Naomi Klein’s Capitalism vs. the Climate

Naomi Klein’s Capitalism vs. the Climate is both excellent and remarkable.  Though, when I saw it sourced (by the new climate blog Planet3.0) as being from “the American hard-left magazine The Nation” I almost choked.  I am, I confess, a man of a certain age, and I remember what “hard left” used to mean.

I don’t think of The Nation as being “hard left.”  Nor Klein for that matter.

Anyway, her title is catchy, but also a bit misleading.  Most of her case isn’t against capitalism in itself, but  against “capitalism-as-usual,” or “contemporary capitalism,” or “the corporate sector, with its structural demand for increased sales and profits.”  Which is I suppose what you’d expect, this being a reasonable piece.  Because it’s not at all clear that we’re up against capitalism in itself.  What we know for sure is that we’re up against this capitalism.  That we either fix it or it’s “game over,” as Jim Hansen recently put it.

Klein touches only lightly on the really tough issues in the climate and capitalism debate (yes, there is one!), which she does – cleverly? strangely? — in the “Ending the cult of shopping” section.  This is where we get the problem of “growth” (the most confusing abstraction of them all) and the reference to Tim Jackson’s definitional book Prosperity without growth (download the original report here for free).  The problems of redistribution, and of desire (the democratic disciplining of desire) are only suggested.  In other words, there’s not really much here about the problems of capitalism in itself.

Which is fine with me, at least for now.

There are people out there writing books about how capitalism (the thing itself) is absolutely and intrinsically incompatible with the continuation of human civilization as we know it – and Klein, at least to my mind, has done us a major service by taking a different tack.  It seems to me that she’s not taking an abstract position, but speaking, concretely, for renovations so grand and sweeping that we’d have a hard time recognizing them as “reforms,” in the old sense.

I should speak for myself.  And my view is that, while the climate crisis is a crisis of capitalism, it’s also a manageable one.  Which is to say that we’re not already doomed.  But to save ourselves, we have to create a different kind of capitalism.  Nothing more is possible in the limited time left before us – the climate clock really is ticking – but it’s actually quite a lot.  Recognizing this is radical enough for me.