Chris's Reviews > This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
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it was amazing

Naomi’s Klein’s This Changes Everything is absolutely essential for understanding, confronting, and meeting the challenges of the 21st century. I recommend it to everyone.

Naomi Klein is known for her activism and her reporting on corporate malfeasance – the misused power of corporations, and the deleterious effects of unfettered global free-market western-style capitalism unchained from any conceivable governance that might restrict profitability. Profits first, above all else. Protect shareholder interests, increase shareholder wealth.

With this, her newest book, This Changes Everything, she turns to the consequences that this unrestricted capitalism is having on the world at large. Deregulated and globalized capitalism, which destroys the middle classes across the world, destabilizes societies, increases inequality, and enriches the already fantastically wealthy, is ultimately threatening a lot more than people and communities. Our globalized capitalistic system now threatens the stability and resilience of the natural world, our environment, of which we are intrinsically and inseparably a part. After speaking about her own reluctance to face the facts about climate change, a reticence to confront the reality of climate change and global warming and focus on social issues, she decided a few years ago that she must confront it and learn about it. I agree, these issues are too important to be left to so-called “environmentalists”, “hippies”, “tree-huggers” and such. We must now all become environmentalists.

Klein first shows what really is happening across the world today, as we strive to feed the god of economic growth and disregard the ugly sights of its victims:
"… the regular people: the workers who lose their factory jobs in Juárez and Windsor, the workers who get the factory jobs in Shenzen and Dhaka, jobs that are by this point so degraded that some employers install nets along the perimeters of roofs to catch employees when they jump, or where safety codes are so lax that workers are killed in the hundreds when buildings collapse. The victims are also the toddlers mouthing lead-laden toys; the Walmart employee expected to work over the Thanksgiving holiday only to be trampled by a stampede of frenzied customers, while still not earning a living wage. And the Chinese villages whose water is contaminated by one of those coal plants we use as our excuse for inaction, as well as the middle class of Beijing and Shanghai whose kids are forced to play inside because the air is so foul.”

Her conclusion is startling:
… the bottom line is what matters here: our economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, it it’s not the laws of nature.”

The philosophy and the worldview that got us here began with the European scientific revolution, a revolution of thought which changed humankind’s relation to the natural world. For all that the scientific revolution has done, vastly increasing the life chances of billions of people across the past few centuries, changing our very civilization and reshaping our societies in the span of just a few generations, the scientific worldview also estranged us from the natural world, by placing us outside of it, as the impartial observer, which can meddle with the world - yet not be affected by it. The steam engine allowed for power generation anywhere it went, regardless of weather, in rain and sun, regardless of its surroundings. This engine, and its progeny, changed the world – in fact, built the modern world. But the whole time, these engines of the modern world were powered by fossil fuels. Fuels that are non-renewable, energy intensive, require extraction from the ground by way of the coal and oil and natural gas industry. And they expel carbon dioxide and other gases and pollutants into the atmosphere.

For hundreds of years, “extractivism” has treated our natural world as a vast warehouse that we can take from indefinitely. We view lakes and forests and oceans as “resources” – a phrase that belies the economic nature of our view of them. Our lakes and forests really just “resources”, like bank accounts and wallets, to be withdrawn from? This cannot continue indefinitely, and our methods of extraction have gotten continually more costly, destructive, and noxious. The figures on fracking alone are horrifying, including the pumping of millions of gallons of water and over 190+ toxic chemicals 8,000 feet underground in order to fracture solid rock and have it expel natural gas. Whole mountain chains, along with their flora and fauna are absolutely annihilated, to extract coal, shale, and natural gas. Most insultingly, the flora and fauna, the forests and animals, are labeled “overburden” to the fracking companies. The results on human populations are also ugly: "mothers living in the areas with the most natural gas development were 30 percent more likely to have babies with congenital heart defects than those who lived in areas with no gas wells near their home. They also found some evidence that high levels of maternal exposure to gas extraction increased the risks of neurological defects." (to learn more about fracking, see Gasland

The oil, natural gas, mining and logging companies, multinational in nature, have expeditions on every continent. If they are stopped in one country, they can resort to free trade treaties and plead that restrictions on mining is against free trade. And they simply go elsewhere, to where the locals are too poor to organize, or too poor to refuse the influx of temporary money and mining jobs, or to where they can buy off the governments.

A number of solutions are put forward, along with significant victories across the world. Looking to the annual reports of the oil companies, if what they call “proven reserves” are actually utilized, the total emissions from those reserves is many times more than what environmental experts concede will increase the world’s temperature by over 4º Celsius. That increase will have devastating consequences for many millions across the world, as the oceans rise and acidify, as global temperature increases and climate is more severe – with more severe draughts and flood, more severe storms, massive disruption to many ecosystems and climates. And these companies have in their official statements that they intend to extract from these reserves, so we know exactly what they intend to do, and we know what the consequences will be if they are not stopped. It's as simple as that.

We need renewal energy, wind and solar, and we need them now. Natural gas is just as polluting as coal - in fact, it may be more polluting. But there is resistance to change from the ways we already know. And to climate deniers, all these fancy, new-fangled wind turbines and solar panels are too threatening, they are not as sturdy as a good old internal combustion engine. And as Klein points out, letting go of our power to generate energy to the vagaries of nature, to sunlight and wind, is against our worldview and modern, scientific-minded outlook, where humankind is the “master” of nature, to direct as we choose. Real men burn coal.

What about geoengineering? Klein addresses this also, devoting a whole chapter to it (‘Dimming the Sun’). I’ll leave it to the reader to explore, merely noting that the worldview which made humankind the ruler of the natural world is the same worldview which thinks that it can engineer whole planets with grand schemes like space-based shields to block out the sun, or by disbursing particulates in the upper atmosphere to reflect the sun's rays back out of the atmosphere. Do we really want to play around with this technology, and in lieu of renewable energy like solar and wind?

Aren’t the emissions trading schemes going to solve this problem? The various emissions trading schemes, where countries establish limits for their emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and then domestic companies are allotted specific limits, and can buy and sell them amongst each other, or get offsets by conducting emissions-mitigating activity, are widespread. However, there are multiple loopholes and unaccounted emissions. For example, ships on the high seas, which put massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the air, are not emissions that any one particular country is responsible for. Their emissions simply are not under the rules. Other loopholes exist, such as getting credit for reducing emissions from refraining from activity that was illegal anyway, such as illegal but cheaper “flaring” of gas chimneys at mines in Nigeria. As Klein puts it “With emissions up by about 57% since the U.N. Climate convention was signed in 1992, the failure of this polite strategy is beyond debate.” The sad tale of trading in pollution ultimately reflects the flawed view that market-based solutions are the only politically-feasible method of tackling emissions.

In conclusion, this book is timely, crucial, and to be welcomed as a refocusing of our attentions and priorities. There are many across the world who already are laboring thanklessly to prevent further destruction of our environment, but those with other priorities, and who live removed from nature, can easily forget what is happening. Klein writes:
“The deep sense of interdependence with the natural world that animates rural struggles from Greece to coastal British Columbia is, of course, rather less obvious in the densely populated cities where so many of us live and work: where our reliance on nature is well hidden by highways, pipes, electrical lines, and overstocked supermarkets."

The epiphany is that rather than being masters of the Earth, to engineer our world and extract every last drop of “resources” for our profit, we are the Earth’s stewards (at best), and we live inside its systems. Where do we go from here? First realize that we are “products of our age and of a dominant ideological project. One that too often has taught us to see ourselves as little more than singular, gratification-seeking units, out to maximize our narrow advantage…” If we focus solely on ourselves, we will never see the threat which endangers us all. Once alerted to this threat, we need to work to say "No" to extractavist policies, "No" to investment in fossil industries, and "Yes" to renewable energies.

What do you want to do with your life? Do you want to amass toys and capital for your personal enjoyment while the Earth itself is warped beyond habitability? Or, do you want to take part with people across the globe with similar outlooks and through similar efforts to make a sustainable future for us all? I am very inspired by this book and I cannot wait for others to read it and react to it. In all honesty, I intend to alter my actions and take part in activism to combat climate change.
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Reading Progress

August 25, 2014 – Started Reading
August 28, 2014 – Shelved
August 28, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
September 7, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Senthil (new)

Senthil marked it as read

message 2: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia Great, informative review. But the worldview that got us here did not begin with the scientific revolution (though that did play a large role) but with the Abrahamic dominionism and separation from nature that Christianity brought to Western culture. The threads of this were woven through the scientific revolution and even contemporary culture. We certainly do need to heal this ancient illness to live (and to have a future that isn't a nightmare.)

I'll pick up the book. Klein has her finger on the pulse. :)

Chris Thanks Lia! I agree that the worldview seperating humankind from nature is older, going back to antiquity. And yes, i recommend the book! I am actually going to NYC to take part in the climate march this weekend because of it!

message 4: by Joyce (new) - added it

Joyce Super review. I hope this book reaches the masses.

message 5: by Shahid (new) - added it

Shahid Ali superb book

Jose Moa Excelent and deep review Chris

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