Reading Diary: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate by Naomi Klein

We live in a k-cup culture. Focused on the near term but willfully blind to the longer term implications of our daily decisions.

Just before the holidays I was watching the CBC TV show Power and Politics and they were discussing a bunch of "Top 5s" in an end-of year story. You know the type, the Top 5 this's and that's from the previous year, 2014, as well as a couple looking ahead to 2015. With a federal election scheduled in 2015, were the top 5 election issues that Canada that Canadians should keep on their radar in the coming year?

  1. Economy/Jobs
  2. Leadership/Ethics
  3. Energy/Climate Change
  4. Security/Defence
  5. Surplus Spending

Wow, I was really glad to see Energy and Climate change on the list, looking forward to a substantive discussion of how the onrushing reality of climate change would shape the issues discussed during the election campaign. Especially how the Canadian government's energy policies shackle us to the big energy companies, selling our economic and environmental heritage to rapacious resource developers? After all, this is the CBC, right? Right? Bastion of honest political discourse and certainly not beholden to government dictate.

Well, what ensued was pretty disappointing. The discussion didn't revolve around how the discussion of real issues should shape the election campaign or how climate change is the most important issue of our day. No, it was mostly about how political partisanship and spin and point-making around pipeline projects would distort the campaign. Never once did the idea that we really need to leave all that oil in the ground come up at all. In other words, the issues are important in the way they allow the parties to attack each other but not as issues in and of themselves.

My only thought? We're doomed. I was disappointed not only in the commentators and the CBC but in the crushing shallowness of the entirety of Canadian political culture.

“Even if a small fraction of the Arctic carbon were released to the atmosphere, we’re fucked…We’re on a trajectory to an unmanageable heating scenario, and we need to get off it. We’re fucked at a certain point, right? It just becomes unmanageable. The climate dragon is being poked, and eventually the dragon becomes pissed off enough to trash the place.”
James Box

We're fucked.

And if we want to have any chance of unfucking ourselves in the near future we all need to wake up and realize that everything has to change in our politics and our culture. And no matter how much the science seems to tell us to change, we can't seem to wrap our collective heads around the political and social imperative to change.

Which brings me to Naomi Klein's strident manifesto, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. Which isn't so much a science book as a pay-attention-to-science book.

The core idea of Klein's book is that nothing is going to save us from the climate crisis unless we start to take seriously the idea that the only way we're going to be able to take the climate crisis seriously and leave all that oil in the ground is to essentially change everything about the relationship between our society and the environment, every single aspect of the way we live and the way we govern ourselves. A pretty tall order, and Klein is pretty persuasive in making her case.

This Changes Everything is a wide-ranging book that covers a lot of ground in quite a bit of detail, all the way from education to explication to advocacy and a call to action. It's long and detailed, Klein is not afraid to go into specifics to make her case either that action is needed or what kind of action is needed. It's a political tract as much as an environmental one, which is partly why the book is quite lengthy. She just needs all that space to talk about what she wants to talk about.

Beginning with the realities of globalization, the ground Klein covers includes everything from the shady political and economic elite driving so much energy policy to the very real dangers of fracking, from the failure of well-intentioned, top-down "green" campaigns to the reality of greenwashing, from the insanity of climate engineering to fossil fuel resistance campaigns, from the role of trade deals to the role of indigenous peoples in blockading resource development, from taxing the rich and making polluters pay to divestment campaigns, from the ineffectiveness of government environmental policies all the way to a clarion call for a fundamental shift in our values that will drive an economic and social revolution in the way we relate to the natural world.

This thing, the threat of human-caused global warming, forces us to change everything or face the consequences. In other words, we must pay attention to science. We need more pay-attention-to-science books, documentaries, web sites, podcasts, YouTube channels. Everything.

This is a wonderful book, not without its faults (a bit wordy and repetitive at times, for example, not to mention perhaps a whiff of "ends justify the means" in the final sections on climate advocacy), but one I would recommend without hesitation to anyone interested in the future of our planet. Buy this book, read it, give your copy to your local conservative politician. Buy another copy and make sure all the young people in your social circle read it too. Buy yet another copy and donate it to your local public library.

This Changes Everything belongs in the collection of pretty well every public and academic library. Probably most high school libraries could benefit from it as well. If it was shorter and perhaps less strident, it would be fantastic for one-book-one-campus programs.

(Review copy provided by publisher.)

Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2014. 566pp. ISBN-13: 978-0307401991


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The core idea of Klein’s book is that nothing is going to save us ...unless we... change everything...every single aspect of the way we live and the way we govern ourselves.

Some may totally agree, but there is a name for that politcal phenomenon.

The 20th century delta T passed largely un-noticed because it paled in gravity compared to the consequences of totalitarian and authoritarian models in action everywhere from Italy , Russia and Germany to China , Cuba,, Cambodia ,and Ethiopia

Nine months to go until Paris. In the meantime, pressure and decisive action from the grassroots, is now, the only thing that can help humanity make it through the population bottleneck. Thanks for joining the call and putting the word out there.

By John Jorgensen (not verified) on 11 Mar 2015 #permalink

If the change is not as tall as the order, we are losing the fight. Would you say the book is as influencial as "An Inconvenient Truth"? This was shown to us at school and certainly made an impact on me. To have a book like this introduced as reading material could be a fantastic progressive step. - u14012520

I totally agree with Klein. Every single one of us living on this beloved earth of ours should change the way we live. If you think you can't make a difference, you are wrong! If 10 people think they cant make a difference, that's 10 that could have made a difference. You can make a difference! - u15012043

We have to stand together!!

Amen to our daily decisions.. We are ruining our own world.

Yes , we should stand together to make a change in our world, and then decide immediately the actions that most be done, one thing is we must not wait for others to decide as time is running.

Yes, we should stand together to make a change in our world, and then decide immediately the actions that must be done . One thing is we must not wait for others to decide.

Climate change is a very serious issue. I'm from a rural area in South Africa and people burn coal and fire wood for energy and daily chores.Most of these people are illiterate and they do not know that they are contributing to the gases that cause climate change. These people need to be addressed.

It might be interesting to watch Philip Mirowski's keynote talk at the "Life and Debt" conference in Sydney in 2013.

He talks about Naomi Klein and why he thinks she's missing some important facts about the causes of the 2008 financial crisis, and our governments' responses to climate change. He and some others wrote a short manifesto if you want the condensed version. It might be "filled with leftist stereotypes", but it's worth a look.

I haven't read This Changes Everything yet, but I suspect I'll agree with both of them. Mirowski's argument is that there's an organized movement of neoliberal economists, think tanks, and political parties to prevent meaningful action on climate and other areas where free market idealists believe that government regulation is the problem, meaning pretty much everywhere. His complaint is that Klein and The Left's analysis is inadequate if it doesn't recognize this movement as a dangerous and highly organized adversary. For a Canadian perspective, please see Donald Gutstein's Harperism or Not a Conspiracy Theory.