Brian Sanderson reviews: "This Changes Everything: capitalism vs the climate" by Naomi Klein

The title of this book raises Big Expectations --- "Everything" in fact. By definition, Climate is huge in scale, planet wide and for a long long time. Capitalism has also become pretty big, almost planetary since the collapse of Communism in China and the former USSR --- not so long ago.

Like the good journalist-activist that she is, Ms Klein begins her book by pandering to the fact that most people identify better with small-scale, personalized anectdotes. She begins with a story about the passengers on Flight 3935 having to disembark because the aircraft was stuck on the hot tarmac in Washington D.C. I can just hear Donald Trump and the Tea Partiers decrying "this is weather, not climate".

A thinking man might ask some obvious questions. Were all the other aircraft also stuck in the tar that day? Perhaps it was a heat island effect? If we accept the notion that this is climate change (I don't) then the same logic leads us to accept the Tea Party argument "about how the continued existence of winter proves it's all a hoax" (I don't).

The tone is set from the outset. The point of this book is not to convince the undecided --- let alone a skeptic --- rather it is to rally believers and heap scorn on the rest.

Ms Klein goes on to cast climate change as conformal with her previously published pontification, "The Shock Doctrine". She imagines a world warmed by 4 degree Celcius:

"The heat would cause staple crops to suffer dramatic yeild losses across the globe (it is possible that Indian wheat and U.S. corn could plummet by as much as 60 percent), this at a time when demand will be surging due to population growth and a growing demand for meat."
Shocks due to drought (and unusually low temperatures) are facts throughout history. Anthropogenic climate change is a slow process compared to the seasonal cycle of crop production. "The Shock Doctrine" just doesn't fit.

Nevertheless, Anthropogenic Climate Change might introduce a secular decline into the always variable agricultural production. So what? Perhaps population growth may have to be put on hold rather than being promoted as it presently is? Or perhaps diets will be shifted away from meat?

It is telling that this is one of only two places where Ms Klein mentions population growth. Obviously, the only reason why a 60% decline in grain production would be a problem is because population has grown to the point where it presses upon the limitations of the capacity of planet Earth.

Population growth also has a lot to do with Anthropogenic Climate Change. You'd never guess that this was so from reading the popular literature. Neither would you see it plainly stated in the scientific literature. But here it is:
* I plot atmospheric CO2 against world population. The black line shows measurements. The red line shows output from a model that has two parameters: a small carbon footprint before 1950 and subsequently a larger carbon footprint.
The second time that Ms Klein mentions population is in a footnote:

"* This is why the persistent positing of population control as a solution to climate change is a distraction and a moral dead end. As this research makes clear, the most significant cause of rising emissions is not the reproductive behaviour of the poor but the consumer behaviors of the rich."
I'm loath to waste my time stating the obvious, nevertheless. Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren make a scientifically more credible formulation about the environmental impact of population growth. Paul Colinvaux provided excellent nonmathematical treatments (here and here) which deploy the conventional wisdom of ecology and evolution to show how technology, affluence, and population are related. It is a law of ecology that "poverty is caused by continued population growth". That applies whether we are talking about the impoverishment of a group of humans or the impoverishment of some other ecological system. You can't save the environment in the face of population growth. Klein is selling us a brick in the toilet tank solution.

Naomi Klein has written a book that avoids and denies the reality of overpopulation. This may sit compfortably with religious ideology, BUT, one cannot be an overpopulation denier without also denying any hope of solving the problem of anthropogenic climate change --- let alone more pressing problems... Klein has written yet another silent lie.

I wonder if Ms Klein is too much the capitalist to reimburse me the cost of her book?



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Population matters

  1. First, we must ask "What population control" and "Who is doing it?" Mostly population is controlled by four groups:
    • Religious groups who control the fertility of women by propagandizing and limiting access to contraception and abortion.
    • Capitalists who benefit by growing population. They blatantly push population growth. Rupert Murdoch is a prime example but he is not an exceptional example, rather he is representative. The ways that a few at the top of the food chain can benefit from overpopulation are too numerous to document in this brief review... Many of them are actually documented by Ms Klein, although she falsely blames global warming for miseries that are really due to overpopulation.
    • Politicians (including Green Party politicians) who seek to gain advantage by subsidizing reproduction in order to have a cohort of dependent voters.
    • Economists... because most of them are committed to a false model that only serves the worst of capitalists and politicians.
    Consider the Arab Spring. There was a time when Egypt had a lot of oil and a small population. The leaders sold the oil and sponsored population growth with the profits. When the oil ran out, there were too many young men with no prospects. Throughout hisory, that has always caused trouble...
  2. One cannot deny that climate change is related to population. The USA is commonly castigated as the most villainous CO2 emitter. Can anyone doubt that USA emissions would be less if the USA population was less? We can safely say that the USA is overpopulated.
  3. There was a time when demographers thought that USA population would peak at 150 million (or less). Migration of poor people into rich USA is one significant reason why the USA population just kept growing way beyond 300 million and continues to grow. Indeed, the demographic that characterized USA in the early 20th Century has become a minority in the early 21st Century. The breeding behaviour of poor people matters just as much as that of rich people because the progeny of todays poor aspire to be tomorrows rich and the progeny of todays rich might end up being poor.
  4. An overpopulated world cannot support everyone in an agreeable lifestyle.
  5. Poverty is the shit-stain of overpopulation. The biggest shit-stain caused by overpopulation is the impoverishment of the natural world.