If one political issue is capable of producing a near-complete disconnect from reality on all sides, it's the issue of climate change. Not only denialist Republicans, insanely willing to believe even their beloved Pentagon has fallen for a scientific hoax, but--far more importantly--leading climate action activists like Bill McKibben, Chris Hedges, and Naomi Klein, seem dangerously disconnected from reality. In the cases of McKibben, Hedges, and Klein, the disconnect in question concerns not scientific reality (where their realism remains impeccable) but political reality. And regrettably, as admired climate action leaders, they inspire the same dangerous political unrealism in their followers.
Warren--Her populism is climate activists' wedge to gain power--if only they knew it.
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Now, on the face of things, Klein has much greater excuse than Hedges and McKibben. As a Canadian citizen, it's not really her job to take sides in American politics. But, on the other hand, her deeply admirable grasp of climate action's political implications renders her "momentary lapse of attention" regarding American politics far less comprehensible--and less excusable. Readers should understand that on the political implications of climate action, Klein has been my deeply admired teacher, and everything I say here is from the perspective of a bewildered but still enrapt pupil who wonders why his favorite teacher has failed to apply her own brilliant principles. Especially when applying them to the United States--whose wealth, power, and sheer per capita fossil fuel use and production make it the "indispensable" climate action nation--could spell the difference between climate sanity and Armageddon.
What's so sparkling about Klein's political insight is her sharp realization that, where climate change is concerned, the urgently needed policies favor the political Left over the Right, and there's simply nothing anyone can do to change that. What's likewise dazzling is Klein's deep understanding that climate's pro-government implications are simply inadmissible for the political Right: that for the Right, its very identity hangs in the balance. What honest thinker can resist being blown away by this analysis--that the Right goes to such insane lengths to resist climate science (contradicting even such respected conservative bastions as the Vatican, big insurance companies, the World Bank, and the Pentagon) because its very raison d'Ãªtre is at stake? Klein has forever handed climate activists the depth psychology key to our opponents' "scorched-earth" last-trench opposition. To this author, that's simply a stroke of genius.
But what's disturbing here is Klein's (and McKibben's and Hedges') failure to apply her dazzling insight at the nuts-and-bolts political level. When a thinker like Klein has concluded, not just correctly but almost irrefutably, that the global scope and looming-apocalypse urgency of climate action demand government action--and government command-and-control policies--then logically, the order of the day is to get people in power who believe in and will enact such policies. And precisely because the window for climate action is rapidly closing, to get them there ASAP.
In this regard (and sadly, in this regard only), climate activist billionaire Tom Steyer has been truer to Klein's imperative of government climate action than Klein herself. At least Steyer understands that enacting aggressive climate policy demands actually electing people who prioritize such policy. But sadly, Steyer's candidate-by-candidate, climate-as-chief-issue approach is, from a PR standpoint, psychologically ham-handed and electorally misfocused. The simple fact is that we'll never get climate-friendly candidates in office unless voters vote for those candidates. Steyer's approach ignores the political fact that climate action--essential as it is to civilization's very survival--is simply not the top priority of most voters. And no one ever achieved political success by ignoring political fact.
Here again, Klein has shown herself far shrewder about human nature and therefore more politically astute than Steyer; she "groks in fullness" that climate action is not the top priority for most voters. Which is why, in This Changes Everything, Klein attractively gift-wraps climate action as essential part of an integrated package of political changes deeply desirable to most voters. In Klein's highly astute view, the social arrangements essential to addressing looming climate catastrophe entail far greater economic equality, democracy in government, assurance of meaningful work, and protection for the poor and weak than the United States (or virtually any existing nation) now has. For the gargantuan work and sacrifice involved in arresting climate change involve global buy-in by most citizens, and such buy-in is achievable only in societies clearly seeking to promote their members' well-being. For climate action demands the societal mobilization and general goodwill of a war effort, but without the motivating danger of an armed foreign enemy. Thus, any government seeking to mobilize for climate action must show deep concern for its average citizen's well-being. Exactly what most Americans are not seeing from their government now.
Here's where Steyer's nuts-and-bolts politics and Klein's climate justice vision need to meet. Steyer is perfectly right that we need to get climate activists in office; Klein, while failing to address the nuts-and-bolts of actually supporting candidates, astutely grasps the motivation voters need to put them there. Now, I know of no currently electable candidate who fully embraces Klein's climate justice vision; Bernie Sanders comes the closest, but even his best chance to be president, an outsider run in the Democratic Party, strikes any political realist as an extreme long shot.
However, Elizabeth Warren, as a fierce economic populist fighting for Main Street against Wall Street, does embrace the key motivating economic factor in Klein's climate justice vision--and she has increasingly taken public stances in favor of climate action. If Klein, McKibben, Hedges, and their ilk seriously believe government is the key to staving off climate Armageddon--and had better start doing so damn soon--it seems a no-brainer they should be pushing hard for a Warren candidacy. No one has power remotely comparable to the U.S. president in setting the national agenda (not demanding a climate-champion president is Steyer's misfocus), and no highly electable candidate comes closer to embracing the climate justice agenda than Warren. Warren's economic populism is precisely the wedge by which she can pry her way into office, and to gain broad support for urgent climate action once she gets there.
Needless to say, Warren offers the additional charm of potentially becoming "first woman president"--about the only charm offered by Wall Street's and the fossil fuel industry's favorite Democrat, Hillary Clinton. And polling by Democracy for America clearly shows Warren's potential, acting as Main Street's champion against Wall Street, to trounce Hillary; at last count, Warren led Clinton by a convincing 42% to 24% margin. Anyone who agrees with Naomi Klein's forceful demonstration that climate action must occur through government, should be demanding that Democrats nominate Elizabeth Warren as their 2016 presidential candidate. And threatening to never vote Democrat again if they don't.