Book Review by Peter Healy, Marist Priest of Otaki
This Changes Everything, Capitalism vs the Climate by Naomi Klein, 2014, $37
This is a comprehensive and timely book. Klein says in part one, “If there has ever been a moment to advance a plan to heal the planet that also heals our broken economies and our shattered communities, this is it.” In the introduction she says “this is the hardest book I have ever written because climate change puts us on such a tight and unforgiving deadline.”
This book is about our “climate moment” with all its challenges and opportunities. First, Klein says we have to stop looking away. We deny because we fear letting in the full reality of a crisis that changes everything. The need to change everything is not something we readily accept. If we are to curb emissions in the next decade we need a massive mobilisation larger than any in history. She quotes the Bolivian Navarro Llamos who suggests it is time for a “Marshall Plan for Earth”.
The question is posed: What is wrong with us? What is really preventing us from putting out the fire that’s threatening to burn down our collective house? The global economy always takes centre stage. Market fundamentalism has systematically sabotaged our collective responses. Our economic system and our planetary systems are at war. We are faced with a stark choice: “either we allow climate change to disrupt everything about our world or we change pretty much everything about our world to avoid that fate”. We need a radical rethink for these changes to be remotely possible.
Our “climate moment” is accompanied by what she calls a “fossil fuel frenzy”. A wild dig is going on in most nations on the planet. Aotearoa/NZ being no exception. With the “fossil fuel frenzy” Klein says, “We have become a society of grave robbers, we need to become a society of life amplifiers, deriving our energy directly from elements that sustain life. It’s time to let the dead rest.” Our most important task now is to keep carbon in the ground.
To do all this we need to be thinking differently. A new worldview is required, “a project of mutual reinvention” has to be entered into. The door to 2 degrees of warming will close in 2017. We are in the midst of a civilisational wake-up call. This call is coming to us in the language of fires, floods, droughts and extinctions. We are being called to evolve, and the thing about a crisis this big is that it changes everything.
Wealthy nations need to start cutting emissions by 8-10 percent per year. They have to begin this now. We need to consume less and get back to 1970’s levels. Low consumptions activities like gardening and home cooking are good. Changing everything means changing how we think about our economy. Large corporations dodge regulations, and they refuse to change behaviours. No company in the world wants to put itself out of business, their goal is to always expand their market share. Klein talks about addiction rather than innovation when it comes to new methods of extraction. We need to keep all the fossil fuel we can in the ground, at the same time more extreme and innovative methods are being invented to get at whats left. The madness of “extractivism” is a relationship of taking with little care being given to regeneration and the future of life. As Klein says the market economy and the fossil fuel economy emerged at about the same time. “Coal is the blank ink in which the story of modern capitalism is written.”
There are no messiahs. The green billionaires will not save us, we have to change our lifestyles. Our most intoxicating narrative is that technology will save us, and this is one of our forms of magical thinking. There are some fascinating passages about Klein going to a geo-engineering conference in the UK. She describes the attendees as, “a remarkably small and incestuous world of inventors and scientists and funders.” It is all very risky, untested and dangerous stuff that they are proposing. The solution to global warming is not to fix the world, rather we need to fix ourselves.
The book has inspiring things to say about “Blockadia”. This is a broadbased grassroots resistance movement intent on shaking the fossil fuel industry to the core. Indigenous peoples are key in the Blockadia movement, their rights can be a great gift for the revival and reinvention of the commons we all love. Bolivia and Ecuador have already put “the Rights of Mother Earth” into their national statutes. Blockadia asks the question, “How come that a big distant company can come to my land and put me and my kids at risk and never ask my permission?” The corporations come from far away and go everywhere because the fossil fuel industry is one of extreme rootlessness.
Followers of recent global climate talks are well aware of failure and deadlocks. A Greenhouse Development Framework from the Stockholm Environment Institute is an attempt to deal with disparities within and between countries claiming the rights to develop and pollute.
In chapter 13 of the book Klein talks about her attempts to have a child while researching this book. There are some lovely descriptions of Klein coming to realise that earth is facing fertility challenges of her own. Many species are now against “infertility walls” and finding it hard to reproduce. Fertility is one of the first functions to erode when animals are under stress.
The challenge for the climate movement hinges on pulling off a profound and radical economic transformation. In extraordinary historical moments “the usual category that divides “activists” and “regular people” become meaningless, the activists are quite simply everyone”.
So this book is for you and me and everyone. We are all implicated in everything this book is about, so get hold of it, read it and pass it around. As a slogan at the recent climate march in New York said, “To change everything we need everybody.”
I found myself saying to someone the other day, “If any book will push us through and beyond the Great Transition that we all have to make, then this is it!” Along with the film that Klein’s partner is making on the same subject, we can take some hope. We still have our brief window of time. We are inventive and creative. We can join with the tangata whenua as guardians of Mother Earth.