But since I had just read her earlier book on the movement, This Changes Everything, I found the new book less interesting.
On Fire appears to have been put together quickly — perhaps to take advantage of interest in Green New Deal proposals in Congress by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and similar ideas from Democratic presidential candidates — by collecting stuff that Klein had already written or published elsewhere. The new book reprints two chapters from the earlier book, perhaps with some minor changes, though if so, not immediately apparent ones. Other essays are speeches given in various countries including Britain and Australia with less appeal outside of those particular nations.
All in all, a mixed bag even if you’re new to Klein’s work. But if you continue, dear reader, you will find some gems in this book yet.
Do We Need Socialism in Order to Fight Climate Chaos?
What I did like was Klein’s take on the Green New Deal at the very end. In her Epilogue: The Capsule Case for a Green New Deal, Klein lists nine points, most of which could be applied not just to some version of a GND but also to any other serious, comprehensive national effort to fight global heating:
- It will be a massive job creator
- Paying for it will create a fairer economy
- It taps the power of emergency
- It’s procrastination-proof
- It’s recession-proof
- It’s a backlash buster
- It can raise an army of supporters
- It will build new alliances — and undercut the Right (this one I’m not so crazy about, see below)
- We were born for this moment (Yes! We will raise morale if we remind ourselves of this at every opportunity)
Overall, Klein makes a good case for why a serious effort to fight climate change is needed and why it needs to include everyone in society, from the government on down.
However, I’m still not convinced that we require socialism — whatever that really is and whether it’s “democratic” or otherwise — to fight climate change, as Klein seems to think.
Klein says that we’ll only get climate solutions if we “undercut the right,” but I’m also not convinced that conservatives need to be excluded from the movement, despite the misbehavior of the leaders in the recent past, from Trump on down. Many conservatives, especially younger ones, now accept climate science and want their nations to start taking action.
My book The Solar Patriot quotes several of them, from former South Carolina Republican Congressman Bob Inglis to Green Tea Party founder Debbie Dooley to Ash Mason of the Christian Coalition. My research showed me that there are millions more young and older conservatives who support clean energy and climate solutions in the United States alone.
That’s encouraging, because no major policy changes will be long lasting if the left just shoves them down the throat of everyone else. It’s too easy for the opposing party to reverse them in the future.
Finally, the Climate Movement Tries to Learn from the Past
Finally, it’s helpful that Klein refers back to the history of FDR’s original New Deal in the 1930s. Aside from providing a model of success, looking back offers morale-building benefits to climate activists too.
“By evoking FDR’s real-world industrial and social transformation from nearly a century ago in order to imagine our world a half century from now, all of our time horizons are being stretched,” Klein writes. She continues hopefully:
Suddenly, we are no longer prisoners of the never-ending present in our social media feeds. We are part of a long and complex collective story, one in which human beings are not one set of attributes, fixed and unchanging, but rather, a work in progress, capable of deep change.By looking decades backward and forward simultaneously, we are no longer alone as we confront our weighty historical moment. We are surrounded both by ancestors whispering that we can do what our moment demands just as they did, and by future generations shouting that they deserve nothing less.
To get inspiration from ancestors is always why America’s greatest political movements, from the Revolution to abolition to women’s suffrage to civil rights have looked back to this past. With its focus on the future, the climate movement has spent too little time studying the past. Klein is right to gaze back before she turns her head forward.
But where Klein’s approach differs from leaders of successful activist movements in the past is that she doesn’t seem to see much role for national feeling or patriotism. Indeed, concern for one’s own country appears to make Klein uncomfortable, as mere “nationalism” that would prevent cosmopolitan people in every country from working together for the good of humanity, not merely for some small-minded local interest.
This is where Klein leaves FDR behind. Just as Americans have waved the flag while marching for change from 1776 through the Civil War and into the twentieth century, so an appeal to patriotism — what’s good for America, our beloved land — was a huge selling point of Roosevelt’s approach to sell the New Deal against heavy opposition from Republicans and big business throughout the 1930s.
Instead of a Green New Deal standing for a national revival as the original New Deal did during the Depression, Klein seems to imagine a series of GNDs that somehow happen in various countries but are really driven by global progressive vanguard and the “woke” masses, much like an international socialist revolution.
This is idealistic, but I’m not sure how realistic it is, given that successful movements in the past combined an international outlook with one that was also national.
I’d love to see Klein find a place in the climate movement for people who love their country as much as they care about the world and also for people who are inspired by the past accomplishments and philosophies of our own Western countries as much as they are by the traditions of the indigenous peoples that Klein so admires.
Putting Climate Doomers in their Place
But this book is worth reading alone for Klein’s skillful critique of the doomerism of Nathaniel Rich’s book Losing Earth: A Recent History. Rich wrongly asserts that the late 1980s were the best time to fight climate change, ignoring the ascendance of extreme capitalism and a culture of greed-is-good driven by globalization and deregulation whose beau ideal was Ayn Rand.
Rich claims that “we” (meaning you and me, not Exxon and the US government) missed this once-in-a-lifetime chance to save the climate in 1988-89 because we were too selfish or shortsighted to make major changes in our consumer lives.
Rich is wrong about all this, and Klein places the blame where it belongs, with oil companies and the governments they control, and offers hope that ordinary people can and will mobilize for an economy that’s both clean and fair.
— Erik Curren