It’s True: “This Changes Everything”

This book made me cry, multiple times. I cried, I was shocked, I was angered and horrified. And I also felt the first real sense of ambitious hope ignited in me since I started reading climate change literature when I was a senior in high school. Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything really does change everything: she has shifted the winds on the climate change debate, addressing head on that the ideology of unregulated free market capitalism is standing directly in the way of any meaningful action that could be taken to keep human beings—and particularly the fossil fuel industry—from making Earth uninhabitable for the human species and most complex forms of life.

This Changes EverythingThe nearly five hundred page book lays out the parallel histories of the climate movement and the globalization of free market capitalism, showing how in the last two decades—in which we knew that the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was anthropogenic—we not only failed to address the issue but accelerated the rates of our emissions in the name of profit for multinational corporations. Indeed, I find it particularly significant that the Rio Earth Summit was held in 1992, the same year the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed into law. Again and again, efforts to reduce emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change have been directly challenged, and defeated by, the unregulated capitalist model whose agenda is being pushed by the minority corporate-political elites who are concentrating the world’s wealth into their own pockets.

The clarity, precision, and nuance of Klein’s book is staggering, and I feel gives it tremendous credibility. She seems to have left no stone unturned, and addresses the light and shadow of every situation, presenting the moral issues at stake without moralizing. I devoured this book, taking it in over the course of about four days, so the energy and tone completely shaped my waking and breathing mind and body as I read it. Klein brings together a huge range of interconnected issues—from the conservative denialist reaction, to the extractivist mentality that treats Earth as resource without the need to reciprocate, the unholy alliance of Big Green environmental groups and corporate powers, the terrifying hubristic possibility of geoengineering, and the micro-movements she refers to as Blockadia that are fighting extractivism, exploitation, and toxicity in local communities worldwide. I came to understand that the work Indigenous communities are doing to save their lands and ways of life, because they have the rights but not the power to enforce them, are perhaps our last best chance to overthrow the corporate stranglehold on our planet. As Klein writes,

Their heroic battles are not just their people’s best chance of a healthy future . . . they could very well be the best chance for the rest of us to continue enjoying a climate that is hospitable to human life. That is a huge burden to bear and that these communities are bearing it with shockingly little support from the rest of us is an unspeakable social injustice.[1]

Again and again, I felt affirmed that there was something I could do, something we each could do, that would make a tangible difference in whether humanity—and many of our fellow species—will have a future on this beautiful planet. It is simply, or not so simply, a matter of daring to challenge the status quo that has left us a world of inequality, exploitation, and injustice. As Klein writes, “It is slowly dawning on a great many of us that no one is going to step in and fix this crisis; that if change is to take place it will only be because leadership bubbled up from below.”[2]

The next time a major disaster hits, such as Hurricane Katrina, or Superstorm Sandy—as is becoming all the more frequent with climate change—will be the moment to seize when we can indeed change everything:

Because these moments when the impossible seems suddenly possible are excruciatingly rare and precious. That means more must be made of them. The next time one arises, it 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.[3]

One criticism I have heard of Klein’s book is that it is too idealistic. In a way, this could be true. But I have come to realize that we do not have the time not to be idealistic. In Klein’s words, “The stakes are simply too high, and time too short, to settle for anything less.”[4]

 

Work Cited

Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2014.

 

[1] Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2014), 379.

[2] Klein, This Changes Everything, 465.

[3] Ibid, 466.

[4] Ibid.

The Heart of “Global Environmental Politics”

The seventh section of Global Environmental Politics felt to me to be the most important part of this book: “Race, Class, and Geopolitical Difference.” In five concise chapters the oxymoronic ideal of “sustainable growth” and the insanity of basing the well-being of a nation on the numbers of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) were debunked, and environmental colonialism and racism were brought forward as the darkest shadows of the global economic and social systems. Without addressing ecological justice issues humanity cannot change our destructive impact on Earth’s systems—ecology and justice are inseparably intertwined.

Global Environmental PoliticsHerman Daly lays out in plain terms how the delusional myth of economic growth is simply not possible on a finite planet, whether we label it sustainable or not. This perspective ties in with Jonathan Rowe’s explanation of GDP, and how this worshipped number counts as positive the most destructive aspects of society. He writes,

Cooking at home, talking with kids, walking instead of driving, involve less expenditure of money than do their commercial counterparts. Solid marriages involve less expenditure for counseling and divorce. Thus they are threats to the economy as portrayed in the GDP. By that standard, the best kids are the ones that eat the most junk food and exercise the least, because they will run up the biggest medical bills for obesity and diabetes.[1]

Is it any wonder that the human relationship with the Earth’s ecosystems is broken when our own society is so fractured by a misplacement of values? How can we continue to appeal to the economy as the highest good when it is destroying the very fabric of relationship between humans and within ecosystems?

The latter half of the book’s seventh section portrays the blatant injustice done upon the populations of the global South in the distribution of the costs and accountability for climate change and pollution. Colonialism is as much alive today as it was under the British Empire, but it is disguised by other names and economic ideologies that allow egregious injustices to be perpetrated upon the world’s poor. The final chapter by Robert Bullard, “Environmental Racism and the Environmental Justice Movement,” shows not only how internationally toxic waste is foisted upon those with no political power to protect themselves, but even how the U.S. is a microcosm of this international situation as pollutants are outsourced to minority communities that lack the political voice to speak in their own defense. What shocked me most was how consciously this location of toxic materials is chosen by those in power, whether the majority white zoning boards and planning commissions or top officials in the World Bank. Bullard concludes by saying,

The crux of the problem is that the mainstream environmental movement has not sufficiently addressed the fact that social inequality and imbalances of social power are at the heart of environmental degradation, resource depletion, pollution, and even overpopulation. The environmental crisis can simply not be solved effectively without social justice.[2]

As a white person living in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, one of the wealthiest locations on the planet, I can feel my tremendous privilege and social position as I read these words. I have to ask myself—stripped of naive idealism—what real power do I have to make changes on behalf of social justice that are in responsible allyship, that do not perpetuate the systemic injustice that stratifies this world? Simply put, as one individual, how can I help?

Work Cited

Nicholson, Simon and Paul Wapner, ed. Global Environmental Politics. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2015.

[1] Jonathan Rowe, “Who is an Economy For?: Rethinking gdp,” in Global Environmental Politics, ed. Simon Nicholson and Paul Wapner (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2015), 222.

[2] Robert Bullard, “Environmental Racism and the Environmental Justice Movement,” in Global Environmental Politics, ed. Simon Nicholson and Paul Wapner (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2015), 245.