Saturday, September 14, 2019

Embarking on the Era of "Climate Barbarism"

It has been foretold for years, at least two decades. Gwynne Dyer has written of it. Now, Naomi Klein says it's upon us, an era of "climate barbarism."

Klein's has released a new book, a compendium of essays, "On Fire: The Burning Case For a Green New Deal."  Some excerpts from a Guardian interview:
I don’t think I placed enough emphasis on the challenge climate change poses to the left. It’s more obvious the way the climate crisis challenges a rightwing dominant worldview, and the cult of serious centrism that never wants to do anything big, that’s always looking to split the difference. But this is also a challenge to a left worldview that is essentially only interested in redistributing the spoils of extractivism [the process of extracting natural resources from the earth] and not reckoning with the limits of endless consumption.

In a North American context, it’s the greatest taboo of all to actually admit that there are going to be limits. You see that in the way Fox News has gone after the Green New Deal – they are coming after your hamburgers! It cuts to the heart of the American dream – every generation gets more than the last, there is always a new frontier to expand to, the whole idea of settler colonial nations like ours. When somebody comes along and says, actually, there are limits, we’ve got some tough decisions, we need to figure out how to manage what’s left, we’ve got to share equitably – it is a psychic attack. And so the response [on the left] has been to avoid, and say no, no, we’re not coming to take away your stuff, there are going to be all kinds of benefits. And there are going to be benefits: we’ll have more livable cities, we’ll have less polluted air, we’ll spend less time stuck in traffic, we can design happier, richer lives in so many ways. But we are going to have to contract on the endless, disposable consumption side.
There was a time when Klein led from the front, back in the days when she challenged consumerism. Her shift into climate change came across like someone who had just discovered what countless others had been writing about and warning about for many years. Her book, "This Changes Everything," was a jumble of recycled thoughts.

As I've written on this blog for years, the existential peril to humanity is a basket of scourges from climate change to overpopulation to our rapacious exploitation of the world's very finite resources. It's not much use setting out to 'fix' one or two. If you don't resolve them all you have almost no prospects of fixing any of them.

While Klein's Leap Manifesto failed to get any meaningful traction, she now embraces the Green New Deal which, in my view, has about as much chance of success.
I feel a tremendous excitement and a sense of relief, that we are finally talking about solutions on the scale of the crisis we face. That we’re not talking about a little carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme as a silver bullet. We’re talking about transforming our economy. This system is failing the majority of people anyway, which is why we’re in this period of such profound political destabilisation – that is giving us the Trumps and the Brexits, and all of these strongman leaders – so why don’t we figure out how to change everything from bottom to top, and do it in a way that addresses all of these other crises at the same time? There is every chance we will miss the mark, but every fraction of a degree warming that we are able to hold off is a victory and every policy that we are able to win that makes our societies more humane, the more we will weather the inevitable shocks and storms to come without slipping into barbarism. Because what really terrifies me is what we are seeing at our borders in Europe and North America and Australia – I don’t think it’s coincidental that the settler colonial states and the countries that are the engines of that colonialism are at the forefront of this. We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism. We saw it in Christchurch, we saw it in El Paso, where you have this marrying of white supremacist violence with vicious anti-immigrant racism.
Klein raises the straw man of white supremacy, presumably to duck the issue of overpopulation. It's not polite or politically correct to discuss such things, apparently. That's just privileged white man's talk. Except that it's not.

She embraces what is essentially "steady state" or "full earth" economics, a theory of a 'no growth' civilization that is decades old and may even have its intellectual roots in Adam Smith's 1776 classic, "The Wealth of Nations."

I bought "This Changes Everything." I won't be buying "On Fire." It's not that what she's advocating isn't good or necessary. Of course it is. It's that we have already chosen a different path and, yes, it leads to climate barbarism.  Averting that will take a wholesale change of the fabric of Western society and, daunting as that prospect obviously is, we're running out of time to build multi-decadal movements.


Marie Snyder said...

I agree with your take on Klein. She was inspirational with "No Logo" and "Fences and Windows", but I couldn't understand why she'd try to write a book on what was, for her, brand new information about climate change, when so many others had written far better book already. That book came across as awkwardly ignorant - maybe her publishers demanded she write about it and threw her in blind. It doesn't take much reading on climate change to glean that "a sense of relief" is not an authentic feeling we'll ever have again.

The Mound of Sound said...

My sense is that she wants to use climate change as a clothes horse on which to drape layers of ideology, Marie.

When we're confronted with what are a host of scientific challenges, political correctness can be unhelpful.

I perhaps oversimplify in considering climate change and excessive-consumption to lie at the feet of the developed Western nations, the predominantly Caucasian world, but overpopulation is what non-predominantly Caucasian nations have created.

I can agree with Klein that effective responses to global problems demand equitable measures. I just cannot see that the peoples of the First World are willing to sacrifice enough even if it means averting devastating impacts on the Third World.

It seems to me that we're willing to establish a form of palliative care for the weakest, most vulnerable and most populous parts of the world, the bulk of humanity, rather than treating them fairly. That's certainly what is on the minds of planners at the Pentagon and the British Minister of Defence.