It may not change anything, but Naomi Klein's latest
London Review of Books polemic has elicited this response:
Let them drown
What is one to make of Naomi Klein’s claim that our governments’ ‘refusal to lower emissions’ would have been ‘impossible’ without ‘institutional racism’ and ‘Orientalism’ (LRB, 2 June)? The three central facts of international climate change policy are that China is now overwhelmingly responsible for the rise in global emissions, that India is becoming a duplicate case, and that the economic policies they have adopted are acts of their sovereign wills.
Having visited Beijing a number of times over the last 25 years, I need no persuading of the environmental harm that China’s policy is causing. But China and India are determined to repeat the industrialisation of the now advanced capitalist countries. Industrialisation isn’t just a matter of ‘sacrifice zones’ or the like. In focusing entirely on capitalism’s costs, Klein disparages or ignores its benefits, and thereby renders her criticisms ineffective. What has caused left-wing thought to erase Marx and Engels’s appreciation of capitalist achievement so completely that Klein can now seriously advocate a climate change policy that would deny the benefits of industrialisation to billions in poverty? It is fundamentally because of this denial that international climate change policy in its current form has no prospect at all of success.
Naomi Klein says: ‘the climate crisis … might just be the catalyst we need to knit together a great many powerful movements.’ For everyone’s sake, I hope she’s wrong. A catalyst is a substance that speeds up a chemical reaction without being permanently changed itself.
Naomi Klein writes that ‘climate change isn’t just about things getting hotter and wetter … it’s about things getting meaner and uglier.’ But that need not be so, not even under our current economic and political model. For dangerous climate change, as actually experienced by, for example, flood victims, is not primarily a matter of a slow rise in temperature: it is above all a matter of climate disasters. And, as Rebecca Solnit has argued, it may well be that the human capacity for building community and solidarity in the wake of disaster is going to be an enormous silver lining to the storm-clouds of our worsening climate.
Klein probably has trouble seeing this because of her excessively pessimistic analysis in The Shock Doctrine of what happens in disasters. She rightly points out how neoliberal opportunism seeks to turn disasters into opportunities for elite profit. What she misses, thereby depriving the subjects of disaster of their agency, is the extraordinary and often successful spontaneous resistance to such opportunism on the part of the affected citizens. Classic examples are the popular response to the great San Francisco and Mexico City earthquakes; but much of the same was seen in the on-the-ground responses to Katrina and Sandy too.
University of East Anglia, Norwich