Climate Change Activist Says: “The Right is Right,” Saving the Planet Means an End to Capitalism

Groping for Solutions to Global Warming

Groping for Solutions to Global Warming

In her new book, “This Changes Everything,” climate change activist and long time, passionate critic of capitalism, Naomi Klein, says the Right Wing in America has a better understanding than the Left of what the Liberal Agenda implies for capitalism.   Her first chapter is titled, “The Right is Right,” by which she means that, yes, dealing with climate change implies an end to capitalism as we know it, just like Fox News and the Right Wing think tanks have been saying all along.

Klein makes no bones about that!  Her book is already being touted as the climate companion to Thomas Picketty’s  “Capital In the 21st Century,” which deals with capitalism’s tendency to produce severe wealth inequalities, as he sees it. Klein’s related point is that capitalism tends to produce catastrophic global warming.  Just replace “severe and inevitable inequalities” in Picketty’s work with “severe and inevitable desecration of the planet,” and you pretty much have the gist of Klein’s book.  (Here is a left view and a right view of Klein’s work).

Klein was recently interviewed about her new book on MSNBC.   Chris Hayes offered this teaser to the MSNBC audience before breaking for a commercial:

HAYES:  “Now, in a very provocative and I might say excellent new book, one of the left`s most celebrated and influential authors across the world, Naomi Klein says, ‘Yes, that is right, conservative fears about what climate change means for the global economy are well founded’”

Some of Hayes’ few Right Wing viewers must have switched the channel at that point, having captured all the material they needed for the next blog. They took Hayes’ provocative, “boost the ratings and sell the book” intro, as admission that climate change is a hoax concocted by the Left to sink free markets and to take over what remains, after Obamacare is through exacting its pound of flesh from capitalism (as the Right sees it).

Of course, Klein didn’t mean it exactly this way. Hayes of course knew that. Here, in her words, is what she actually meant — and eventually said — in the MSNBC segment:

KLEIN: “Yes. I mean, it is not true that it is some sort of conspiracy designed to smuggle in, you know, socialism and just using, you know, climate change as a cover. The fact is if we are going to respond to this crisis, we need to break a whole bunch of the free market rules that these guys hold very dear. We need to regulate. We need to get in the way of the fossil fuel companies, who have made it clear that they are willing to dig up five times more carbon than our atmosphere can absorb and still stay below catastrophic warming. We need to invest heavily in the public sphere.  But, I can understand why from a hard core free market conservative perspective, if you live at the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute, this would feel like the end of the world. It is not the end of the world. It is the end of their world.” Here is the full interview from the MSNBC program.

Another way to convey what Klein is saying is with a title I first considered, but soon abandoned, for this blog post:  “If the global warming crisis is a socialist conspiracy to sink capitalism, then so was World War II.”  (Blog titles are supposed to be attention grabbing). What could I have possibly meant by that?  World War II was not only the mother of all economic stimulus packages  (which is of course not to say it was fought for that reason), but it also regulated the heck out of capitalism (which was necessary to fight the war), and ushered in thirty more years of activist government on the domestic side.

What Klein is saying is that if you believe man made global warming is as big a threat as the Axis Powers in the 1930s, there is no choice but to mobilize, aggressively regulate, and spend heavily in the public sphere, as we had to in WW II;  i.e., wage war against climate change.  We also accumulated debt in that era which makes our current sovereign debt problem seem manageable.

Of course, the Right would think comparing global warming to Hitler and Hirohito is absurd. But Klein thinks the threat to civilization is about as great; and that even “Green Capitalists,” like Virgin Airlines’ Richard Branson and former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, are so blinded by the imperatives of growth and profit, that they miss the point.  She laments that it’s unrealistic to rely on business to find solutions to climate change.

One big point Klein misses is that developing industrial societies like China, though perhaps not worshiping profits, aren’t ready to compromise on Growth,  the other part of the capitalist imperative.    The Chinese government doesn’t seem ready to adopt Klein’s solutions to curbing carbon emissions.  They think (wish?) they can pollute their way to growth, but clean it up as they go along,  with Geo-engineering and fantastic weather changing technology.   Klein regards that thinking as subversive.

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17 thoughts on “Climate Change Activist Says: “The Right is Right,” Saving the Planet Means an End to Capitalism

  1. alex maclachlan

    I heard someone say recently that: ” the Environmentalist movement is a watermelon…Green on the outside and Red on the inside”.

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    1. Irv Lefberg Post author

      Yes, I’ve seen the watermelon poster! Good one I’ve always found it hard to chacterize environmntalists as somehow inherenty left of right. Certainly not as easy to put environmentalism in one or the the category as it is pro/con Union, Welfare, Taxes, Regulation, Size of Government, Private Property …… Putting aside the greenhouse gas/global warming side of environmentalism for the moment, do Left and Right divide that clearly over smog, storage of nuclear waste, chemical pollutants that poison drinking water, rivers, land..etc.? If not hard data, there are at least a lot of anecdotes (that I hear) about ordinary folks in red states just as annoyed by these sorts of things as blue state people, Yes, when liberals want to regulate business/manufacturers that have these effects, their lobbyists use (borrow, appropriate) conservative, “free market” principles to fend off government regulation. But I don’t really see trying to preserve the lake (with help of goverment) where my grand parents fished as a pink or red. As in many things, one can take this too far. Am not sure I accept all the science that says the California gnatcatcher and spotted owl need to be scrupulously protected at all costs (because they are indicators of much broader environmental conditions), But I couldn’t stand even passing thru Tacoma when the old Asarco plant was belching crap into the air all the time. The global warming thing is still not as real to many people as LA smog. So, i can see how people see red and pink when they hear about cap n trade or counting everyone;s carbon foot print.

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  2. alex maclachlan

    I was sticking more to your theme in that today’s environmentalist is more anti capitalism than green. That’s the point, owls, gnat catchers, delta smelt, fairy shrimp etc etc are just a means to an end. That end being total control of the US economy where you do not have property rights until some bureaucrat gives you property rights, you don’t have personal freedoms if some other bureaucrat determines your addiction to french fries is bad for the greater good therefore you need to pay more for your freedom to super size it. Their philosophy always comes back around to financial punishment, loss of freedom, and placing themselves in the position to judge what right you can be trusted with and which rights you cannot. Not making a judgement on the technological advances that have cleaned our air or made industry cleaner. More the collusion between politicians and enviro lawyers and activists to squash capitalism

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  3. Kurt

    Hey, solving Global Warming is easy and free: Just shift the government’s current energy subsidies from the Problem [carbon based energy] to the Solution [renewable energy sources].

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  4. Irv Lefberg

    That could indeed help a lot, Kurt. But where do the renewable energy interests get the money to buy off the Dems and R’ s? Maybe Bloomberg, Tesla, and Branson can take care of that part? what about China, India, Brazil?

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  5. Alex MacLachlan

    Precisely Irv. if we put American manufacturers and farmers even, at a competitive disadvantage to polluting Chinese and other foreign companies supplying the US market, who will eventually win out? The polluters. If we start a trade war by putting a bunch of conditions on those foreign exporting companies, then their governments will put a bunch on our exporting companies. We either hurt our manufacturers or we hurt the fastest growing market of our exporters. One creates inflationary pressures through regulation, the other hurts job creation through trade war.

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  6. KURT

    Some key strategic points about Renewable Energy:
    1) God gave us more Renewable Energy (R.E.) than carbon based energy. (Helps the theologists get inline with the future.)
    2) R.E. is always local and inherently secure. Therefore it’s a National Security choice.
    3) R.E. is the foundation of many technologies that drive the future including: original source innovations, infrastructure development and implementation, battery technology, hybrid technology, support of fuel cell technology, and on and on. It’s simply the future. (And China knows this too.)

    Stanford’s Mark Jacobson is a great science and engineering resource:

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    1. Alex MacLachlan

      Kurt, The rare earth metals necessary for modern battery technology are only found in a few places on Earth. China is hoarding the majority of it and the two US locations with most of our supply can’t get off the ground because of the toxic mess it requires to process it. What would your plan be to minimize environmental restrictions that are hampering our ability to achieve RE independence?

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      1. Irv Lefberg Post author

        To Alex and Kurt — just for our mutual edificiation, aren;t there four basic responses:

        1) Do nothing (either you believe the science is bad, its too late, we don;t have will or capacity to do it, or the heck with it, the sun will implode anyway some day)

        2) Proceed with massive worldwide shift to RE (how to do that?)

        3) Focus massively on big technology, geo enginering, perpetual clean up, and weather alternation projects. Real out of the box thinking

        4) Mitigation/Coping. Try as much as #2, #3, and #4 as we can pragmatically do, and add Mitigation/Coping to deal with the aspects we fail to solve, i.e., adapt to climate change and do whatever we can do minimize the catastrophies (if you believe that;s what;s coming)

        Does that cover the universe (so to speak?)

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      2. Kurt

        Irv: Do nothing is out, and doesn’t compete [ref. Germany, Japan, China, etc.]

        I’m for the economic policy that shifts subsidies to the solution [renewables] and eliminates the subsidies for carbon-based energy.

        Based on that economic environment, funding for renewable innovation will seek the most promising and competitive RE innovations. That always works.

        Musk/Tesla is doing a lot with batteries and infrastructure.

        US is doing some support of fuel-cells, but Japan is being the most aggressive. Here’s an interesting article.
        http://recode.net/2014/09/19/taking-a-spin-in-toyotas-first-commercial-fuel-cell-car/

        Interesting bantering between Musk and Toyota.

        “A few fuel cell cars have already hit the roads in limited numbers, including the Honda FCX Clarity and the Hyundai Tucson. But Toyota says the FCV will be the first full-scale commercial rollout of a fuel-cell car.”

        “Musk’s knock on the technology is that it doesn’t offer the same energy density as today’s lithium-ion battery pack.” “He’s betting big that lithium-ion batteries will become the dominant power source for automobiles, forging ahead with the $5 billion Gigafactory in Nevada that could eventually crank out enough batteries to produce a half billion electric vehicles per year.”

        “The current technology of lithium-ion is superior to what the theoretical best possible outcome is for fuel cells,” he said at the World Energy Innovation Forum in May. “And lithium-ion systems are getting a lot better.”

        So, I say just shift subsidies from the problem [carbon] to RE and let the investors and markets sort it out.

        Thanks for bringing it up.

        ONWARD

        Kurt

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    2. Irv Lefberg

      This may shock you, but I think nuclear power can be generated safely and waste disposed of safely if we dedicated our brains to it. I must admit I’m basing that mainly on the French having persisted with nuclear energy.

      What happens to the Saudis, texans, Kentuckyians, North Dakotans, Alaskans and Qatarans while we’re engaged in this shift?

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      1. Kurt

        Irv, there are promising nuclear power innovations on the horizon. NP can help mitigate the intermittent complications of wind and solar. That serves the fuel-cell, battery, and hybrid solutions. We just need to FEED this with the shift in subsidies from carbon to the future. Investment loves the signal that there is policy support with legs. Kurt

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      2. Alex MacLachlan

        North Dakota/South Dakota is the third ranked wind energy corridor in the country, yet Boone Pickens can’t even get his wind / nat gas / electricity generation plan off the ground. Our nuclear plants are under the same attack as coal, oil, and nat gas. Why? It’s ideology, not ideas

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  7. KURT

    You’re welcome, Irv. There’s a lot of noise in the world, and we don’t have time for filtering thru’ everything. So I thought some actual science and engineering depth, quickly delivered and broadly accessible, would be useful to you and your blog’s strategic positioning.
    >
    Good luck. Keep up the good fight.

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  8. Alex MacLachlan

    All of the above, Irv, until effectiveness of technology is disproved and then try next in line. You don’t attack fossil fuels while you are in data gathering mode though

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