We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

A Climate Debate I Would Like to See

By Keith Kloor
Sep 26, 2014 8:15 PMNov 19, 2019 9:28 PM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Of the all the famous names associated with climate change, there are two I would love to see headlined in a debate--against each other. Both of these individuals believe global warming presents an existential threat, both believe Big Green is part of the problem, and both offer a radically different path to decarbonization of the global economy. Yes, the debate between Naomi Klein and James Hansen would be fascinating. Klein, as you probably have heard, is the author of a new and much discussed book titled, "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate." Her publisher describes it as

a brilliant explanation of why the climate crisis challenges us to abandon the core "free market" ideology of our time, restructure the global economy, and remake our political systems.

The New Statesmen, a liberal UK publication, opens its review of the book thusly:

Right-wing deniers of the robust findings of modern atmospheric science sometimes claim that the whole idea of global warming is just a front. What “warmers”, as they call them, really want is allegedly not just a sharp reduction in fossil-fuel emissions but a wholesale socioeconomic transition to tree-hugging socialism. Such cynics will be gladdened by Naomi Klein’s new book. For in it she does explicitly argue that the present “climate emergency” provides an excellent excuse for global revolution.

Before anyone starts hyperventilating, it should be noted, as Klein does in this recent interview, that she isn't arguing for capitalism to be overthrown by some other ism:

Look, I’m not saying that markets have no role in combatting climate change. I think the right market incentives can play a huge role—we can point to all kinds of companies doing great stuff...There will have to be a strong role for the public sector, a strong role for regulations and, yes, incentives. But the idea of just leaving our collective fate to the market is madness. You wouldn’t treat any other existential crisis in that way.

Still, the larger implications of Klein's argument will be threatening to entrenched economic interests, a political class concerned more about its fortunes than the planet's future, and most of all, right wing conservatives who already believe that the "climate emergency" is a liberal stalking horse for a big-government, wealth-redistributive agenda. In the United States, the response to such a perceived threat has become clear. James Hansen, the former NASA climate scientist who more than two decades ago elevated the importance of climate science in the public mind, and who has since strongly warned about the dangers of greenhouse gas-driven climate change, believes that conservatives should be mindful of what's in store when climate impacts really start to hit home. In an interview last year, he said:

If they [conservatives] continue to pretend that human-made climate change is a hoax, eventually you get to the point where nature makes it clear it wasn’t a hoax and then the public demands the government do something and that’s the worst nightmare for conservatives.

What happens then?

It would allow the government to take over and do things by fiat, which not in anybody’s interest in my opinion, because the government never, seldom, makes the right choices. Let the market make the choices, which is a conservative approach.

Hansen's preferred fix is a revenue-neutral carbon tax, in which the money generated from a rising tax on fossil fuels would be given right back to the public. In a post he wrote last week for Columbia University's Earth Institute (which received little attention), Hansen explains:

A rising carbon fee alone is not sufficient. But it is the sine qua non. New carbon-free technologies are required. But no policies can spur technologies fast enough without the underlying incentives, for the public, businesses, and entrepreneurs, of a rising carbon fee. Global agreement on a carbon fee must be approved at home. It must be of a nature that can receive broad public and political support. That brings me to my main point.

Hansen couches this as "speaking truth" to friends who share his worst fears about climate change. Are you ready for that truth?

Conservatives are not the enemy of the planet. Historically they are its best friend. Conservation and creation care are in the blood of most conservatives. The political divide occurs because conservatives fear that liberals will use the climate issue to increase taxes and government intrusion. Policy prescriptions proposed by liberals stoke those concerns and provide fertile ground for anti-science nut-cases to flourish. Most conservatives I have met are thoughtful. They do not want to go down in history as being responsible for blocking effective action to stabilize climate. Gaining their support for a rising revenue-neutral carbon fee, which is in fact a conservative approach, is possible.

Hansen wrote this on the eve of the big climate march in New York City, which he and his family participated in. He closed his post by noting that liberals would account for the largest demographic in the march. He had a message for them:

The truth they must face is the fact that prescriptive liberal policies have no chance of solving the global climate problem.

Naomi Klein believes that only a brave new liberal revolution will usher in the necessary actions to prevent catastrophic climate change. James Hansen believes that this is a dangerous pipe dream. I would love to see them on a stage together, arguing their respective positions.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.