Why Climate Change Science Is So Threatening to Right-Wing Ideologues
Why Climate Change Science Is So Threatening to Right-Wing Ideologues
By Naomi Klein / alternet.org
Mar 9, 2011

Unless we come up with some better solutions Klein says, "this crisis will be exploited to militarize our societies, to create fortress continents."

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest for the hour is Naomi Klein, journalist and author. Her latest book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She’s writing a new book on climate change and the climate change deniers. Naomi, take it from there.

NAOMI KLEIN: The book is not about the deniers, but it does get into it, because I started trying to understand these dramatic drops in belief that climate change is real. I mean, we’ve just ended the hottest decade on record. There’s overwhelming evidence that climate change is real now. It’s not just about reading the science. It’s about people’s daily experience. And yet, we’ve seen this remarkable drop, where, in 2007, 71—this is a Harris poll—71 percent of Americans believed climate change was real, and two years later, 51 percent of Americans believed it. So, a 20 percent drop. And we’ve seen a similar dramatic just the floor falling out in the same period in Australia, in the U.K. It’s not happening everywhere. It’s happening in countries that have very polarized political debates, where they have very strong culture wars.

And there are some people who have been doing some really interesting analysis of these numbers, where you see—like there’s a political scientist named Clive Hamilton in Australia who’s done some really terrific writing on this, where what he shows is that climate change didn’t used to be a partisan political issue. You wouldn’t know whether somebody believed in climate change or not just by asking if they were Republican or Democrat. That’s completely changed. Democrats overwhelmingly believe in climate change. Their position hasn’t changed. Republicans now don’t—overwhelmingly do not believe in climate change. So that drop has been split along partisan lines. Now, it seems kind of obvious that that would be the case, but still it’s remarkable, because what it means is that it no longer really has anything to do with the science. And the environmental movement has just been shocked by how it would be possible to lose so much ground so quickly when there is so much more scientific evidence, so that, there’s all kinds of attempts to respond to this, to get climate scientists out there explaining things better, to popularize the science, and none of it seems to be working. And the reason is that climate change is now seen as an identity issue on the right. People are defining themselves, like they’re against abortion, they don’t believe in climate change. It’s part of who they are.

AMY GOODMAN: And what does it say, you don’t believe in climate change?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, some people believe in climate change, but the main thing is they don’t believe that humans have anything to do with climate change. And it isn’t about the science, because when you delve deeper into it and ask why people don’t believe in it, they say that it’s because they think it’s a socialist plot to redistribute wealth. It’s easy to make fun of, you know, and there’s all this language, like "watermelons," that they say the green groups are watermelons: they’re green on the outside, but they’re red on the inside. Or George Will once said it’s a green tree with red roots. And the idea is that it’s some sort of a communist plot. And this is actually not at all true. And in fact, most of the big green groups are loath to talk about economics and often don’t want to see themselves as being part of a left at all, see climate change as an issue that transcends politics entirely.

But something very different is going on on the right, and I think we need to understand what that is. Why is climate change seen as such a threat? I don’t believe it’s an unreasonable fear. I think it’s unreasonable to believe that scientists are making up the science. They’re not. It’s not a hoax. But actually, climate change really is a profound threat to a great many things that right-wing ideologues believe in. So, in fact, if you really wrestle with the implications of the science and what real climate action would mean, here’s just a few examples what it would mean.

It would mean upending the whole free trade agenda, because it would mean that we would have to localize our economies, because we have the most energy-inefficient trade system that you could imagine. And this is the legacy of the free trade era. So, this has been a signature policy of the right, pushing globalization and free trade. That would have to be reversed.

You would have to deal with inequality. You would have to redistribute wealth, because this is a crisis that was created in the North, and the effects are being felt in the South. So, on the most basic, basic, "you broke it, you bought it," polluter pays, you would have to redistribute wealth, which is also against their ideology.

You would have to regulate corporations. You simply would have to. I mean, any serious climate action has to intervene in the economy. You would have to subsidize renewable energy, which also breaks their worldview.

You would have to have a really strong United Nations, because individual countries can’t do this alone. You absolutely have to have a strong international architecture.

So when you go through this, you see, it challenges everything that they believe in. So they’re choosing to disbelieve it, because it’s easier to deny the science than to say, "OK, I accept that my whole worldview is going to fall apart," that we have to have massive investments in public infrastructure, that we have to reverse free trade deals, that we have to have huge transfers of wealth from the North to the South. Imagine actually contending with that. It’s a lot easier to deny it.

But what I see is that the green groups, a lot of the big green groups, are also in a kind of denial, because they want to pretend that this isn’t about politics and economics, and say, "Well, you can just change your light bulb. And no, it won’t really disrupt. You can have green capitalism." And they’re not really wrestling with the fact that this is about economic growth. This is about an economic model that needs constant and infinite growth on a finite planet. So we really are talking about some deep transformations of our economy if we’re going to deal with climate change. And we need to talk about it.

AMY GOODMAN: And the reason that we have to go through those deep transformations? What is the threat of climate change? What is happening today?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, we’re already seeing it on so many levels. I was just at the World Social Forum in Dakar.

AMY GOODMAN: In Senegal.

NAOMI KLEIN: In Senegal. And climate change is still spoken of here as something that if you care about your grandchildren, you care about climate change. That is not the way climate change is being spoken of in Africa. This is a now issue. This is the desertification—rivers are drying up—water shortages, food shortages.

And then, layered on top of that is the fact that many of the "solutions" to climate change—and I put "solutions" in quote—that have been championed by an agenda that accepts the premise that we can’t really ask North Americans, Europeans, to really sacrifice, really change their way of life, our way of life. We can’t be talking about really drastically cutting our emissions here and now. So we have to play shell games, right? We have to have carbon offsets there. We can keep polluting, but we’ll protect a forest in the Congo, or we will have huge agrifuel crops in Africa. And so, all of these solutions are actually deepening the climate crisis in Africa, because people are being displaced from their land, not just because of climate, but because of the solutions to climate change, because they’re losing access to forests, which are used for subsistence agriculture, they’re losing access to land that had been farmed for food and is now being farmed for fuel. And so, the sort of unofficial theme of the World Social Forum, it came up in many of the seminars—

AMY GOODMAN: And this is a gathering of thousands of people—

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, 40,000 people.

AMY GOODMAN:—that sort of moves each year, and this year it was in Senegal.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, this year it was in Senegal. And it was global, it was international, but most of the people were from across Africa. And the theme that came up again and again was "the new scramble for Africa, the new scramble for Africa." And this, a lot of it, had to do with these so-called "solutions" to climate change—the agrifuels, the REDD—I mean, not to get too technical, but you’ve talked about this on the show, which is the forest protection plan, the U.N. forest protection plan, which is very controversial in Africa, because people—like I said, people are losing access to forests, which they are using for subsistence, and also because it’s not—forests are being protected instead of cutting emissions in the North. And that’s not seen as a solution to climate change in Africa, because it doesn’t get at the core of the issue.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have climate change. We also have the issue of the incredible environmental disaster that was BP. You just wrote a piece in The Nation, "The Search for BP’s Oil."

NAOMI KLEIN: This is related, in that we often hear, "Well, we’re not doing anything about climate change. It’s just business as usual." But it’s not true that it’s just business as usual, because we are now in the era of extreme energy. The easy-to-get fossil fuels have pretty much been gotten, and now it’s the harder-to-get stuff, the more-expensive-to-get stuff and the riskier stuff. And that means deepwater drilling, which puts whole ecologies at risk, as we’ve seen on the Gulf Coast. And it means the tar sands in Canada. There’s a proposal to have a tar sands project in Utah. It means fracking for natural gas, and you’ve covered that a lot on the show. I mean, these are methods that are a lot riskier, and it’s affecting many, many more people. And so, I think we need to get away from this idea that we’re just going on as we’ve always gone on. No, we aren’t. If we don’t get off fossil fuels, we are accepting a much, much higher-risk energy trajectory.

And we need to really be aware of this, because with the oil prices increasing, now we’re already starting to get the "drill here, drill now" chorus reemerging, the energy security line that, you know, the real problem is the dependence on fossil fuels—not the dependence on fossil fuels, period—that’s the real problem—but the dependence on foreign fossil fuels. And now this oil shock, the shocking oil prices are being used to push more aggressively for opening up Anwar, for more offshore oil drilling in the Arctic. And if we’re not careful, this crisis will be used to push for some disastrous resource policies.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the trip that you took in the Gulf, and talk about how everything from Exxon Valdez to the spill, as we begin to wrap up, how to understand the effects of this, what you call "extreme drilling" in search for fuel.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I went on a boat with a team from the University of South Florida. The chief scientist was David Hollander, who’s been one of the most outspoken scientists challenging claims, really from day one, that were coming from BP and federal agencies, originally saying, "Oh, there are no underwater plumes." They found one of the underwater plumes, along with Samantha Joye—her team also found one—and at every stage, you know, challenging the claims about how much oil was coming out of the well, and now challenging the claim that the oil has magically disappeared.

And that’s why I went out with David Hollander and his team searching for BP’s oil, because I think a lot of people have heard this message that, yeah, Mother Nature took care of it, you know, just like we heard in the early days of the spill: you know, the ocean is big, and the amount of oil is relatively small. And this is a really, really dangerous message, because we can’t see it anymore. And this is one of the advantages of using huge amounts of dispersant, is it disappears the crime scene. But so, I wanted to see it for myself.

And you can see the equipment that they’re using goes to the bottom of the ocean and extracts cores from the sediment. And what they found again and again around the well site is that there is a very thick layer of—not pure oil. It’s eroded. It’s mixed in with sand, and it’s mixed in with dead crustaceans. But there’s definitely oil covering a very large area. And the other thing that Dr. Hollander found, because he’s been going back every few months, is that that layer is getting thicker.

And we really don’t know what this is going to mean to the ecology, because—this is one of the things I was really struck by, working with these scientists, is that—even the most expert of the bunch, this is still a mystery to them. The deep ocean is so under-studied. They don’t have baselines to compare the areas that they’re studying to, because so little research was done about the deep ocean, in the deep ocean, before the spill. So, even to assess the damage is extremely difficult.

The other thing that they’re very worried about—and you asked about the Valdez disaster—is that it’s really far too early for anybody to be giving the Gulf a clean bill of health, because the really, really worrisome event that happened—and here, I’m only talking about the ecology; I’m not talking about the other huge issue, which is the effects of the dispersants on people. And other people have done fantastic reporting on that. I was just out with a research team in the ocean, so we were looking at microorganisms and—

AMY GOODMAN: Phytoplankton.

NAOMI KLEIN: Exactly. But the point of studying the effect of the oil on these microorganisms is that when—before the oil sunk to the bottom, before some of it evaporated, before it was skimmed, there was a great deal of oil and dispersants in plumes in the open ocean. These are—the key months were April, June—yeah, and this is spawning season in the Gulf of Mexico. And there were microorganisms, there were larvae, there was zooplankton that would grow up to be commercial fishing stocks, just floating in the open ocean in the same vicinity as the plumes, as the toxic oil and dispersants. And we won’t know what effect that had, those encounters of these very, very vulnerable microorganisms and the oil and dispersants. We won’t know that for years, because that’s what happened—that’s what we learned from the Valdez spill.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have 30 seconds. You published Shock Doctrine in 2007. So much of what you’ve predicted has come to pass. Final words?

NAOMI KLEIN: Look, my fear is that climate change is the crisis, the biggest crisis of all, and that if we aren’t careful, if we don’t come up with a positive vision of how climate change can make our economies and our world more just, more livable, cleaner, fairer, then this crisis will be exploited to militarize our societies, to create fortress continents. And we’re really facing a choice. And, you know, I think what we really need now is for the people fighting for economic justice and environmental justice to come together.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, I want to thank you for being with us. Her book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She’s writing a new one.

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Why Climate Change Science Is So Threatening to Right-Wing Ideologues