Ideological assumptions of capitalism highlighted in “Speaking with: Naomi Klein on Capitalism and Climate Change”

Christopher Wright, “Speaking with: Naomi Klein on Capitalism and Climate Change” (The Conversation, 4 September 2015)

On the eve of her visit to Australia in late 2015, to promote her book “This Changes Everything” which was published in 2014, Canadian journalist Naomi Klein spoke to Christopher Wright on  capitalism as a way of life and its impact on the Earth’s systems, in particular weather systems and climate. The interview begins with a discussion of Hurricane Katrina and the destruction it brought to New Orleans in 2004, and nature of the the US government’s response in cleaning up the city, caring for the people left homeless and the city’s reconstruction. If you followed the news – the alternative news media, that is – on that response, you’ll know the US sent in the army to patrol and police the city, put many homeless people into shelters that endangered their health and actually caused many deaths, and seized properties that were later redeveloped for the benefit of private individuals and corporations. Social inequality actually increased as a result, property prices rose beyond the ability of people forced to leave the city, and many people who had to leave New Orleans are still unable to return. The example of New Orleans became a microcosm of the way in which wealth and power influence and shape government policy and action, and ensures that inequality continues while ignoring the possibility that Hurricane Katrina may not be a unique phenomenon (and is likely to occur again) and dealing with the root causes of the storm.  The interview can be downloaded at this link.

Klein contrasts the US response to climate change with that of other countries such as Germany and finds that the American actions are typical of the neoliberal ideology that dominates the Anglosphere and influences government policies and corporate behaviours in economic, environmental and cultural matters. She does not blame capitalism but goes straight to the historical foundations of capitalism – and other socioeconomic ideologies such as Communism – in the 17th century and fingers the Cartesian philosophical revolution (which includes the notion that the universe is like a machine and can be analysed and understood) as the conceptual paradigm that became capitalism’s bedrock.

Other topics discussed in the 22-minute interview include the corporate promotion of “green capitalism”, that economic growth and preservation of the environment to forestall climate change are compatible, and how this notion merely avoids dealing with the root causes of the problem; the response of people around the world in confronting climate change and the solutions and strategies they have developed, based on local conditions and their relationship to land; and Australia’s role in contributing to climate change and what the country can and should do to reduce its carbon emissions and other pollution. Klein emphasises that global collective action is important and that Australia can and should lead the way in minimising its emissions and lessening pollution.

It is a very good talk, easy for most people to follow and understand, though by necessity due to its short duration the interview does not delve much into details and specific actions that we in Australia could or should take to minimise the impact we make at local, regional and national levels on our environment.

The really interesting part of the interview was at the halfway point where Klein talks about the historical circumstances in which capitalism and industrialisation were born: the two more or less came about together in northwest Europe, specifically in England and surrounding countries. Klein makes no reference to the state of the Christian religion at the time which regards humans as superior to nature and places humans as stewards of nature rather than regard humans and nature as co-equals and partners who must co-operate to survive. In particular the Western Christian idea that humans are born in a state of sin and are incapable of improvement unless they worship the Christian god goes unmentioned. Nor does she refer to Thomas Hobbes’ political philosophy which, among other ideas, informs capitalism’s view of individuals as essentially self-interested and not naturally given to co-operate for the sake of co-operation. Any analysis of the historical development of capitalism and the various philosophies and ideas that inform its worldview needs to examine the historical context – the culture, the politics, the dominant religions – in which capitalism grew.