Risky Talk

February 4, 2011

Forgive me my nonsense, as I also forgive the nonsense of those that think they talk sense.
~Robert Frost

I have always admired strong role models. For me, a strong role model is someone who is a firm believer in his or her cause, but at the same time is fair and balanced. I love when I can argue against someone who is passionate about her position but is not blinded by it and can see both the weak points on her arguments and the strong ones in her counterpart.

It was my surprise to find a talk that Naomi Klein gave at TED in Dec 8th, 2010, called “Addicted to Risk”. As a strong model, Klein surprised me by given a very unbalanced talk, full of weasel words, and worse yet, with a lot of arguments that I find just biased.

I continue to find well intentioned people who speak with canned phrases and lack judgement or ideas. People that label themselves and then cannot get out of their own label. People that consider themselves liberal but they are closed to any judgement on what the “liberal umbrella” covers. That is why I ask you, dear reader, to watch the video with a critical eye, before coming back to me accusing me to be a conservative in the closet:


I am not sure what the message of the talk is. Is not that risk is bad, because she recommends taking risk at the end, so, what is it? That greed is bad? That the climate is changing? That we are depleting our resources? That growth is bad?

The main problem I have with this talk is that is not balanced. Naomi Klein is a role model, and as one, she should give us balanced points of view. Instead, she attacks the usual low hanging fruit: BP is bad, capitalism is bad, DDT is bad, Oil is bad.

DDT is bad, we know that, but in the 60s it saves hundreds of lives in the third world by allowing a “green” revolution. We will be 7 billion people, and we cannot feed in organic crops only. DDT prevented millions would die of Malaria, especially in India (R. Kunzig, 2011).

British Petroleum has been a model of sustainability and is not “reckless” exploiting the forces of nature. They committed a tragic mistake, but just aiming at them is just too simplistic. The language used in the talk is biased: 75% of oil did not “miraculously” disappear, it was eaten by bacteria. The word “miraculously” is used in the sense of “they are making us believe that all happened by magic” and I find it patronising to the listeners.

Climate Change is introduced with the questions like: “What is the latest possible moment [to change]?” “How much hotter can we let it get?” I ask, who is asking these questions? There is not a dark room full of people trying to control the world, at least not in the sense presented. She affirms that bankers get 100 times the salary of a brain surgeon, and they go home trying to justify it. That is another exaggeration that throws the conference out of balance.

She is right about the tar sands being a natural disaster, and we need to find a sustainable way indeed, but what is the solution she proposes? The main problem I see in this talk is that she, by blaming the big companies playing, leaves us with the false sense that we cannot do anything, maybe change our bulbs and walk to the store. But these companies are satisfying OUR needs. It is our reckless consumption that is destroying the planet.

Nature is not infinite, but perpetual growth is a human attribute, and is not bad. People need growth, what we do not need is more things.

We have hit a wall in natural resources; all the companies are trying to switch to renewable sources: Even BP is changing from “British Petroleum” to “Beyond Petroleum”. Blaming the big companies won’t help achieving a more sustainable word until we reduce our demands on the planet, not only recycling, but actually reducing our consumption and the demand for newer goods.

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