THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs the Climate
by NAOMI KLEIN
ALLEN LANE, $29.99
“If the news that in the past 40 years the world has lost over 50 per cent of its vertebrate wildlife fails to tell us there is something wrong with the way we live,” British journalist George Monbiot wrote recently, “it’s hard to imagine what could.”
The culture of uncontrolled production is the mantra of our age. “We care ever less for the possessions we buy, and dispose of them ever more quickly,” he argued.
It’s a key point throughout Naomi Klein’s new book, already a bestseller in America. Following her era-defining works, No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, Klein examines in exhaustive detail the politics, ethics and realities around climate change. She shows how the Western power elites remain in denial about the extent of the problem because it suits their economic interests to do so.
“Finding new ways to privatise the commons and profit from disaster is what our current system is built to do,” she writes. “Left to its own devices, it is capable of nothing else.”
But this is not simply an apocalyptic road-trip through an environmental movement that has often struggled to attract convincing political support (though the nearly 400,000 people who marched through New York streets recently and demanded action on climate change rightly said that their voices must be heard).
Instead, Klein tackles big business, oil and gas, the green movement, corrupt trade options – she takes aim at deals such as the one being negotiated with Australia, The Trans-Pacific Partnership, that would allow multinationals the power to sue Australia for loss of income, lessening our sovereignty – and a mainstream media that largely follows the narrative set by its paymasters and advertisers.
A Washington Post column in September was symptomatic of the problem. Robert Samuelson stated that the US should celebrate his country’s “oil boom” and export more of it to the world. Unsaid, despite the paper’s publicly articulated position that climate change is real and must be tackled, was the scientifically proven fact that controlling steadily increasing temperatures globally requires leaving those fossil fuels in the ground while funding renewable energy sources.
Klein has not written just another book about a burning planet. Her prognosis may seem radical – capitalism is the problem because of its voracious appetite for consumption and alternatives must be found to save us from an uninhabitable earth – but it’s only because the terms of current debate are so staid. “We need an ideological battle,” she told The Guardian. “It is still considered politically unthinkable just to introduce straight-up, polluter-pays punitive measures – particularly in the US.”
In her book, Klein demolishes the arguments put by climate-change deniers that even if the world is warming, a detail often not accepted by older and white conservative males such as leading US Republicans, it doesn’t matter because it “isn’t something wealthy people in industrialised countries have to worry about it”. The market will solve it, or perhaps technology, or maybe science or potentially faith. Who cares about the millions of Africans starving on parched land, conditions worsened by Western economic policies?
“In the wealthier nations,” Klein writes, “we will protect our major cities with costly seawalls and storm barriers while leaving vast areas of coastline that are inhabited by poor and indigenous people to the ravages of storms and rising seas.” This is a disaster guaranteed to bring a surging refugee population and conflict.
Klein isn’t just examining the fallacies of the deniers but also deep failings of the environmental movement. She’s scathing of collusion between The Nature Conservancy and BP America, Chevron and Shell and other major green groups that falsely believed gradual movement on reducing carbon was preferable to frightening the horses and attacking the very corporations that are principally responsible for a warming world. “Market-based solutions” have been a catastrophic failure, Klein shows, and “provided an invaluable service to the fossil fuel sector.”
The world’s largest conservation group, WWF International, is the subject of a new German book, Pandaleaks, damning “green-washing” with Monsanto, Coca-Cola and HSBC and accusing the group of “supplying industry with a green, progressive image”.
Klein’s solutions to the climate crisis are ambitious and already criticised by some as ignoring the Earth’s natural cycles; in this logic, trying to alter the climate is futile. She advocates a combination of building a mass movement for change, finding inspiration in local campaigns that challenge the status-quo, divestment against fossil fuels and huge resistance. Success is far from guaranteed.
She writes with verve, passion, facts and accessible insight, allowing her message to reach a mass audience. “What if part of the reason so many of us have failed to act,” she concludes, “is not because we are too selfish … but because we are utterly overwhelmed by how much we do care?”
Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of Profits of Doom (MUP)