Naomi Klein
Ed Kashi
Naomi Klein.

Progressive journalist and activist Naomi Klein made waves a couple of years ago with an article in The Nation arguing that climate activism and current-day capitalism are incompatible. An appropriate response to the massive threat of climate change “is going to require shredding the free-market ideology that has dominated the global economy for more than three decades,” she argued.

Now, in a new interview with Jason Mark of Earth Island Journal, she lambastes major environmental groups for failing to understand this point, for being too tied to the neoliberal agenda and too cozy with corporations.

I think there is a very deep denialism in the environmental movement among the Big Green groups. And to be very honest with you, I think it’s been more damaging than the right-wing denialism in terms of how much ground we’ve lost. Because it has steered us in directions that have yielded very poor results. I think if we look at the track record of Kyoto, of the UN Clean Development Mechanism, the European Union’s emissions trading scheme — we now have close to a decade that we can measure these schemes against, and it’s disastrous. Not only are emissions up, but you have no end of scams to point to, which gives fodder to the right. The right took on cap-and-trade by saying it’s going to bankrupt us, it’s handouts to corporations, and, by the way, it’s not going to work. And they were right … Not in the bankrupting part, but they were right that this was a massive corporate giveaway, and they were right that it wasn’t going to bring us anywhere near what scientists were saying we needed to do [to] lower emissions. So I think it’s a really important question why the green groups have been so unwilling to follow science to its logical conclusions. …

[For Big Green groups now,] it’s about corporate partnerships. It’s not, “sue the bastards”; it’s, “work through corporate partnerships with the bastards.” …

More than that, it’s casting corporations as the solution, as the willing participants and part of this solution. …

We’ve globalized an utterly untenable economic model of hyperconsumerism. It’s now successfully spreading across the world, and it’s killing us.

It’s not that the green groups were spectators to this — they were partners in this. They were willing participants in this. It’s not every green group. It’s not Greenpeace, it’s not Friends of the Earth, it’s not, for the most part, the Sierra Club. It’s not 350.org, because it didn’t even exist yet. But I think it goes back to the elite roots of the movement, and the fact that when a lot of these conservation groups began there was kind of a noblesse oblige approach to conservation. It was about elites getting together and hiking and deciding to save nature. And then the elites changed. So if the environmental movement was going to decide to fight, they would have had to give up their elite status. And [they] weren’t willing to give up their elite status. I think that’s a huge part of the reason why emissions are where they are.

Like what she’s got to say? Read the rest at Earth Island Journal. And then keep an eye out for Klein’s new book on climate change, due out next year.

Don’t like what she has to say? You’re not alone. Joe Romm at Climate Progress has a thorough takedown, concluding with a quote from Grist’s own David Roberts:

UPDATE: Klein has posted a response to Romm on her website: “if anyone is guilty of taking a sledge hammer to an ally here, I suggest you take a quick glance at what’s in your (bloody) hand.”