Skip to main content

(also to be found at Firedoglake and at Voices on the Square)

Book Review: Derber, Charles.  Greed to Green: Solving Climate Change and Remaking The Economy.  Boulder CO and London: Paradigm, 2010.
Someone here at DailyKos.com recommended this book to me (sorry, I don't remember who), as an alternative to analyses of abrupt climate change which focused entirely upon hard science while relying upon potted analyses of society.  It's a worthwhile read.  I haven't been able to find a book review of "Greed to Green" here at DailyKos.com, but cleantechies.com has an interesting book review here.

At any rate, this book appealed to me as an easily-accessible take on abrupt climate change by a sociologist.  Moreover, Charles Derber's book has recommendations by Bill McKibben, Ralph Nader, Ross Gelbspan, and Juliet Schor, and no doubt a plug by Howard Zinn approved by his estate.  It is, however, dated -- it appears to be full of the optimism felt by many at the beginning of the first Obama administration, and so it needs an update for the beginning of the second Obama administration.  Derber's book could be a stepping stone to another book (possibly a second edition of Greed to Green) with sharper notions of how to get to the sort of world he wants to see.  Greed to Green is easy to read, and it offers a wide variety of sociological and psychological perspectives upon abrupt climate change as well as a summary of the hard-scientific debate.  Moreover, it concludes with a number of suggestions for grassroots activists.  Derber argues:

If the crisis of climate change does not become rapidly integrated into the social sciences and humanities courses of universities -- as well as becoming a leading topic of conversation in churches, workplaces, and town halls across the country and world -- we may lose the battle. (3)
Thus, in favor of promoting the above agenda, I continue with a book review of Charles Derber's Greed to Green!

(NB: Greed to Green is not to be confused with another book titled Greed to Green, by another author...)

The introduction to this book is one of the most salutary things about it.  Derber argues in this introduction that we really ought to question the necessity of the capitalist system, and the "there is no alternative" ideology that has been used to justify it:

TINA is a suicidal but seductive philosophy, especially alluring in the United States, based as it is on the truth that capitalist economies can be powerful engines of seemingly unlimited growth, profit, and individualism.  But those very capitalist attributes -- and the rejection of limits in itself -- are part of what makes the US capitalist model systemically dangerous for the environment and a leading cause of climate change. (6)
This introduction is also about hopes, held at the beginning of Obama's first term, that the Obama administration could have achieved something positive about abrupt climate change.  These hopes appear to have been vastly inflated.  There is an important conversation going on about the deflation of hopes for climate change legislation, centered on a report by Theda Skocpol, "Naming The Problem: What It Will Take To Counter Extremism and Engage Americans in the Fight against Global Warming."  This report has been covered somewhat by A Siegel in a recent diary -- I will be weighing in on all this discussion later, and there will apparently be a symposium at Harvard on this topic.

At any rate, the first chapter of Derber's book is about a psychology of abrupt climate change.  Here, in the spirit of innovation, Derber suggests two types of denialism: 1) the idea that it isn't happening, and 2) the idea that abrupt climate change isn't important.  We need to be concerned with both these types of denial.

There is a discussion in two chapters of the science of abrupt climate change, which pretty much repeats what readers here can obtain through other sources -- Derber favors the version of climate change which he calls the "revisionist story," which argues (with James Hansen) that climate change is more urgent than it has been portrayed (in the IPCC reports) as being, and that we really ought to be concerned to do something really transformative, right away, to avoid the disasters that will be forthcoming with unchecked emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

There is a discussion in this book of "pale green," thereafter, which argues that mild reformism as regards abrupt climate change is actually a denial of death -- if we continue along the path we're on, and merely offer a few small reforms to "help" the situation, we're headed for a bad fall.  Abrupt climate change is not a minor problem, or a small item on a list of incremental reforms.

There is a discussion of the various generations of Americans -- the "baby boomers,' Generation X, and the Millenials, as regards which generation can we predict to step up and do something meaningful to mitigate climate change.  There is also a discussion of who are the climate change deniers, which completes part 1 of this book.

Part two of this book offers proactive solutions of "How To Green America."  In this portion of the book Derber tackles the idea of an economic and ideological makeover for America.  His main focus, however, is upon what he calls "the 90% solution."  It starts like this:

1. Citing his constitutional powers, the president orders each federal department to create an emergency plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions in its sector by 90 percent by 2050.
The rest of it involves getting Wall Street, the energy sector, and Congress to wean America off fossil fuels in much the same way.  There is also, amusingly enough, a set of suggested fireside chats for the President to employ to rally public opinion behind such an agenda.  This section dates Greed to Green as coming from the beginning of the first Obama administration -- one wonders what Derber's agenda is now, now that there really isn't any climate change legislation on the table and that there doesn't appear to be anything forthcoming from either the President or Congress on the immediate horizon.  (Or at least this is how our current situation is portrayed in Skocpol's document.)

The last portions of this book make suggestions as to how to globalize Derber's ideas.  In discussing how to create a global order out of suggestions the author initially discussed for the US, he turns immediately to discussions of hegemony.  As used in Greed to Green, "hegemony" is a concept made famous by the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci.  Gramsci suggested that there was a way in which institutions were organized to promote the domination of one group of people, the rich and powerful, over everyone else.  Derber, to his credit, suggests that "the principle of hegemony is not sustainable in politics or nature.  Based on domination and force, it cannot create willing consent by the governed."  (165)  There must, in short, be an equitable world order, based on collective security and replacing global domination through military and economic power, if climate change is to be mitigated.

Derber's invocation of Gramsci is important, however, for another concept to be found in Gramsci's lexicon -- the "historic bloc."  For Gramsci, the "historic bloc" or "historical bloc" was a new social formation to change the world.  In Derber's argument, the desired new "historic bloc" would move American world society "from the religion of growth to the quality of life" (145-147).  If the Obama administration is not going to be part of a new "historic bloc," and lead such a transformation, there will need to be another "historic bloc," probably after the Obama administration has run its course.

Finally, a discussion of individual activism, of "what can I do?", is broached by this book. I would be interested to see how Derber could expand upon this discussion in the era of the Occupy movement.

I think the most serious praise I can offer for Derber's book is that Derber opens up conversations which might otherwise promote mere reformism.   The promotion of "pale green" appears as a "solution" to those who would like to regard the problem as "solved" without much thought.  Derber persuasively suggests that "pale green" is not going to be enough, and that's actually enough for this book to be recommended.

Originally posted to The Rebel Alliance on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 06:59 AM PST.

Also republished by The Amateur Left and Frustrati.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site