This Changes Ev­ery­thing: Cap­i­tal­ism vs. the Cli­mate,

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - — Pa­trick Malone

by Naomi Klein, Si­mon & Schus­ter, 566 pages

It comes as no sur­prise that Naomi Klein’s new book,

This Changes Ev­ery­thing: Cap­i­tal­ism vs. the Cli­mate, swoops in from the far left to make the case that too lit­tle is be­ing done to slow global warm­ing. Klein has made a name for her­self as one of the premier pro­gres­sive voices in con­tem­po­rary non­fic­tion. Her ear­lier work — most no­tably The Shock Doc­trine — squarely blames the free-mar­ket ideals con­ser­va­tives hold so dear and pri­va­ti­za­tion of gov­ern­ment’s mis­sions (es­pe­cially in the de­fense arena) for so­cial in­jus­tices against largely voice­less pop­u­la­tions in Amer­ica and abroad. So any­one on the fence about whether hu­man ac­tiv­ity af­fects the cli­mate can stop read­ing now and need not bother to pick up the book. The same goes for ad­vo­cates of fos­sil-fuel ex­trac­tion who think its eco­nomic ben­e­fits out­weigh the en­vi­ron­men­tal con­se­quences. Th­ese camps will find no val­i­da­tion in the pages of This

Changes Ev­ery­thing.

The book clearly tar­gets a lib­eral au­di­ence but poses a tough ques­tion. The au­thor asks why even the most com­mit­ted pro­gres­sives tend to shy away from mak­ing cli­mate change their pet cause, and she con­fesses she once fell into that cat­e­gory her­self. After all, who has time to rail against the mighty oil and gas com­pa­nies over a threat that might not fully man­i­fest it­self for years — even decades, if not cen­turies — when there are whales to save right now, for­eign poor who are hun­gry to­day, and marginal­ized groups in our own back­yard whose rec­om­pense in some cases is cen­turies over­due? Ev­ery­one should take time to pon­der cli­mate change, Klein ar­gues, or time will run out be­fore so­ci­ety can rem­edy any of the other prob­lems in its dizzy­ing ar­ray of wor­ries.

Klein makes a case that widely var­ied pro­gres­sive causes rang­ing from the fight against ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied food to do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional so­cial jus­tice, preser­va­tion of an­cient cul­tures, and con­cern for an­i­mals all in­ter­sect with slow­ing the progress of cli­mate change. Klein sees the need for a deep bench of no-names in­stead of a rich roster of su­per­stars. She stops blud­geon­ing the ob­vi­ous cli­mate-change vil­lains long enough to shame self-pro­claimed cham­pi­ons of the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment whose ac­tions con­tra­dict their words. The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy, which has al­lowed oil drilling on a Texas na­ture pre­serve, and Vir­gin em­pire mag­nate Richard Branson, who Klein says has bro­ken prom­ises to pro­mote a more car­bon­pru­dent world, don’t get free passes. It’s with sto­ries like th­ese that This Changes

Ev­ery­thing gains steam, an en­gross­ing re­ward for press­ing on through the first 200 pages of dense re­portage. Although wry at times, the first third of the book was nec­es­sary for Klein to lay the his­toric and sci­en­tific foun­da­tions to clar­ify what’s at stake. She walks us back more than 200 years to the smoky belch of the first steam en­gine, a mile­stone in man’s com­pul­sion to master na­ture with coal as his part­ner. Fast-for­ward to to­day, when we stand just a few de­grees Cel­sius from world-al­ter­ing cli­mate change, ac­cord­ing to the sci­ence Klein cites.

When Klein spot­lights the ten­dency of pol­lut­ing in­dus­tries to find wel­com­ing homes in eco­nom­i­cally de­pressed outposts far from me­trop­o­lises and out of sight of the ci­ties where business and pub­licpol­icy de­ci­sions are made, it’s hard not to think of the par­al­lels in New Mex­ico. This state, as much as any, has wres­tled with the rid­dle of the well-pay­ing jobs that nu­clear waste han­dling and oil ex­trac­tion bring to poorer ar­eas and the in­her­ent threats to health that come with them.

But fos­sil fuel ex­trac­tion’s new fron­tier isn’t hid­den on des­o­late prairies. As oil rigs inch closer and closer to homes in North Amer­i­can sub­urbs, their neigh­bors aren’t just silent tum­ble­weeds. Rather, in­creas­ingly vo­cal every­day cit­i­zens are telling their elected lead­ers and the oil com­pa­nies that they ob­ject to the in­tru­sion. And This

Changes Ev­ery­thing pegs this new brand of ac­tivist as the cat­a­lyst ca­pa­ble of slow­ing cli­mate change.

Klein has no il­lu­sions about who’s call­ing the shots. She ac­knowl­edges that the oil and gas in­dus­try wields po­tent in­flu­ence in city halls, state leg­is­la­tures, Congress, and the White House as well as in in­ter­na­tional free-trade agree­ments that trump even the most adamant lo­cal ob­jec­tions to some ex­trac­tion ac­tiv­i­ties. Even so, Klein points out, car­bon big­foots are fac­ing greater op­po­si­tion than ever. Col­leges and other in­sti­tu­tions are dump­ing their in­vest­ments in oil and gas com­pa­nies. In­dige­nous peo­ple are unit­ing to protest en­ter­prises they see as harm­ful to the en­vi­ron­ment. The sweater-vested sub­ur­ban masses are sign­ing pe­ti­tions call­ing for bans on hy­draulic frac­tur­ing. Just a few years ago, that wasn’t the case.

Klein may not con­vince cli­mate-change de­niers that they’re wrong or change the minds of any­one whose liveli­hood de­pends on the deep pock­ets of the oil and gas in­dus­try. But she could very well sway some pro­gres­sive thinkers to re­con­sider their pri­or­i­ties on cli­mate change. In that sense, This Changes Ev­ery­thing isn’t just tilt­ing at wind­mills.

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