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.

Africa — Leapfrogging to the future?

Christian Aid, with the help of some friends (full disclosure: EcoEquity is among them) has just released an excellent report entitled Low-carbon Africa: Leapfrogging to a green future.  The report is interesting on two levels.

First, it makes the case that..

“Africa is able to deliver clean and sustainable energy to millions of energy-poor people across the continent without increasing greenhouse gas emissions” …  It has the “renewable power potential to drive a green economic expansion across the region.”  To wit “an abundance of resources and its sustainable development ambitions give Africa a real advantage when it comes to renewable energy.”  And that, “with access to a ‘leapfrog fund’ from global mitigation finance, this could lay the ground for a low-carbon future.”

Second, it raises the question of a “leapfrog fund.”  Which comes to this — given the pressing need for energy services in Africa, and given the importance of providing these energy services on the basis of renewables, does Africa not have a claim against the global climate finance system, whatever it turns out to be, for the technical and financial support that will be needed to ensure rapid, low-carbon development?  And, if so, who should foot the bill?

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The truth about the rich

Two things, both of them insanely great.

First, the amazing Global Wealth Report that has just been released by the gnomes at Credit Suisse.  This report can be misinterpreted as evidence for all sorts of geo-economic hypotheses, but what it really is, at least in my view, is excellent support for the “twice divided world” thesis, which insists that the divide between the North and the South be taken together with that between the rich and the poor.   For an extended commentary on the report — and the climate negotiations — see my High Speed History essay.

Second, George Monbiot’s latest screed, which he called The Self-Attribution Fallacy.   I don’t agree with George about everything, but this one has the EcoEquity seal of approval, big time.  And by the way, the book he references — Branko Milanovic’s The Haves and the Have Nots, is absolutely a must read.

Linked Fates — "Occupy" and the climate negotiations

Anyone who claims that the fate of the climate talks is bound to the fate of the Occupy movement better expect a bit of skepticism in return. Now, if it were Occupy and the Climate Justice movement, that would be a different story! Both are complex social movements, and both are driving hard for economic justice. Their overlap is inevitable. But the negotiations themselves? What have they to do with economic justice? What have they to do with the great divide between “the 1%” and “the 99%”?

It’s an easy question to ask. Too easy, actually.  It’s a question that raises others…

Beyond vague talk about “the most vulnerable countries and people,” few of us are really prepared to approach the climate crisis as a justice problem. So it should be said that it didn’t have to be this way. If justice had long been a major part of environmental politics, we’d be in better shape today. But it hasn’t been, not until recently, and the truth is that Big Green still isn’t really on board with justice environmentalism. In fact, it’s fair to say that today’s progressive enviros are the inheritors of a long tradition, and that it’s not a uniformly admirable one. The climate politics mainline, in particular, has long focused, almost exclusively, on the technical side of the transition problem. Not that there’s any hope without a technology revolution, but must it come packaged with a refusal to understand, let alone confront, the economic divide that’s at the core of the global climate-policy deadlock?

Things are changing now, or at least they could. But the past matters.

Remember Copenhagen? Remember the vitriol of the blame game that followed Copenhagen? Do try, because soon we’re going to see what, if anything, we’ve learned in the two years since that great debacle. As I write this, Durban, South Africa (the next Conference of Parties to the Climate Convention) is coming right up, and it will almost certainly join Copenhagen on the long list of grim, poorly-reported failures to make the international breakthrough that we so badly need. As Durban approaches, and then passes, we’re all going to have to decide what the hell we think is actually going on.

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