Book review: ‘This Changes Everything,’ by Naomi Klein
Special to the Daily
Author and activist Naomi Klein is well-acquainted with controversial subjects, as she is a regular writer for The Nation, The Guardian and Rolling Stone, among others. So when she decided to pen a book about the growing climate crisis, it was anticipated to be a powerful analysis of the vast economic, cultural and political complexities that surround the immense challenges the world is facing.
“This Changes Everything; Capitalism vs. the Climate” was released in 2014, after five years of deeply thorough and thoughtful research and writing. Critics have compared Klein’s book to “Silent Spring,” Rachel Carson’s seminal treatise on the significance of man’s impact on the natural world, and she writes with obvious respect for the woman who spoke long ago on behalf of conservation. In its own right, “This Changes Everything” is filled with passion and is carefully crafted, revealing Klein’s writing prowess on every page, making her a worthy successor to Carson.
Two entire generations of young people have come of age since the revolving palette of world leaders began talking about and negotiating the growing realities of climate change. Landmark climate talks in Kyoto, Rio de Janeiro, Copenhagen, etc., have come and gone, and little has changed. “Instead, the only thing rising faster than our emissions is the output of words pledging to lower them,” writes Klein.
Klein is unapologetic about her disgust at the apathy that seems to be gripping modern society regarding climate change. “What is wrong with us? What is really preventing us from putting out the fire that is threatening to burn down our collective house?” She points out that nations managed to come together during World War II to grow vegetables in their victory gardens and to conserve and collaborate; yet we can’t unify humanity when its own existence is in peril.
She argues that as a nation, Americans have gotten used to a different kind of collaboration, one of acceptance — that we, as a society, have learned to accept things that those in control have trained us to accept: low wages, astronomical student debt, crumbling infrastructures and a bloated and outdated military. Those in control are the elite, represented most distinctly by their hold on global corporate power and the resulting unprecedented monopoly on political influence and financial strength.
She says a “mass jailbreak” is needed from that ideology of greed and consumption. We have to understand the chains binding us before any progress can be made. The ugly sides of human nature inevitably show in a crisis, as those in power circle the wagons, concerned only for themselves and acting in a very Darwinian manner, confident they will be the fittest and able to survive.
Populist Push Needed
Having conducted in-depth and comprehensive research into how societies manage duress and calamities, a topic she also covered in her book, “The Shock Doctrine,” she describes how, traditionally, moments of turmoil tend to result in the exploitation of the situation by the rich and well-positioned, which does little to improve the conditions for societies as entities trying to move forward in picking up the pieces.
There is, though, a fine example of a populist push following a crisis, and it is in America’s own recent history — the New Deal. This is the sort of comprehensive readjustment that needs to happen to address the imminent impacts of climate change. We are rapidly nearing the moment when the chance to halt warming at 2 degrees Celsius is arriving — 2017 is the year which some experts are already calling “Decade Zero,” when we begin counting life from an entirely new benchmark.
Individuals making changes are not enough; we are way beyond changing light bulbs. The problem is so enormous that the fixes need to reflect the reality. On the table for adjustment should be free trade, the unsustainable notion of never-ending economic growth and, above all else, the frantic dash by fossil-fuel companies to lock in as many reserves as possible to counter any coming restrictions.
The bottom line of her very detailed outline of the options before us is the need to keep fossil fuel in the ground. The new, untested methods of extreme extraction are proof that without real pressure, the polluters are not intending to use fracking, tar sand mining, deep sea drilling and even geo-engineering as bridge solutions as the world transitions to renewables. Klein points out that all these even dirtier and riskier methods have done little but move the earth further away from healing.
Saviors of the Planet?
She insists we need to stop casting ourselves as saviors of the planet. We cannot dominate our way to a solution. The planet is ambivalent to humanity, which is, after all, barely a breath in its long and turbulent life. “Our challenge is less to save the earth from ourselves and more to save ourselves from an earth, that, if pushed too far, has ample power to rock, burn and shake us off completely.”
The real solution, she says, is going to take place in the streets, as activists are wisely shifting from big “astronaut’s eye view” thinking to local actions against individual projects around the world. The successful demise of the Keystone XL pipeline is an example of this. In particular, First Nations people around the world are leading the way, and their movements to educate the next generation about a sense of identity and a sense of place is having a ripple effect around the world. “They are still determined to defend a richness that our economy has not figured out how to count.”
Perhaps now, Klein says, is the time to stand and be counted.