Some Liberals To Applaud on Climate

In my column today, “Climate Change Jumps the Shark,” I take aim at the old “no-enemies-on-the-left” mentality that will extend a free pass to the lunatic rantings of Naomi Klein and “Little Bobby” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. So when a liberal does step up and object strongly to this kind of infantile leftism, it is worth noting and praising.

No surprise that it comes from our center-left friends at the Breakthrough Institute, which is making a serious project of what it calls “Eco-modernism,” comprising an embrace of technology, progress, and economic growth—things most liberals used to stand for as a matter of course until they adopted a limits-to-growth mentality back in the 1970s. While shedding none of their left-leaning egalitarian and environmentalist sympathies, the “Breakthroughvians” (as their growing circle of reformist liberals is starting to be called) see the world without illusions.

Will Boisvert, who writes for Dissent, the New York Observer, and other left-leaning publications, gives Klein a good smacking in a new Breakthrough essay “Why Progressives Should Reject Naomi Klein’s Pastoral Fantasy—and Embrace Our High Energy Planet.” It is a long piece, and the whole thing is worth a read, but here are a few short highlights:

Her trademark blend of light wonkery, sardonic prose, sharp-eyed reportage and fist-waving militance appeals to every left constituency from academics to Occupiers. Most important, her penchant for tying absolutely anything she can think of into her thesis du jour feels tailor-made for climate change, the most omnipresent and multifaceted of subjects.

Her new manifesto, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate is a wide-ranging synthesis of Left-green doctrine on the entwinement of ecology and economy. . .

Unfortunately, the result is a garbled mess stumbling endlessly over its own contradictions. Her understanding of the technical aspects of energy policy — indispensable for any serious discussion of sustainability — is weak and biased, marked by a myopic boosterism of renewables and an unthinking rejection of nuclear power and other low-carbon energy sources. Having declared climate change an “existential crisis for the human species,” she rules out some of the most effective means of dealing with it. . .

[H]er uninformed, dogmatic treatment of the substance of that problem, so typical of the Left’s approach, generates only confusion and misdirection. To make a useful contribution to changing everything, the Left could begin by changing itself. It could start by redoing its risk assessments and rethinking its phobic hostility to nuclear power. It could abandon the infatuation with populist insurrection and advance a serious politics of systematic state action. It could stop glamorizing austerity under the guise of spiritual authenticity and put development prominently on its environmental agenda. It could accept that industry and technology do indeed distance us from nature — and in doing so can protect nature from human extractions. And it could realize that, as obnoxious as capitalism can be, scapegoating it won’t spare us the hard thinking and hard trade-offs that a sustainable future requires.

Hear, hear.


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