Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sister Soljah and Naomi Klein

Well, better put Bill Clinton and Sister Soljah and Naomi Klein and the Sierra Club.  Tossing a body out the Overton Window in order to strengthen you argument is an old sport.  Somebunnies even encourage those they disagree with, that unless they disown, let Eli speculate, Al Gore, Joe Romm, Michael Mann, Eli Rabett, they are not part of the World of Reality, as in, if you want us to take you seriously you have to do X or Y or Z.

That is, of course, what Naomi Klein is doing with the Sierra Club, EDF and others.  Klein's real focus is forcing a radical change in the organization of society, climate issues are a club to be used in the battle for a socialist economic system, to force the change, and the lace shoe environmental groups are her Sister Soljah stand-ins to rally the troops.

Joe Romm, recognizes the need for allies, believes that climate issues can be resolved within the current society, and has no desire to suffer through a Cultural Revolution.  Joe is not Pol Pot, Naomi would enjoy the chance to audition.


Rick Piltz said...

Unfair Eli. It's the other way around.
Nobody who read The Shock Doctrine could think it was legitimate to analogize Naomi Klein to Pol Pot.
You and Joe are using her as a Sister Souljah.

EliRabett said...

Sorry Rick, the circular firing squads just get Eli's juices going.

Rick Piltz said...

Well, since the right-wing has nothing to offer in terms of where the country needs to go, for me the only interesting political discourse/debate is between the liberals and the left, e.g., between those who think the mainstream Dems are OK and those whose analysis of the system leads them to think more radical changes are needed. I do not consider all manifestations of this argument to be a 'circular firing squad'. Why are (mostly its the mainstream 'moderate') liberals so uptight about being challenged in this way that they try to pre-empt and delegitimize important discussion by accusing the left of being a firing squad? LIberals throw the left overboard all the time -- Obama spent his whole first term doing it and liberals still considered him to be a decent president. Why wasn't that a circular firing squad? Liberals think it's OK to casually trash a brilliant public intellectual of the left like Naomi Klein, but if a (love me, love me, love me I'm a) liberal takes a hit they bitch about it.

EliRabett said...

Sorry Rick, Eli has gone on and on about hippie and Al Gore bashing here and everywhere. In climate related areas what do you think that Ethon dines on.

Math kills. Without both liberals and leftists working together, the right wing wins.

frederickguy said...

It takes two, or more, to form a circle. Or, to change the metaphor, watching Joe Romm react to the rhetorical excesses of Naomi Klein is like watching a ratchet in action.

Romm is going to flip his lid whenever somebody criticizes cap & trade - recall his really unpleasant rants against Theda Skocpol last January, when she argued that the political calculus behind the abortive US cap & trade deal had been incorrect. The sensible kernel of Klein's argument is essentially the same as Skocpol's: the elite-level deal on carbon, buying off big polluters and sticking the little people with the bill, is a mirage, a deal with too small a constituency. You may disagree, but this is a serious and constructive point. Moreover, Romm's appeal to cap & trade's success in Europe is disingenuous, ignoring the fact that European emissions have been shifted to China: the Kyoto mechanism is essentially subsidizing a dirty development path in countries not covered by the trading scheme.

It is not to Klein's credit that this point is sandwiched between various false parallels (the Marshall plan was postwar reconstruction, patching up already-wealthy countries that had been damaged, and not a model could be expected to work for development generally), utopian constructs (do the felt interests of indigenous people and the poor really always coincide with sustainability and conflict with markets?) and, of course, self-righteous sweeping condemnation of "big" green groups. She seems to be looking as more for enemies than for friends. But there'd be no point to her looking for a friend in Romm who, hearing cap & trade criticized, will in any case cover his ears and blow his top.

Rick Piltz said...

Eli, there are many shades of 'liberal' and 'leftist', as you know, so rather than lumping everyone, let's have a more fine-grained look at competing positions on how to move forward. It's a complex discourse and, yes, argumentative debate when needed. That doesn't preclude 'working together' broadly speaking -- but to most moderate-centrist Clinton-type liberals this usually means, 'you lefties are outnumbered so just ditch your position yet again and support whatever we wishy-washy liberals are willing to settle for.' In the 60s that would have meant supporting the war, at least until Nixon was elected. That experience was the proof, for me that the best way forward may well involve a considerable amount of pushing and shoving on the liberals and making them uncomfortable, when the correct position requires them to move toward the left.

Hank Roberts said...

> pushing and shoving on
> the liberals and making
> them uncomfortable

Doing PR often involves acting like you're writing from sure knowledge of the future, knowing the outcome of today's choices, and criticizing today for making bad decisions.

It's effective rhetoric for those who like that kind of thing.

It drives the rest of us screaming bonkers, often enough.

I'm rather sure Joe Romm knows what he's doing and chooses his style and picks his words with conscious intent.

Since he knows the future, he knows what Klein's book will say, so he can start refuting the ideas he knows will be printed in it before it's actually in print.

The resemblance to the attacks on the leaked IPCC draft chapters isn't coincidental.

It's a tactic, seems to me.
Works, pretty much.

He understands Stevenson's Rejoinder: "

Hank Roberts said...

> Stevenson's Rejoinder

paraphrased: [all thinking people] isn't enough -- we need a majority

Brian said...

The key issue is "when the correct position requires them to move toward the left."

There's more than one way to fight climate change, but Klein says its her way or the highway.

For example, I'm fine with and will support a carbon tax, as well as cap and trade, as well as command-and-control regulation. Klein says that attitude is worse than being a denialist.

Rick Piltz said...

Oh she does not -- not on the basis of what you just said. You're not getting the essential point. A key question is, where are you on challenging vs. collaborating with corporate power. Do you think climate change and sustainability can be dealt with effectively and equitably via a few technical policy mechanisms while leaving the existing power structure untouched -- or do you think more fundamental political and economic change will be needed?

Anonymous said...

Like a lot of smart people talking off the top of their head (this was an interview after all and not an essay), she answered the questions with a lot of unstated assumptions and characterizations in mind. Depending on a particular reader's experience her interview can come off as either confirmative or their views or an outright attack on them.

I agree with some of her characterizations of environmental groups, but not in regards to their policies on climate change. She comes off sounding like she has an ax to grind.

EliRabett said...

Eli has no interest in living through a cultural revolution of any depth. To say that this is needed to deal with climate change is to be so deeply pessimistic that Eli would only pull the blanket over his ears.

To murder another comparison, one can hope to shift the Overton window, but throwing rocks through it makes the neighborhood unlivable.

Brian said...

Rick, you agree that Klein is saying that the only thing that will stop climate change is overthrow of the corporate structure, and then you deny that she says it's either her way or being worse-than-denialists. I think your statements are internally contradictory.

Rick Piltz said...

I think Klein is speaking up in support of an emerging, hopefully rising, grassroots movement that will push on both the socioeconomic justice front and the environmental sustainability front. The movement will challenge the existing power elite, but where it will lead is an open question. Hopefully it will help to redistribute some power downward. Klein works to establish strong connectivity with the grassroots, in the U.S. and abroad, as a journalist-advocate. It's this grassroots connectivity that has been in all too short supply with the big Washington-focused enviro groups -- a key message of hers that is basically correct, I think. Let's strengthen those connections. That means developing a climate movement agenda that has a grassroots-up component, not just a top down insider-driven "all hands on deck for a cap and trade bill" approach. It's been the absence of a strong grassroots movement that makes me pessimistic, Eli. I find this more hopeful, if it can be nurtured and grow:

Marlowe Johnson said...

I'm conflicted on this one. I think Rick correctly points out Klein's core argument, but I'm not so sure I'd agree with her 'Big ENGOs' have have been a bigger problem than deniers. that's a pretty strong statement and one that isn't exactly amenable to meaningful objective analysis. it does make for a good headline though.

Miguelito said...

"Klein's real focus is forcing a radical change in the organization of society, climate issues are a club to be used in the battle for a socialist economic system, to force the change, and the lace shoe environmental groups are her Sister Soljah stand-ins to rally the troops."

Seems she learned the lesson from Shock Doctrine pretty well.

Anonymous said...

In at least one regard, Klein is right: climate change is only a symptom of the disease.

We might be able to treat that symptom with some success, but the disease will eventually kill us if we don't change our ways in a fairly radical way.

Susan Anderson said...

Thanks to Rick Piltz for the link to that Canadian labor speech - a powerful document.

On the whole, I'm not fond of shooting at each other, and think Joe Romm is beleaguered enough. However, it is easy to forget that what Klein calls the "extractivist" monofocus is pervasive and protects itself by any means possible, including violence. The use of the public security apparatus to treat environmental protestors as terrorists and the brutal repression of the Occupy movement are examples.

I'm with Eli in wanting to hide under a blanket at the kind of change that I, unlike Eli, am convinced is necessary.

Our means of communication is financed by the marketplace, which has a life of its own. It is quite common to see advertisements from big fossil even on progressive programs and news.

Jonathan Swift made some pungent commentary on the line of country, but the population was small then, and while poor people were treated as subhuman then, we were not yet big enough to destroy the whole planet with our greed.

mike roddy said...

The main point of Klein's argument was the corruption of Green groups, which is a big problem. Her wish for socialism is secondary and not realistic, but we shouldn't let that distract us from the main point.

Green groups colluded in killing solar projects in the Mojave Desert. Did you read the article I sent you on this subject, Eli? If not, send me a current email address.

Brian said...

Mike - people like Klein are more likely to oppose than support big, corporate/utility solar projects like Mojave and say that only distributed solar power should be built.

To be fair, I don't know Klein's specific position on big solar but rather the typical left wing position. I also agree with them some of the time - however important climate change may be, it's not the only environmental issue that counts.

mike roddy said...

I don't agree, Brian. It turns out that the solar projects in the Mojave were mostly proposed on barren lands, and that the main threats to the tortoises and lizards are fossil fuel pollution and climate change induced drought.

You're right that lefties prefer distributed power, but it costs double what power from large farms sells for. That makes it a threat to the coal and gas companies, which rooftops are not. Lefties are not doing their homework here, and have been intellectually lazy in the service of ideology. I'm with Eli basically on that point.

Anonymous said...

Mike, you're certainly doing your part for the circular firing squad by presenting us with more false choices, i.e., the "lefties" are the problem, and they're either with "us" or against "us!"

False choice #1: distributed solar vs. desert tortoises and lizards. You seem to be saying that if distributed solar and other distributed generation were more fully developed, that the climate and desert tortoises and lizards would be worse off.

There's no desert that is more barren than rooftops, and tortoises and lizards aren't the only part of the environment that's affected. Onerous land swaps are often required for centralized power generation projects, with deals brokered by corrupt politicians behind closed doors.

False choice #2: massive, centralized solar vs. distributed solar and fossil fuel interests. If distributed solar isn't a threat to fossil fuel interests, why have PG&E and other Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) and fossil fuel interests been working so hard to undermine it and the alternative means to implement it, such as Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) in San Francisco, including hiring expensive PR firms to write textbooks on how to defeat CCA nationwide.

False choice #3: "Cheaper" massive, centralized solar vs. distributed solar. Costs for rooftop solar PV are continually decreasing, and the efficiency of PVs under development is increasing exponentially.

There are many other reasons to prefer distributed solar, such as scalability and efficiency (it doesn't require massive new transmission infrastructure to be built). Another problem with massive, centralized power production is that it's very difficult to predict demand, and massive, centralized projects tend to create their own demand due to the synergies between investors, developers, and politicians. Development and sprawl often follow construction of major utilities (e.g., Los Angeles), while distributed solar can be retrofitted or built into already approved developments.

Taylor B

Anonymous said...

There is no reason that we can't do both rooftop and centralized solar.

Each has its place and not everyone can have a rooftop solar collector.

I do know, however, that if the US had spent the money spent on wars over the past decade on solar collectors, everyone in the US who could have a rooftop solar collector would have one.*

Do the math. Even if every one of the 100 million households in the US installed a solar collector at $30,000 a pop, that would be $3 trillion, which is actually less than the <a href=">estimated cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.</a>

It's simply a matter of priorities.

The Republicans and Democrats just love their wars too much.

Anonymous said...

estimated cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Anonymous said...

"...the efficiency of PVs under development is increasing exponentially."

I think youmean that the efficiency of PVs under development is increasing asymptotically.

Bernard J.

Anonymous said...

Bernard, you're correct that there's an upper limit to conversion efficiency, and consumer PVs are not approaching that limit nor are they improving efficiency exponentially. The more important metric is cost per watt, anyway, which has been dropping (in part because of some dumping by China).

My comment about efficiency was based on a spreadsheet I compiled several months ago (but didn't save) charting the conversion efficiency of experimental PVs, which did show an exponential improvement (up to around 40%), not yet approaching the theoretical asymptotic limit. I'm not sure if you're referring to the efficiency of consumer or research level PVs, but your point is well taken.

In any case, I'd favor the development of centralized solar projects if they were proposed on previously developed land, in conjunction with more CCAs and efforts to reduce demand. I think we should focus more on efforts to reduce energy demand and improve efficiency before we consider building more centralized power generation capacity in undeveloped, remote areas, which just encourages more sprawl and consumption. Building a centralized solar project in a remote area to supply new developments in the desert demanding >20,000 BTUs of air conditioning per housing unit doesn't make much sense to me.

Taylor B

Brian said...

Taylor - there's about 100k acres of selenium-contaminated former farmland in Central Valley California that would be a good candidate for large scale solar.

I don't oppose all large scale solar. Concentrated solar thermal in particular requires large operations, and that's the version that gives you 24 hour power. Sometimes, though, the environmental cost is too much.

Anonymous said...

Good idea, Brian. Another potential location might be land contaminated with naturally occurring asbestos around Coalinga, if it could be built without increasing asbestos contamination in air and surface runoff, and if construction, operation & maintenance workers could be adequately protected.

If the rule-of-thumb is that it takes about 3 Kwh of generation to deliver 1 Kwh to customers over transmission lines, this brings into question whether the alleged advantages of centralized solar outweigh the increased transmission costs. You'd also want to consider whether the centralized solar generation facility simply provides power for a new nearby development in the hot Central Valley, resulting in more infrastructure requirements and energy-demanding air conditioners for residents living far from their jobs. Would it also require the construction of new transmission corridors and increase demands for imported water?

The ultimate question is whether building a centralized solar facility reduces or increases carbon emissions, i.e., does the solar generation facility eliminate a fossil fuel generation facility and reduce transportation and water demands, or does it just add to demand?

Of course, it would have been better not to have contaminated the land with selenium (and likely pesticides) from poor farming practices, and restore the farmland to productive use if that were possible.

Taylor B
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