Naomi Klein, writing in The Nation, pens a sweeping manifesto for action that is sure to shake up the climate debate — for better or worse.

Naomi Klein, author of “The Shock Doctrine,” in the current issue of The Nation, has a long cover story titled “Capitalism vs. the Climate.” It is a sweeping manifesto for climate action that will unnerve liberals with its bold frankness, and reinforce the worst fears of conservatives already suspicious of climate science and predisposed to believing that global warming is a pretext for a larger anti-capitalist agenda.

Klein sets up her piece by reporting from the Heartland Institute’s Sixth International Conference on Climate Change, which she describes as “the premier gathering for those dedicated to denying the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet.”


Klein reports variations on this theme from conference attendees and speakers: “that climate change is a Trojan horse designed to abolish capitalism and replace it with some kind of eco-socialism.” That jibes with the worldview underlying popular climate skeptic blogs run by Anthony Watts and Marc Morano, where climate science is often selectively and wrongly dissected (by Watts) and caricatured (by Morano).

But Klein, who is openly contemptuous of “right-wing climate conspiracies,” does something highly ironic in her piece: she feeds conspiracy chum to Heartlanders:

The deniers did not decide that climate change is a left-wing conspiracy by uncovering some covert socialist plot. They arrived at this analysis by taking a hard look at what it would take to lower global emissions as drastically and as rapidly as climate science demands. They have concluded that this can be done only by radically reordering our economic and political systems in ways antithetical to their “free market” belief system. As British blogger and Heartland regular James Delingpole has pointed out, “Modern environmentalism successfully advances many of the causes dear to the left: redistribution of wealth, higher taxes, greater government intervention, regulation.” Heartland’s [President Joseph] Bast puts it even more bluntly: For the left, “Climate change is the perfect thing …. It’s the reason why we should do everything [the left] wanted to do anyway.”

What does Klein have to say about all this? “Here’s my inconvenient truth: they aren’t wrong.” That grinding sound you hear is from liberals gnashing their teeth. Or as Grist blogger Christopher Mims wryly puts it in a tweet:

“Not sure Naomi Klein casting action on climate change as inherently antithetical to capitalism is all that helpful.”

Helpful or not, Klein’s argument will be hard to ignore by a liberal base hugely dejected by political inaction on climate change.

So what might this great economic transformation require? Klein lays it out:

Responding to climate change requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless it is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at a minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law. In short, climate change supercharges the pre-existing case for virtually every progressive demand on the books, binding them into a coherent agenda based on a clear scientific imperative.

To no one’s surprise, conservative-minded climate contrarians know what a gift-horse they’ve been given. At the UK’s Telegraph, Delingpole has titled his latest post: “Only a totalitarian New World Order can save us now, says Naomi Klein.”

A climate discourse already plenty ugly may soon get uglier still.

Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a New York City-based freelance journalist who writes often about the environment and climate change.