Live Well, Do Good

Review: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate


Brandon Sun,
November 24, 2014 - David McConkey

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein is a landmark book. Klein is a leading Canadian social activist, bestselling author, and public intellectual. Since her 1999 book No Logo, she has been a prominent critic of corporate globalization. Now, Klein takes on climate change: where we are at, and what needs to be done.

She clearly describes the crisis of global warming. Humanity is staring at a bleak future with rising oceans and vicious storms, droughts, and floods. And we are making a bad situation worse. We are burning more fossil fuels, which emit greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

Klein also clearly describes a political reality; her subtitle is "Capitalism vs. the Climate." In her opinion, “The right is right.” The right-wing business elite has correctly concluded that the taxation and regulation needed to address climate change would end capitalism as we know it. So, the right has fought back: denying the science; even “claiming that thousands upon thousands of scientists are lying and that climate change is an elaborate hoax.” Seeds of doubt have been successfully sown among the citizenry.
 
This Changes Everything And despite announcements of future intentions, fierce backroom pressure guarantees that no real action is ever taken. The U.S. oil and gas industry spends a whopping $400,000 every day lobbying politicians and government officials.
 
As well, there has been a failure of leadership from the environmental movement. Klein has withering criticism of “Big Green.” Many environmental organizations have been thoroughly co-opted by the fossil fuel industry. The world’s largest green group –The Nature Conservancy – even has an oil well on one of its natural preserves.

Klein presents a vivid picture of the current scene. She travelled the globe: attending international summits; meeting with climate change deniers; reporting from the Alberta tarsands and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; and visiting blockades opposing energy projects like the Keystone XL pipeline.

Klein wants to incorporate “the urgency of the climate crisis” into a larger perspective. For Klein, “Climate change represents a historic opportunity.”

Dealing with global warming, in her analysis, is the way to implement a progressive agenda that has stalled in the last few decades. This is “the chance to advance policies that dramatically improve lives, close the gap between rich and poor, create huge numbers of good jobs, and reinvigorate democracy from the ground up.” 

Her aim: a “coherent narrative about how to protect humanity from the ravages of both a savagely unjust economic system and a destabilized climate system.”

But Klein falls short. For one thing, her flood of details drowns any “coherent narrative.” The book is a heavy read: over 500 pages, including 60 pages of notes. In her acknowledgments, she credits more than 100 people who helped her assemble the book’s thousands of facts.
 
But despite a huge amount of data, there are missing pieces. For example: is it “global warming”? Or is it “climate change”? Oddly, Klein doesn’t explain these fundamental terms, but uses both of them.

And in her rush to get to social justice, she can overlook the climate issue itself. A prime example: a carbon tax making fossil fuels more expensive, thus reducing their use and spurring alternatives. Surprisingly, Klein does not endorse this basic concept. She also fails to note and evaluate where this is already in place, like the provincial carbon tax in B.C.
 
Klein writes that the solution to the climate crisis needs to be great: on the scale of the effort that won the two world wars. And the required cultural change also needs to be great: on the scale of the movement that brought about the vote for women.
 
But This Changes Everything will not become the key defining book, rallying cry, or organizing tool. For most people, Klein’s manifesto is simply too overwhelming, too harsh, and too radical.

A mass movement needs the masses. Think back a century to the successful campaign for women’s suffrage. Leaders like Nellie McClung had a message that was understandable, acceptable, and inviting. Using warmth and humour, McClung drew people into the fold.

Naomi Klein is no Nellie McClung. And that is a real shame. Because – whatever Klein’s shortcomings – there is the essential truth to This Changes Everything. We are facing a real danger from climate change. We are increasing our carbon emissions. And we are running out of time.

* * * 

See also:

Naomi Klein on Amazon.com   (on Amazon.ca)

A History of Struggling to Grasp Climate Change Reality 

The End of Growth?

Remembering Nellie McClung 

Learning to Step Lightly

Live Well, Do Good 

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