Dollars and sense
Klein connects the dots between politics, the economy and our planet
IRREFUTABLE scientific measurements of Earth’s life-sustaining atmosphere, along with photographic evidence of melting ice sheets, are only two damning pieces of evidence pointing to an abusive relationship between humankind and planet Earth. Several unprecedented, bizarre and deadly weather events in recent years have snatched the swagger from climate-change deniers, who are now resorting to a dangerous mantra intoning how the wonders of technology will save us from the ticking time bomb fashioned from decades of rampant burning of fossil fuels. In her newest book Naomi Klein, the oft-quoted social activist, award-winning journalist and author of the critically acclaimed The Shock Doctrine (2007), offers readers a compelling argument for changing economic and political structures in order to prevent cataclysmic climate change. Klein also has a prominent role in the climate watchdog called 350.org, founded in part by longtime environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, whose grassroots movement helped stop Keystone XL pipelines from becoming a done deal (as detailed in the 2013 e-book Oil and Honey), simultaneously irking big oil developers in Alberta’s tarsands and a national government priding itself on resource extraction. In a praiseworthy polemic buttressed by scholarly notes and citations, Klein’s trademark dynamic writing style vividly exposes the relationship between “the dominance of the values that are intimately tied to triumphant capitalism and the presence of antienvironment views and behaviours.” Klein has become a bothersome gadfly for deeply entrenched political and financial power brokers, in past years alerting the public about America’s freemarket policies exploiting disaster-shocked people both at home and abroad, as well as implying events such as hurricane Katrina (and even man-made ones such as the Vietnam War and the invasion of Iraq) help implement difficult policies. Admitting that her conversion to environmentalism was relatively recent, Klein’s quick grasp of the issue is evident, reminding readers that all life improvements — racial equality, income equalization, meaningful democracies — become redundant if the Earth is doomed. This Changes Everything employs three distinct themes: the intricate relationships between capitalism, big oil and lifestyles; the unholy alliances between big business and environmental groups; and fashioning a blueprint for renewable energy. To Klein, climate change isn’t just another issue like health care or burdensome taxes, but “a civilizational wakeup call,” and she provides a chilling array of reasons why countries around the world — especially developed nations most responsible for carbon emissions, including Canada — shouldn’t be satisfied with simply hitting the snooze button. Addressing the push towards fracking, Klein writes: “Any technology that can quadruple proven reserves in the U.S. alone is a climate menace, not a climate solution.” Adding to the urgency are effects of freetrade agreements around the world, for as Klein reminds us, when China became “the workshop of the world,” one study purported that between 2002 and 2008, “48 per cent of China’s total emissions was related to producing goods for export.” This doesn’t bode well for plans to keep Earth’s warming trend to less than 2 C, an agreed-upon tipping point beyond which irreversible warming will render the planet inhospitable. On this point, Klein isn’t shy in heaping scorn on philanthropic, beyond-rich individuals such as Warren Buffett and his flotilla of diesel-guzzling railway trains, or Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines, while oil executives and think tanks that promote fossilfuel driven economies are similarly flayed. Myriad “green organizations” — such as the Environmental Defense Fund, which allows its logo to be used by companies with dismal environmental records like Walmart in exchange for funding — are exposed, showing how difficult it will be to win over the hearts and minds of global populations and their respective governments about the need to employ renewable energy. Klein nevertheless urges us not to despair, citing examples of community-based actions popularly known as Blockadia that interrupt, and sometimes even stop, extractive resource activities. From the American Midwest to Nigeria, Bolivia and Ecuador, localized blockades strive to preserve natural habitat, agricultural lands and water resources, also helping to lower carbon emissions. Klein praises groups such as British Columbia’s Heiltsuk First Nations people of Bella Bella, who rallied to oppose Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline slated to carry tarsands crude to Pacific ports, proving how concern over pristine landscapes can become an indispensable partner in the fight to lower carbon emissions. A serious response to climate change can only occur after knocking down the current ideological wall and its three pillars: “Privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector, and the lowering of income and corporate taxes.” In today’s free-enterprise milieu, these are revolutionary concepts. Klein proposes ways the pillars can be knocked down peacefully and without dramatically lowering living standards.
Joseph Hnatiuk is a retired teacher in Winnipeg.