Naomi Klein & the Let­down of the Leap Manife-

sto: Energy Depletion Dismissal is Just as Bad as

Climate Change Denial (part 1/4)

(photo by Adolfo Lujan)
(photo by Adolfo Lujan)

Over the years I've had the pleasure of chatting with Naomi Klein on a few different occasions; there was that first Prairie Festival at the Land Institute in Kansas that we both happened to attend in 2010, that second Prairie Festival which she spoke at in 2011, and the opening night talk she gave at the Toronto Reference Library the day before her latest book (This Changes Everything) was released – not to mention all those other times I've seen her speaking in Toronto (where we both used to live for several years). And although I've only very briefly spoken once to Klein's filmmaker-husband Avi Lewis (at that second Prairie Festival), there was that time in Toronto that Lewis and I stood next to each other for about half an hour and managed to say not a single word to each other. But I'll get to that in part 2.

While Lewis is known for his work hosting various television programs on MuchMusic, CityTV, CBC, and Al Jazeera English, as well as for directing a few documentaries, it is Klein that is the more well known of the two, mostly due to her books No Logo, The Shock Doctrine, and This Changes Everything. That being said, one year ago this week – and at last year's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – the Lewis-directed documentary This Changes Everything had its world-premiere, an event that coincided with the release of the Leap Manifesto.

The Leap Manifesto, which received much media coverage upon its release, is a 15-point plan for tackling the climate change dilemma we're currently faced with, particularly in respect to Canada. However, with the Leap Manifesto's one-year anniversary being today, and with it now appearing that there isn't going to be some kind of Leap Manifesto Redux in association with this year's TIFF, I'd say it's time to declare that the Leap Manifesto was in fact a colossal letdown. To explain, I'll start by conveying a little chat I had with a fellow attendee at the 2014 Age of Limits (AoL) conference.

I was standing around the campfire talking about peak oil and collapse with Mark Robinowitz (of the website Peak Choice), and for a reason that eludes my memory I brought up Klein's book The Shock Doctrine – one of three books that absolutely floored me upon first reading them. Although I was singing the praises of Klein's book, Robinowitz was having none of it, pointing out that not once did Klein mention resource shortages as the underlying issue behind any of the crises mentioned, and moreover, not once was peak oil mentioned in the book's index. True. Very true. But –

– nope, no buts allowed was what I took from Robinowitz's response: "Tell you what. You ask Klein about limits to growth and see what she has to say."

Brave enough to also point out the collapse- and
energy depletion-related issues we're already facing!

I don't think either of us took that as a literal challenge, but lo and behold, six months later I was near the front of the audience at Klein's launch and talk for This Changes Everything, with the Q&A period soon upon us. I quickly got in the Q&A line as the talk finished, and was fortunate enough to be able to ask the third and final question of the night. Although I really wanted to query Klein about peak oil, it was an extremely polite looking crowd that night at the Toronto Public Library, resulting in me chickening out and asking her this instead:

How does what you write in your new book relate to limits to growth, if at all?

As a friend who I bumped into a few minutes later said to me, "That was you that asked that question? That was the only good question asked!" And then in hushed tones, "But Naomi's response was awful." Unfortunately I couldn't have agreed more. Although I don't remember Klein's entire response, this gist, and which she stated word for word before some talk about windmills and solar panels and such, was "That's why we need green growth!"

Green... growth?

Brave enough to also point out the
collapse- and energy depletion-related
issues we're already facing!

Rather than conveying my personal revulsion to the notion of "green growth," let me just relay a couple of critical quotes about this sordid affair:

This growth imperative is why conventional economists reliably approach the climate crisis by asking the question, How can we reduce emissions while maintaining robust GDP growth? The usual answer is "decoupling" – the idea that renewable energy and greater efficiencies will allow us to sever economic growth from its environmental impact. And "green growth" advocates like Thomas Friedman tell us that the process of developing new green technologies and installing green infrastructure can provide a huge economic boost, sending GDP soaring and generating the wealth needed to "make America healthier, richer, more innovative, more productive, and more secure."

And secondly,

We're just going, "Green jobs, green capitalism, change your light bulbs, this isn't as scary as you think."

From Klein's apt blurb on the back cover: "The climate crisis is far too urgent to squander another decade on false solutions"

And who was it, you might ask, that made those statements? That would actually be none other than Klein herself (see here and here). While I think it's safe to say that Klein isn't a Friedman-ite, the response Klein gave to me can certainly still give the impression that her belief is that rather than changing our light bulbs we should instead be changing what powers those light bulbs (c'mon, this isn't as scary as you think!). Moreover, upon reading in one sitting the dozen or so articles by Klein and about the Leap Manifesto that I'd saved over the past year, I was rather startled to realize that not only does Klein readily dismiss energy depletion issues, but that her writings are rife with inconsistencies. So much so that they seem to imply not just energy depletion dismissal, but possibly even energy depletion denial.

From Klein's apt blurb on the back cover: "The climate crisis is far too urgent to squander another decade on false solutions"

For starters, it doesn't seem to be easy to come across mention of peak oil by Klein. Although I think he was mistaken, peak oil seems to be such a non-issue with Klein that Erik Curren of Transition Voice could actually title one of his posts "Naomi Klein Now Officially a Peak Oiler." Nonetheless, one of those articles I'd saved did have Klein stating that

We will attempt to transcend peak oil and gas by using increasingly risky technologies to extract the last drops, turning ever larger swaths of our globe into sacrifice zones.

Too true. But in what is perhaps a more telling quote, Klein tells Rob Hopkins that

It seems to me that the premise you’re working from here is that change is going to be forced upon us by peak oil and my fear is that we have too much oil – too much unconventional fuel of various sources; not just oil but natural gas, coal.

Klein has a problem with the premise that "change is going to be forced upon us by peak oil"? Alright. But here's her speaking about climate change during promotion of the Leap Manifesto:

So here’s the big question: What if global warming isn’t only a crisis? What if it’s the best chance we are ever going to get to build a better world? Change or be changed.

I dare say, but how is it okay to say that we will "change or be changed" by global warming, but it's deemed questionable to act on the premise that "change is going to be forced upon us by peak oil"? Is that latter quote of Klein's not allowable if the words "global warming" are replaced with "peak oil"?

To give Klein the benefit of the doubt, let's suppose that her gripe with peak oil is that even if there's roughly half of the all-time supply of oil left (to be burned up), that that's still plenty enough to mess up the climate a whole lot more. Let me state then that I, and I'd guess most others concerned with peak oil, don't doubt that "[t]here is enough oil in the ground to deep-fry the lot of us" (as George Monbiot put it in 2012). But just because some people (like Jeff Rubin) think that peaking oil supplies will imply a respite for CO2-induced climate change, this doesn't mean that everybody thinks this way. That's a bit like saying that just because cherry-picking-Guy-McPherson envisions climate-induced near term human extinction (NTHE) within a few years that all advocates for climate change-awareness and -action have gone off the deep end and we should just stick to social justice issues.

Because the fact of the matter is that change is going to be – and is already being – forced upon us by both peak oil and climate change, and that neither of them should be dismissed at the expense of the other. That being said, with the launch of the Leap Manifesto Klein said that

My crisis isn't bigger than your crisis. They're interconnected, they're overlapping and we can come up with solutions that solve multiple problems at once.

Except, that is, when it comes to peak oil. For as Klein also stated to Hopkins,

In some ways I think it would be a blessing if we were in a more precarious energy situation, because it would force that change... I don’t feel that we have the luxury to wait for change to be imposed from the outside and just have to decide whether we’re going to manage it or not.

First off, only the naïve and lazy say that we should wait around for peak oil to change us, and to single out that point of view is to create a straw-man argument out of concern with energy supplies. And secondly, "I think it would be a blessing if we were in a more precarious energy situation"!? Seriously!? Either Klein is a masochist, or she obviously doesn't understand the role that energy shortages are already imposing around the world. I'm quite sure it's the latter, understandable when we notice Klein's apparent lack of comprehension of the motives behind recent pushes for austerity. As Klein puts it (and which is one of the Leap Manifesto's 15 pillars),

We declare that "austerity" – which has systematically attacked low-carbon sectors such as education and health care, while starving public transit and forcing reckless energy privatizations – is a fossilized form of thinking that has become a threat to life on Earth.

I think Klein has inadvertently made a rather astute observation here, because austerity is a "fossilized form of thinking." That is, it's a form of thinking that emanates from an economic system and a modern way of life made possible by copious supplies of fossilized energy sources, something that neither of those are able to give up without offing themselves in the process.

Greece's ability to import supplies of oil in order to sustain its accus­tomed-to industrial way of life started to falter after 2008, right when its economic problems began. Coincidence? I think not (data: EIA)

As I've explained at length earlier by way of Greece's ongoing situation (see here and here), austerity is a mechanism used to try to preserve the status quo for a perpetually shrinking centre. With worldwide per capita energy supplies likely peaking soon, and the demand for energy by the billion or so people at the top increasing unabatedly, this ultimately means fewer energy supplies to go around for the other six billion or so – and in this case for the Greek who isn't part of the upper percentile. But Klein seems to have a limited-enough grasp of energy depletion issues that she can actually say with a straight face that

the austerity being imposed on Greece... is being used as an excuse to open up all these new dirty projects. They're talking about drilling for oil in the Aegean and Ionian seas, some of the most storied oceans in history.

Greece's ability to import supplies of oil in order to sustain its accustomed-to industrial way of life started to falter after 2008, right when its eco­nomic problems began. Coincidence? I think not (data: EIA)

Well of course they are! What seems to have gone right over George Monbiot's head when he wrote his article "We were wrong on peak oil. There's enough to fry us all" back in 2012 is that the peak extraction rate of conventional oil was reached back in 2006, and it's only the desperate scraping of the bottom of the barrel for unconventionals – fracking, tar sands, deep sea, etc. – that has kept overall levels from peaking. But unconventionals are believed to be quickly reaching their peak as well (possibly even this year), so for a myriad of reasons it's no wonder that there's talk of tapping Greece's seas for a last desperate hit.

In effect, dealing with energy depletion essentially comes down to three options:

1) You start reducing the amount of energy usage by everybody across the board – rich and poor, centre and peripheries. This way there's an equitable reduction in energy usage by all involved (if not a greater reduction by those at the top since they're already using so much more). This is so far not happening in the slightest.

2) You triage the poor/peripheries by way of cutting back on health care, retirement benefits, welfare, schooling, etc. Since money is but a proxy for energy, by freeing up the money for all those services and activities you free up the energy that they would have utilized, which is then salvageable by those closer to the centre. This is the very least that creditors (like Germany) demand in order for further loans to be made, loans that are essentially used to pay off the interest on the previous loans as well as import some energy supplies to that stuff can be made to be sold to the creditors. Creditors (such as Germany) have no interest in causing a Greek default and having to deal with the resultant loss on their books, but they also don't want to give debtors so many new loans that they end up angering their own voters (who essentially want that money/proxy for themselves so that they can purchase the products that peaking energy supplies still make possible). As a result, new loans are made with the effective stipulation that the borrowing nation's poor get cut off – aka triaged, aka austerity-ized. If a nation involved in this Ponzi scheme is in need of further loans in order to make interest payments on its previous loans, but isn't willing to play along and triage their poor for the sake of briefly propping up their (diminishing) centre, then creditors threaten to triage/austerity-ize the entire country. This is what nearly happened to Greece, resulting in its president Alexis Tsipras implementing austerity measures rather than going down in history as the guy that forced the Troika's hand to pre-emptively triage a grossly unprepared Greece for a return to a pre-industrial way of life. (Greece's expulsion from the Euro would have meant reversion to a highly devalued drachma and thus paltry purchasing power for imports of oil to keep the lights on and all the rest of it.)

3) You adhere to the belief and promises of 100% renewable energy and blame politicians for not implementing the right policies.

From what I can tell, Klein favours option #3, with some (somewhat token) words given to option #1. Sure, Klein can state that

a just climate response would see the US and other rich countries having less so that others could have more.

But she also states that

The fact that we’re investing so heavily in military and border control at the same time we're cutting infrastructure – it's a choice about how we are going to deal with climate change. It says, "we're going to try and fortress ourselves and protect what we've got".

But economically/energetically speaking this isn't something we're going to do, it's something we are doing, right now, in response to energy shortages. And if the fewer and fewer of the West – or the Global North or whatever you want to call it – want to continue living high off the hog of industrial civilization's plunders for as long as they can – as the overwhelming evidence seems to be showing – then austerity – "fortress ourselves and protect what we've got" – is the name of the game.

Yes, Klein can say many great things (I'm being 100% serious), but it nonetheless seems that she's often-enough unable to take heed of her own words. Sure, she'll say that

there is something going on where a world view is saying that there will always be more, that there are no limits, there's a new frontier around the corner, technology will come and save us.

Yet the core of the Leap Manifesto is based on that very way of thinking. For as Klein also put it when promoting the Leap Manifesto,

Technological breakthroughs have brought this dream [of 100% renewable energy] within reach.

Perhaps Canada should also be concerned about peak oil?
Perhaps Canada should also be
concerned about peak oil?

"Technological breakthroughs"? As in those ones that are part of the "world view" of which we shouldn't expect "technology [to] come and save us"? Those "technological breakthroughs"? Why yes. For as Klein stated in an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, again for the Leap Manifesto's release,

we can transition away from fossil fuels very rapidly in line with what... engineers are telling us we now can do because of these breakthroughs in technology.

And what do we want from these "breakthroughs in technology"?

[W]e want energy sources that will last for time immemorial and never run out or poison the land.

Never mind that we've already got one of those (it's called the sun), but what exactly are the energy sources that these "breakthroughs in technology" can now give us?

The latest research shows it is feasible to get 100 per cent of our electricity from renewable resources within two decades. We demand that this shift begin now.

And not only that, but working off of "the latest research" the Leap Manifesto also demands the (supposedly feasible) complete shift from all fossil fuels to renewables by 2050.

"The latest research," however, is of course a colloquialism often used by adherents to the religion of progress in place of "techno mumbo-jumbo." For in a similar manner, and as Michael Pollan put it in his excellent book In Defence of Food,

Several studies have found that when industry funds nutrition research, the conclusions are more likely to produce findings favorable to that industry's products.

That doesn't automatically dismiss the studies that Klein and the Leap Manifesto refer to, but when one places too strong of an importance on politics, and not on physics, it's bound to muddy one's perceptions. I'll get to that, and more, in part 2.

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Comments (14)

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Simon Grant
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Sep 2016
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Is this amount of negativity really helpful? See my comment at
http://www.resilience.org
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Allan Stromfeldt Christensen
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Aug 2014
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Simon: As I responded to you on Resilience...

To start off with where you finished off, if you look again at the first few paragraphs you'll notice that I said that I've had the pleasure to speak with Klein on several occasions, and that The Shock Doctrine was one of the three books that floored me upon first reading them (the other two being by Wendell Berry and Andrew Nikiforuk, high company I would say). Without having gone into specifics, I think it's still fair to say that I've established some common ground there.

To answer your first question, it seems to me that energy depletion is a non-issue to Klein, at best. Problem with that, as I explained in the post, is that I think it limits one's understanding of various economic factors that are at play today, austerity being one of them.

Regarding your second question, I almost get the impression that you're inferring that just because Klein has written many great things (which she certainly has) on climate change and much else that she then gets a free pass to err on other issues. I disagree. Moreover, I think Klein's dismissal of energy depletion issues have consequences that she would be adamantly against (as per The Shock Doctrine), but I'll have all those thoughts collected for part 2 next week.
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Johnny
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Mar 2015
While pushing peak oil as a cause for everything might work among the acolytes, that does not mean that the word of others is less valuable because they are smarter, or perhaps less gullible, than the acolytes.

On this blog the words "energy depletion" aren't even used correctly, the same kind of self-reference material so common among peak oilers.

Energy depletion happens at the solar level, and has been going on for billions of years, but isn't bothering anyone much. Oil depletion began officially in 1859 but actually began earlier using surface seeps (sourced from below and therefore just as much oil depletion as Ghawar), natural gas depletion has been going on for so long that natural gas plumes, long term leakage from reservoirs leaking hydrocarbons, can be found in seismic reflections, fossil remnants of gas fields long since purged to the atmosphere. All are types of energy depletion that has been ongoing for millennia, but suddenly, because a blogger somewhere just found out about it, it must be the cause for...everything!! Sort of like the unified field theory for bad economic ideas, because the economists, they are the ones who knew that peak oil a decade ago was a crock. How? Because they, unlike the acolytes, had the ability to examine the resources known and remaining, calculate the prices at which it was economic to produce them, and knew that there was plenty of room left to run. This applies to the geoscientists who provided them with that information as well.

As for the peak oil unified field theory folks...well. Few are left, and of the few that are left, none of them have any credibility after what happened AFTER their holy event. Can't even use the bell shaped curve anymore without giggling and laughter from an audience drowning them out.
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Allan Stromfeldt Christensen
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Aug 2014
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Johnny: You're back! For a while there I thought you'd disappeared forever. You commented, of course, on my review of Inman's book on Hubbert, but we haven't heard from you since. I was quite happy to see that you had nothing to say on my post on transgendered restroom access, even though I mentioned peak oil in it. So while I'm glad to have learned that you aren't offended by transgendered people, it's a shame to see that you're still offended by peak oil. But don't worry, I have faith that you'll grasp it one day, and in the meantime there will always be a place for you here at FF2F. Keep up the good work Johnny!
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Johnny
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Mar 2015
I read what you post, but the last 3 part series just didn't do it for me. Speculating in the political realm lacks the rigor of the physical sciences, and can change as fast as the US decides to get involved, or someone dies, or a bunch of citizens get ***** and decide to throw the bums out.

I doubt transgender bathrooms have any more to do with peak oil than energy depletion in general, in the sense that you use it, which is to say poorly, with zero historical or scientific context, but as just the next boogie man coming down the pike.

And peak oil doesn't offend me in the least, those who don't take the time to understand the terms, figure out the history or scientific context of peak oil do.

Hope you have been well in the meantime, and keep tilting at those windmills! If there is one truism related to oil, it is that the cure for low oil prices is low oil prices, and sooner or later the Church of Peak will begin to sing in tune again as the cure arrives. Malthusians are nothing if not predictable!
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Robert Callaghan
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Sep 2016
Why We Will Run Out Of Soil And Water Before We Have 100% Renewable Energy

https://lokisrevengeblog.wordpress.com/2016/01/24/no-soil-water-before-100-renwable-energy/
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Allan Stromfeldt Christensen
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Aug 2014
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Johnny: Okay, I see where you're coming from in regards to not commenting on those posts. Nonetheless, and I hope I'm not being too pushy here, but do you think you could try a little harder? I mean, without all your obfuscation, things over here at FF2F can get a little, well, lonely.
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Allan Stromfeldt Christensen
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Robert: I do see some problems for renewables due to our economic situation as well. Part 2 will cover that. And to be fair, Klein does call for a more ecologically-based agriculture, and she is well aware of The Land Institute's work with perennial polycultures to preserve the soil. However, I don't see how we can do that without a higher "eyes to acres ratio," as Wes Jackson puts it, but I'll get to that in part 3.
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Rob Mielcarski
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Sep 2016
A lot of bright people are in denial and agree with Klein.

Klein has no need for denial because she's not very bright.
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Allan Stromfeldt Christensen
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Aug 2014
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Rob: Yeah, there's a lot of people in denial. But to say that Klein isn't very bright is completely incorrect. She's got a lot to offer, of which I think could be improved with a few clarifications. I recall seeing her sitting at a picnic table while having a personal conversation with Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson at that Prairie Festival in 2010. That's no small company she was sharing there, and I don't think those two would have gone out of their way to chat with her if they didn't feel similarly towards her. (And man was I wishing that I could be a fly on that table!)
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Johnny
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Mar 2015
To be honest Allan, it isn't obfuscation on my part when others just don't get the technological, geologic and economic history of what peak oil was, is, or might be.

For you it is just a cool idea that you relate to random current events, assuming causality because you don't know any better. Nothing to be ashamed of, you just don't have the requisite understanding in the sciences involved, let alone history of this neo-malthusian/luddite wet dream.
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Allan Stromfeldt Christensen
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Johnny: Wait a second, who told you about my wet dreams?
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energyjunky
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Sep 2016
Klein's book is mainly disappointing in its conclusion, which deflects questions of precise understanding of the social change necessary to combat climate change.

There is an almost exclusive attention to supply side issues and how these might be addressed (which is extremely comprehensive), whilst there is almost no consideration given to demand side issues.

A parallel can be drawn between the war on fossil fuels and the war on drugs. Both these types of pixie dust have immensely useful and damaging properties which we humans find highly addictive and almost impossible to resist. Attempts to limit the production of fossil fuels are likely to be as ineffectual as the paramilitary efforts to halt the production of cocaine and heroin without a major and unlikely change in human nature.

We are truly addicted to the magical properties of coal, gas and oil, which, amongst many other highly desirable things, allows us to effortlessly travel vast distances. Irony upon irony I notice that Klein herself, with no apparent trace of irony, refers to her own frequent flier (celebrity) status acquired from traveling hundreds of thousands of miles by air.........
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Allan Stromfeldt Christensen
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Aug 2014
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energyjunky: I hear you. We hear survey after survey where the results state that people overwhelmingly want governments to take action on climate change. But how can we expect governments to change their policies and such when besides the occasional token gesture the people themselves don't want to change?

You might like part 3, out next week.

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