to see climate change as a threat to the ideology they exist to defend. Her report of that conference, incidentally, is a fascinating account of the twisted logic which is common discourse in such gatherings.Klein points to the cognitive dissonance in which we are trapped:

“… a crisis we have been studiously ignoring is hitting us in the face— and yet we are doubling down on the stuff that is causing the crisis in the first place.”

What keeps us stuck in this position is that the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe and benefit most of us “present an extreme threat to the elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process and most of our major media outlets”.

In her patient and exhaustive fashion Klein explores the corporate logic that drives major and powerful companies to continue to build reserves of fossil fuels way past the point at which their burning spells disaster for humanity. She writes of the fiduciary responsibility to shareholders which “virtually guarantees that the planet will cook”, a metaphor justified by her book’s careful anchorage to climate science.

Free trade agreements, often triumphs of corporate globalisation, can prove inimical to efforts to curb climate change, whether through the increases in carbon dioxide emissions they result in or through the legal avenues they provide to prevent national action on climate change. Klein provides an example from her own province of Ontario where buy-local provisions supporting a solar company were judged illegal by the WTO making it likely that the company will close.

Reasonable in tone but devastating in effect Klein deals with a range of seemingly laudable efforts to tackle climate change which founder on their closeness to neo-liberal capitalism. Several of America’s large environmental organisations are faulted in this respect. The billionaire supporters of climate action typified by Richard Branson fall sadly short of what they appear to promise.

Politicians seem unable to extricate themselves from entanglement with the prevailing economic ideology. Klein reports on the 2009 UN climate summit conference as evidence of this, sharing Sally Wentrobe’s painful realisation that our “leaders are not looking after us…we are not cared for at the level of our very survival.”   While I was writing this review local evidence of political dereliction was yet again apparent as our Energy Minister assured a petroleum conference that continuing exploration for oil and gas in New Zealand waters would be strongly supported by the newly re-elected government and he offered anodyne assurances for the future of fossil fuels.

Can anything rescue us? Certainly not geo-engineering of the type Klein hears canvassed at a conference on the topic she attended. She sees a cure worse than the disease and the risk of genocidal “sacrifice zones” as a by-product of sun-dimming proposals.

Our best hope rests with the resistance of people’s movements to the carbon extraction frenzy of the corporate elites. Klein dwells on many such efforts in the realm she calls Blockadia, talking with people in places where energetic attempts are being made to prevent planned extractive operations. It’s the world of activism, “alive and unpredictable and very much in the streets (and mountains and farmers’ fields and forests)”. The precautionary principle holds sway here, not the cool risk assessment approach which purports to balance the dangers of climate change against the claimed negative effects of action on economic growth.

The fossil fuel divestment movement emerged from Blockadia-style attempts to stop carbon extraction at its source. On its wider scale it puts the whole industry on trial as “rogue actors whose continued economic viability rests on radical climate destabilisation”.

Indigenous groups battling against the assaults of extractive industries receive respectful and sympathetic attention from Klein, who dwells on their ready recognition of the natural world as a nurturer of life rather than an object of exploitation. She also draws attention to the ways in which Indigenous rights, if aggressively pursued through the courts and through direct action, may help protect us all from climate chaos.

Klein’s vision is ultimately  a moral one. She seeks

“an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis— embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy.”

We need this not only to create a political context to drastically lower emissions but also to help us through the disasters now unavoidable, where respect for human rights and deep compassion will be all that stands between civilisation and barbarism.

But does all the principled opposition, and the moral aspiration of more cooperative communities amount to a real force in the face of the rampaging destruction which unfettered capitalism wreaks?  Klein points to mass movements which have prevailed against powerful economic interests in the past.  The abolition of slavery presents one such case. She points out that slavery only became a problem for British and American elites when the abolition movement turned it into one, and that abolition succeeded in spite of the strong economic interests dependent on the profits from slavery. She quotes journalist Chris Hayes: “the climate justice movement is demanding that an existing set of political and economic interests be forced to say goodbye to trillions of dollars of wealth”, a situation for which he sees slavery abolition as the only precedent.

Klein’s book is ambitious in scope and rigorous in discussion. Its narratives are based on much travel and careful research. Its conclusions are thoughtful and often striking in their cogent expression. Her acknowledgments to her research staff and other helpers confirm the concerted effort that has been expended in producing the book.

It’s certainly a book worth writing. Corporate bodies whose activities threaten the very foundation of ordinary people’s lives need to be exposed. So do politicians who are hypnotised by the short term benefits of extractive economies and blind to the catastrophic longer term consequences. People who do battle with the corporate and political juggernaut of climate disaster need to be celebrated and encouraged. Klein does these things well. Her book is a notable contribution to the tough struggle for a sane political response to the climate crisis.

NZ climate policy shambles, and other summer reading Gareth Renowden Dec 17

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It’s summer down south, and New Zealand’s politicians have embarked on their summer break. It’s summer in Waipara too, and with yesterday topping 30ºC and today heading in the same direction, your blogger has immediate climate concerns of an irrigation and vine management nature to attend to. So, with apologies for what may turn out to be less frequent posting over the next few weeks, here’s a quick round-up of stuff worth reading.

The NZ government will be relieved to be heading to the beaches after being battered by a hail of criticism for their climate policies over the last week. Brian Fallow, the NZ Herald‘s economics editor, was especially direct in his dissection of NZ’s climate policy settings post-Doha:

The Government’s climate change policy is a shambles and a disgrace. Unless, that is, you are happy for the costs of the inevitable adjustment to a low-carbon future to be needlessly increased and pushed onto the young, in which case it is doing a great job.

Gareth Morgan joined in, calling for the government to come clean about what its policies really mean:

National really should be proud of its pragmatic judgement that capping emissions is beyond us. At least then New Zealanders would be faced with that fact and could begin to think about our future. With a dairy industry that has raised the number of cows from 2 to 4.5million and is incentivised to keep expanding those numbers ad infinitum, there is no chance emissions will be capped. Isn’t the relevant question then whether that’s the sort of industry we wish to underwrite?

Bear in mind that the average industrial dairy unit in Canterbury produces as much raw sewage as a small town, NZ’s rivers and lakes are being polluted by agricultural run-off, and that dairy farmers and their business arm Fonterra appear to have a stranglehold on agricultural policy. If Morgan’s question was put to the general population — the population that is paying taxes to subsidise agricultural emissions, seemingly in perpetuity — then there would be only one answer.

All of this is proving frustrating for sustainable business expert David Thompson, writing in Idealog:

The scientists aren’t wrong about the threat, I’m not wrong about our capability and the last I heard, the Flying Spaghetti Monster was unable to fit us into his busy schedule. So unless someone can give me a really good argument why we’re better off doing nothing, let’s take control. Now.

That call to action is echoed (on a somewhat bigger stage) by Naomi Klein, in an interview at The Phoenix where she discusses her involvement with Bill McKibben’s Do The Math campaign, and her decision to have a child:

If anything, the experience has made Klein all the more a fighter. She now believes that denying her desire to have a child, because of the mess being made by those willing to destroy the planet for profit, would be a form of surrender.

“I guess what I want to say is, I don’t want to give them that power,” she told me. “I’d rather fight like hell than give these evil motherfuckers the power to extinguish the desire to create life.”

Klein’s views on how to approach the emissions problem — nationalise the oil companies — are hardly likely to enter the mainstream any time soon, but we need people like her articulating approaches that go beyond the business as usual approach that created the mess — both economic and climate-related — that we have to start cleaning up. And it’s getting more and more difficult the longer we allow the people who claim to be our leaders to do nothing.

What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism Bryan Walker Dec 22

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A couple of months ago when the publishers sent me a review copy I’d requested of The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth they enclosed another shorter book in case I might like to review it as well. I thought from the title it was possibly too similar to The Ecological Rift to warrant a further review. And it is similar in its broad thesis. But it’s also short and punchy, and encouraged by Naomi Klein’s recommendation of it as ’relentlessly persuasive’ and ’indispensable’ I read it through and decided to give it mention on its own account. The title is What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism. It’s written by Fred Magdoff, professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont, and John Bellamy Foster, one of the authors of The Ecological Rift.

Why aren’t we responding rationally to the enormous threat of climate change and other major environmental warnings? Why do we persist in behaviours which are clearly dangerous to the human future and already impinging negatively on the welfare of some populations? Why does reckless disregard mark so much of our economic activity? Magdoff and Foster reply that capitalism, ’so much part of our lives that it is invisible, like the air we breathe’, is unable to pursue any course other than relentless growth. Nor in its drive for profit and accumulation is it able to take into account the human and environmental cost of its exploitation of natural resources. The phenomenon of ’cheap’ coal is one example offered. ’There is nothing in the nature of the current system … that will allow it to pull back before it is too late.’ They hold out scant hope for the green capitalism that some see developing.

My heart sinks when I read such analyses. Not that I want to quarrel with the perception that the capitalist economy is unsustainable ecologically, slanted heavily in favour of the rich and simply unjust in what it provides for the poor. It’s just that waiting until it is replaced by something else is not feasible in the face of the urgent problems confronting us. It was therefore with some relief that I discovered in the final chapter that the authors recommend struggling here and now, within the existing system, to address urgent environmental problems, while at the same time creating an expectation for bigger changes to follow.

The steps they suggest worth engaging with are not unfamiliar to many of us and are demanding to champion in the current economic setting. They include: the institution of a carbon tax of the kind espoused by James Hansen, with the proceeds returned to the population on an equal per capita basis; blocking the building of new coal plants (without carbon capture and storage, which is not currently feasible) and closing old ones; blocking any development of tar sands or oil/gas shale production; energy efficiency combined with reducing energy use; renewable sources for all energy production; more sustainable agriculture; and much else. There’s plenty to be getting on with. The authors speak of it as working in the interstices of the current system ’towards a new social metabolism rooted in egalitarianism, community, and a sustainable relation to the earth’. They call it the ecological revolution and it will depend on forces from the bottom of society.

There’s much thoughtful detail along the way to buttress the central argument of the writers. The gross disparities in income and wealth, of which the book reminds us, are in themselves enough to expose the human failures of capitalism. In the US the richest 400 individuals in 2007 had a net worth equal to that of the bottom 150 million people. One fascinating sidelight for me was the reference to Plato, some 2400 years ago, writing in very specific terms of the erosion of soil from hills around Athens as a result of deforestation. There’s not much doubt about what he would have made of climate change.

Socialism and capitalism are abstract terms. They’re worth examining and debating. But wherever one falls on the political spectrum it’s hard to argue with the blunt concrete conclusion of the book that the important questions are: ’What about the people?’ and ’What about the local, regional and global ecosystems on which we all depend?’ — rather than ’How much money can I make?’

As my own country New Zealand launches into a frenetic new round of coal, gas and oil exploration, in flat contradiction of all the scientific warnings, I finished the book wondering whether those first two questions have any chance of being listened to by the foolish politicians who are so busy answering the third in glowing terms.

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Klein in Bolivia: global democracy is the way forward Bryan Walker Apr 23

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Naomi Klein has been to Bolivia. She reports in the Guardian on the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held this week.

The Copenhagen Accord speaks of keeping global warming to two degrees. In fact to date the emissions reductions pledged under the Accord put the world on the path to three degrees. But two degrees, Morales told the conference, ’would mean the melting of the Andean and Himalayan glaciers.’

Klein points out that Bolivia is in the midst of a dramatic political transformation which has nationalised key industries and elevated the voices of indigenous peoples.

’But when it comes to Bolivia’s most pressing, existential crisis — the fact that its glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, threatening the water supply in two major cities — Bolivians are powerless to do anything to change their fate on their own.’

Only deep emission cuts in the industrialised world can avert the catastrophe facing countries like Bolivia and Tuvalu. That’s what the leaders of endangered nations argued for passionately at Copenhagen. ’They were politely told the political will in the north just wasn’t there.’

They were also shut out of the closed door negotiations which led to the Accord. And when Bolivia and Ecuador refused to endorse the Accord the US government cut their climate aid by $3 million and $2.5 million respectively. ’It’s not a freerider process,’ was the explanation of US climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing.  That strikes me as an extremely ironic statement given the disproportionate emissions of the US, a point which Klein makes in this way:

’Anyone wondering why activists from the global south reject the idea of ‘climate aid’ and are instead demanding repayment of ‘climate debts’ has their answer here.’

Klein goes so far as to say that the message in Pershing’s words was that if you are poor you don’t have the right to prioritise your own survival. This is the context for her characterisation of the conference as ’a revolt against this experience of helplessness, an attempt to build a base of power behind the right to survive.’

There were four big ideas proposed for the conference by the Bolivian government:

  • ’That nature should be granted rights that protect ecosystems from annihilation (a ‘universal declaration of Mother Earth rights’);
  • that those who violate those rights and other international environmental agreements should face legal consequences (a ‘climate justice tribunal’);
  • that poor countries should receive various forms of compensation for a crisis they are facing but had little role in creating (‘climate debt’);
  • and that there should be a mechanism for people around the world to express their views on these topics (‘world people’s referendum on climate change’).’

Seventeen civil society working groups worked for weeks online and for a week together to prepare recommendations. Klein describes the process as ’fascinating but far from perfect’, and suggests that its most important contribution may be Bolivia’s enthusiastic commitment to participatory democracy.

She thinks this because of her concern that after the failure of Copenhagen the idea that democracy is at fault ’went viral’. The UN process of votes to 192 countries is too cumbersome and solutions are better found in small groups.  She sees James Lovelock’s recent statement as an example: “It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.”

Klein won’t have a bar of this. It is the small groupings which have caused us to lose ground and weakened already inadequate existing agreements. She notes that Bolivia came to Copenhagen with a climate change policy drafted by social movements through a participatory process, resulting, in her view, in the most transformative and radical vision so far.

She sees the people’s conference as Bolivia trying to take what it has done at national level and globalise it, inviting the world to participate in drafting a joint climate agenda ahead of the next UN climate conference in Cancun. She quotes Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Pablo Solón: “The only thing that can save mankind from a tragedy is the exercise of global democracy.”

Her conclusion:

’If he is right, the Bolivian process might save not just our warming planet, but our failing democracies as well. Not a bad deal at all.’

Whatever one makes of the various avenues being pursued (if that’s not too strong a word) in achieving emission reductions, there is a need for the voices of the most endangered nations to be heard.  It seems likely that they will need to be raised to the level of loud and clear before a great deal of notice is taken of them. Bolivia recognises its vulnerability to glacier melt, and to various other threats which were identified in an Oxfam report last year discussed here on Hot Topic. It would be a failure of a government’s duty to its citizens to remain quiet. Their steps to mobilise global opinion should not be treated with indifference or contempt. And it is to be hoped that the US cutting off of funding will be reversed. It looked suspiciously like punishment, and undeserved at that.

Rage against the machine Gareth Renowden Nov 15

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Before I begin the onerous task of catching up with the posts left undone by a fortnight of tourism and hospitality (old friends, in NZ), I’d like to draw your attention to a most interesting piece by Naomi (No Logo) Klein in the current Rolling Stone. Titled Climate Rage, it’s a thorough examination of the issue of climate debt — the need to recognise two things in any climate deal: that the developed world got rich by using up and exceeding the atmosphere’s “headroom” for greenhouse gases, and that the ones who suffer first and most severely will be the developing world, who played no part in creating the problem.

“If we are to curb emissions in the next decade, we need a massive mobilization larger than any in history,” [Angelica] Navarro [climate negotiator for Bolivia] declared at the end of her talk. “We need a Marshall Plan for the Earth. This plan must mobilize financing and technology transfer on scales never seen before. It must get technology onto the ground in every country to ensure we reduce emissions while raising people’s quality of life. We have only a decade.”

Klein reviews the calls for climate equity coming from the developing world, and the inadequacy of the responses currently on offer. She highlights the frustration felt:

The developing world has always had plenty of reasons to be pissed off with their northern neighbors, with our tendency to overthrow their governments, invade their countries and pillage their natural resources. But never before has there been an issue so politically inflammatory as the refusal of people living in the rich world to make even small sacrifices to avert a potential climate catastrophe. In Bangladesh, the Maldives, Bolivia, the Arctic, our climate pollution is directly responsible for destroying entire ways of life – yet we keep doing it.

If you read nothing else today, read this.

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