Saturday, 18 August 2018

The Environmental Poverty of the Reformist Left.

The reformist Left sucks big time. Climate change, probably the greatest threat to our civilisation, is emblematic of that. It’s hard to decide what’s worse: those reformists who couldn’t be bothered to have an opinion on that or those who actually do have one.

A recent episode illustrates that.

A few weeks ago Nathaniel Rich published “Losing Earth: The Decade we Almost Stopped Climate Change”, a long -- really long -- account of anthropogenic global warming’s metamorphosis from a point of bipartisan agreement to a deeply divisive issue. The piece monopolised last Aug. 1 NYTimes magazine, which suggests the Clintonite wing of the US Democratic Party -- of which NYTimes and WaPo are the “official” press -- might be trying to re-brand itself as the Environmentally Very Serious alternative, ahead of 2020. Rich’s thesis is that it took the efforts of John Sununu (apparently a Satan-like character during the Bush I Administration) to derail the consensus. Then Rich startlingly concludes: “All the facts were known, and nothing stood in our way. Nothing, that is, except ourselves.”

Isn’t it a bit Rich to argue that it was all Sununu’s fault and then blame the rest of us for that? Consider this: Rich was born in 1980. He must have been an extremely influential kid during the late 1980s if all of us, presumably including himself, are to be blamed. Oh, I get it now: he didn’t mean “us” as in “all of us” but as in “all of you”. Well, you get the idea.

The “lefty” commentariat were quick to cast the first stone, and justly so. Even Peter Dorman joined hands with Naomi Klein (frequent target of his own critiques) in that righteous purpose. The Dorman-Klein convergence, however, was of necessity short-lived.

Klein’s fall from grace began, I think, thus:
“Simply blaming capitalism isn’t enough. It is absolutely true that the drive for endless growth and profits stands squarely opposed to the imperative for a rapid transition off fossil fuels. [But i]t is absolutely true that the global unleashing of the unbound form of capitalism known as neoliberalism in the ’80s and ’90s has been the single greatest contributor to a disastrous global emission spike in recent decades, as well as the single greatest obstacle to science-based climate action ever since governments began meeting to talk (and talk and talk) about lowering emissions”.
Dorman was characteristically harsh with Klein. Moreover, it’s not clear to me why he dislikes “neoliberalism” so. Still, I share that dislike: “neoliberalism”, I’d argue, whatever believers might say, boils down to a mental disease affecting capitalists and their handmaids only, a kind of demonic possession turning otherwise generous, sensible entrepreneurs (often gentile farmers and industrialists) into greedy, stupid “rentiers” (often Jewish financiers). That’s just plain ridiculous. If neoliberalism were the problem, the solution would be either psychiatric treatment or exorcism/religious conversion.

Apparently, indeed, the issue Dorman has with Klein is precisely her anti-“neoliberalism” prescription: a conversion to “Indigenous teachings about the duties to future generations and the interconnection of all of life”.

To that Dorman opposes:
“No, capitalism is not an ideology.  What makes Jeff Bezos a capitalist is not his belief system but his ownership and deployment of capital. Capitalism is a system of institutions that give economic and political primacy to the possession and control of capital. (…)
“What motivates Team Capital is not a shared philosophy, but the belief, probably justified, that really effective action would eat into the value of their investments.  Fighting climate action is as rational for them as cutting an unnecessary production cost or cultivating a new, profitable market.”
I have nothing to object. In his golden years Dorman re-invented the definition of bourgeois. With that in mind, his critique, believe it or not, is that he is a “scientific socialist”, against Klein’s “utopian socialism”. Not bad.

Predictably, however, my joy was ephemeral. Dorman prescribes “carbon tax or a capped permit system”. Presumably that will teach “Team Capital” once and for all that climate action is rational from their perspective.

Then, there are the commentators:
  1. Bruce Wilder cringes when he sees “capitalism” reified into a political actor. He has no problem, however, when he sees “neoliberalism” reified into a political actor. Or the “science of climate change”, which “has been remarkable for its clear-eyed pursuit of a sophisticated understanding of the physical processes now set in motion and an assessment of the consequences”.
  2. For Calgacus the members of “Team Capital” are “simply idiots”, who don’t know where their interests lie. He, no doubt, knows better. Good luck in his application to the job of capo di tutti capi of “Team Capital”.
  3. Barkley Rosser joins Klein in her denunciation of socialist command economies’ environmental failures. Which is fair enough. Then he reminds us of China’s own accomplishments in that area.


  1. Hi. Yes, the standard view on climate change plus the current behavior of Team Capital clearly, inescapably imply that Team Capital is composed of idiots. You seem to hold that standard view: "Climate change, probably the greatest threat to our civilisation . . ."

    If someone does not defend against "the probable greatest threat" to him (whether it happens or not), then calling him an "idiot" in every sense is warranted. If they believe that they personally or as an identifiable class, can magically surivive a threat to civilization as a whole, they are piling idiocy on idiocy.

    Why can't they be idiots who act against their own interests? Plenty of idiots in history. Socialists and communists don't have a monopoly on it, though they have recently been heavily invested in idiocy for a long time.


  2. "Climate change, probably the greatest threat to our civilisation".

    If someone does not defend against "the probable greatest threat" to him (whether it happens or not), then calling him an "idiot" in every sense is warranted.

    "to our civilisation" = "to him" ?!?!?!?!?!


    “Obstinate ignorance is usually a manifestation of underlying political motives.” Michał Kalecki

    Strike one.

    :-) (Just to be on the safe side: that's my friendliest, nicest smiley)

  3. Clearly I meant- Yes, of course - to the ?!?! question. For I anticipated and answered that objection in the next sentence.

  4. I see that you've covered all your bases and given this careful thought, Calgacus. I stand corrected, then. :-)

    You are really very smart.

    I'm not so smart. So, it's up to you to put me out of my misery: tell me what you would do if you were in a position to make the right decisions, instead of the idiotic decisions people are making. Say, you are in the shoes of British Petroleum's CEO Bob Dudley.

    Go ahead, wow me.