Climate change caused floods in China. Did its communist system save it? Photo by SFTHQ
Naomi Klein, the firebrand Canadian leftist, has posted one of the most ridiculous pieces I've seen in a long time at the Nation. Lots of bobble-headed "progressives" will be nodding along with this for ages, but it's stupid. The premise of Capitalism v. the Climate is that even though hard left political movements (such as those she participates in, including Occupy Wall Street) have not persuaded most Americans to switch their allegiance to socialism or technocommunism; even though the Democratic Party is losing elections and the House has a Republican majority now; even though the ratings of the most progressive leader the left has -- Obama -- are all in the dumps; climate-damaged Mother Nature herself will persuade where nothing else has, because climate change will convince people forcibly to drop capitalism as their preferred social system.
Naomi believes that under this terrorism of injured Nature, people will be forced to adopt socialist planning and coercion -- and she's open about calling them as such -- which will involve nationalization of resources, forced long-term planning and policies, etc. Of course, you could argue that some of Obama's green jobs plans and green R&D handouts to universities and companies, and other environmental policies were from her sort of playbook, but of course it's not enough.
Her premise is that the Heartland Institute -- a conservative midwestern think-tank -- arguing against climate change -- or at least, arguing against the rigidity of how the left interprets climate change and its prescriptive policies to respond to it -- are now all running for cover and the reason they've become more active and vocal as they realize the very stakes at hand are capitalism versus socialism:
Most of all, however, I will hear versions of the opinion expressed by the county commissioner in the fourth row: that climate change is a Trojan horse designed to abolish capitalism and replace it with some kind of eco-socialism. As conference speaker Larry Bell succinctly puts it in his new book Climate of Corruption, climate change “has little to do with the state of the environment and much to do with shackling capitalism and transforming the American way of life in the interests of global wealth redistribution.”
This is the sort of dichotomy that most G plusers and Facebookers snort or sneer at me for pointing out exists in just about every single major crisis of our time. It's not ok when I point out that it's about capitalism versus communism because I favour capitalism; but it's ok when Naomi Klein does it because she favours socialism (or even communism).
Perhaps the right has figured out something the left hasn't yet, says Naomi -- that it really is all about climate change literally forcing a choice of social system on helpless people:
Building such a transformative movement may not be as hard as it first appears. Indeed, if you ask the Heartlanders, climate change makes some kind of left-wing revolution virtually inevitable, which is precisely why they are so determined to deny its reality. Perhaps we should listen to their theories more closely—they might just understand something the left still doesn’t get.
There's a number of things wrong with this preposterous idea, and you don't even have to oppose climate change as a concept to find what's wrong with it. (And I'm not sure she's characterizing the Heartlanders' position correctly, either, perhaps they will respond.)
I personally have nothing against the notion of climate change as such and the need to reduce carbon emissions and footprints and whatnot and green up stuff. I don't drive a car; I recycle. I believe there is something changing about the climate -- and it sure doesn't feel right to me. The winter as it was 50 years ago and as it is today is disturbing to me, and I've lived long enough to see that. Below my window every morning this week during first an unseasonable jacket-free warm spell like a really late Indian Summer, and then even during a cold snap I can hear sea gulls. Sea gulls! What the hell are they doing here on the East River! (They didn't use to be *right here by buildings*. Shouldn't they be flying south? Isn't it time? Shouldn't they have left weeks ago? Hey, you, sea gulls! Fly! Fly away! (I realize some seagulls stay put up north if they have a food supply, which includes from humans feeding them or garbage, so that's part of the equation.)
I don't know very much about Heartland, which I only recently started following on Facebook, and I don't care if they are evil rightwing "denialists" who are funded by the Koch brothers or whatever their evil provenance is. Good! They are an important counter-voice to the climate change nutters and extremists -- and that's really only what you can call people who become so incredibly incensed at the idea of anyone arguing against their scientific premises.
I've never understood why the climate-change absolutists, if they are so sure they are right, have to worry so much about trying to argue with people who aren't sure or who think they are wrong. They should focus only on becoming persuasive and stop ridiculing and bangering and hollering and making you-tubes. But instead of patiently becoming more persuasive with something they really think is the truth, they are shrill and shrieky and sound like Jesus freaks in reverse. Does the climate have a personal plan for their lives and is the climate bringing them prosperity? Have they put out a fleece on the climate lately?
More to the point, science is about debate. Even with the same set of facts, scientists can legitimately interpret them differently. Open society, as we recall from Popper and Sakharov, involves being able to freely mount even false hypotheses for the sake of thinking and trying to come to the truth. It's all good. I definitely respect the president of Czech Republic for standing up to what he sees as Soviet-style rigidity of thinking and Lysenkoism about science. There have been enough scandals and debates and retractions to make it worth continuing to debate.
But even if we all come to Jesus on the climate change issue, there would still be a legitimate Leninist quesiton: What is to be done?
And here Naomi's hilarious notion that only socialism will save it is just breathtakingly totalitarian.
For one, what comes to mind is China. Klein has written about China, and should know better. She's a big critic of China. So your friend China is communist, is able to commandeer all these resources and policies and people with its communism and yet...it is fixing to take over the West as the main carbon emitter and polluter. So what about that?! Communism isn't any system to point to as a friend to the environment, good Lord, look at Chernobyl, Lake Baikal, Khimki, and a hundred other issues in Russia, inherited from the USSR.
Even if Klein means some kinder, gentler planning and control but more "participatory" socialism, there's still no evidence that socialist countries have someone made some huge progress on turning back climate change.
Another thing comes to mind is how the market -- corporations -- respond to actual public health dangers or things that didn't seem even to exist as dangers 50 years ago, but today do.
Example: trans-fat -- whoever even knew what that was, even 5 years ago? Today, numerous products made by numerous companies have removed trans fat from their food items and advertised it as a plus. They've also moved away from high-fructose corn syrup. Today, those little Halloween candy corns make a point of telling you they have real sugar and honey in them, instead of that evil high fructose corn syrup. It may be no better for your teeth or insulin levels, but the companies absorb science, absorb the public's reaction to science, and they quickly adapt, and make a different product and even charge more, and even get it. The soup companies all have "reduced sodium" soup for much more now and the managers can't keep it in stock, many people buy only that kind of soup now.
Another example: bike helmets. Whoever heard of wearing a bike helmet when we were kids? They didn't exist, even. Eventually, statistics showed that people who got in accidents on bikes would survive if they had a helmet, or their head injuries indicated that if helmets could be provided they might survive, and now it becomes the norm and even the law. Even though people have to pay more. The same with thousands of other now safety-ized devices -- air bags in cars, for example. Medicine bottles with child-proof caps.
We get it that things like recycling "aren't enough". But Naomi is silent on another issue: nuclear power. That would sure make things cleaner. But the left she embraces is against nuclear power, too. Can they have it both ways?
They may not even get to chose. I recall a lecture at the Andrei Sakharov conference several years ago about Sakharov's concerns, which concerned nuclear testing, human rights, the environment and social justice (he was a great historical figure many more people should get to know). And a nuclear scientist said that even if you overcame the public's reticence to go nuclear and the green movement didn't object, you couldn't put the nuclear power stations online fast enough to make a fast enough dent in the carbon emissions problem. How about that!
It's hard to imagine how declaring martial law will make this work -- the oppression and destruction of ordinary free market activity would likely cause more damage to people. After all, you have to put people first. What would be the point of saving an environment where the people all died from hunger or perished slowly from lack of work? Sure, sometimes there are national emergencies where the the government has to declare a state of emergency, but you'd have to ask whether the natural disasters (induced by climate change) where the government, local or national, went into emergency control mode then worked to make things better (Katrina?). No?
Recently, Japan underwent a profound multi-pronged disaster, probably the worst since Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- the tsunami and then the nuclear reactor explosions. What could be worse? Before that, the Japanese had put in a socialist government for the first time in a long while, as they suffered a downturn in the recession. Did this Japanese socialist government (and this is a relative kind of socialism), after these awful disasters in which so much was levelled and people were killed in essentially a climate-change-induced event then turn communist, nationalizing all business or forcing planning on big companies? No. To be sure, it has more of that then we do, but it didn't shut down Sony, for example -- it took one of Naomi's fellow technocommunist hackers to bring Sony to its knees, eh?
And speaking of the recession -- the recession caused huge cuts in energy use. I only follow Eurasia, but I could see drastic drops in the purchase of Gazprom's gas, which really hurt that Russian monopoly. There was a terrible cold snap in Iran and Central Asia, children were dying, people couldn't heat their homes, they didn't have enough money to buy gas. Europe reduced its consumption enormously. Yet with all that, I don't think anybody saw a dent in climate change, or a change in carbon emissions, did they? Or at least, not significant. I ask this just to think out loud. I realize that it may be too short a time span. Still, it's worth studying to see if Naomi's notion of shutting down capitalism -- something that the recession did maybe even better than her plans for a desperate Mother Nature in tandem with technocommies to do -- had an effect on the climate. Whether the air got easier to breathe.
Or take swine flu -- H1N1. This was a force of Nature (and maybe one also facilitated by climate change) that was overwhelming and made countries have to address an overwhelming challenge (Mexico, remember?) Democratic governments and the market -- companies -- coped with this challenge and tamed it.
At the UN, you will frequently hear third-world countries complain about the whole green thing and climate change thing -- it's a "first world problem" that they don't see the rationale for. They are suspicious that the climate change thing is all about continuing to thwart their development (a fond and deeply-entrenched belief of theirs). They don't see why they have to give up having roads and cars and factories and such just because the global north is suddenly shrieking about temperature shifts.
What's most likely to happen is that faced with the stark results of climate change all around them -- floods, storms, bees dying, all kinds of stuff -- they will develop policies, or try to develop policies, but they will do this in freedom -- through elections, through parties, through policies with participation. They won't be inclined to submit to oppression to achieve these goals and nothing Naomi Klein has said is persuasive enough that they will have to do this.
But what's good about all this is that the furor now around Occupy Wall Street has made extremists of her type show their hands. They've dropped the pretense that they are just "starting a national conversation" or "working on progressive single issues" or doing someting incremental or partial. The mask has slipped, and it's clear that they want the big grab for totalitarianism -- coercion, force, revolution. It's better to be clear about this and not have to keep arguing about the nature of what we're dealing with from the left.