November 2011, Week 3


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Capitalism vs. the Climate

by Naomi Klein

The Nation
November 9, 2011
This article appeared in the November 28, 2011 edition of
The Nation.


There is a question from a gentleman in the fourth row.

He introduces himself as Richard Rothschild. He tells the
crowd that he ran for county commissioner in Maryland's
Carroll County because he had come to the conclusion that
policies to combat global warming were actually "an attack
on middle-class American capitalism." His question for the
panelists, gathered in a Washington, DC, Marriott Hotel in
late June, is this: "To what extent is this entire movement
simply a green Trojan horse, whose belly is full with red
Marxist socioeconomic doctrine?"

Here at the Heartland Institute's Sixth International
Conference on Climate Change, the premier gathering for
those dedicated to denying the overwhelming scientific
consensus that human activity is warming the planet, this
qualifies as a rhetorical question. Like asking a meeting of
German central bankers if Greeks are untrustworthy. Still,
the panelists aren't going to pass up an opportunity to tell
the questioner just how right he is.

Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise
Institute who specializes in harassing climate scientists
with nuisance lawsuits and Freedom of Information fishing
expeditions, angles the table mic over to his mouth. "You
can believe this is about the climate," he says darkly, "and
many people do, but it's not a reasonable belief." Horner,
whose prematurely silver hair makes him look like a right-
wing Anderson Cooper, likes to invoke Saul Alinsky: "The
issue isn't the issue." The issue, apparently, is that "no
free society would do to itself what this agenda
requires.... The first step to that is to remove these
nagging freedoms that keep getting in the way."

Claiming that climate change is a plot to steal American
freedom is rather tame by Heartland standards. Over the
course of this two-day conference, I will learn that Obama's
campaign promise to support locally owned biofuels
refineries was really about "green communitarianism," akin
to the "Maoist" scheme to put "a pig iron furnace in
everybody's backyard" (the Cato Institute's Patrick
Michaels). That climate change is "a stalking horse for
National Socialism" (former Republican senator and retired
astronaut Harrison Schmitt). And that environmentalists are
like Aztec priests, sacrificing countless people to appease
the gods and change the weather (Marc Morano, editor of the
denialists' go-to website, ClimateDepot.com).

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."

Yes, sure, there is a pretense that the delegates' rejection
of climate science is rooted in serious disagreement about
the data. And the organizers go to some lengths to mimic
credible scientific conferences, calling the gathering
"Restoring the Scientific Method" and even adopting the
organizational acronym ICCC, a mere one letter off from the
world's leading authority on climate change, the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But the
scientific theories presented here are old and long
discredited. And no attempt is made to explain why each
speaker seems to contradict the next. (Is there no warming,
or is there warming but it's not a problem? And if there is
no warming, then what's all this talk about sunspots causing
temperatures to rise?)

In truth, several members of the mostly elderly audience
seem to doze off while the temperature graphs are projected.
They come to life only when the rock stars of the movement
take the stage - not the C-team scientists but the A-team
ideological warriors like Morano and Horner. This is the
true purpose of the gathering: providing a forum for die-
hard denialists to collect the rhetorical baseball bats with
which they will club environmentalists and climate
scientists in the weeks and months to come. The talking
points first tested here will jam the comment sections
beneath every article and YouTube video that contains the
phrase "climate change" or "global warming." They will also
exit the mouths of hundreds of right-wing commentators and
politicians - from Republican presidential candidates like
Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann all the way down to county
commissioners like Richard Rothschild. In an interview
outside the sessions, Joseph Bast, president of the
Heartland Institute, proudly takes credit for "thousands of
articles and op-eds and speeches...that were informed by or
motivated by somebody attending one of these conferences."

The Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based think tank devoted
to "promoting free-market solutions," has been holding these
confabs since 2008, sometimes twice a year. And the strategy
appears to be working. At the end of day one, Morano - whose
claim to fame is having broken the Swift Boat Veterans for
Truth story that sank John Kerry's 2004 presidential
campaign - leads the gathering through a series of victory
laps. Cap and trade: dead! Obama at the Copenhagen summit:
failure! The climate movement: suicidal! He even projects a
couple of quotes from climate activists beating up on
themselves (as progressives do so well) and exhorts the
audience to "celebrate!"

There were no balloons or confetti descending from the
rafters, but there may as well have been.

* * *

When public opinion on the big social and political issues
changes, the trends tend to be relatively gradual. Abrupt
shifts, when they come, are usually precipitated by dramatic
events. Which is why pollsters are so surprised by what has
happened to perceptions about climate change over a span of
just four years. A 2007 Harris poll found that 71 percent of
Americans believed that the continued burning of fossil
fuels would cause the climate to change. By 2009 the figure
had dropped to 51 percent. In June 2011 the number of
Americans who agreed was down to 44 percent - well under
half the population. According to Scott Keeter, director of
survey research at the Pew Research Center for People and
the Press, this is "among the largest shifts over a short
period of time seen in recent public opinion history."

Even more striking, this shift has occurred almost entirely
at one end of the political spectrum. As recently as 2008
(the year Newt Gingrich did a climate change TV spot with
Nancy Pelosi) the issue still had a veneer of bipartisan
support in the United States. Those days are decidedly over.
Today, 70-75 percent of self-identified Democrats and
liberals believe humans are changing the climate - a level
that has remained stable or risen slightly over the past
decade. In sharp contrast, Republicans, particularly Tea
Party members, have overwhelmingly chosen to reject the
scientific consensus. In some regions, only about 20 percent
of self-identified Republicans accept the science.

Equally significant has been a shift in emotional intensity.
Climate change used to be something most everyone said they
cared about - just not all that much. When Americans were
asked to rank their political concerns in order of priority,
climate change would reliably come in last.

But now there is a significant cohort of Republicans who
care passionately, even obsessively, about climate change -
though what they care about is exposing it as a "hoax" being
perpetrated by liberals to force them to change their light
bulbs, live in Soviet-style tenements and surrender their
SUVs. For these right-wingers, opposition to climate change
has become as central to their worldview as low taxes, gun
ownership and opposition to abortion. Many climate
scientists report receiving death threats, as do authors of
articles on subjects as seemingly innocuous as energy
conservation. (As one letter writer put it to Stan Cox,
author of a book critical of air-conditioning, "You can pry
my thermostat out of my cold dead hands.")

This culture-war intensity is the worst news of all, because
when you challenge a person's position on an issue core to
his or her identity, facts and arguments are seen as little
more than further attacks, easily deflected. (The deniers
have even found a way to dismiss a new study confirming the
reality of global warming that was partially funded by the
Koch brothers, and led by a scientist sympathetic to the
"skeptic" position.)

The effects of this emotional intensity have been on full
display in the race to lead the Republican Party. Days into
his presidential campaign, with his home state literally
burning up with wildfires, Texas Governor Rick Perry
delighted the base by declaring that climate scientists were
manipulating data "so that they will have dollars rolling
into their projects." Meanwhile, the only candidate to
consistently defend climate science, Jon Huntsman, was dead
on arrival. And part of what has rescued Mitt Romney's
campaign has been his flight from earlier statements
supporting the scientific consensus on climate change.

But the effects of the right-wing climate conspiracies reach
far beyond the Republican Party. The Democrats have mostly
gone mute on the subject, not wanting to alienate
independents. And the media and culture industries have
followed suit. Five years ago, celebrities were showing up
at the Academy Awards in hybrids, Vanity Fair launched an
annual green issue and, in 2007, the three major US networks
ran 147 stories on climate change. No longer. In 2010 the
networks ran just thirty-two climate change stories; limos
are back in style at the Academy Awards; and the "annual"
Vanity Fair green issue hasn't been seen since 2008.

This uneasy silence has persisted through the end of the
hottest decade in recorded history and yet another summer of
freak natural disasters and record-breaking heat worldwide.
Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry is rushing to make
multibillion-dollar investments in new infrastructure to
extract oil, natural gas and coal from some of the dirtiest
and highest-risk sources on the continent (the $7 billion
Keystone XL pipeline being only the highest-profile
example). In the Alberta tar sands, in the Beaufort Sea, in
the gas fields of Pennsylvania and the coalfields of Wyoming
and Montana, the industry is betting big that the climate
movement is as good as dead.

If the carbon these projects are poised to suck out is
released into the atmosphere, the chance of triggering
catastrophic climate change will increase dramatically
(mining the oil in the Alberta tar sands alone, says NASA's
James Hansen, would be "essentially game over" for the

All of this means that the climate movement needs to have
one hell of a comeback. For this to happen, the left is
going to have to learn from the right. Denialists gained
traction by making climate about economics: action will
destroy capitalism, they have claimed, killing jobs and
sending prices soaring. But at a time when a growing number
of people agree with the protesters at Occupy Wall Street,
many of whom argue that capitalism-as-usual is itself the
cause of lost jobs and debt slavery, there is a unique
opportunity to seize the economic terrain from the right.
This would require making a persuasive case that the real
solutions to the climate crisis are also our best hope of
building a much more enlightened economic system - one that
closes deep inequalities, strengthens and transforms the
public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work and
radically reins in corporate power. It would also require a
shift away from the notion that climate action is just one
issue on a laundry list of worthy causes vying for
progressive attention. Just as climate denialism has become
a core identity issue on the right, utterly entwined with
defending current systems of power and wealth, the
scientific reality of climate change must, for progressives,
occupy a central place in a coherent narrative about the
perils of unrestrained greed and the need for real

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.

* * *

The deniers did not decide that climate change is a left-
wing conspiracy by uncovering some covert socialist plot.
They arrived at this analysis by taking a hard look at what
it would take to lower global emissions as drastically and
as rapidly as climate science demands. They have concluded
that this can be done only by radically reordering our
economic and political systems in ways antithetical to their
"free market" belief system. As British blogger and
Heartland regular James Delingpole has pointed out, "Modern
environmentalism successfully advances many of the causes
dear to the left: redistribution of wealth, higher taxes,
greater government intervention, regulation." Heartland's
Bast puts it even more bluntly: For the left, "Climate
change is the perfect thing.... It's the reason why we
should do everything [the left] wanted to do anyway."

Here's my inconvenient truth: they aren't wrong. Before I go
any further, let me be absolutely clear: as 97 percent of
the world's climate scientists attest, the Heartlanders are
completely wrong about the science. The heat-trapping gases
released into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil
fuels are already causing temperatures to increase. If we
are not on a radically different energy path by the end of
this decade, we are in for a world of pain.

But when it comes to the real-world consequences of those
scientific findings, specifically the kind of deep changes
required not just to our energy consumption but to the
underlying logic of our economic system, the crowd gathered
at the Marriott Hotel may be in considerably less denial
than a lot of professional environmentalists, the ones who
paint a picture of global warming Armageddon, then assure us
that we can avert catastrophe by buying "green" products and
creating clever markets in pollution.

The fact that the earth's atmosphere cannot safely absorb
the amount of carbon we are pumping into it is a symptom of
a much larger crisis, one born of the central fiction on
which our economic model is based: that nature is limitless,
that we will always be able to find more of what we need,
and that if something runs out it can be seamlessly replaced
by another resource that we can endlessly extract. But it is
not just the atmosphere that we have exploited beyond its
capacity to recover - we are doing the same to the oceans,
to freshwater, to topsoil and to biodiversity. The
expansionist, extractive mindset, which has so long governed
our relationship to nature, is what the climate crisis calls
into question so fundamentally. The abundance of scientific
research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits
does not just demand green products and market-based
solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one
grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for
natural cycles of renewal - and acutely sensitive to natural
limits, including the limits of human intelligence.

So in a way, Chris Horner was right when he told his fellow
Heartlanders that climate change isn't "the issue." In fact,
it isn't an issue at all. Climate change is a message, one
that is telling us that many of our culture's most cherished
ideas are no longer viable. These are profoundly challenging
revelations for all of us raised on Enlightenment ideals of
progress, unaccustomed to having our ambitions confined by
natural boundaries. And this is true for the statist left as
well as the neoliberal right.

While Heartlanders like to invoke the specter of communism
to terrify Americans about climate action (Czech President
Vaclav Klaus, a Heartland conference favorite, says that
attempts to prevent global warming are akin to "the
ambitions of communist central planners to control the
entire society"), the reality is that Soviet-era state
socialism was a disaster for the climate. It devoured
resources with as much enthusiasm as capitalism, and spewed
waste just as recklessly: before the fall of the Berlin
Wall, Czechs and Russians had even higher carbon footprints
per capita than their counterparts in Britain, Canada and
Australia. And while some point to the dizzying expansion of
China's renewable energy programs to argue that only
centrally controlled regimes can get the green job done,
China's command-and-control economy continues to be
harnessed to wage an all-out war with nature, through
massively disruptive mega-dams, superhighways and
extraction-based energy projects, particularly coal.

It is true that responding to the climate threat requires
strong government action at all levels. But real climate
solutions are ones that steer these interventions to
systematically disperse and devolve power and control to the
community level, whether through community-controlled
renewable energy, local organic agriculture or transit
systems genuinely accountable to their users.

Here is where the Heartlanders have good reason to be
afraid: arriving at these new systems is going to require
shredding the free-market ideology that has dominated the
global economy for more than three decades. What follows is
a quick-and-dirty look at what a serious climate agenda
would mean in the following six arenas: public
infrastructure, economic planning, corporate regulation,
international trade, consumption and taxation. For hard-
right ideologues like those gathered at the Heartland
conference, the results are nothing short of intellectually

1. Reviving and Reinventing the Public Sphere

After years of recycling, carbon offsetting and light bulb
changing, it is obvious that individual action will never be
an adequate response to the climate crisis. Climate change
is a collective problem, and it demands collective action.
One of the key areas in which this collective action must
take place is big-ticket investments designed to reduce our
emissions on a mass scale. That means subways, streetcars
and light-rail systems that are not only everywhere but
affordable to everyone; energy-efficient affordable housing
along those transit lines; smart electrical grids carrying
renewable energy; and a massive research effort to ensure
that we are using the best methods possible.

The private sector is ill suited to providing most of these
services because they require large up-front investments
and, if they are to be genuinely accessible to all, some
very well may not be profitable. They are, however,
decidedly in the public interest, which is why they should
come from the public sector.

Traditionally, battles to protect the public sphere are cast
as conflicts between irresponsible leftists who want to
spend without limit and practical realists who understand
that we are living beyond our economic means. But the
gravity of the climate crisis cries out for a radically new
conception of realism, as well as a very different
understanding of limits. Government budget deficits are not
nearly as dangerous as the deficits we have created in vital
and complex natural systems. Changing our culture to respect
those limits will require all of our collective muscle - to
get ourselves off fossil fuels and to shore up communal
infrastructure for the coming storms.

2. Remembering How to Plan

In addition to reversing the thirty-year privatization
trend, a serious response to the climate threat involves
recovering an art that has been relentlessly vilified during
these decades of market fundamentalism: planning. Lots and
lots of planning. And not just at the national and
international levels. Every community in the world needs a
plan for how it is going to transition away from fossil
fuels, what the Transition Town movement calls an "energy
descent action plan." In the cities and towns that have
taken this responsibility seriously, the process has opened
rare spaces for participatory democracy, with neighbors
packing consultation meetings at city halls to share ideas
about how to reorganize their communities to lower emissions
and build in resilience for tough times ahead.

Climate change demands other forms of planning as well -
particularly for workers whose jobs will become obsolete as
we wean ourselves off fossil fuels. A few "green jobs"
trainings aren't enough. These workers need to know that
real jobs will be waiting for them on the other side. That
means bringing back the idea of planning our economies based
on collective priorities rather than corporate profitability
- giving laid-off employees of car plants and coal mines the
tools and resources to create jobs, for example, with
Cleveland's worker-run green co-ops serving as a model.

Agriculture, too, will have to see a revival in planning if
we are to address the triple crisis of soil erosion, extreme
weather and dependence on fossil fuel inputs. Wes Jackson,
the visionary founder of the Land Institute in Salina,
Kansas, has been calling for "a fifty-year farm bill."
That's the length of time he and his collaborators Wendell
Berry and Fred Kirschenmann estimate it will take to conduct
the research and put the infrastructure in place to replace
many soil-depleting annual grain crops, grown in
monocultures, with perennial crops, grown in polycultures.
Since perennials don't need to be replanted every year,
their long roots do a much better job of storing scarce
water, holding soil in place and sequestering carbon.
Polycultures are also less vulnerable to pests and to being
wiped out by extreme weather. Another bonus: this type of
farming is much more labor intensive than industrial
agriculture, which means that farming can once again be a
substantial source of employment.

Outside the Heartland conference and like-minded gatherings,
the return of planning is nothing to fear. We are not
talking about a return to authoritarian socialism, after
all, but a turn toward real democracy. The thirty-odd-year
experiment in deregulated, Wild West economics is failing
the vast majority of people around the world. These systemic
failures are precisely why so many are in open revolt
against their elites, demanding living wages and an end to
corruption. Climate change doesn't conflict with demands for
a new kind of economy. Rather, it adds to them an
existential imperative.

3. Reining in Corporations

A key piece of the planning we must undertake involves the
rapid re-regulation of the corporate sector. Much can be
done with incentives: subsidies for renewable energy and
responsible land stewardship, for instance. But we are also
going to have to get back into the habit of barring outright
dangerous and destructive behavior. That means getting in
the way of corporations on multiple fronts, from imposing
strict caps on the amount of carbon corporations can emit,
to banning new coal-fired power plants, to cracking down on
industrial feedlots, to shutting down dirty-energy
extraction projects like the Alberta tar sands (starting
with pipelines like Keystone XL that lock in expansion

Only a very small sector of the population sees any
restriction on corporate or consumer choice as leading down
Hayek's road to serfdom - and, not coincidentally, it is
precisely this sector of the population that is at the
forefront of climate change denial.

4. Relocalizing Production

If strictly regulating corporations to respond to climate
change sounds somewhat radical it's because, since the
beginning of the 1980s, it has been an article of faith that
the role of government is to get out of the way of the
corporate sector - and nowhere more so than in the realm of
international trade. The devastating impacts of free trade
on manufacturing, local business and farming are well known.
But perhaps the atmosphere has taken the hardest hit of all.
The cargo ships, jumbo jets and heavy trucks that haul raw
resources and finished products across the globe devour
fossil fuels and spew greenhouse gases. And the cheap goods
being produced - made to be replaced, almost never fixed -
are consuming a huge range of other nonrenewable resources
while producing far more waste than can be safely absorbed.

This model is so wasteful, in fact, that it cancels out the
modest gains that have been made in reducing emissions many
times over. For instance, the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences recently published a study of the
emissions from industrialized countries that signed the
Kyoto Protocol. It found that while they had stabilized,
that was partly because international trade had allowed
these countries to move their dirty production to places
like China. The researchers concluded that the rise in
emissions from goods produced in developing countries but
consumed in industrialized ones was six times greater than
the emissions savings of industrialized countries.

In an economy organized to respect natural limits, the use
of energy-intensive long-haul transport would need to be
rationed - reserved for those cases where goods cannot be
produced locally or where local production is more carbon-
intensive. (For example, growing food in greenhouses in cold
parts of the United States is often more energy-intensive
than growing it in the South and shipping it by light rail.)

Climate change does not demand an end to trade. But it does
demand an end to the reckless form of "free trade" that
governs every bilateral trade agreement as well as the World
Trade Organization. This is more good news  - for unemployed
workers, for farmers unable to compete with cheap imports,
for communities that have seen their manufacturers move
offshore and their local businesses replaced with big boxes.
But the challenge this poses to the capitalist project
should not be underestimated: it represents the reversal of
the thirty-year trend of removing every possible limit on
corporate power.

5. Ending the Cult of Shopping

The past three decades of free trade, deregulation and
privatization were not only the result of greedy people
wanting greater corporate profits. They were also a response
to the "stagflation" of the 1970s, which created intense
pressure to find new avenues for rapid economic growth. The
threat was real: within our current economic model, a drop
in production is by definition a crisis - a recession or, if
deep enough, a depression, with all the desperation and
hardship that these words imply.

This growth imperative is why conventional economists
reliably approach the climate crisis by asking the question,
How can we reduce emissions while maintaining robust GDP
growth? The usual answer is "decoupling" - the idea that
renewable energy and greater efficiencies will allow us to
sever economic growth from its environmental impact. And
"green growth" advocates like Thomas Friedman tell us that
the process of developing new green technologies and
installing green infrastructure can provide a huge economic
boost, sending GDP soaring and generating the wealth needed
to "make America healthier, richer, more innovative, more
productive, and more secure."

But here is where things get complicated. There is a growing
body of economic research on the conflict between economic
growth and sound climate policy, led by ecological economist
Herman Daly at the University of Maryland, as well as Peter
Victor at York University, Tim Jackson of the University of
Surrey and environmental law and policy expert Gus Speth.
All raise serious questions about the feasibility of
industrialized countries meeting the deep emissions cuts
demanded by science (at least 80 percent below 1990 levels
by 2050) while continuing to grow their economies at even
today's sluggish rates. As Victor and Jackson argue, greater
efficiencies simply cannot keep up with the pace of growth,
in part because greater efficiency is almost always
accompanied by more consumption, reducing or even canceling
out the gains (often called the "Jevons Paradox"). And so
long as the savings resulting from greater energy and
material efficiencies are simply plowed back into further
exponential expansion of the economy, reduction in total
emissions will be thwarted. As Jackson argues in Prosperity
Without Growth, "Those who promote decoupling as an escape
route from the dilemma of growth need to take a closer look
at the historical evidence - and at the basic arithmetic of

The bottom line is that an ecological crisis that has its
roots in the overconsumption of natural resources must be
addressed not just by improving the efficiency of our
economies but by reducing the amount of material stuff we
produce and consume. Yet that idea is anathema to the large
corporations that dominate the global economy, which are
controlled by footloose investors who demand ever greater
profits year after year. We are therefore caught in the
untenable bind of, as Jackson puts it, "trash the system or
crash the planet."

The way out is to embrace a managed transition to another
economic paradigm, using all the tools of planning discussed
above. Growth would be reserved for parts of the world still
pulling themselves out of poverty. Meanwhile, in the
industrialized world, those sectors that are not governed by
the drive for increased yearly profit (the public sector,
co-ops, local businesses, nonprofits) would expand their
share of overall economic activity, as would those sectors
with minimal ecological impacts (such as the caregiving
professions). A great many jobs could be created this way.
But the role of the corporate sector, with its structural
demand for increased sales and profits, would have to

So when the Heartlanders react to evidence of human-induced
climate change as if capitalism itself were coming under
threat, it's not because they are paranoid. It's because
they are paying attention.

6. Taxing the Rich and Filthy

About now a sensible reader would be asking, How on earth
are we going to pay for all this? The old answer would have
been easy: we'll grow our way out of it. Indeed, one of the
major benefits of a growth-based economy for elites is that
it allows them to constantly defer demands for social
justice, claiming that if we keep growing the pie,
eventually there will be enough for everyone. That was
always a lie, as the current inequality crisis reveals, but
in a world hitting multiple ecological limits, it is a
nonstarter. So the only way to finance a meaningful response
to the ecological crisis is to go where the money is.

That means taxing carbon, as well as financial speculation.
It means increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy,
cutting bloated military budgets and eliminating absurd
subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. And governments will
have to coordinate their responses so that corporations will
have nowhere to hide (this kind of robust international
regulatory architecture is what Heartlanders mean when they
warn that climate change will usher in a sinister "world

Most of all, however, we need to go after the profits of the
corporations most responsible for getting us into this mess.
The top five oil companies made $900 billion in profits in
the past decade; ExxonMobil alone can clear $10 billion in
profits in a single quarter. For years, these companies have
pledged to use their profits to invest in a shift to
renewable energy (BP's "Beyond Petroleum" rebranding being
the highest-profile example). But according to a study by
the Center for American Progress, just 4 percent of the big
five's $100 billion in combined 2008 profits went to
"renewable and alternative energy ventures." Instead, they
continue to pour their profits into shareholder pockets,
outrageous executive pay and new technologies designed to
extract even dirtier and more dangerous fossil fuels. Plenty
of money has also gone to paying lobbyists to beat back
every piece of climate legislation that has reared its head,
and to fund the denier movement gathered at the Marriott

Just as tobacco companies have been obliged to pay the costs
of helping people to quit smoking, and BP has had to pay for
the cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico, it is high time for the
"polluter pays" principle to be applied to climate change.
Beyond higher taxes on polluters, governments will have to
negotiate much higher royalty rates so that less fossil fuel
extraction would raise more public revenue to pay for the
shift to our postcarbon future (as well as the steep costs
of climate change already upon us). Since corporations can
be counted on to resist any new rules that cut into their
profits, nationalization - the greatest free-market taboo of
all - cannot be off the table.

When Heartlanders claim, as they so often do, that climate
change is a plot to "redistribute wealth" and wage class
war, these are the types of policies they most fear. They
also understand that, once the reality of climate change is
recognized, wealth will have to be transferred not just
within wealthy countries but also from the rich countries
whose emissions created the crisis to poorer ones that are
on the front lines of its effects. Indeed, what makes
conservatives (and plenty of liberals) so eager to bury the
UN climate negotiations is that they have revived a
postcolonial courage in parts of the developing world that
many thought was gone for good. Armed with irrefutable
scientific facts about who is responsible for global warming
and who is suffering its effects first and worst, countries
like Bolivia and Ecuador are attempting to shed the mantle
of "debtor" thrust upon them by decades of International
Monetary Fund and World Bank loans and are declaring
themselves creditors - owed not just money and technology to
cope with climate change but "atmospheric space" in which to

* * *

So let's summarize. Responding to climate change requires
that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and
that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild
the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large
parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back
long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations,
maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending
and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none
of this has a hope in hell of happening unless it is
accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically
reduce the influence that corporations have over the
political process. That means, at a minimum, publicly funded
elections and stripping corporations of their status as
"people" under the law. In short, climate change
supercharges the pre-existing case for virtually every
progressive demand on the books, binding them into a
coherent agenda based on a clear scientific imperative.

More than that, climate change implies the biggest political
"I told you so" since Keynes predicted German backlash from
the Treaty of Versailles. Marx wrote about capitalism's
"irreparable rift" with "the natural laws of life itself,"
and many on the left have argued that an economic system
built on unleashing the voracious appetites of capital would
overwhelm the natural systems on which life depends. And of
course indigenous peoples were issuing warnings about the
dangers of disrespecting "Mother Earth" long before that.
The fact that the airborne waste of industrial capitalism is
causing the planet to warm, with potentially cataclysmic
results, means that, well, the naysayers were right. And the
people who said, "Hey, let's get rid of all the rules and
watch the magic happen" were disastrously, catastrophically

There is no joy in being right about something so
terrifying. But for progressives, there is responsibility in
it, because it means that our ideas - informed by indigenous
teachings as well as by the failures of industrial state
socialism - are more important than ever. It means that a
green-left worldview, which rejects mere reformism and
challenges the centrality of profit in our economy, offers
humanity's best hope of overcoming these overlapping crises.

But imagine, for a moment, how all of this looks to a guy
like Heartland president Bast, who studied economics at the
University of Chicago and described his personal calling to
me as "freeing people from the tyranny of other people." It
looks like the end of the world. It's not, of course. But it
is, for all intents and purposes, the end of his world.
Climate change detonates the ideological scaffolding on
which contemporary conservatism rests. There is simply no
way to square a belief system that vilifies collective
action and venerates total market freedom with a problem
that demands collective action on an unprecedented scale and
a dramatic reining in of the market forces that created and
are deepening the crisis.

* * *

At the Heartland conference - where everyone from the Ayn
Rand Institute to the Heritage Foundation has a table
hawking books and pamphlets - these anxieties are close to
the surface. Bast is forthcoming about the fact that
Heartland's campaign against climate science grew out of
fear about the policies that the science would require.
"When we look at this issue, we say, This is a recipe for
massive increase in government... Before we take this step,
let's take another look at the science. So conservative and
libertarian groups, I think, stopped and said, Let's not
simply accept this as an article of faith; let's actually do
our own research." This is a crucial point to understand: it
is not opposition to the scientific facts of climate change
that drives denialists but rather opposition to the real-
world implications of those facts.

What Bast is describing - albeit inadvertently - is a
phenomenon receiving a great deal of attention these days
from a growing subset of social scientists trying to explain
the dramatic shifts in belief about climate change.
Researchers with Yale's Cultural Cognition Project have
found that political/cultural worldview explains
"individuals' beliefs about global warming more powerfully
than any other individual characteristic."

Those with strong "egalitarian" and "communitarian"
worldviews (marked by an inclination toward collective
action and social justice, concern about inequality and
suspicion of corporate power) overwhelmingly accept the
scientific consensus on climate change. On the other hand,
those with strong "hierarchical" and "individualistic"
worldviews (marked by opposition to government assistance
for the poor and minorities, strong support for industry and
a belief that we all get what we deserve) overwhelmingly
reject the scientific consensus.

For example, among the segment of the US population that
displays the strongest "hierarchical" views, only 11 percent
rate climate change as a "high risk," compared with 69
percent of the segment displaying the strongest
"egalitarian" views. Yale law professor Dan Kahan, the lead
author on this study, attributes this tight correlation
between "worldview" and acceptance of climate science to
"cultural cognition." This refers to the process by which
all of us - regardless of political leanings - filter new
information in ways designed to protect our "preferred
vision of the good society." As Kahan explained in Nature,
"People find it disconcerting to believe that behaviour that
they find noble is nevertheless detrimental to society, and
behaviour that they find base is beneficial to it. Because
accepting such a claim could drive a wedge between them and
their peers, they have a strong emotional predisposition to
reject it." In other words, it is always easier to deny
reality than to watch your worldview get shattered, a fact
that was as true of die-hard Stalinists at the height of the
purges as it is of libertarian climate deniers today.

When powerful ideologies are challenged by hard evidence
from the real world, they rarely die off completely. Rather,
they become cultlike and marginal. A few true believers
always remain to tell one another that the problem wasn't
with the ideology; it was the weakness of leaders who did
not apply the rules with sufficient rigor. We have these
types on the Stalinist left, and they exist as well on the
neo-Nazi right. By this point in history, free-market
fundamentalists should be exiled to a similarly marginal
status, left to fondle their copies of Free to Choose and
Atlas Shrugged in obscurity. They are saved from this fate
only because their ideas about minimal government, no matter
how demonstrably at war with reality, remain so profitable
to the world's billionaires that they are kept fed and
clothed in think tanks by the likes of Charles and David
Koch, and ExxonMobil.

This points to the limits of theories like "cultural
cognition." The deniers are doing more than protecting their
cultural worldview - they are protecting powerful interests
that stand to gain from muddying the waters of the climate
debate. The ties between the deniers and those interests are
well known and well documented. Heartland has received more
than $1 million from ExxonMobil together with foundations
linked to the Koch brothers and Richard Mellon Scaife
(possibly much more, but the think tank has stopped
publishing its donors' names, claiming the information was
distracting from the "merits of our positions").

And scientists who present at Heartland climate conferences
are almost all so steeped in fossil fuel dollars that you
can practically smell the fumes. To cite just two examples,
the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels, who gave the
conference keynote, once told CNN that 40 percent of his
consulting company's income comes from oil companies, and
who knows how much of the rest comes from coal. A Greenpeace
investigation into another one of the conference speakers,
astrophysicist Willie Soon, found that since 2002, 100
percent of his new research grants had come from fossil fuel
interests. And fossil fuel companies are not the only
economic interests strongly motivated to undermine climate
science. If solving this crisis requires the kinds of
profound changes to the economic order that I have outlined,
then every major corporation benefiting from loose
regulation, free trade and low taxes has reason to fear.

With so much at stake, it should come as little surprise
that climate deniers are, on the whole, those most invested
in our highly unequal and dysfunctional economic status quo.
One of the most interesting findings of the studies on
climate perceptions is the clear connection between a
refusal to accept the science of climate change and social
and economic privilege. Overwhelmingly, climate deniers are
not only conservative but also white and male, a group with
higher than average incomes. And they are more likely than
other adults to be highly confident in their views, no
matter how demonstrably false. A much-discussed paper on
this topic by Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap (memorably
titled "Cool Dudes") found that confident conservative white
men, as a group, were almost six times as likely to believe
climate change "will never happen" than the rest of the
adults surveyed. McCright and Dunlap offer a simple
explanation for this discrepancy: "Conservative white males
have disproportionately occupied positions of power within
our economic system. Given the expansive challenge that
climate change poses to the industrial capitalist economic
system, it should not be surprising that conservative white
males' strong system-justifying attitudes would be triggered
to deny climate change."

But deniers' relative economic and social privilege doesn't
just give them more to lose from a new economic order; it
gives them reason to be more sanguine about the risks of
climate change in the first place. This occurred to me as I
listened to yet another speaker at the Heartland conference
display what can only be described as an utter absence of
empathy for the victims of climate change. Larry Bell, whose
bio describes him as a "space architect," drew plenty of
laughs when he told the crowd that a little heat isn't so
bad: "I moved to Houston intentionally!" (Houston was, at
that time, in the midst of what would turn out to be the
state's worst single-year drought on record.) Australian
geologist Bob Carter offered that "the world actually does
better from our human perspective in warmer times." And
Patrick Michaels said people worried about climate change
should do what the French did after a devastating 2003 heat
wave killed 14,000 of their people: "they discovered Walmart
and air-conditioning."

Listening to these zingers as an estimated 13 million people
in the Horn of Africa face starvation on parched land was
deeply unsettling. What makes this callousness possible is
the firm belief that if the deniers are wrong about climate
change, a few degrees of warming isn't something wealthy
people in industrialized countries have to worry about.
("When it rains, we find shelter. When it's hot, we find
shade," Texas Congressman Joe Barton explained at an energy
and environment subcommittee hearing.)

As for everyone else, well, they should stop looking for
handouts and busy themselves getting unpoor. When I asked
Michaels whether rich countries have a responsibility to
help poor ones pay for costly adaptations to a warmer
climate, he scoffed that there is no reason to give money to
countries "because, for some reason, their political system
is incapable of adapting." The real solution, he claimed,
was more free trade.

* * *

This is where the intersection between hard-right ideology
and climate denial gets truly dangerous. It's not simply
that these "cool dudes" deny climate science because it
threatens to upend their dominance-based worldview. It is
that their dominance-based worldview provides them with the
intellectual tools to write off huge swaths of humanity in
the developing world. Recognizing the threat posed by this
empathy-exterminating mindset is a matter of great urgency,
because climate change will test our moral character like
little before. The US Chamber of Commerce, in its bid to
prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating
carbon emissions, argued in a petition that in the event of
global warming, "populations can acclimatize to warmer
climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and
technological adaptations." These adaptations are what I
worry about most.

How will we adapt to the people made homeless and jobless by
increasingly intense and frequent natural disasters? How
will we treat the climate refugees who arrive on our shores
in leaky boats? Will we open our borders, recognizing that
we created the crisis from which they are fleeing? Or will
we build ever more high-tech fortresses and adopt ever more
draconian antiimmigration laws? How will we deal with
resource scarcity?

We know the answers already. The corporate quest for scarce
resources will become more rapacious, more violent. Arable
land in Africa will continue to be grabbed to provide food
and fuel to wealthier nations. Drought and famine will
continue to be used as a pretext to push genetically
modified seeds, driving farmers further into debt. We will
attempt to transcend peak oil and gas by using increasingly
risky technologies to extract the last drops, turning ever
larger swaths of our globe into sacrifice zones. We will
fortress our borders and intervene in foreign conflicts over
resources, or start those conflicts ourselves. "Free-market
climate solutions," as they are called, will be a magnet for
speculation, fraud and crony capitalism, as we are already
seeing with carbon trading and the use of forests as carbon
offsets. And as climate change begins to affect not just the
poor but the wealthy as well, we will increasingly look for
techno-fixes to turn down the temperature, with massive and
unknowable risks.

As the world warms, the reigning ideology that tells us it's
everyone for themselves, that victims deserve their fate,
that we can master nature, will take us to a very cold place
indeed. And it will only get colder, as theories of racial
superiority, barely under the surface in parts of the denial
movement, make a raging comeback. These theories are not
optional: they are necessary to justify the hardening of
hearts to the largely blameless victims of climate change in
the global South, and in predominately African-American
cities like New Orleans.

In The Shock Doctrine, I explore how the right has
systematically used crises - real and trumped up - to push
through a brutal ideological agenda designed not to solve
the problems that created the crises but rather to enrich
elites. As the climate crisis begins to bite, it will be no
exception. This is entirely predictable. Finding new ways to
privatize the commons and to profit from disaster are what
our current system is built to do. The process is already
well under way.

The only wild card is whether some countervailing popular
movement will step up to provide a viable alternative to
this grim future. That means not just an alternative set of
policy proposals but an alternative worldview to rival the
one at the heart of the ecological crisis - this time,
embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism,
reciprocity rather than dominance and cooperation rather
than hierarchy.

Shifting cultural values is, admittedly, a tall order. It
calls for the kind of ambitious vision that movements used
to fight for a century ago, before everything was broken
into single "issues" to be tackled by the appropriate sector
of business-minded NGOs. Climate change is, in the words of
the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, "the
greatest example of market failure we have ever seen." By
all rights, this reality should be filling progressive sails
with conviction, breathing new life and urgency into
longstanding fights against everything from free trade to
financial speculation to industrial agriculture to third-
world debt, while elegantly weaving all these struggles into
a coherent narrative about how to protect life on earth.

But that isn't happening, at least not so far. It is a
painful irony that while the Heartlanders are busily calling
climate change a left-wing plot, most leftists have yet to
realize that climate science has handed them the most
powerful argument against capitalism since William Blake's
"dark Satanic Mills" (and, of course, those mills were the
beginning of climate change). When demonstrators are cursing
out the corruption of their governments and corporate elites
in Athens, Madrid, Cairo, Madison and New York, climate
change is often little more than a footnote, when it should
be the coup de grĂ¢ce.

Half of the problem is that progressives - their hands full
with soaring unemployment and multiple wars - tend to assume
that the big green groups have the climate issue covered.
The other half is that many of those big green groups have
avoided, with phobic precision, any serious debate on the
blindingly obvious roots of the climate crisis:
globalization, deregulation and contemporary capitalism's
quest for perpetual growth (the same forces that are
responsible for the destruction of the rest of the economy).
The result is that those taking on the failures of
capitalism and those fighting for climate action remain two
solitudes, with the small but valiant climate justice
movement - drawing the connections between racism,
inequality and environmental vulnerability - stringing up a
few swaying bridges between them.

The right, meanwhile, has had a free hand to exploit the
global economic crisis to cast climate action as a recipe
for economic Armageddon, a surefire way to spike household
costs and to block new, much-needed jobs drilling for oil
and laying new pipelines. With virtually no loud voices
offering a competing vision of how a new economic paradigm
could provide a way out of both the economic and ecological
crises, this fearmongering has had a ready audience.

Far from learning from past mistakes, a powerful faction in
the environmental movement is pushing to go even further
down the same disastrous road, arguing that the way to win
on climate is to make the cause more palatable to
conservative values. This can be heard from the studiously
centrist Breakthrough Institute, which is calling for the
movement to embrace industrial agriculture and nuclear power
instead of organic farming and decentralized renewables. It
can also be heard from several of the researchers studying
the rise in climate denial. Some, like Yale's Kahan, point
out that while those who poll as highly "hierarchical" and
"individualist" bridle at any mention of regulation, they
tend to like big, centralized technologies that confirm
their belief that humans can dominate nature. So, he and
others argue, environmentalists should start emphasizing
responses such as nuclear power and geoengineering
(deliberately intervening in the climate system to
counteract global warming), as well as playing up concerns
about national security.

The first problem with this strategy is that it doesn't
work. For years, big green groups have framed climate action
as a way to assert "energy security," while "free-market
solutions" are virtually the only ones on the table in the
United States. Meanwhile, denialism has soared. The more
troubling problem with this approach, however, is that
rather than challenging the warped values motivating
denialism, it reinforces them. Nuclear power and
geoengineering are not solutions to the ecological crisis;
they are a doubling down on exactly the kind of short-term
hubristic thinking that got us into this mess.

It is not the job of a transformative social movement to
reassure members of a panicked, megalomaniacal elite that
they are still masters of the universe - nor is it
necessary. According to McCright, co-author of the "Cool
Dudes" study, the most extreme, intractable climate deniers
(many of them conservative white men) are a small minority
of the US population - roughly 10 percent. True, this
demographic is massively overrepresented in positions of
power. But the solution to that problem is not for the
majority of people to change their ideas and values. It is
to attempt to change the culture so that this small but
disproportionately influential minority - and the reckless
worldview it represents - wields significantly less power.

* * *

Some in the climate camp are pushing back hard against the
appeasement strategy. Tim DeChristopher, serving a two-year
jail sentence in Utah for disrupting a compromised auction
of oil and gas leases, commented in May on the right-wing
claim that climate action will upend the economy. "I believe
we should embrace the charges," he told an interviewer. "No,
we are not trying to disrupt the economy, but yes, we do
want to turn it upside down. We should not try and hide our
vision about what we want to change - of the healthy, just
world that we wish to create. We are not looking for small
shifts: we want a radical overhaul of our economy and
society." He added, "I think once we start talking about it,
we will find more allies than we expect."

When DeChristopher articulated this vision for a climate
movement fused with one demanding deep economic
transformation, it surely sounded to most like a pipe dream.
But just five months later, with Occupy Wall Street chapters
seizing squares and parks in hundreds of cities, it sounds
prophetic. It turns out that a great many Americans had been
hungering for this kind of transformation on many fronts,
from the practical to the spiritual.

Though climate change was something of an afterthought in
the movement's early texts, an ecological consciousness was
woven into OWS from the start - from the sophisticated "gray
water" filtration system that uses dishwater to irrigate
plants at Zuccotti Park, to the scrappy community garden
planted at Occupy Portland. Occupy Boston's laptops and
cellphones are powered by bicycle generators, and Occupy DC
has installed solar panels. Meanwhile, the ultimate symbol
of OWS - the human microphone - is nothing if not a
postcarbon solution.

And new political connections are being made. The Rainforest
Action Network, which has been targeting Bank of America for
financing the coal industry, has made common cause with OWS
activists taking aim at the bank over foreclosures. Anti-
fracking activists have pointed out that the same economic
model that is blasting the bedrock of the earth to keep the
gas flowing is blasting the social bedrock to keep the
profits flowing. And then there is the historic movement
against the Keystone XL pipeline, which this fall has
decisively yanked the climate movement out of the lobbyists'
offices and into the streets (and jail cells). Anti-Keystone
campaigners have noted that anyone concerned about the
corporate takeover of democracy need look no further than
the corrupt process that led the State Department to
conclude that a pipeline carrying dirty tar sands oil across
some of the most sensitive land in the country would have
"limited adverse environmental impacts." As 350.org's Phil
Aroneanu put it, "If Wall Street is occupying President
Obama's State Department and the halls of Congress, it's
time for the people to occupy Wall Street."

But these connections go beyond a shared critique of
corporate power. As Occupiers ask themselves what kind of
economy should be built to displace the one crashing all
around us, many are finding inspiration in the network of
green economic alternatives that has taken root over the
past decade - in community-controlled renewable energy
projects, in community-supported agriculture and farmers'
markets, in economic localization initiatives that have
brought main streets back to life, and in the co-op sector.
Already a group at OWS is cooking up plans to launch the
movement's first green workers' co-op (a printing press);
local food activists have made the call to "Occupy the Food
System!"; and November 20 is "Occupy Rooftops" - a
coordinated effort to use crowd-sourcing to buy solar panels
for community buildings.

Not only do these economic models create jobs and revive
communities while reducing emissions; they do so in a way
that systematically disperses power - the antithesis of an
economy by and for the 1 percent. Omar Freilla, one of the
founders of Green Worker Cooperatives in the South Bronx,
told me that the experience in direct democracy that
thousands are having in plazas and parks has been, for many,
"like flexing a muscle you didn't know you had." And, he
says, now they want more democracy - not just at a meeting
but also in their community planning and in their

In other words, culture is rapidly shifting. And this is
what truly sets the OWS moment apart. The Occupiers -
holding signs that said Greed Is Gross and I Care About You
- decided early on not to confine their protests to narrow
policy demands. Instead, they took aim at the underlying
values of rampant greed and individualism that created the
economic crisis, while embodying - in highly visible ways -
radically different ways to treat one another and relate to
the natural world.

This deliberate attempt to shift cultural values is not a
distraction from the "real" struggles. In the rocky future
we have already made inevitable, an unshakable belief in the
equal rights of all people, and a capacity for deep
compassion, will be the only things standing between
humanity and barbarism. Climate change, by putting us on a
firm deadline, can serve as the catalyst for precisely this
profound social and ecological transformation.

Culture, after all, is fluid. It can change. It happens all
the time. The delegates at the Heartland conference know
this, which is why they are so determined to suppress the
mountain of evidence proving that their worldview is a
threat to life on earth. The task for the rest of us is to
believe, based on that same evidence, that a very different
worldview can be our salvation.

[Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist, syndicated
columnist, fellow at The Nation Institute and author of the
international and New York Times bestseller The Shock
Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Published
worldwide in September 2007, The Shock Doctrine is slated to
be translated into seventeen languages to date. The six-
minute companion film, created by Alfonso Cuaron, director
of Children of Men, was an Official Selection of the 2007
Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals and a viral
phenomenon as well, downloaded over one million times.
Klein's previous book No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand
Bullies was also an international bestseller, translated
into more than twenty-eight languages, with over a million
copies in print. A collection of her work, Fences and
Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the
Globalization Debate, was published in 2002. Klein's regular
column for The Nation and The Guardian is distributed
internationally by The New York Times Syndicate. In 2004 her
reporting from Iraq for Harper's Magazine won the James
Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. The same year,
she released a feature documentary about Argentina's
occupied factories, The Take, co-produced with director Avi
Lewis. The film was an official selection of the Venice
Biennale and won the best documentary jury prize at the
American Film Institute's Film Festival in Los Angeles.
Klein is a former Miliband Fellow at the London School of
Economics and holds an honorary Doctor of Civil Laws from
the University of King's College, Nova Scotia.]


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