Progressive Policies and Climate Change

This Changes EverythingOn this blog we have tried to understand global warming and resulting climate change, and the social and scientific factors that affect the topic. But as interesting as the science is – and trying to understand the entire Earth as a single system is fascinating – there would be no public interest if not for the economic and ideological implications.

I have looked for a book that addresses the progressive view of climate policy. In This Changes Everything Capitalism vs. The Climate, Naomi Klein clearly believes that global warming is real, predominately caused by humans, and an impending global crisis. She says we deny or ignore the issue “because we fear that letting in the reality of this crisis will change everything. And we are right.”

I think I’ve found my progressive tome.

Klein immediately draws the ideological battle lines, featuring the Heartland Institute as the capitalist position, whose scientists are “so steeped in fossil fuel dollars that you can practically smell the fumes.” But “deniers” are not just American. Klein notes that Canada, the UK, Western Europe, and Australia also have strong denier activists. Heartland stands in for many ring-wing think-tanks that were created to defend capitalism against socialism and “aggressive Keynesianism” in the 1960s and 1970s.

She notes that “climate change could become a catalyzing force for positive change… the best argument progressives have ever had…” This articulates the belief of many that global warming is just the latest excuse to do what progressives always want to do – block free-trade, undermine corporations, invest in public projects, open borders, and (as Klein states) “take back ownership of essential services like energy and water,” to “leave us with both a more habitable climate… and a far more just economy than the one we have right now.” Klein even uses the hot-button phrase “wealth redistribution”. If global warming is indeed threatening civilization, “climate change can be the force – the grand push – that will bring together all of these… movements.”

Some people may despair because the costs of addressing global warming are so large, but we “all just watched as trillions of dollars were marshaled when our elites decided to declare a crisis” in the financial debacle of 2008. “‘Money is no object in this relief effort…” declared British Prime Minister David Cameron… when large parts of his country were underwater from historic flooding in February, 2014.” She also mentions the cost of America’s recent Middle East wars and concludes that money is available when we decide we need to spend it.

The book is full of examples of green efforts and failures. On most of these, Klein writes a longer story than I needed to read:

  • Subsidies for green power are stymied by trade agreements.
  • Power companies driven by next quarter’s profits cannot embrace alternative energy, but in some places the utilities are being purchased by municipalities.
  • The islanders of Naura mined away guano for fertilizer until the island was left a shell of coral. Once having the highest per-capita income in the world, “Naura simply spent extravagantly, never worrying about tomorrow.”
  • “Big Green” can be “Big Business.” The Nature Conservancy, thought by its supporters to be a shining example of environmentalism, has begun drilling for oil and gas on its Texas property. The Nature Conservancy’s chief marketing officer came from World Wrestling Entertainment – which Klein finds distressing. “Many young people… are taking a pass on the slick green groups and the big U.N. summits” in favor of civil disobedience or local action.
  • Klein disparages geoengineering such as fertilizing oceans, covering deserts with vast reflecting sheets, spraying aerosols into the upper atmosphere – technologies to cool the Earth. As she says, “the solution to pollution is… pollution?”
  • Indigenous peoples are blocking pipelines, mines, and logging on lands they hold by treaty. In Canada, First Nations (as they are called) have approached Standard & Poors about downgrading the nation’s bond ratings because of financial liability for damage and royalties owed over decades.
  • Klein describes her own battle with infertility, and relates that to the fertility of the Earth.

Klein says that catastrophe is around the corner, no existing authority is likely to save us, but ends on a positive note.

  • “The goal becomes not to build a few gigantic green solutions, but to infinitely multiply smaller ones and to use policies … that encourage multiplication rather than consolidation… Even such traditionally destructive practices as logging can be done responsibility… [and we can use] resources that can be continuously regenerated.”
  • “”Shrinking humanity’s impact or “footprint”… is simply not an option today… we are here, we are many, and we must use our skills to act.”

So there you have it. “Deniers” support the status quo which is concentrating wealth in the hands of a few. “Warmists” use the impending crisis to push for the reformed society they’ve always wanted. Klein notes the sad fact that both right and left-wing groups ignore or manipulate science to support their objectives.

But what about global warming? Are human activities changing our climate in ways that will hurt humanity for generations? Klein already accepts that, so this book does not debate the question. She does, however, cite a statistic that impresses me: 97% of working climate scientists say that global warming is happening, it’s changing the Earth’s climate, and is mostly caused by human activities.

(I’ve seen this figure before and owe readers another reference: “A follow-up study by the Skeptical Science team of over 12,000 peer-reviewed abstracts on the subjects of ‘global warming’ and ‘global climate change’ published between 1991 and 2011 found that of the papers taking a position on the cause of global warming, over 97% agreed that humans are causing it (Cook 2013). The scientific authors of the papers were also contacted and asked to rate their own papers, and again over 97% whose papers took a position on the cause said humans are causing global warming.” From “Of the papers that specifically examine the human and natural causes of global warming, virtually all conclude that humans are the dominant cause over the past 50 to 100 years.” You’ll find their chart here.)

Personally, I accept anthropomorphic climate change, but that doesn’t mean I accept all of Klein’s political agenda. As noted in this review, liberals see the harm done to individuals before conservatives do, but conservatives protect communities we all need to thrive. In their zeal to help victims, liberals often push for changes that weaken groups and actually hurt the people they are trying to help. Liberals and conservatives are more akin to yin and yang than good and evil. As long as we cast climate change policy as an ideological crusade, we’ll all lose.

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2 thoughts on “Progressive Policies and Climate Change

  1. SInce I just finished straining my brain to comment on Alum’s comment this one will be shorter and probably less coherent.

    First, nice paen to Haidt in the last paragraph. Second, every functioning economic model winds up concentrating wealth among a relative few. Some systems do it naturally, and benignly, like our beloved (benighted) Capitalism; some do it in less peaceable fashion. Inequality, as Haidt points out, is a big deal for liberals, and doing away with it in society is directly equated with justice. So why, might I ask, does this socialistic approach not prevail in the world except at the point of a gun?

    Haidt would probably say that the balance point between the individual’s freedom to succeed and the community’s claim on the individual’s success is shifty and very, very small. I would add that the U. S. model has done a better job straddling it than any other before or since. Globalization has been a challenge, but before we write the obituary for our middle class and head down the road to less, not more, free market policies, I think we need to give growth capitalism a little more time. It has done pretty well for the last 200 years. And it would help if the Left would concede that equality of opportunity will never lead to equality of outcomes.

    This was supposed to be more brief. Sorry.

    • I think many people would say socialism has made inroads into many wealthy, industrialized, western nations without guns. As you say, there is a balance point – the effort to balance powers is probably unending.

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