Wednesday, November 26, 2014

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, by Naomi Klein

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

In this impressively researched and deeply considered book, Naomi Klein argues that dramatically cutting our emissions, as the science declares is necessary, will turn our economy and politics upside down, and maybe for the better.

Naomi Klein hardly needs any introduction. Famous for such books as No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, the Canadian writer and activist has written extensively on globalisation and its power dynamics. It seemed only a matter of time before Klein would turn her attention to climate change and how it affects the economy.

What may surprise many is that Klein for a long time considered herself to be a climate denier. Not the hard core type, but a more passive one. This is the sort of denial we are all guilty of. We read the facts about climate change, then turn away, lulled by the fact that our immediate environment doesn’t appear to be under any threat. Everything looks fairly rosy, and so we turn our attention away.

This Changes Everything approaches climate change from a strongly economic point of view. Klein’s argument is that the science of climate change, which demands that we entirely wind down our fossil fuel industries, will necessarily transform the global economy. And global politics along with it. The excavative industries stand to lose all of their power, their assets left stranded in the ground. Klein makes a very insightful point on this: she says the reason that right wing deniers, in business and politics, are so virulent in their attacks on the science is because they are perfectly placed to know exactly what it will cost. They have a firmer grasp on the economic detail and a clearer picture of what a decarbonised economy would look like.

The implications of this are quite staggering, as the fossil fuel industries are enormously  powerful, at both the economic and political level. They have also influenced society into believing globalisation is the only way to run an economy, a paradigm we as citizens find it hard to think our way out of. We all seem to think that big business knows best. However, if the economy decarbonises, then that mindset will change as well. We won’t be sitting at the knees of free market ideologues, awaiting their wisdom.

Klein’s book is divided into three parts. The first part discusses how those on the extreme right wing have denied the science, and been rather successful at it. The second part looks at the businessmen and scientists who think they may have the solutions to the climate crisis. Klein does a great job debunking Richard Branson’s much touted efforts to find a fuel that doesn’t pollute, all the while expanding his global air travel business. There’s also a completely creepy section on geoengineering our way out of a warming planet. This involves spraying reflective particles out into the atmosphere, thereby ‘cooling’ the sun. No one really knows what kind of unintended results this might prompt. As one critic noted, geoengineering is untested and untestable. We could make things only worse.

Part three of This Changes Everything is, thankfully, more upbeat. Klein argues that because the excavative industries are moving more and more into people’s backyards, with such controversial practices as “fracking”, that resistance is growing. A grassroots movement is organising at the local level opposing the plans of the big fossil fuel companies. Indigenous groups are everywhere rising up and challenging these powerful interests from encroaching on their land. While these movements, which Klein extensively documents, are quite impressive, it’s difficult to see them being enough to force through the cuts in emissions that are needed. Klein believes it is only grassroots movements that will make changes happen, but it’s hard to believe that government won’t have the biggest role to play.

This is an exceptional book. The research and depth of understanding of the problems involved is stunning. Klein thinks out all the issues to their fullest extent. Along the way she simplifies much that has always been presented as too complicated. The short of it is this: if we decarbonise our economy, as the science says we must, then our economic model will be turned upside down, and much of our politics along with it. Maybe for the better; we could end up with a more equitable society as the rich are asked to give up their luxuries. 

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, by Naomi Klein. Published by Allen Lane. ISBN: 9781846145063  RRP: $29.99

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