Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything is the bugle behind our charge toward a renewable energy economy. Backed by a solid research team, Klein skillfully weaves an absorbing narrative of successes and failures in the battle against the horrific climate change threat. The book’s most hopeful accounts are of “Blockadia,” the widespread phenomena of local people who literally block the ravages of extractive, carbon producing industries in the places where they live by variously using local laws, still enforceable treaties, and direct action with their own bodies. Such local movements have proven far more effective than relying on leadership by ruling elites, who almost everywhere have proven themselves hamstrung and ineffectual, if not downright corrupt and criminally irresponsible about facing the climate threat.
Klein’s book presents some compelling arguments for action in specific parts of the battle. She importantly describes efforts in Germany to take back energy grids from private interests who obtained them in the course of neo-liberal reforms during the past decades. With more grids under local control, Germany has made astonishing strides toward implementing renewables in a short time period. Yet, similar examples of this key and specific part of the climate political movement in other places are scant in Klein’s story. For example, she does not mention the important Community Choice Aggregation movement in the USA whereby communities can take democratic control of their energy purchases without going through the belabored effort to purchase the power grid itself. Of course, the political strategies that wrest the grid from carbon producing industries and bring about widespread renewable energy should ultimately be addressed with localized policies. We can’t expect Klein to offer magic bullets. Indeed, she rightly criticizes “Magical Thinking” which places excessive hopes on big solutions. One aspect of this magical thinking is the hope that high profile green institutions, often hindered by a bureaucratic scramble for money and celebrity visibility, have a greater role to play than dedicated locals who address their unique situations with courage and determination.
As impressive as her book is, Klein incorrectly frames the battle as “Capitalism vs. the Climate”. The battle against GHG’s requires both political and technical solutions that go beyond the moribund capitalism vs. socialism paradigm. I don’t think Klein really believes in this paradigm herself, but her arguments might be more effective if she made her thinking on this point clear. Economic ideology is in every instance a crude reification of idealized economic behaviors. A more appropriate understanding that will solve our climate problem must not fail to use both the state and the free market to move forward, recognizing the essential truth that information and transparency must inform a democratic political system and economic system in order to correctly guide policy. This view is by no means “libertarian” in nature. Ideologues, of either the left or right, have almost nothing useful to offer the debate. The key is understanding the flow of information. Sometimes governments have enough information to act effectively. When information and knowledge is insufficient or inadequate the market is generally the most effective mechanism to find the right solution. Thankfully, this hyper information age is strangely appropriate to addressing this problem, and can help mold local solutions that draw on planet wide experience.
Klein’s book plays the essential role of providing a wealth of high quality information about the struggle that lies before us.