(For the confused, new readers: Naomi Klein and Joe Romm got into a fracas last week over comments Naomi made in an interview, blaming “Big Green” environmental groups for the country’s sorry emissions record. I offered the couple some “couples therapy,” counseling the pair to move past blame and focus on solutions. Romm made me very proud by responding to my intervention, though he wasn’t totally convinced. In this article, I take another crack at it!)
Joe, during our session you made an interesting comment. You stated that your argument with Naomi Klein (no relation, by the way) was relevant because it was “really a proxy for who we should listen to going forward.” And that Naomi was attempting to discredit Big Green/ old-guard environmentalists’ ability to lead the Human Climate Movement.
Ahhh I thought. They are not only a couple who is casting aspersions on each other, as they struggle to cope with the overwhelming pain of their child’s suicidality (or in this case, ecocidality) they are also having a power struggle.
Well, psychologists don’t like proxy arguments. We know that frank discussions, though they can be tough, yield better results. If you want to have an argument over leadership, let’s have it in broad daylight. Who should we listen to going forward? Klein? Romm? Big Green? New Green?
Naomi believes that the failure of the Big Green groups to effectively combat climate change, particularly due to corporate partnerships and an inside-the-beltway mentality, necessitates radical changes in Human Climate Movement leadership and direction. The Human Climate Movement should reject the old guard environmentalists, ceding intellectual leadership to progressive intellectuals such as herself. She thinks that people should listen to her going forward because climate change is fundamentally a problem of global capitalism, about which she is an expert, and because she is a forceful speaker and writer who can captivate a crowd. Naomi is relatively new to working on climate change, but she views this as an asset. The movement needs revitalization and redirection!
Joe believes that we should listen to him because of his track record. Joe is a scientist, a PhD physicist. For more than 20 years, he has worked on energy and climate issues. Joe has served in government, and knows how politics works from the inside; he is a realist. He has nearly gone hoarse from all the shouting he has done, trying to raise awareness of the dire climate change scenarios facing us. Joe is proud of his career of service and of his current intellectual leadership position in the Human Climate Movement.
Its easy to imagine why Joe would feel angry at Naomi when she criticizes the environmental establishment and their handling of the climate crisis; that’s some pretty brazen Monday-morning quarterbacking! Naomi was virtually ignoring the climate for years while Romm and the leadership of “Big Green” were dedicating their careers to it. They made some mistakes, sure. But only when climate change becomes tangibly acute does she comes waltzing onto Green turf and starts making pronouncements, criticizing past decisions. She is a new comer and a non-scientist, yet she has the gall to blame the environmental movement for the not averting the climate crisis!
Joe, it must feel like Naomi is wantonly disrespecting you, your career, and even your values.
This clash of values and personalities is occurring with increasing frequency in the Human Climate Movement. As climate change’s impacts become more palpable, more people, including scholars and activists, are waking up to its terrible threat. They are New Green; and they bring new perspectives and values to the climate fight. They look at Big Green and see a failed strategy, and a need for change. Not surprisingly, the environmental establishment feels offended by that. The reward for all of their efforts, the reward for having been right is to be criticized for not have handled climate change better? Where do these Johnny-come-latelies get the nerve? They seem to have no concept of how difficult the fight has been, or how hard environmentalists have worked.
Now that we have ditched the proxy and addressed the heart of this conflict, we can address the real problems and look for real solutions.
The better angels of all participants of this debate: Romm, Klein, Big Green, New Green—know that they are all on the same side. We all want a climate that supports human civilization. We know that in order to get there, we need people get out of intellectual and emotional denial, to wake up to the terrible threat of climate change. We know that everyone is welcome in the Human Climate Movement, and that the more people making diverse contributions, the better. We know that climate change is not merely a scientific issue, but a human issue that involves every single one of us. We know we should relentlessly seek the best organizing strategy, no matter its source.
To be most effective, the movement must incorporate all comers, and to take their ideas seriously, while those new to the party should be appropriately respectful to those who came before. (Let he who has successfully solved climate change cast the first stone!)
A forum is needed to turn disagreements into collaborative discussions rather than disputes. We should open-source Human Climate Movement Strategy and undertake a process of considering, discussing, and evaluating Movement strategy proposals. This will allow for collaboration and hybridization of plans and will facilitate the formation of relationships and trust between Big Green and New Green. Most importantly, undertaking a process of reflection and collaboration around strategy will lead us to the most effective final plan.
Any social and political movement will have different factions, personality clashes, and territoriality. But we cannot let these differences derail us from out most critical mission. Let’s discuss strategy and leadership issues collaboratively, respectfully, and publicly. No more proxies.
OK. Times up, Good progress! I’ll see you guys next week.