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Naomi Klein also relies on corporations to deliver on climate change

An unseemly row is raging between author Naomi Klein and some big environmental groups. Klein made the shocking claim that they are more damaging to the fight against climate change than climate change deniers, because of links with the corporations and their dependence on the market.

Ian Pooley, vice-President of the Environmental Defence Fund, has hit back, accusing Klein of publicity-seeking and of "waging ideological warfare instead of tackling climate change". He points to his own organisation's success in campaigning for the US Clean Air Act as an example of how partnership with business can work.

drive for growth and profits will always trump environment

In reality, the Clean Air Act was passed in the teeth of opposition from coal burners and was then watered down by George W. Bush. Now President Obama has reneged on a promise to reverse that, because of the need to reduce regulatory burdens on business during the "recovery". In other words the drive for growth and profits will always trump environmental benefit, and gains can always be reversed.

So what is Klein's alternative view? She believes that climate change is "potentially the biggest disaster-capitalism free-for-all that we've seen yet". "Disaster capitalism", is Klein's term for corporations making huge profits out of crises.

In Shock Doctrine she even suggested that the corporations organised crises to provide fresh opportunities or as a cover for forcing through unpopular policies. But surely capitalism is not just one big conspiracy and on the whole prefers consumers who are alive and waged?

In any case, Klein suggests that corporations and governments have a real grip on the situation, and can manipulate situations at will. In fact, as the crash of 2007-8 demonstrated, they often have no idea what is really going on within their own system and cannot control the outcomes of market forces at will.

So how should people fight back against this allegedly clever and manipulative system? Klein says that in responding to climate change we can "rebuild the public sphere, strengthen our communities, have work with dignity and address the financial crisis and the ecological crisis at the same time. But I think it’s by building coalitions with people, not with corporations, that you are going to get those wins."

Klein highlights as an example the coalition of 100 environmental groups who are calling on the EU to scrap the failed carbon trading system and "start really talking about cutting emissions at home instead of doing this shell game".

But how is that different from what Poole and the EDF advocate? It still leaves us dependent on corporations and governments that serve them. In the one case the goal is to achieve it through regulation and in the other through pressure from below. But both these approaches leave the capitalist system, the cause of the eco-social crisis, untouched.

As former Bolivian ambassador to the UN Pablo Solon writes:

The preservation of nature and the rights of Mother Earth cannot be based on the expectation that the capitalist world will pay for it based on their environmental debt or that the payment will come without conditions and strings attached.

Yes, it is the right and just thing to demand as they have historical responsibility and the polluter needs to pay. The reality though is that we will never be able to make the capitalists pay until we defeat and replace the capitalist system.

In the end the row between Klein and Poole is a fight in an empty house, where two almost identical visions argue over marginal differences.

At least the EDF recognises that we need to fundamentally change our economy, industry and mode of production. Of course their efforts to do this within the system cannot succeed, but then endless protest and activism cannot do it either.

As Solon says:

Defending the rights of nature cannot be based on the promise of compensation. Nature, in the first place, is not a bargaining chip. Nature is not only our home, we belong to nature.

We must aim for a revolutionary transformation in the way we relate to nature, and to do that we must end the capitalism system of unfettered exploitation, once and for all.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
19 September 2013

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