No 1148 Posted by fw, September 17, 2014
“There’s a huge amount of debate and discontent about our economic model right now. There’s a huge appetite for addressing inequality, for a model that promises to create better jobs and different kinds of jobs and values work differently and has stronger communities. I think most of us actually know there’s a problem with capitalism right now and that by shifting the focus to our economy, climate change becomes a convenient truth rather than an inconvenient truth. Because we need to fix the economy anyway, right?” —Naomi Klein
“It’s really a beautiful movement, [Peoples’ Climate Summit] and that’s counterbalanced this grim work of immersing myself in the scary science. Communities are being transformed through this resistance. And not just by saying no to these projects that they don’t want, but also by building real alternatives to those projects and proving to themselves and their neighbors that another economy is both possible and desirable.” —Naomi Klein
The post below is an abridged version of an interview with Naomi Klein about her new book, released today. Removed from this post are the comments and questions by the interviewer, Joshua Holland. Added are subheadings and highlighted text to emphasize main ideas.
To read the original interview, click on the following linked title.
In her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, Naomi Klein argues that if we had taken action years ago when scientists first established that human activities were changing our climate, we might have been able to deal with the problem of global warming with only minimal disruption to our economic system. But as we approach a tipping point, and the consequences of climate change come into sharper focus, that time has passed, and we now have to acknowledge that preserving humans’ habitat requires a paradigm change.
But Klein doesn’t just offer us a depressing litany of the damage we’ve already done. She calls on us to seriously rethink the way our economy is structured to address not only climate change, but also other longstanding social problems like persistent global poverty and rising inequality.
BillMoyers.com spoke with Klein about the fundamental challenges – and opportunities – that come from dealing with a warming planet at this stage of the game. Below is a transcript of our discussion that’s been edited for length and clarity.
[The rest of this post focuses solely on Klein’s responses to the interviewer’s questions and comments]
By responding robustly to climate change we have a rare opportunity to also solve intractable economic problems
The thesis of the book is that by responding robustly to climate change — in line with what scientists tell us we have to do — we have a once-in-a-century opportunity to solve some of the biggest and most intractable problems facing our economy. I’m talking about creating countless good jobs, rebuilding ailing infrastructure to help protect us from the heavy weather that we’ve already locked in, and lowering our emissions so it doesn’t get markedly worse.
We also have an incredible opportunity to address our most intransigent economic problem, which is inequality within our countries, and also between our countries. We can also have safer, more livable cities and cleaner air. So there is a lot of potentially good news.
The reason we have so far failed to reduce our emissions is the inviolable belief in capitalist market fundamentalism
The bad news is that we can’t do any of this by just changing our light bulbs or politely lobbying governments behind the scenes. We need to have a robust public debate about what values we want to have govern our society. The argument I make in the first part of the book is that the reason we’ve failed so spectacularly to rise to this existential crisis — and by failed I mean our emissions are up 61 percent since we started working on this issue in the early 1990s — is because the things we have to do clash fundamentally with the core ideology that has reigned in this same period, which is market fundamentalism.
This is a crisis with spectacularly bad timing because it fell in our laps at the very moment that history was being declared over and liberals around the world were exporting this market fundamentalism. They’re telling us we can’t regulate just when we need to regulate and that we can’t invest in the public sphere just when we need to do exactly that. They say there’s no such thing as society, when what we need more than anything is to come together and act collectively.
We really need to receive the message that this crisis is sending – Our current system is failing on multiple levels
We really need to receive the message that this crisis is sending, which is that our current system is failing. It’s failing on multiple levels. And the solutions are not ones that will consolidate wealth, but would do the exact opposite. And those policies tend to be popular, so you don’t need to engage in the sort of devious trickery that I documented in The Shock Doctrine.
Our failure to address this current “perverted strain of capitalism” has contributed to a 61% increase in emissions since the early 1990s
There are different forms of capitalism. This deregulated corporatism we have now is a particular strain. We’ve had others in the past.
Because this crisis hit us when it did — when this perverted strain of capitalism was so triumphant – we have not only failed to act to solve the problem, we’ve actively made it much worse.
That said, I don’t think the solution is just reverting to a more mixed economy. As Michael Mann, the climate scientist at Penn State, said, there’s a “procrastination penalty” when it comes to emissions. All this time that we’ve been failing to respond, emissions have been going up, and they stick around, they accumulate. Because we have waited so long, we now need to cut our emissions so deeply and rapidly that it does present a challenge to economic growth.
“It’s really hard to pry apart the capitalism that we have from the idea of endless growth”
This is why I called the book Capitalism vs. the Climate – because I do think the logic of economic growth is very much at the heart of this system. Maybe it is possible to have a form of capitalism that doesn’t focus on growth, but it’s really hard to pry apart the capitalism that we have from the idea of endless growth.
The market can’t solve this problem — We have to get off fossil fuels by mid-century, which means redesigning the economy
I think there’s a very strong green jobs argument to be made, but a lot of these groups don’t want to talk about the need to really step back and design the economy that we want. They think we can put a few incentives in place, leave it to the market, and that will get us there. But there has to be much more top-down regulation. We need to say “no” to the fossil fuel companies that want to open up all these carbon reserves.
So yes, we have to switch to the green technologies. Yes, it will create lots of jobs. I’m not disputing that. But at the same time, if we’re going to get off fossil fuels by mid-century, which we need to do, we are also going to need to consume less. And that’s the piece that nobody wants to talk about. These big green groups are only interested in talking about win-win solutions. Ideas that are genuinely a threat to elites like keeping fossil fuel reserves in the ground are basically off the table.
Popular discontent about our failed capitalist system, especially the inequality issue, is actually a huge opportunity
There’s a huge amount of debate and discontent about our economic model right now. There’s a huge appetite for addressing inequality, for a model that promises to create better jobs and different kinds of jobs and values work differently and has stronger communities. I think most of us actually know there’s a problem with capitalism right now and that by shifting the focus to our economy, climate change becomes a convenient truth rather than an inconvenient truth. Because we need to fix the economy anyway, right?
So-called experts who keep pitting the economy against the environment tell citizens that green policies are unaffordable
Again and again we pit the economy against the environment. When the economic crisis hit Europe, all this austerity came down and not only were millions of people laid off and public services cut back, but Europeans were also told they could no longer afford their green policies anymore. So the system isn’t working for workers and it isn’t working for the environment. This economic system is failing us on so many levels, and it also happens to be destabilizing the systems on which all life depends.
The fact that there is so much science backing up the need for a different system should be hugely motivating — like a shot of adrenaline for our movement.
We can’t wait for politicians – We must send them the message the time to act is NOW!
Every once in a while you’ll hear a politician like John Kerry say that climate change is like a weapon of mass destruction, but they’re certainly not on a war footing with this crisis. In fact, they’re doubling down. But a grassroots movement can declare a crisis when our elites are not behaving as if they see it that way.
In that passage from the book, I’m making the point that it’s not just about waiting for our politicians to say, “This is really, really serious.” Social movements have the ability to lend that sense of urgency to an issue. In fact, this is how change happens. This is how change has always happened. So during the upcoming climate summit in New York there will be huge numbers of people on the street sending the message to our leaders that we believe this to be a crisis that requires a real sense of urgency.
A combination of love and fear will drive this peoples’ action movement forward — People’s love of where they live, and fear of seeing it devastated
“Blockadia” is a term that was first coined in the movement against the Keystone XL Pipeline in Texas. These are the people who are blocking the fossil fuel projects with their bodies and in the courts and in the streets. And we see these choke-points being developed and people are realizing, “If we block the coal ports in Washington State and Oregon, then there’s no point digging it out in Montana because they’re not going to be able to get the coal shipped out to China. So let’s pour our energy into stopping those coal ports.” And that’s what people have been doing. The same is true of the pipeline fights – and not just against the Keystone Pipeline, but the Northern Gateway Pipeline and others as well. And people in Alberta are really panicked because they’re landlocked — they don’t have a way to get their tar sands oil to the sea.
The best moments for me researching the book were just hanging out with people who really love where they live. I have a chapter in the book called Love and Water and I quote an activist named Alexis Bonogofsky in Billings, Montana. She’s a rancher and an environmental activist and she talks about taking on the coal companies and she says, “You know, the thing that Arch Coal doesn’t understand is that it’s not hate and anger that will save this place. Love will save this place.” And so often when I was in this transnational space called Blockadia, I felt that this is a genuinely positive movement. It’s a movement driven by people falling in love with where they live because they’re faced with the prospect of losing something as fundamental as clean water or clean air.
It’s really a beautiful movement, and that’s counterbalanced this grim work of immersing myself in the scary science. Communities are being transformed through this resistance. And not just by saying no to these projects that they don’t want, but also by building real alternatives to those projects and proving to themselves and their neighbors that another economy is both possible and desirable.
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