This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate,
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
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.