In my lifetime I’ve witnessed some odd pairings – Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga being among the most recent – but none so bizarre as Pope Francis and Naomi Klein. The Pope needs no explanation, but Ms. Klein may leave some readers scratching their heads. The telegenic Canadian activist actually was invited to participate in a stacked-deck of climate-change true-believers at the Vatican.
Organizers of the event, “Planet First: The Imperative to Change Course” – held July 1 and July 2 at Rome’s Augustinianum University – also invited Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, president of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Bernd Nilles, secretary general of CISDE – “an international alliance of Catholic development agencies working together for global justice;” Flaminia Giovannelli from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; and Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office. Where was Bill McKibben and Al Gore? According to Vatican Radio:
Naomi Klein’s presence was highly anticipated, as the Holy See spokesman himself said. Klein, who is the author of best-seller “No Logo” and more recently the volume “This Changes Everything”, has actively promoted the encyclical among the public and has broadened the Holy See’s alliances and on the subjects of climate change, problems linked to poverty and pollution, the need for incisive action to protect the planet, in view also of the upcoming global climate conference in Paris in December 2015. Naomi Klein said she was “delighted” to have received the Vatican’s invitation. She spoke about the urgent need to build broad and new alliances that include different people and cultures and she mentioned the slogan that emerged from a big demonstration on the risks of climate change held last September in New York: “To change everything we need everyone”.
Hmmm… this sure doesn’t sound as if the Vatican is encouraging a healthy debate among reasonable people who might have differing views on the highly contested issue of climate change – and what exactly we might do about it. (If you want a reasonable discussion, listen to Russ Robert’s chatwith Matt Ridley on EconTalk) Regrettably, the Vatican Radio pronouncement reads as if the fix is in, and nothing leads the reader to believe this more than the involvement of Naomi Klein, a woman who writes that the there exists no compromise between the environment and free markets. Instead, she portrays a zero-sum game in which all commerce negatively impacts if not outright destroys nature.
The Guardian – essentially a mouthpiece for anti-fossil fuel activists, including Klein – reported today that Klein is bringing her oil and gas divestment message to Rome:
But Klein told the Guardian that she did not believe that the divestment issue was a “linear market argument”, but rather a moral argument about the “immorality” of investing in fossil fuels.
“The encyclical amplifies the moral argument that is a tremendous tool for the divestment movement, no matter what happens at the Vatican,” she said.
While some critics argue that divestment policies alone have little to no impact on corporate profits of major polluters, Klein said she believed that divestment in fossil-fuel companies would “set the political stage” for regulatory actions to recapture some of their profits, though a carbon tax or increased royalty payments on extraction.
“Once you have said those profits are immoral, then the public has a right to those profits,” she said.
The Klein interview continues in much the same absurdist vein, including her take on U.S. political figures:
“To our so-called leaders preparing their pledges for … Paris, getting out the lipstick and heels to dress up another lousy deal, I have to say this: read the actual encyclical – not the summaries, the whole thing,” Klein said. She called the document “courageous” and said it was making Pope Francis some “powerful enemies”.
Klein took a swipe at Barack Obama in her interview with the Guardian, saying that although the US president had made some “great speeches” and introduced some good proposals recently on climate change, his decision to open up the Arctic to drilling by Shell was “wholly incompatible with climate leadership”.
She also said she had no “high hopes” for Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic contender in the 2016 race for the White House. “When she was secretary of state she rarely talked about climate change and it was her State Department that was set to rubber stamp Keystone,” she said, referring to the controversial trans-American pipeline.
“So, just judging her on her record, I don’t think there is any reason for optimism about Hillary on climate change,” she said.
Klein added that she was looking forward to seeing how leading Catholic Republicans who are running for the White House, especially Jeb Bush, would grapple with the climate issue while seeking to appeal to Hispanic voters, who see Pope Francis as a “rock star”.
“Watching how Republican candidates navigate seeing a significant and really critical part of their base greet this pope – and how important he is to them – and how they will maintain their position on climate change … I mean, I’m looking forward to seeing how they dance,” she said.
And this is who the Vatican bigwigs are palling around with these days? This past March, Klein collaborated on a letter to Paris leaders with fellow-divestment guru Bill McKibben. The pair encouraged the Paris mayor to take up their divestment cause:
It’s imperative that the city government now agrees to implement this wise recommendation, and ensures that the newly created endowment fund never invests in fossil fuel companies (and refuses their donations), while making sure that the council members’ pension fund divests from the sector.
Writing in the Nation in May 2013, Klein put forth the proposition:
For a long time, forming partnerships with polluters was how the green groups proved they were serious. But the young people demanding divestment—as well as the grassroots groups fighting fossil fuels wherever they are mined, drilled, fracked, burned, piped or shipped—have a different definition of seriousness. They are serious about winning. And the message to Big Green is clear: cut your ties with the fossils, or become one yourself.
So this is the type of activist granted a seat at the Vatican’s climate-change table? Well, I suppose, given the nature of the Pope’s rhetoric in Laudato Si, including portions that read as if Klein herself had written them:
The alliance between the economy and technology ends up sidelining anything unrelated to its immediate interests. Consequently the most one can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment, whereas any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.
It’s not too surprising such radically progressive nonsense would be given a hearing at this week’s Vatican’s Planet First powwow when even Pope Francis ignores the tremendous benefits of technology for all humanity. More’s the pity.