Reviewer Dr Rosalie Schultz in front of a painting from one of the Balgo artists, Helicopter Jungarayi
In this powerful new book Naomi Klein shows how many of the concerns of progressive forces today are closely related: climate change; collapsing economies; deteriorating public infrastructure including public transport and affordable housing; indigenous rights; desertification of agricultural lands; the corrosive influence of corporations on democracy; harmful free trade deals; human displacement; and grotesque levels of inequality both within and between nations.
The core problem is the worldwide stranglehold of deregulated capitalism on human society. Three policy pillars have emerged: privatisation of public assets, deregulation of the corporate sector and lower corporate taxation paid for with cuts to public spending. These lead to instability of financial markets, excesses of the super-rich and desperation of the increasingly disposable poor. Together these factors make responding to the science of climate change extremely difficult. I found the book stimulating, convincing and motivating.
Klein weaves together personal anecdotes, stories of key public figures and institutions, and understandable science to present a powerful case against deregulated capitalism.
Poignant quotations at the opening of each chapter emphasise her case, including its universalism and the long period of time during which the crisis we now face has been developing. Here I would like to share:
“The best thing about the earth is if you poke holes in it oil and gas come out” – US Republican Congressman, Steve Stockman, 2013.
“Our science is a drop, our ignorance a sea” – William James, 1895.
“The forest is already ‘developed’, the forest is life” – Franco Viteri, Sarayaku Leader, Ecuador.
Part One introduces a number of issues that are leading to climate change and our inability to respond: expanding capitalism and the increasing wealth of a small number of people; declining investment in public good and public goods worldwide; reliance on the market as a means to promote public good; and the exponential growth of extractive industries. It is bad timing that these developments are all occurring together.
“Merging Big Business with Big Green cannot succeed since these two world views are opposite.”
Part Two is entitled “Magical thinking” and reminds the reader of three potentially aggravating strategies that might appear to magically solve all our problems, but that we must avoid if we are to work towards their effective resolution. Merging Big Business with Big Green cannot succeed since these two world views are opposite. Business efforts to promote environmental improvement are often based on false information or corruption. Green billionaires can’t save us since their own power is based on a level of consumption that is environmentally destructive. Dimming the sun and other geo-engineering solutions to climate change are based on destructive science and will lead to more damage to our only planet than they can prevent.
Part Three “Starting anyway” provides hope and strategies to build a better world and overcome the problems that humanity faces. Blockading critical enterprises brings people together in explicit and powerful force for change. Through divestment of resources from extractive and destructive industries we can reclaim these resources for progress and good. Listening to the wisdom and insights of indigenous people across the world, who have cared for land since before history was written, is essential for us to move to a less consumptive society. Concluding with discussion of the transition towards a sustainable society gives the book an optimistic tone.
I appreciated the strength with which Klein brought together so many issues that concern me. The book displays genuine optimism in the face of well-researched information on the extremely bad path on which humanity is travelling. This optimism is based on thorough knowledge leading to opportunities for action rather than naivety, spirituality that passes responsibility to higher powers or submission to other people.
“I recommend this book for everyone who is concerned with working towards a safe and sustaining planet earth, and that means everyone alive today.”
I knew I agreed with almost everything Klein says, so for me, this book, which is almost 600 pages long, was easy to read. It is not clear how convincing the examples and explanations would be for someone who did not understand and strongly support her perspective.
I also think that the problems of population growth in both rich and poor countries are inadequately addressed. Population explosions continue in some African countries, there is on-going rapid population growth in Asia and north America, and large populations elsewhere are increasing if slowly and still not stable.
The continuing growth of human populations aggravates the issues of concern in the book – overconsumption, burning of fossil fuels, lack of opportunity and decline of all elements of public good. Klein’s own story of having a baby fails as an excuse for not dealing with population issues. She noted that her child, as a Canadian citizen, will be a super-consumer. However she does not seek to address this topic except to explain how having a child gave her an unnatural sense of hope.
I recommend this book for everyone who is concerned with working towards a safe and sustaining planet earth, and that means everyone alive today. The book covers and brings together a broad range of issues. It is rigorously argued, and includes primary references. The language is compelling, and overall the book is comprehensive and accessible, and it promotes an outlook of optimism and action.
“This Changes Everything: Capitalism v The Climate ” by Naomi Klein is published by Penguin Books, London 2014