Dol­lars and sense

Klein con­nects the dots be­tween pol­i­tics, the econ­omy and our planet

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Joseph Hnatiuk

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, 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.


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