This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate
By Naomi Klein (Simon and Schuster 2014, 576 pages, $30.00)
Review by R. Lohr
Naomi Klein believes the battle on climate change boils down to two world views. One is the hierarchical-individualistic world view, which strongly supports corporate industry, opposes government assistance to the poor, and preaches that everyone gets what they deserve. Hyper-consumption and unrelenting economic growth are its cornerstones.
The other view is egalitarian-communitarian. It inclines to collective action, social justice, and suspicion of corporate power. Klein believes adopting such a view would require long term planning, tough business regulation, higher levels of taxation for the affluent, big public sector expenditure, and giving communities the power to change as they desire.
Klein says we are “looking away” to avoid confronting the climate issue. She is right – we still drive SUVs, travel by airplane, and pay taxes that support wars for oil. As I read chapter after chapter of This Changes Everything I felt deeply troubled.
I found myself asking questions. How do we move rapidly away from fossil fuels? Can we protect humanity from the twin ravages of a savagely unjust economic system and a destabilized climate? Can we reclaim democracy from corrosive corporate influence?
Can devastating climate crisis get us to adopt something better? Climate change may provoke people to improve their lives, close the gap between rich and poor, create employment, reinvigorate democracy, and disperse power into the hands of the many rather than consolidating it in the hands of the few.
Corporate interests exploit crisis to force policies that enrich the elite by lifting regulations and cutting social spending. They hedge by selling protection, expanding business opportunities in disaster response services, and selling military and security products to prepare for climate change.
There are disturbing revelations on most of the pages in This Changes Everything.
- $775 billion in annual global subsidies for fossil fuel corporations
- US oil-gas business spending $400,000 per day lobbying in 2013 and paying $73 million in Federal campaign and political donations in 2012 (that we know about)
- Involvement of supposedly green organizations, such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy, with fossil fuel corporations
- Continued investments in fossil fuels by such moneyed climate messiahs as Branson, Gates, Buffet, Bloomberg, and Pickens.
We have been indoctrinated by religion and Hollywood to expect happy endings, perhaps to hope for some amazing technology to save us at the last minute. Many parts of This Changes Everything tend to refute such an idea. Much current debate centers on where to get energy, without really addressing climate change. Emissions are surging. China, India, Brazil, and South Africa have exponential growth. We are well along a path to a dangerous climate and can only get off it by acting now.
Klein has these suggestions:
- Allow construction of only highly efficient buildings;
- Stop building pipelines and export terminals;
- Incorporate environmental and climate change issues in trade deals;
- Reign in over-consumption;
- Re-localize economies;
- Invest in clean development alternatives;
- Create development models that address poverty, cultural losses, and ecological devastation;
- Provide decentralized, renewable forms of energy;
- Revolutionize urban transportation;
- Develop an internationally administered fund to support clean energy and transition in the developing world;
- Have countries with high rates of consumption pay their ecological debt and provide reparations to those that have consumed less;
- Employ an equitable effort-sharing approach to climate stabilization, such as “greenhouse development rights”;
- Clearly define and quantify the burden in a system that is effective, and not easily gamed, as carbon trading is;
- Allow foreign debt to be forgiven in exchange for climate action;
- Loosen green patents and share technological information;
- Finance costs from the fossil fuel corporations that have profited greatly.
Climate scientists are now speaking bluntly about political implications of the consumer culture. The issue that blocks the horizon is the need for a redistribution of wealth. This would require a convergence of diverse constituencies. For this, the distinction between activists and ordinary people needs to disappear.
Many of the political class are incapable of using existing renewable energy technology and implementing plans because they need to unlearn core tenets of free market ideology that governed their rises to power. This is also true of others who constantly seek to maximize advantage.
We need to change patterns of thought, starting with the belief that humanity is selfish and greedy by nature. We have to view the past with compassion rather than angry judgment. An alternative world view needs to be based on interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity other than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy. The line between civilization and barbarism will then be drawn by equal rights, and deep compassion.
Klein sees a transformation arising with social media, decentralization, farmers markets, and community resilience in a time of extensive storm damage. Amidst havoc brought about by corruption and inequality, there are mass gatherings, progressive forces denouncing the world as it is, and growing pockets of liberated space. Perhaps This Changes Everything could be a catalyst to transform the world and keep us all safe.
Naomi Klein (born May 8, 1970) is a Canadian author and social activist. She is best known for her books No Logo, an international bestseller, and The Shock Doctrine.