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This Changes Everything

February 29th, 2016

My review of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, by Naomi Klein.

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Around two-thirds of it I found to be an exhaustive litany of depressing information with which I was already familiar. Capitalism is a bankrupt mythology no more rational than an organized religion and with even more inertia and power. Capitalism is the force that puts fingers in the ears of politicians regarding the obvious and immanent threat of extracting and burning any more fossil fuels than we’ve already extracted and burned. Corporate greenwashing is a hell of a pervasive thing. Oil companies are fucking evil. International climate initiatives have been toothless windbaggery for more than thirty years. International environmentalist organizations, by virtue of their size and need for funding, end up in the pockets of those same corporations, helping with the greenwashing, in some cases even helping with the fossil fuel extraction and burning. Geoengineering is a reckless, shortsighted, stupid idea. The technology to save us (solar) already exists, but the fingers-in-ears, hands-over-eyes capitalist mindset that controls all the money will continue to cock-block its implementation right up until it doesn’t matter anymore.

The depth and focus with which she runs through this litany is impressive and not without value in itself. Reading it I found myself looking back on my past environmentalist actions (solar panels, electric car, permaculture, LCRW 33) and deeming them pathetically inadequate. I found myself looking back at those environmentalist projects I’d left hanging (convincing my family to divest from fossil fuels, starting a nano-nonprofit) and feeling newly motivated to take them up again.

I was a little disappointed to find the book had been written in 2014 and not this instant, now. It indicts the Kyoto protocols, but doesn’t cover the Paris climate agreement. There’s a chapter called No Messiahs: The Green Billionaires Won’t Save Us, but it devotes itself to the ways in which Richard Branson has failed to live up to the promise he made in 2006 to be our Climate Savior™ rather than speculating about whether Elon Musk will fail equally spectacularly at same (luckily, I have the internet for that).

The real value of the book, though, I found in that remaining third, where Klein starts talking about WHAT IS TO BE DONE. The glib answer is revolution. The harder, unavoidable answer is widespread, individual, overwhelming personal commitment, fighting the hard legislative and activist fight, town by town, street by street, taking hard losses every step of the way but gritting through it because it’s that fucking important. The people on whose shoulders the solution squarely rests, unfair though it undeniably is, are the people who are being most hurt. Indigenous peoples whose livelihood is tied to the land. People whose drinking water has been fracked into flammability or poisoned by austerity corner-cutting. People who have to wear masks to go outside. Citizens of low-lying island nations about to disappear. Ranchers and farmers along the paths of pipelines. People who look out their windows every day and see and acknowledge the incredible, beautiful natural resources that will be destroyed if capitalism is allowed to keep on as it has. I count myself among that latter group. And I daresay if you’ve read this far, you do too.

And that’s the thing about Klein’s book, as it turns out: it’s not trying to convince anybody of anything they didn’t already believe. I doubt anybody not on the environmentalist bandwagon could even manage to get through it. What it’s trying to do is galvanize those of us who do believe, to show us the facts, in exhaustive detail, and point to the painfully obvious conclusion some of us (yes, even me) are still shying away from: that it’s time to go all-in. Foot-dragging is not getting it done. Switching to reusable grocery bags is not getting it done. Giving money once a year to the NRDF is not getting it done. Waiting and hoping for the market to correct itself is sure as hell not getting it done.

We have maybe 35 years to get off fossil fuels completely or it isn’t going to matter anymore.

In the past, when something has gotten me this worked up about it, I have exhorted people to DO SOMETHING. I realize that’s no good anymore. It’s time to DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN.

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