Friday, April 08, 2016

Naomi Klein Has It Right - But Only To a Point.

How frustrating it must be. You've finally identified the disease that plagues you but there's no medicine for it and you haven't got nearly enough time left on this mortal coil to figure that one out.

That's kind of how I see Naomi Klein these days. She sees the problems but she really hasn't come up with any workable fixes and the clock is running out. In her recent take-down of Hillary Clinton, Klein lambastes Hillary for her ties to fossil fuel money which, she maintains, undermines Clinton's sincerity on tackling climate change.

To Klein the solution to climate change is to act quickly, perhaps precipitously, to bring down the fossil fuel industry - the lot of it - and the big banks that finance it.

Her urgency is understandable. She cites a new report out of Oxford that finds if we are to have a 50/50 chance of meeting the 1.5C warming limit agreed to at Paris last December, beginning next year - less than nine months hence - every new power plant has to be zero carbon. Okay, well that isn't going to happen so what's Plan B. Oh, there isn't one?

China has been done a great job cutting back on coal energy but, according to Greenpeace, permits have been issued for an additional 155-coal fueled power plants to be constructed this year. Fortunately most of those plants will never go into full operation. Some will be mothballed entirely. However China is a long way from weaning itself off coal.

You would have thought that might be economically devastating news for Australia that has seen great prosperity from coal exports to China. No worries, mate. While Chinese orders may wane, Australia's coal exports are looking at a healthy increase of thermal coal (used for steel making) exports of 4.5% over the next five years thanks to expanding markets in India.

Fortunately, global coal consumption is going to decline but that doesn't lead to a zero-carbon energy future anytime soon.

Klein quite rightly says we need to get off fossil energy "with superhuman speed" but doesn't get into how we're going to do that. Taking down the fossil fuel industry and the big banks is a fine idea but then what? It's one thing if the public was onside with the idea but I've seen no sign of that, have you?

What then must we do? Here's Ms. Klein's prescription:

If the next president wastes any more time, ...the climate clock will run out, plain and simple. If we’re to have any hope of avoiding catastrophe, action needs to be unprecedented in its speed and scope. If designed properly, the transition to a post-carbon economy can deliver a great many “wins”: not just a safer future, but huge numbers of well-paying jobs; improved and affordable public transit; more liveable cities; as well as racial and environmental justice for the communities on the frontlines of dirty extraction.

...For any of this to happen, fossil-fuel companies, which have made obscene profits for many decades, will have to start losing. And losing more than just the tax breaks and subsidies that Clinton is promising to cut. They will also have to lose the new drilling and mining leases they want; they’ll have to be denied permits for the pipelines and export terminals they very much want to build. They will have to leave trillions of dollars’ worth of proven fossil-fuel reserves in the ground.

Meanwhile, if solar panels proliferate on rooftops, big power utilities will lose a significant portion of their profits, since their former customers will be in the energy-generation business. This would create opportunities for a more level economy and, ultimately, for lower utility bills—but once again, some powerful interests will have to lose (which is why Warren Buffett’s coal-fired utility in Nevada has gone to war against solar).

A president willing to inflict these losses on fossil-fuel companies and their allies needs to be more than just not actively corrupt. That president needs to be up for the fight of the century—and absolutely clear about which side must win. Looking at the Democratic primary, there can be no doubt about who is best suited to rise to this historic moment.

The good news? He just won Wisconsin. And he isn’t following anyone’s guidelines for good behavior.

Not once does Klein even acknowledge the existence of America's "bought and paid for" Congress or suggest how a President Sanders is supposed to circumvent those greaseballs in a nation that isn't prepared to support her fanciful notions. How, short of a Constitutional coup d'etat, could Sanders implement measures of the scope and at the speed Klein suggests? Would the Chiefs of Staff support him for pretty obviously he would need to impose a state of emergency and martial law.

Klein's downfall is that, while she identifies the problem very well, she can't put forward a single practical solution. Sort of like being a passenger on the Air Canada jetliner that ran out of fuel as it passed Winnipeg saying "oh my God, we're out of gas. We must fill those empty wing tanks right now." Sure, but how?


Toby said...

The problem with Klein is common amongst many of those who warn about Global Warming, including me. The fixes are so drastic that anyone peddling them is immediately dismissed as nuts.

Anonymous said...

FDR had a vision and the support of the people and brought in sweeping change.

Ronald Reagan had a vision and the support of the people and brought sweeping change.

So all the doom-and-gloomers who reinforce the corrupt establishment message that change is impossible are on the wrong side of history.

It's time to rage against the dying of the light to get things done (not cry over frail deeds, the last wave bye.)

Anonymous said...

The problem of global warming is easily fixed using tried-and-true centrist Keynesian economics: a) subsidize green energy using progressive taxation to make it cheaper than dirty energy; b) invest in internet infrastructure the way we invested in other major infrastructure over the centuries: railways, highways, power transmission, primitive telecommunication.

The reason for b)? Consumption of information is infinitely green. Can someone read too many books? Information consumption hits no resource wall. We can create an infinite number of universes in cyberspace. So infinite economic growth associated with infinite information growth based on 100% renewable energy and recycled materials allows a civilization to develop to infinity.

This solution makes everyone happy. (Except many rich people who make an enormous amount of wealth out of the process. Their black-hole souls can never be happy.)

Toby said...

Anonymous 12:42 said..., "It's time to rage against the dying of the light to get things done . . "

Such as?

Anonymous 12:58, how are you going to tackle the population problem? At the present, humans are breeding and consuming faster than any realistic green fix can help.

Anonymous said...

The real cause of population growth is a lack of economic development. All developed countries have a negative replacement rate, except the US, which is a borderline developed country.

So the basic ideas are: a) fair trade based on equalizing upwards labor standards and regulations; b) foreign investment in information technology to aid in development; c) cultural campaigns that encourage people to enjoy their lives more and put off raising children until their late 20s; d) massive foreign investment in condoms and other means of birth control so they are available on demand; e) anti-baby bonuses: give people a financial incentive to not have children until they reach a certain age; f) significant increases in immigration in developed countries.

The logistics are not as simple. But if we can cram a billion transistors onto a computer chip the size of a finger nail, we can figure out how to do these things.

The first step is getting serious about taking responsibility this makeshift civilization the West has forced on the rest of the world. We made the mess. We must make reparations. We must own up to the crimes against humanity we committed over the past 500 years. We must take seriously the concept that all races are equal and all citizens of the world have human rights to public benefits like healthcare and education and to being able to earn a decent living to support their families.

I guess the biggest problem is that we don't even acknowledge we are a part of a civilization and that as humans we should make something of ourselves. Instead we act like savages indulging in abstract forms of human sacrifice blaming the gods of supply and demand for a barbarous, racist world of our own creation.

People often wonder, why does God allow so much suffering? The real question is: why do we allow so much suffering?

If we are not courageous enough to act for ourselves, we must do it for our children and grandchildren. They are the ones who will get stuck with the bill. (And I don't mean government debt. The West wrote off a large portion of its debt it amassed fighting WW2. All our present debt was built up giving tax cuts to rich people. It should be obvious we can't be this stupid and survive.)

Northern PoV said...

Gods' speed to the mitigators, any reduction will help.

Parts of the IPCC recently acknowledged 2m sea rise by 2100.

Paul Beckwith says 7m/2070.

I think the real discussion will be about Orderly Retreat

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Toby said...
The problem with Klein is common amongst many of those who warn about Global Warming, including me. The fixes are so drastic that anyone peddling them is immediately dismissed as nuts.

I think that George Monbiot's answer to that was that we will have to accept energy rationing or quotas.
Not a pleasing solution but perhaps the only honest one.


The Mound of Sound said...

@ Anon 4:20 I'm afraid you offer simplistic solutions to very complex challenges. Lack of economic development, really? We're already over developed. We consume 1.7 times the Earth's annual production of renewable resources. Not plastics, or metals or recyclable products but water, air, biomass. This is manifest, visible to the naked eye from the observation cupola of the ISS. "In theory" I should be able to teleport myself at some multiple of light speed out of this mess but that ain't gonna happen, is it.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ NPoV - any link to Beckwith's sea level rise forecast? My old alma matter.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Trailblazer - Being the cynic that I am I tend to yield to Lovelock's views. We either go into immediate and radical "sustainable retreat" or we pave the way for a planet that, by 2100, will have a sub-one billion population.

Northern PoV said...

Here is his website:

the actual quote I referenced came from his Twitter feed:

My view from 2 yrs ago stands (Google 7 meters by 2070); #Climate Model Predicts Rapid W. #Antarctic #Ice Sheet #UK

I did the suggested Google search and this was the top link.

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks for the link, NPoV. I like Beckwith and he does put out a vital message. I just wish he wasn't so nerdish because I think that gives critics a way to attack his credibility.

If his outlook is accurate and I think it is largely then we need to stop dragging our heels as even current governments, federal and provincial, continue to do.