Does the Climate Movement Need a ‘Shock Doctrine’?

Naomi Klein, writing in The Nation, pens a sweeping manifesto for action that is sure to shake up the climate debate — for better or worse.

Naomi Klein, author of “The Shock Doctrine,” in the current issue of The Nation, has a long cover story titled “Capitalism vs. the Climate.” It is a sweeping manifesto for climate action that will unnerve liberals with its bold frankness, and reinforce the worst fears of conservatives already suspicious of climate science and predisposed to believing that global warming is a pretext for a larger anti-capitalist agenda.

Klein sets up her piece by reporting from the Heartland Institute’s Sixth International Conference on Climate Change, which she describes as “the premier gathering for those dedicated to denying the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet.”


Klein reports variations on this theme from conference attendees and speakers: “that climate change is a Trojan horse designed to abolish capitalism and replace it with some kind of eco-socialism.” That jibes with the worldview underlying popular climate skeptic blogs run by Anthony Watts and Marc Morano, where climate science is often selectively and wrongly dissected (by Watts) and caricatured (by Morano).

But Klein, who is openly contemptuous of “right-wing climate conspiracies,” does something highly ironic in her piece: she feeds conspiracy chum to Heartlanders:

The deniers did not decide that climate change is a left-wing conspiracy by uncovering some covert socialist plot. They arrived at this analysis by taking a hard look at what it would take to lower global emissions as drastically and as rapidly as climate science demands. They have concluded that this can be done only by radically reordering our economic and political systems in ways antithetical to their “free market” belief system. As British blogger and Heartland regular James Delingpole has pointed out, “Modern environmentalism successfully advances many of the causes dear to the left: redistribution of wealth, higher taxes, greater government intervention, regulation.” Heartland’s [President Joseph] Bast puts it even more bluntly: For the left, “Climate change is the perfect thing …. It’s the reason why we should do everything [the left] wanted to do anyway.”

What does Klein have to say about all this? “Here’s my inconvenient truth: they aren’t wrong.” That grinding sound you hear is from liberals gnashing their teeth. Or as Grist blogger Christopher Mims wryly puts it in a tweet:

“Not sure Naomi Klein casting action on climate change as inherently antithetical to capitalism is all that helpful.”

Helpful or not, Klein’s argument will be hard to ignore by a liberal base hugely dejected by political inaction on climate change.

So what might this great economic transformation require? Klein lays it out:

Responding to climate change requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless it is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at a minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law. In short, climate change supercharges the pre-existing case for virtually every progressive demand on the books, binding them into a coherent agenda based on a clear scientific imperative.

To no one’s surprise, conservative-minded climate contrarians know what a gift-horse they’ve been given. At the UK’s Telegraph, Delingpole has titled his latest post: “Only a totalitarian New World Order can save us now, says Naomi Klein.”

A climate discourse already plenty ugly may soon get uglier still.

Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a New York City-based freelance journalist who writes often about the environment and climate change.
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19 Responses to Does the Climate Movement Need a ‘Shock Doctrine’?

  1. Barry Woods says:

    Doesn’t matter what Klein, heartland, Delingpole, morano, watts, etc…

    What China and India think and DO matters

    They are not going to sign up to any of Klein’s rhetoric.

  2. Bruce Rockwood says:

    Klein is not wrong, and also not the first to make this kind of point. See James Speth, The Bridge at the End of the World, for example, or David Orr, Down to the Wire. Klein likes to be provocative, to get peoples attention, and I think scientists who focus on basic research and simply try to go where the data leads, and make rational recommendations, still often fail to grasp the ideological and political stakes that underlie climate skeptics’ efforts. Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt, documents this very well. The issue really is, what is the end point,what form of life and governance must be aimed at and actually achieved, if we are to navigate the challenge of climate change in a manner that maximizes the quality of life of all our grandchildren. Check out Kim Stanley Robinson’s lecture on Climate Change at Google talks for a nice discussion of this problem.

  3. EdG says:

    Here’s a rather deadly critique:

    Of course, hopeless ideologues like Klein are not cherished (by some) for their ‘facts’ or rational thinking.

    • Tony Duncan says:


      Jonova’s “critique” is in what way devastating? I just read it, and it is basically just allegations that are unsupported by anything except Jonova’s contempt. She also makes sweeping generalizations some of which are to the point of being preposterous. She talks about Klein’s “Her aversion to numbers is crippling”, yet she provides nothing to contradict what Naomi says about the numbers. Just some vague argument(?) that the degree and timing of temperature increase is crucial. Of course it is. Klein supports the mainstream view that late 20th century to current warming is largely from CO2 buildup and that it will continue over the next century causing serious problems. You and Jonova may disagree with this but there is nothing crazy about that belief. She compares the $900 billion in PROFITS by big oil to the $10 trillion dollar nonexistent carbon market that she sites from her OWN blog as something that might eventually happen and might eventually be $10 trillion according to one source. She paints the vast majority of climate scientists as ” “Gods” appointed by the politicians.”
      She points out that Republican leaders have followed the polling of the republican base. That is true but contrary to Jonova’s claim, what this shows is the opportunism of the leaders, not their waking up to the truth.
      She accuses Muller and the BEST study of deliberately pretending to be a sceptic in order be “converted”, yet she supplies nothing to support this hypothesis. She contemptuously mocks Klein for wanting the French to turn off their air conditioners because “Apparently people are dying in Africa, in droughts”. She therefore accuses Klein of wanting French people to die of heatstroke for this crazy idea that Global warming is real.
      Is there anything in this critique that is not a distortion or baseless assertion? She ends her article with a sentence that seems more accurately applied to her than Naomi “Reading Klein is like visiting a parallel universe — her religious devotion to her ideology means nearly every sentence is the exact opposite of the truth.”
      But maybe I am off base here and you were mocking Jonova. In that case I apologize.

      • Jo Nova’s article replying to Naomi Klein is indeed devastating. Klein doesn’t do numbers – she says that human activity causes warming. We all agree – including the people she slanders as ‘deniers’. The question is how MUCH warming? And how does it contrast with previous warming? In a nutshell, if the Middle Ages was as warm as today, anthropogenic warming still exists, but isn’t important.

        Klein makes much of the fact that many climate change skeptics disagree with her political views. Some of them don’t agree with abortion! Some are Americans who defend the second amendment! Worst of all, many ‘intractable climate deniers’ are ‘white men’!

        Jo points out that climate skeptics have gravitated toward conservatism because conservative politicians were the first to defend their views on climate change. Not abortion. Or gun control. These issues are separate. Klein is well aware that her fellow Nation journalist Alexander Cockburn, for example, agrees with her about everything except global warming.

        I’d only add that Klein uses the term ‘scientific consensus’. Anyone who uses this term doesn’t know anything about science.

        • Tony Duncan says:


          I don’t see anything that you wrote that contradicts my analysis of Jonova’s critique of Klein. You bring up different points without addressing mine, which is OK.
          your first substantive point is not accurate however. You say “The question is how MUCH warming? And how does it contrast with previous warming? In a nutshell, if the Middle Ages was as warm as today, anthropogenic warming still exists, but isn’t important.”
          No it is rather irrelevant if the MWP was as warm as the late 20th (likely not as warm as current average temps globally). What IS relevant is whether temps will increase significantly in the next 30-50 years. In spite of what many say there has been no cooling in the last 10 years. At best their has been a plateau. natural variation assures that there is no linear correlation between temps and CO2. And unless mitigating or homeostatic factors are determined that will significantly limit warming the trend will continue up, and there will be periods of extreme increase and periods of no or minimal increase. So far none of the many objections to the current accepted model have been shown to be accurate or significant enough to limit temp increases to reasonable levels, which would not warrant major policy actions to somewhat limit the damage form increased CO2.
          All your other points about politics and Klein seem to me to be irrelevant to the science. Conservative politicians including Graham, Gingerich, Romney, and most others have done a 180 about climate change NOT because of principle and certainly not because of science, but because of ideology. Ironically this is exactly what Jonova accuses of Klein of doing. Whereas Klein is actually following through with her ideology by using the science . You are free to dispute her solutions, but calling her crazy for accepting ACC is ludicrous.
          You are aslo making sweeping generalizations. What is wrong with the word “Scientific consensus”. Every field of science has consensus about basic aspects of the discipline. I agree that all climate scientists do not accept the idea that increased temps due to CO2 are going to result in a human and natural catastrophe, but as yet there is no consistent theory that fits all the facts in all the related disciplines anywhere near the
          degree that ACC does.
          Cockburn doesn’t know much about science, and his view on ACC is also ideologically based. It is just based on an extreme leftist view of corporate conspiracy, that dovetails with the extreme right view of government conspiracy.

          • rykart says:

            Jo Nova’s silly essay is a grotesque patchwork of lies from start to finish. She bills herself as a qualified scientific authority, though the the only place anyone would take this outlandish fib seriously is at the Heartland Institute. She has published exactly zero in the scientific literature, recycles long discredited denier BS and even insists that Naomi Klein made up the claim that climate scientists have received death threats, despite the fact this was widely reported in all major media and a number of scientists were put under official police protection as a result.

            Then, Nova puts forward the hysterical conspiracy theory that Richard Muller was always an AGW fan and only PRETENDED to be a “skeptic” so he could switch back at a calculated moment! (Why those sneaky Koch Brothers! Obviously, a couple of commies in disguise!)

            Yeah..this is the sort of “devastating critique” Nova launches. Pretty side splitting stuff, unless you subscribe to Barbara Bachman’s scientific vision, which Jo Nova and her adoring gaggle of misfits probably do.

            If the scribblings of this simpering clod are the best comeback these louts can produce in response to Klein’s serious and heavily referenced text, they are even more pathetic than I’d originally thought.

    • Asteroid Miner says:

      I agree that Naomi Klein is a sacre innumerate humanitologist, but the Global Warming is real and more dangerous than Naomi could possibly imagine.

      If we don’t act immediately and take draconian action, we humans could be extinct by 2060.   This is not a joke.

      Please read:
      “Drought Under Global Warming: a Review”

      See the maps of drought in the 2060s on page 15.

      “Preliminary Analysis of a Global Drought Time Series”  by Barton Paul Levenson, not yet published. Under BAU [Business As Usual], agriculture and civilization will collapse some time between 2050 and 2055 due to drought caused by GW [Global Warming].

      “Ecological Footprints and Bio-Capacity: Essential Elements in Sustainability Assessment”  by William E. Rees, PhD, University of British Columbia and “Living Planet Report 2008″ also by Rees.

      We went past the Earth’s permanent carrying capacity for humans some time in the 1980s.   We are 20%+ over our limit already.   And the US no longer has excess biocapacity.   We are feeding on imports. 4 Billion people will die because we are 2 Billion over the carrying capacity. An overshoot must be followed by an undershoot.

      Reference: “The Long Summer” by Brian Fagan and “Collapse” by Jared Diamond.   When agriculture collapses, civilization collapses.   Fagan and Diamond told the stories of something like 2 dozen previous very small civilizations.   Most of the collapses were caused by fraction of a degree climate changes.   In some cases, all of that group died.   On the average, 1 out of 10,000 survived.    We humans could go EXTINCT in 2051.   The 1 out of 10,000 survived because he wandered in the direction of food.   If the collapse is global, there is no right direction.

      1. We must take extreme action now.   Cut CO2 production 40% by the end of 2015.   [How to do this:  Replace all coal fired power plants with factory built nuclear and renewables.]   Continuing to make CO2 is the greatest imaginable GENOCIDE.   We have to act NOW.   Acting in 2049 will not work.   Nature just doesn’t work that way.   All fossil fuel fired power plants must be shut down and replaced with nuclear and renewables.   Target date: 2015.

      2. Expect at least 4 Billion people to die because of the population overshoot. Attempt to maintain some form of civilization while this happens.

      How are we feeding 7 billion now? On “mined” water. Aquifers are running dry. When the aquifers are dry, the food is gone.

  4. It’s very unhelpful to paint the climate debate in even strarker right-left terms than is already commonly done. The light abosrbin properties of molecules are not the least bit affected by someone’s political leanings.

    Klein’s arguments fail in that (as you already tweeted, Keith), science does not demand anything, let alone specific policies. As mt wrote, *under most ethical frameworks* there is a scientific imperative for action [read: lowering GHG concentrations]. It’s the ethical framework (e.g. not wanting to leave a hot and hazy planet for our descendants), together with a rational risk assessment based on what is known (the science), that leads to that conclusion.

    There are many ways to achieve climate stabilization. Klein focuses on one particularly far-reaching way in particular. That’s her perogative, but there are more ways that lead to Rome:

    Don’t want to use (and pay for) sustainable energy? Then use less energy.

    Don’t want to use less energy? Then use (and pay for) sustainable energy.

    Don’t want to do either? Go find another planet. Or deny the problem.

    ( )

    • George Harrison says:

      As mt wrote, *under most ethical frameworks* there is a scientific imperative for action

      Does that include the frameworks of the neocons, the energy corporations, the auto industry, Goldmann-Sachs, Walmart?

      Some of those will accomodate a powerful broad based demand for action on climate change, some probably won’t. Which of those, for example would appreciate mt’s musings on capitalism without growth?

      The exhortations to not mention social change remind me of Basil Fawlty’s admonition to his staff “Don’t mention the war!”

    • klem says:

      “Don’t want to use (and pay for) sustainable energy? Then use less energy. Don’t want to use less energy? Then use (and pay for) sustainable energy. ”

      How about Don’t want to use (and pay for) sustainable energy? Then use fossil fuels. Don’t want to use less energy? Then use (and pay for) fossil fuels.

      What’s the problem?

  5. klem says:

    I love it. That is exactly what the skeptics have been saying all along. That anthropogenic climate change is the new socialist rallying cry, backed up of course by the Copenhagen Treaty which was stupidly posted on the web during the Copenhagen climate summit. It stated clearly that climate payments were to be used to pay for a non-elelcted governing body with central control. The IPCC never posted their treaties or agreements on-line again, but it was too late, they already revealed thier hand. I love it when someone like Klein stridently reminds the world that CAGW is just a clandestine socialist plot. It does even more damage to the environmental movement as well.


    • Tony Duncan says:

      certainly those who are socialist will use ACC in order to promote policies which they believe will solve the problem within their ideological framework. that does not mean that all who support doing something about the problem are socialist.
      I would think it would make sense for non socialists to present solutions to the problem bases on their beliefs. there is after all the republican idea of a cap and trade system using the market to reduce GHG emissions. But apparently that is now considered socialist and unacceptable to republicans ;-)

      • klem says:

        Fortunately the Republicans changed their view once they saw how corrupt and easily gamed the EU’s cap&trade system is, actualy everyone has seen it now. Pushing for C&T refects badly on oneself and ones party.

        Knowing this, why are the Dems still pushing for Cap&trade?

        • Tony Duncan says:

          Klem, the republicans changed their views because it fits with the anti government ideology that is at the core of base of the current republican party. Cap and trade was presented by the Bush (Sr) white house, and was a republican alternative to a tax on carbon, and is a market based solution. I have seen compelling arguments for and against both. Since there is no consistent theory to counter ACC, the republican solution is to ignore the issue. If cap and trade is so easily gamed, then you don’t think a carbon tax is the proper solution, what is your proposal for dealing with ACC if it turns out to be a serious problem. If we wait 10-20 years before doing anything, and the effects are as bad as the midrange IPCC forecasts are you willing to spend way more resources than if we had aggressively decreased CO2 output now?

          • klem says:

            “what is your proposal for dealing with ACC if it turns out to be a serious problem.”

            Don’t have a proposal and neither does anyone else. Cap&Trade, global government, wind turbines and giving money to developing dictators is not an effective proposal.

            “If we wait 10-20 years before doing anything, and the effects are as bad as the midrange IPCC forecasts are you willing to spend way more resources than if we had aggressively decreased CO2 output now?”

            Yup. I’ll wait the 10-20 years and spend the resources then. I’m a denier remember, I don’t live in fear.

            Let me ask you, if it turns out that climate change is purely natural, and much of the 1% of GDP which we gave to developing dictators was used to buy cheap Chinese made guns rather than solar panels, do you think the dictators will return our money to us?

  6. Bruce Rockwood says:

    This is a terribly depressing set of exchanges to see on this web site. I’d have expected more thoughtful responses. Perhaps it is linked to the run-up to Durban and the “new” leak of “previously stolen” e-mails: once again the majority view of climate scientists is subordinated to politics and rhetoric. From my reading of the literature, I would say those who deny anthropogenic climate change is real are rather like the folks from the Discovery Institute defending Intelligent Design against evolution. And Klein is simply pointing out that some of the likely remedies for the reality of climate change are congruent with policy goals sought by progressives in this country for other reasons. And these goals (like energy efficiency, renewable energy, creating a level playing field by not subsidizing coal or nuclear power at the expense of alternatives, etc) are rational for their own sake, whether or not they are supported by folks of a particular political perspective. See Amory Lovins at the Rocky Mountain Institute, as well as the sources I mentioned in my earlier post. I think people approaching this issue as scientists or as journalists writing for a general interest audience interested in science need to research a little more the history of how ideology and economic self-interest has influenced past public policy debates and the political process. The Communist Party supported the Scottsboro Boys in the 1930s, but they were still framed and still innocent. Most of the solutions for climate change are valuable on their own terms, and the fact that progressives tend to support them more than people on the ideological right cannot be explained by anything other than the self-interest of the skeptics and the industry that funds them.

  7. We might distinguish between Carbon Conservatism (nurtured in their delusion by big oil, coal and gas) and a type of realistic conservative who established cap and trade and desperately seek market-based solutions to a problem the recognize.

    The danger and the horror they see is the relentless approach of survival communism. They might accept a war-time totalitarian capitalism – like WW2 – but that would require nationalizing the oil companies. Ooops! – huge change.

    And so we have increasingly stupid denialism in the face of more dire science reports, no viable geo-engineering solution and most of the world calling for a political solution.

    Very interesting times.

  8. Asteroid Miner says:
    “KLEIN: I studied philosophy and literature, but I actually left when I got offered this job at the Globe and Mail. …… And I never actually made it back to school.”
    “But, just to repeat, Klein is not a sociologist herself.” Nor is Naomi Klein an anthropologist or a psychologist or any other kind of a social scientist. Nor is Naomi Klein a physicist, chemist, biologist, engineer or mathematician.

    What Naomi Klein discovered at The Heartland Institute is not the truth. What Naomi Klein discovered at The Heartland Institute is The Heartland Institute’s internal propaganda. “Naomi Klein’s Inconvenient Climate Conclusions” is full of big words and big phrases that add up to word salad, alias nonsense.

    The truth is that all corporations are psychopaths and most billionaires are psychopaths. Psychopaths are perfect liars. Psychopaths just do not care about anything. Therefore, they seek excitement. The collapse of civilization would be exciting, so they want it. The only way to stop them is with superior power. Any kind of power will do, but don’t expect them to back down because they don’t care about their own lives either.