naomi klein and the climate movement

9781846145063Peter Dorman at nonsite.

It’s been over a year since Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate was published to generally favorable, and sometimes ecstatic, reviews. Why write about it at this late date? If the purpose of a book review is to advise readers whether they should add a new line to their to-read list, there’s not much point. But I think Klein’s book and its reception have important implications, most of them unpleasant, for the state of the left in the United States and deserves a close reading for that reason.

Klein takes many stands in this book (several on some pages), and it’s impossible to summarize all of them. As we’ll see, it’s even difficult to sum up her central argument, since she contradicts it liberally. In my view, the central thread of this book is not analytical (hypotheses about the causes and cures of the climate crisis) but associative and evangelical. By the first, I mean that she interprets the politics of climate change as a battle between two forces, one good and the other evil, and much of the book is devoted to sorting people into these two categories. (There is virtually no ambiguity or overlap between them.) By the second, I have in mind the notion that what divides the villains from the heroes is their respective consciousnesses. If the battle is still in doubt, it’s because true ideas have not yet triumphed over faulty and wicked ones, so politics is fundamentally a matter of conversion. To be blunt, readers who pick up Klein’s book hoping to learn something about the impact of capitalism on the climate crisis will be disappointed, since by “capitalism” Klein means capitalist thinking.

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