This week in Rollo Romig’s Writing the Environment, students are reading an excerpt from Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Rollo’s also brought to class Elizabeth Kolbert’s review essay, “Can Climate Change Cure Capitalism?,” which is a real challenge to Klein’s book. Klein makes the case that another cultural crisis—”an economic crisis, another natural disaster or some kind of political scandal”—must “be harnessed not only to denounce the world as it is and build fleeting pockets of liberated space; it must be the catalyst to actually build the world that will keep us all safe.” Kolbert sees good ideas in the book, but the argument is often vague; ideas go unexplored. The book is a little pie-in-the-sky.
After Kolbert’s essay was published, Klein wrote to the New York Review of Books, and the two entered into a short exchange. “It may be wild optimism, but I insist on believing that humanity can do better,” Klein writes. “Setting abstract goals isn’t difficult. The US does this all the time, and so does Canada. The hard part is fulfilling them,” Kolbert replies. And Rollo’s class gets the whole story.
Discussing, arguing, debating about complicated ideas is what we’re at Lang to do. Klein and Kolbert provide an excellent model. And what’s more, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Image from NASA.