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Klein: Capitalism Is Unsustainable and Driving Climate Disaster

Image credit: Simon & Schuster

In her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (due in stores September 16), author and social activist Naomi Klein espouses that capitalism, rather than carbon, is the core issue and key driver in imminent climate disaster.

Klein argues that current carbon trading programs, for example, offer perverse motivation, enabling manufacturers to produce excess greenhouse gases, which they are then compensated to reduce. Therefore, a fight against climate change is a fight against the inherent values of capitalism.

A lengthy article by Jessica Corbett and Ethan Corey distills Klein’s argument into five basic points:

“Only mass social movements can save us now. Because we know where the current system, left unchecked, is headed.”

Klein’s indictment of corporate involvement in a process that has awarded billions of dollars to those responsible concludes that a break from market fundamentalism must be replaced by long-term planning that reverses privatization and returns basic infrastructure control to the public.

“The earth is not our prisoner, our patient, our machine, or, indeed, our monster. It is our entire world. And the solution to global warming is not to fix the world, it is to fix ourselves.”

In a chapter on geoengineering, applying smart tech to altering Mother Earth’s basic DNA, Klein describes creation of “a Frankenstein’s world” with “techno-fixes,” in which “the earth — our life support system — would itself be put on life support, hooked up to machines 24/7 to prevent it from going full-tilt monster on us.”

“A great many progressives have opted out of the climate change debate in part because they thought that the Big Green groups, flush with philanthropic dollars, had this issue covered. That, it turns out, was a grave mistake.”

Klein asserts that partnerships between corporations and “green billionaires” (Bill Gates, Richard Branson, etc) — even those funding environmental initiatives — create a dependency on that funding and infect the process with the unsustainable ethos of profit before planet.

“The main power of divestment is not that it financially harms Shell and Chevron in the short term but that it erodes the social license of fossil fuel companies and builds pressure on politicians to introduce across-the-board emission reductions.”

Klein also cites divestment activist Cameron Fenton's argument: “No one is thinking we’re going to bankrupt fossil fuel companies. But what we can do is bankrupt their reputations and take away their political power.”

“When climate change deniers claim that global warming is a plot to redistribute wealth, it's not (only) because they are paranoid. It's also because they are paying attention.”

A fundamental transformation of our economy is required, with less consumption, less private investment (more government spending) and a relocalization of economies through less international trading.

“Implicit in all of this,” Klein writes, “is a great deal more redistribution, so that more of us can live comfortably within the planet’s capacity.”

Klein is ultimately challenging readers to acknowledge that the status quo is no longer viable; as her publisher describes, it “should not be viewed as grim penance, but rather as a kind of gift — a catalyst to transform broken economic and cultural priorities and to heal long-festering historical wounds.”

In keeping with Klein’s assertions, Razmig Keucheyan noted in The Guardian earlier this year that the global left, including eco-activists, “is in danger of committing the same error of underestimating capitalism all over again. Capitalism is responding to the challenge of the ecological crisis with two of its favourite weapons: financialisation and militarization. … Nothing in the system's logic will make it go away … A world of environmental desolation and conflict will work for capitalism, as long as the conditions for investment and profit are guaranteed.”

It’s interesting to note that the concept of "sustainable development" has its roots in forest management as early as the 12th to 16th centuries, when timber was a key natural resource – but with an uncertain future.

As German nobleman and forester Hans Carl von Carlowitz predicted, “There would be a continuous, steady and sustained use [of timber]. As Europe no longer has any primeval forest outside of the Białowieża Forest in Poland and Belarus … the quest for ‘sustainability’ is older than we commonly recognise, and, thus, so is our failure to achieve it: marking the failure of civilization.”

According to Bill McKibben of 350.org: “Climate change is the single biggest thing that humans have ever done on this planet. The only thing that needs to be bigger is our movement to stop it.”

As such, the upcoming People’s Climate March — billed as the largest to date in the world — is set for September 21 in NYC and gaining global traction. It’s a chance for world citizens to challenge the prevailing capitalistic ecosystem to iterate to a sustainable ethos and hopefully, do for our planet now, what we as a civilization failed to do for timber.

In the meantime, Klein’s new book is a primer for a shift in perspective and strategy needed for effective action.


Sheila Shayon, President of Third Eye Media, is a senior media executive with twenty five plus years in television and new media including expertise in programming, production, broadband, start-up models, creative and branding strategies, digital content and social networking. 

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