BERKELEY, CA—January 19, 2015 – Naomi Klein’s remarkable book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (Simon & Schuster, 2014) is a deeply insightful and unflinching look at the global threats posed by climate change, environmental devastation, and economic injustice.
Klein offers up a new framework for understanding the economic and political roadblocks preventing progress on climate protection and social justice. She does not, however, offer a “one-size-fits-all” solution that will work everywhere around the world.
Instead, she points to tactics—like building broad domestic coalitions with strong global ties to Progressive forces abroad—that could lead to the creation of diverse global solutions. Klein’s solutions are best suited to the U.S. and other advanced economies and thus don’t seem to grapple with the problems of burgeoning global population, oil-producing Middle Eastern dictatorships, volatile impoverished nations like Pakistan, and rapidly developing, coal-reliant economic powerhouses like India and China.
Population, half-hearted conservation, increasing consumption and cow farts – all big contributors to Climate Change. What are YOU gonna do about it? How about a victory garden, car-sharing, a vegan meal or two and working from your home? Some of us can do this! Start with our own efforts, that should come first. –the editor
Today’s economic and climate challenges represent a unique “climate moment,” Klein says, and we must seize it in order to implement sweeping new economic and environmental policies for reorienting humanity’s relationship to the natural resources that sustain life on Earth. This Changes Everything is at its core as much about the redistribution of wealth and power on a planetary scale as well as about the ecocide we’re committing in assailing the climate.
Klein thus argues that we must make a revolutionary shift from an unsustainable economic model based on resource extraction and the exploitation of people to a relationship of interconnection and reciprocity with the natural world. Easier said than done.
To bring this about, we have to build a broad social movement, she declares. It needs to be founded on basic moral values and ecological principles, rather than those of unfettered free enterprise, profit maximization, and perpetual economic growth. The steps on the path to creating this movement, however, are never clearly laid out.
False Ideology and The Policies It Vindicates
The current climate impasse, Klein says, stems from acceding to the fundamentalist free-market capitalism paradigm, a false ideology rife with deep contradictions.It rests on a counterfactual belief in infinite growth and on the tenets of minimalist passive governance, hostility to regulation, and aversion to public sector investment. Their free-market worldview, she believes, has brought us over the edge of disaster to the brink of catastrophic climate change.
Commonsense responses to the climate crisis have been blocked, she tells us, by multinational corporations and other vested interests, especially large energy corporations. So, a core battle of ideas must be fought and won to de-legitimize them and their policies before effective massive action to take on global warming can succeed. That means supplanting the free-market paradigm of resource extraction and perpetual growth with a more sustainable model based on resource stewardship and regeneration. But to do that, you need a broad popular movement to curb the influence of corporate money and oligarchic wealth in politics and to force government to regulate corporations and invest in a far-reaching economic transformation.
Once you postulate a powerful social movement in the service of climate protection and social justice, the rest of Klein’s long-term agenda begins to seem more feasible, although it ultimately requires a major economic restructuring, lifestyle changes, and a political transformation, as well as policies aimed at reducing consumption—a politically taboo subject. Klein’s solutions also require long-term energy and economic planning with an emphasis on the kind of decentralized renewable energy production that has proven so successful for many farmers and ranchers in Western Europe and the U.S., plus investments in energy efficiency and electric vehicles.
She envisions an expansion of the public safety net, carbon taxes, and greater support for infrastructure, including mass transit with electric trains powered by renewable energy. As Klein understands, entrenched vested interests will fight these reforms tooth and claw.
Building a Mass Movement
Advocacy of job-creating public investment could indeed serve as a nucleus around which a broadly based social movement could begin to coalesce, but whether it could be induced to embrace Klein’s larger agenda is unclear.
This movement would likely first be dominated by “bread-and-butter” issues. Then smart leadership would need to weave climate concerns into core demands for jobs, higher wages, less inequality, and a better environment. The broad movement could flourish through the implementation of a “Marshall Plan for the Earth,” to which Klein makes a couple of references.
Where Power Ultimately Resides
Klein has great faith in the activism of indigenous people to block fossil fuel development and inspire broader public opposition. She evidently sees these and other local “pockets of resistance” to fossil fuel encroachment as the yeast from which the broad social movement will arise. Here her argument may be more a leap of faith.
These local communities trying to block resource extraction projects don’t have the power to change the U.S. tax code or alter national spending priorities or ram big, New Deal-like social programs through a recalcitrant Congress, all of which must eventually be done to protect the climate.
Yet their isolated pitched battles may be like sparks awakening the conscience of a nation, particularly youth and those who live in the urban population centers where political power is concentrated and middle class movements are likely to arise. In any case, brilliant as it is, This Changes Everything never fully explains the step-wise process by which the seeds of resistance are transformed into that vitally necessary mass climate movement so key to Klein’s vision. Klein seems to believe that like lightning striking a mixture of amino acids in a beaker, the recurrence of ever-more serious climate-related disasters will catalyze the creation of the movement. But even huge disasters like Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina have not yet done so, though they have already clobbered tens of millions of people. If a truly colossal disaster on a gargantuan scale is required to finally empower such a movement, it may by then be too late.
John J. Berger, PhD. (www.johnjberger.com) is an energy and environmental policy specialist who has produced ten books on climate, energy, and natural resource topics. He is the author of Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader’s Guide to Understanding the Climate Crisis and Climate Myths: The Campaign Against Climate Science
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