I haven’t read her book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, but I finally caught her interview with Bill Maher back in September (I can’t embed the video but it’s available at that link). I certainly like her focus on climate change and critique of what endless resource exploitation has done to the planet. But I can’t help but feel that climate change for her just presents more evidence in support of her agenda for wholesale economic reform — namely, rolling back capitalism in some undefined way to punish big businesses and allow the rest of us to live more collectively.
And as a result, you get interviews like this one, where she spends over eight minutes talking in vague generalities about the limits of capitalism but not offering any constructive solutions — perhaps other than encouraging Harvard to divest from coal and polluters to pay (for what spending purposes she doesn’t say). Instead, she attacks a “liberal” strawman for claiming that we can solve the environmental problems of our day by simply changing light bulbs and driving hybrids.
As someone who works closely with dedicated policy makers in California and beyond who are quite serious and focused on reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, I don’t recognize her caricature at all. No climate change fighters that I know of would argue that we can reduce our emissions sufficiently just by making easy fixes. Certainly switching to LED light bulbs and driving efficient cars can make an important difference, but we need fundamental changes in our energy system, including massive deployment of renewables, smart grid/demand response technologies, electric vehicles and energy storage, as well as much more housing and jobs located near robust transit systems, with greater energy efficiency throughout our economy.
But maybe Klein doesn’t want to talk about these wholesale, technology-based solutions because they rely very much on our capitalist system. Indeed, California incentives have sparked a competitive, capitalist gold rush to deploy renewables at a rapid scale, as well as electric vehicles and more recently energy storage. We’re trying to do the same for sustainable real estate developers but are limited by local control over land use, which too often are determined by the loudest NIMBYs in any community.
To be sure, California’s program involves some sticks that Klein might like — regulations on the carbon content of fuel, limits (if not de facto bans) on heavy emitters like cement manufacturers, and a cap-and-trade program that adds costs to carbon polluters like fuel providers and other manufacturers.
But ultimately, unless we want to deindustrialize and shiver in the dark, it’s going to take a new, focused capitalism to rescue us from the excesses of the old. And that’s a reality that Klein should acknowledge, unless she has a better plan she wants to unveil.