Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Decade Zero

"This Changes Everything –Capitalism vs. the Climate,” by Naomi Klein, 2014

Bill McKibben’s wants a big march.  Chris Hedges wants ‘civil disobedience’ at Wall Street, evidently based on pleading for them to divest from carbon.  The Big Green organizations have worked for years with corporations to reduce carbon emissions and it hasn’t worked.   Al Gore still thinks that a carbon tax will work.  Pipe-dreamer Paul Krugman opines that technological conversion will make a green economy painless and easy.  Ban Ki-Moon is just upset that almost 30 years of UN resolutions have done almost nothing - and proposes another.  U.S. Government wind credits expired this year, leading to a 92% drop in private-sector funding according to Bloomberg. Obama is still going ‘voluntary’ with an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy.  Obama figures he can strike deals with the Republicans – and also with Mother Nature. 

What is wrong with this picture? 

We have a world-historic crisis on our hands – probably bigger than any issue that has come along.  Naomi Klein has an urgent hint.  It’s not going to change unless the underlying economic system substantially changes.  Klein does not call for socialism, like all careful and frightened social-democrats.  But emboldened first by Occupy, then Piketty, Klein has decided to put the tail on the right donkey – capitalism.    Not just disaster capitalism – capitalism.

This book is probably the most comprehensive attack on capitalist environmentalism from the soft left.  It attempts to be sweeping and tries not to pull any punches – but of course it does.  Eco-Marxists and left-anarchists have been saying even more radical things like this for years, but now the dialog is creeping into the lefty mainstream.  Klein is a good writer and avoids the jargon or theory that some find difficult.  Although anything ‘without a theory’ actually has one buried within it, and this includes Klein. The book is packed with information and statistics, and her own personal struggle to have a child, all served in context.  Her personal experience as a woman let her see that the damage to living things from carbon starts in the processes of birth.  For instance, many of the aquatic species in the Gulf are now having trouble reproducing because of the BP oil disaster.  This issue is normally ignored by government statistics. 


Carbon in the atmosphere is now poking over 400 ppm.  Only in 2009 did carbon content in the atmosphere go down due to the world recession.  2013 was a record year for increases once again in nearly every industrial country.   As of 9/2014 the level was 397.01. To actually burn all the carbon in the ground – in the form of oil, gas or coal – will heat the planet far beyond the limits of the atmosphere.  But that is the plan of the extractive industries.  These facts are lining up against both Republican deniers and Democratic wafflers, but facts don’t matter in a society based on money. Time is short – Klein puts ‘year zero’ for stopping a 2 C increase in temperature at year 2017.  Only 3 years away.  After that the climate will be heating up more and more quickly. 

Shock doctrine capitalists are preparing for climate change – insurance, construction, finance and security companies are all salivating at the chance to cash in.  The Republican climate deniers around the Heartland Institute are busy protecting their oil/gas/coal and auto sugar-daddies no matter what.  Klein, unlike a recent statement by Krugman, points out that the Republicans are right about what dealing with climate change will bring.  And it is not ‘smaller government’ or an unplanned economy or more ‘free’ trade for every capitalist entity.  For her, it will require exactly the reverse. 

Klein illustrates how WTO rules directly oppose efforts by countries, cities or localities to fight climate change, by calling anything with ‘local content’ an affront to free trade.  In the WTO this kind of lawsuit is not rare, as every country regularly sues every other country over any kind of ‘restriction of trade’ – essentially overturning local democracy.  In one result, the high-quality Silfab solar panel factory in Ontario will be shut down by a WTO lawsuit due to their local labor/local content rules.  ‘Free’ trade is driving climate change through long-range transport while downsizing wages and environmental standards in poorer countries.  In 2002-2008, 48% of China’s carbon was coming from production for foreign markets, for instance.

She even points out that the dissolution of the USSR and other allied states in the early 1990s opened the door to the triumph of neo-liberalism's mass privatization and runaway marketization.  The USSR and other countries were poor in their handling of the environment, but they never had the internal profit logic of capitalism that drives exploitation of all resources completely.


What she especially focuses on is the collusion of the ‘Big Green” groups with carbon emitters.  The National Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Defense Fund, Conservation International, the National Audubon Society, the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, the Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund and even Pope's Sierra Club have helped delay action for 36 years since 1988, when James Hansen gave his famous warning about climate change due to a warming atmosphere.  They have sold the ‘go slow,’ ‘work with the capitalists’ mantra, which now creates a ‘procrastination’ penalty or worse – the same one we will pay for Ebola.  These corporate ‘green’ astro-turf organizations, like the crusader Al Gore, stood on a pedestal with Clinton when NAFTA was signed with its bogus ‘environmental’ side agreement.  As we can see, an agreement that did nothing to rein in carbon.   Following NAFTA, WTO rules now forbid environmental concerns from impeding trade.  Obama’s Trans Pacific Partnership only follows suit.  Roasting these people in print is worth the price of the book.  One outfit – the Nature Conservancy - actually drilled an oil well in a Texas bird refuge they were ostensibly protecting.  Needless to say, the birds are dead. 

Klein follows that with a massive take-down of the hipster capitalist Richard Branson and his PR plan to donate “$3 billion” to fight climate change, specifically alternative fuels, a plan that has come nowhere near realization.   Instead Branson has launched 160 more airplanes into the air and has an absurd, expensive plan for 'space tourism.' She also hits billionaire ‘environmentalists’ like Bill Gates, T Boone Pickens, Michael Bloomberg and Warren Buffett as climate frauds.  An in-depth chapter on geo-engineering exposes it as a dangerous, untestable plot that would make drought and starvation worse in many poor countries, using the record of prior volcanic eruptions as proof, a la the “Pinatubo effect.”    She carefully delineates how supporting gas and oil fracking as ‘bridge fuels’ actually takes support away from renewables, involves increasing carbon production due to methane releases, creates earthquakes, pollutes water and involves building a massive long-term infrastructure to support this ‘temporary’ bridge.  There is no time for something like this.

Klein also points out that the corporate media have ignored the story for years.  In 2007 the major networks ran 147 stories on climate change.  In 2011, just 14. 


What to do?  Klein spends a lot of time on what she calls ‘Blockadia.’  These are direct actions occurring around the globe to stop coal plants, strip mining, shale oil transfers and mountain-top removal.  She covers actions that are occurring or have occurred in Romania, Greece, Nigeria, India, China, the U.K., France, the U.S. and Canada, mostly in rural areas or small towns, among many forgotten native peoples.  Governments respond with violence, police actions, media propaganda, lies and lawsuits.  Drawing the line at the Keystone XL pipeline has brought together many unlikely allies in the U.S.  She clearly points out that the issue, even prior to the carbon output, becomes ‘oil/gas versus clean water.’  On the backside of the peak oil curve, more dangerous extraction methods – deep sea extraction, tar sands, fracked oil/gas – indicate you cannot have both oil and clean water.  She lauds these Blockadia actions in two chapters, then says they are insufficient. 

She then highlights the leading role of native peoples across the globe, as in Ecuador and Nigeria.   Activists in the U.S. and Canada have found First Nation’s laws can be used to stop shale oil mining or fracking there.  In her telling, indigenous people are leading the way, but cannot do it alone, especially without an alternative to the lucrative promises of the energy companies.

Klein clearly shows that this struggle is not just about the environment, but involves increasing democracy and fighting poverty as an integral part of the process.  The Canadian government supported the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline carrying tar-oil to the west coast of Canada in the face of overwhelming opposition from the population of British Columbia.  This shows that even in Canada this is an elite project, rammed through by government fiat.  The Ecuadorian plan to be paid to keep oil in the jungle and Amazon basin requires an equitable transfer from the wealthy North to the poorer “South.”  Klein envisions the struggle against carbon to bring in a new vision of world society – less poor and more democratic. 

Her social-democratic strategy in many countries is direct action and lawsuits.    She praises the renewable energy efforts of Denmark and Germany, who have achieved 40% and 25% energy production respectively due to renewable methods, then says their approach is not sufficient, as coal use in Germany is going up.  She sides with local activity as being key, but then nods to the need for national plans too.  She supports the movement to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in renewables, but only calls this an early action in the movement.  While claiming that a pure technical fix is not possible, she repeatedly cites studies that show that solar, wind and water can produce 100% of present energy needs by 2030.  She even mentions the need for a ‘revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony,’ but does not tell us what that mean, so it comes off as a mere verbalism.  Contradictions abound.

Klein identifies the 1970s as the period that we can focus on to return to a ‘steady-state’ economy.  I have previously pointed to around 1947, prior to the development of the car and suburban economies.  But then any date is arbitrary, as it will be proved in practice. 


Klein’s hidden theory is ‘capitalism with a human face,’ no matter how much anti-capitalist rhetoric she employs. This leads to her method of ‘movementism’ without a clear method or goal, relying mostly on spontaneity.  She aims nearly all her fire at the coal/oil/gas/mineral companies – they are to be highly regulated and then slowly done away with in order to keep carbon in the ground.  However far more is involved in capitalism and climate change than these industries.   In the process she barely mentions automobile and transport issues, consumer and advertising entities, finance and Wall Street, big Agriculture - Food and Meat corporations, the chemical industry, builders and real estate conglomerates, the massive military establishment (which is the largest user of petrol in the world)  - almost the whole panoply of corporations in our culture.  Global warming pokes into every interstice of the capitalist economy, not just the extractivist side.  The exception is her discussion of agro-ecology as an alternative to corporate mono-cropping, which creates between 19-29% of the carbon inputs.

Klein ignores any approach to the political parties responsible for supporting these capitalist entities.  For a Canadian, she does not even mention the New Democratic Party, which opposes the Alberta tar sands, and makes only one mention of the Canadian Green Party, which was heavily involved in combating fracking in New Brunswick.  Constructing a political alternative is not on her map at all.  It all ends up being ‘pressure’ on the capitalist parties and the capitalist system, not replacing them.  She is inspired by the struggle against slavery, but the reality of the Civil War brings her up short. The actual social revolutions of the 20th Century are invisible to her.  In short, this is a valuable text focusing especially on carbon emitters, and stands out for its urgency.  But its solutions are partial and immediate and will not go far enough to stop this emergency.   

(“The Shock Doctrine,” also by Klein, reviewed below. Use blog search box, upper left.)

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
October 8, 2014

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