The Dead Parrots have been discussing justice for a couple years. Some readings have been purely theoretical. A few have been practical. This reading is somewhere in between. Naomi Klein argues that humans have not adequately addressed the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced because the reigning ideology of the day forbids considering climate change as a justice issue. In order to address climate change as a justice issue capitalism must make significant concessions for the sake of the commons. The reading is from the first chapter of the book, but my summary takes into account the whole book in order to put flesh onto the bones of the argument.
In 1988 James Hansen, who was at the time the Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, warned Congress that after looking at the scientific research he was 99% confident humans were partially responsible for a rise in the earth’s temperatures. Time magazine selected Earth as “Man of the Year.” It was a big year for the environmental movement.
Since 1988 climate change (A.K.A. “global warming”) has been looming in our unconscious. Politicians argue over it, and use it to win elections, but in reality do very little. Corporations talk about it when they need to improve their public image, but in reality do very little. Environmentalists tell us horror stories about the apocalyptic world that is to come if we do nothing, but fear has motivated people to do very little. On an individual level people have recycled and changed their light bulbs and refrigerators in order to reduce their emissions, but on a global scale carbon emissions continue to grow.
After Al Gore released his film An Inconvenient Truth in 2006/2007 belief that climate change is partially human caused was at an all time high, but has since declined. Today the percentage of the population that still believes this has dropped dramatically.
Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is at least partially human caused. There is disagreement about how warm the earth will get if we do nothing, and what the consequences will be, but most predictions necessitate urgent human intervention in order to prevent the worst scenarios.
This situation forces one to ask philosophical questions about humanity. How come so little has been done? How come fear has not been sufficient motivation? How come there is so much agreement among the experts, but significant disagreement among the rest of the population? During World War II people in America rallied around a cause, and were willing to sacrifice for the cause. Is it possible to do this on a massive scale today? How come governments agree on complicated free trade agreements, but not on binding agreements to cut emissions?
Naomi Klein says capitalism is the reason why so little has been done. A very small percentage of the world’s population is making incredible profits from the status quo.
Because market capitalism has been the ruling ideology since the 1980s, the environmental movement has tried to find a solution to climate change through the market. The approach has been to search for a “win-win” solution that reduces emissions while allowing the people profiting from the emitting of emissions to continue to emit at the same or increased rates.
If we are being honest, the current approach to climate change is not working. CO2 emissions continue to rise with increasing speed. The extraordinarily wealthy are afraid of losing power. Doing what it would take to reduce carbon emissions would quickly put their wealth and power at risk.
Addressing climate change is a question of values. It is time for a new approach, and a new approach requires asking philosophical questions about justice.
The catastrophe of climate change is an opportunity. There are no non-radical options. We can wait for a technological solution that the extraordinarily wealthy accept as the climate becomes more volatile, more species go extinct, the income inequality gap widens, and the poor will become increasingly vulnerable.
An alternative option is a decentralized, democratic socialist movement that does not “save the planet.” Saving the planet isn’t working. A socialist solution saves the people who live on the planet. Many of the things on the socialist agenda align with the things that need to be done in order to address climate change.
1. Make the ones who profit most from fossil fuels pay for the transition.
2. Create a Green New Deal that puts billions of dollars into building the commons, such as public transportation, windmills, solar panels, walkable cities, etc., creating millions of local jobs.
3. This needs to be a national and international effort, but management of money and projects should occur in local government and collectives in order to account for the nuances of individual communities, give the financial and environmental benefits to the local community, and promote buy-in, in order to address the “not in my backyard” attitude.
4. Cut emissions, which requires more restrictive regulations.
5. Ensure the poor are not disproportionately impacted by these policies by supporting them financially and making sure they have access to health care, welfare, safe housing, emergency evacuation (Note how FIMA failed during the efforts after Hurricane Katrina because funding is getting cut while the number of disasters are increasing), etc.
6. Support Indigenous rights. (Throughout the world indigenous people are on the front lines of the fight against climate change because they feel like the fossil fuel industry is one more attempt by the Western world to exploit them, their sacred lands will be destroyed, and, due to poverty, climate change will disproportionately impact them. In Idaho, for example, in 2013 the Nez Perce refused to allow megaload trucks carrying equipment for the Keystone XL pipeline to drive through their reservation. )
In short, by focusing on “the people” Naomi Klein thinks the political tide could change quickly. What is political heresy now could become possible overnight. People power could be what minimizes the human impact on the climate, in order to enable the flourishing of human life.
Humanity still has time to avoid the worst scenarios, but people must examine their values. A world in which we continue to do nothing will result in a larger gap between the rich and the poor, and the poor will be more vulnerable in a volatile climate. If we unite in a massive, collective movement, we can force the ones who profit from fossil fuels to invest in the commons. The key to getting this movement off the ground is not to ask people to sacrifice, but to promise a better world for the common people.