Naomi Klein’s new climate change book

Naomi KleinWe know that we are trapped within an economic system that has it backwards; it behaves as if there is no end to what is actually finite (clean water, fossil fuels and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions) while insisting there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually quite flexible: the financial resources that human institutions manufacture, and that, if imagined differently, could build the kind of caring society that we need.

==Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything

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Naomi Klein’s brilliant new book, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs the Climate, underlines two important things I had not quite realized.

The first is that the built-in financial incentives of the fossil fuel corporations, or capitalism generally, make it impossible for corporate executives to do anything on their own that would limit the greenhouse gasses that cause climate change.

The second is that many seemingly unrelated struggles against abuses by fossil fuel companies, or abuses by corporations generally, tie in with fighting climate change.

hoax-cop15When native Americans fight to have Indian treaties recognized in law, when small towns in upstate New York pass ordinances against hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, when ranchers and Indians protest the Keystone XL pipeline, when other protestors object to corporate trade treaties such as NAFTA, when Occupy Wall Street protesters advocate economic democracy—all these things help other people in danger from the increase in droughts, floods and violent storms.

I confess that I did not see these connections, or did not fully realize their significance, until I read this book.  I had thought of the question of climate change as primarily a question of how and how much I and other people are willing to reduce their material standard of living, or give up hope of increasing their material standard of living, so that future generations will have a decent planet to live on.

This is a real and important question, but it is not the only question.  As Naomi Klein points out, the well-being livelihoods of many people are threatened by continuing on the present course.   That is because the era of easily-available oil, gas and coal is long gone, and the methods of extracting them—deep water ocean drilling, tar sands, fracking, mountaintop removal—are increasingly costly, dangerous and destructive.

We the people can’t trust the profit system to automatically provide a good answer by itself.

Fossil fuel companies have big sunk costs in oil, gas and coal technology, which they need to amortize to remain profitable.  They devote great effort and creativity in finding ways to develop that technology to squeeze out what oil, gas and coal is left.

Stock market analysts regard an oil or gas company as economically viable only if it is increasing its oil and gas reserves at the same rate as its energy production.  Once these reserves are acquired, the investment must be amortized.

Unless something changes, the fossil fuel companies are on track to keep drilling and mining as long as they can.  One climate scientist has calculated the maximum amount of carbon burning between now and 2050 that the world can tolerate, and still have a good chance of avoiding catastrophe.  The claimed reserves of the fossil fuel companies are five times that maximum.

Klein says remedies are impossible within the corporate system.  Change can come only through greater democracy, greater local control, less centralization of power—all things that are good in themselves.

Sacrifice would be needed, especially by rich people and rich nations, to adapt to a less energy-intensive economy.  Klein argued that these necessary sacrifices would be no greater than the unnecessary sacrifices being imposed in the name of the present failed corporate ideology—privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector and reductions in public services to offset tax cuts for corporations and rich people.

Maybe so and maybe not.   I live drive a car powered by gasoline.  I heat my house with natural gas.  My lights, my appliances and my computer are powered by electricity that comes partly from burning fossil fuels and partly from nuclear power.   I don’t know how I would adapt to a world without fossil fuels (although, at age 78, I might not have to).

But at some point the destructiveness and expense of fossil fuels, and out-of-control droughts, floods and storms, will cause the industrial economy to crash and burn.   In some ways the crashing and burning have already begun.

It is better to figure out how to make the transition ourselves and do it intentionally, as Naomi Klein advocates, than to cede control of the process to the energy corporations that created the problem.

BACKGROUND

Naomi Klein’s web site

Climate change: How do we know? on the NASA web site.

Environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing from Wikipedia.

Tar Sands Solution Network

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