In this fine, wide-ranging speech, delivered Feb 25 under the auspices of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Naomi Klein did an excellent job of introducing the carbon debt approach, as it has come to be known.
I won’t attempt to summarize her presentation, or to enumerate its many virtues, but I will say that Klein’s approach to the problem of rich-world climate obligation is not without its problems. Note, for example, that her discussion is framed entirely in North / South terms, and that it focuses more or less exclusively on the responsibility of the North to the South. There’s not a word here about the rich / poor divide, or about the southern elites, or about class, or about the problem of capacity, which this site of course believes to be the second half (the first, of course, is responsibility) of the Who Pays equation.
To say this is to broach a key set of political and strategic questions. Add them to the list that Klein lays out here and you’ll have a good bit of the international obligations debate laid out before you. Not all of it, to be sure but given that she goes so far as to broach the criticism that she received for using the language of reparations, its a pretty good start.
By the way, Klein ends her talk with an interesting claim, one very relevant to the Who Pays debate, one that quite adroitly flips the terms of reference here in a manner that just might be very helpful indeed:
When we talk about climate reparation, we talk about those scary numbers, like $600 billion, what gets peoples back up is the idea that this money is going to come out of their pockets, but why should that be? Why should it come from regular taxpayers? With the right kind of taxes and penalties, the oil and gas sector, big coal, agribusiness, and the banks that finance them, the players that actually are responsible for both climate change and underwriting the climate-change denial movement, can be made to foot this bill. The polluter should pay.