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Naomi Klein Changes Nothing

Ronald Bailey, Reason Online

The laws of nature do not mandate a progressive paradise.

Naomi Klein keeps coming up with fresh new ideas about how to spark an elusive mass social movement against capitalism and corporations. In her 2000 bestseller No Logo, the progressive journalist attempted to harness the nascent anti-globalization movement to unleash “a vast wave of opposition squarely targeting transnational corporations.” In 2007, her book The Shock Doctrine bogusly asserted that free market institutions spread only by taking advantage of coups, wars, and natural calamities. The book debuted at the beginning of a massive recession and featured economist Milton Friedman as its chief villain. But still no dice.

Now comes Klein’s newest screed, This Changes Everything. “Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war,” she asserts. Climate science, Klein claims, has given progressives “the most powerful argument against unfettered capitalism” ever. If the stresses of globalization and a massive financial crisis cannot mobilize the masses, then the prospect of catastrophic climate change must.

Canonical Marxism predicted that capitalism would collapse under the weight of its class “contradictions,” in which the bourgeoisie profit from the proletariat’s labor until we reach a social breaking point. In Klein’s progressive update, capitalism will collapse because the pollution produced by its heedless overconsumption will build to an ecological breaking point. “Only mass social movements can save us now,” she declares.

Is she onto something? Man-made climate change, if unaddressed, may well become a significant problem for humanity as the 21st century advances. But is Klein right that progressive values and policies are “currently being vindicated, rather than refuted, by the laws of nature”?

First, a quick review of the state of the climate. The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is indeed increasing because humanity is cutting down forests and burning coal, oil, and natural gas. As a result, the world has warmed, glaciers are melting, and the seas are rising. Since 1951, average global temperature has been increasing at a rate of 0.12°C (0.22°F) per decade. “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th Century,” states the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2013 Physical Sciences report. The vast majority of climate researchers agree that man-made global warming is now underway. It bears mentioning, however, that the global average atmospheric temperature has not significantly increased for the past 17 years, a “pause” not predicted by the computer climate models.

Klein acknowledges that not all weather disasters can be attributed to climate change. But she doesn’t let that stop her from trotting out tragic stories of hurricanes, typhoons, and droughts to shore up her thesis. She quotes the Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann: “There’s no question that climate change has increased the frequency of certain types of extreme weather events, including drought, intense hurricanes, and super typhoons, the frequency and intensity and duration of heat waves, and potentially other types of extreme weather though the details are still being debated within the scientific community.”

Yes, those details are still being debated among climate scientists. The United Nations’Special Report for Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (2012) projects that global warming will generate more heat waves, coastal floods, and droughts as the century unfolds. The researchers, however, could not draw firm conclusions about its effects on current trends in hurricanes, typhoons, hailstorms, or tornadoes. Given projected carbon dioxide emissions, the report notes that weather extremes will likely remain within the normal range of nature’s own inherent variation during the next several decades.

What’s more, while the world has experienced greater economic losses as a result of extreme weather, that’s due primarily to the fact that the world has gotten richer and more populous: There are more people with more stuff of more value to destroy. A 2011 review of 22 weather damage studies in The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Societyreported, “The studies show no trends in the losses, corrected for change (increases) in population and capital at risk that could be attributed to anthropogenic climate change. Therefore, it can be concluded that anthropogenic climate change so far has not had a significant impact on losses from natural disasters.”

Even more happily, a 2011 Reason Foundation report found that deaths from all “extreme weather events globally has declined by more than 90 percent since the 1920s, in spite of a four-fold rise in population and much more complete reporting of such events.” This is mostly good news, despite This Changes Everything‘s scaremongering.

Klein’s list of remedies is more alarming than her exaggerations of climate change’s present-day effects. She wants to ban fracking, nuclear power, genetically modified crops, geoengineering, carbon sequestration, and carbon markets, thus turning her back on some of the climate-friendliest solutions currently on offer. She wants to block the Keystone pipeline, which would transport petroleum from Canadian oil sands to U.S. refineries; she would pressure pension funds and endowments to divest from fossil fuel companies; and she thinks we should transfer trillions of dollars to poor countries to pay off the rich countries’ debt for dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“We need a Marshall Plan for the Earth,” Klein declares, updating one of the most tired historical metaphors for her purposes. “It is entirely possible to rapidly switch our energy systems to 100 percent renewables,” she asserts…

Klein never ever discusses how much her solutions to the climate crisis will cost. But Delucchi and Jacobson estimate a price tag of about $100 trillion for their program. That entails spending about $6.6 trillion per year from now until 2030, more than 11 percent of the entire world’s 2013 output of $75 trillion. Such a crash plan for global energy transformation might be possible, but it would be a massive shift from our current course.Bloomberg New Energy Finance projected in July 2014 that $7.7 trillion total will be invested in building new power plants between now and 2030, of which renewables will get around two-thirds. And Klein accuses the proponents of free markets of “magical thinking”?

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