'This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate' (book review)

This Changes Everything book cover
© This Changes Everything

Naomi Klein's latest book is about more than just science. She explores the extractivist mentality and historic decisions that have led us to where we now find ourselves, living in a totally unsustainable way.

The core message of Naomi Klein’s newest book rings loud and clear from its opening pages: It’s time for a mass movement of regular people to declare a climate crisis. We have waited long enough for politicians, corporations, and large environmental organizations (a.k.a. “Big Green) to negotiate behind closed doors in token attempts to save our planet, but those traditional power-wielders have failed us.

Now that we find ourselves in “decade zero” of climate change – our last chance to change the system and keep the global temperature within reasonable limits – all hope for a truly revolutionary climate change movement lies in the hands of ordinary citizens, people whose lives are directly impacted by high-risk fossil fuel extraction and early climate destabilization or who simply refuse to accept the status quo as appropriate.

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014) is a brave and impressive 466-page foray into shadowy places that many of us know about only vaguely. For me, it felt as if Klein had grabbed me by the hand and was dragging me, kicking and screaming, into a literary Hades where I didn’t really want to go, but knew I had to.

The first half of the book addresses the science of climate change and why its detractors are so deeply invested in pretending it’s not happening; its history and how free market trade laws contribute to climate change; how the ‘extractivist’ mentality has corrupted even Big Green groups, such as The Nature Conservancy, which, shockingly, drills for oil on its own land preserve; and the disturbing trust that so many people place in what Klein calls “magical thinking” – the grossly misplaced belief that “technology alone will help us to pull the climate rabbit out of the fossil-fuel hat.”

There were times when I could barely keep reading because Klein’s descriptions were so dire and depressing. One particularly upsetting section was about a geoengineering conference she attended in England, and the plan that some wealthy scientists and pseudo-science dabblers (including Bill Gates) have to blot out the sun and cool the earth using atmospheric sulfur injections. What’s terrifying is how this “Solar Radiation Management” is treated as a Plan A, when we haven’t even tried far less radical solutions yet, such as putting a moratorium on new extreme energy development, a.k.a. leaving the carbon in the ground.

The second half of This Changes Everything is much more hopeful. Klein writes at length about Blockadia, a new style of environmental activism that is very much ground-based. Grandmothers, teenagers, mothers, and Indigenous groups are overcoming historical differences and joining forces in natural regions that are being threatened by fossil-fuel extraction. People are physically blocking roads, standing in front of bulldozers, and climbing into oil pipes. And the extractors, who have been allowed to do whatever they wanted for so many decades, don’t quite know what’s hit them.

I flew through the latter half of the book with growing excitement, feeling inspired by Klein’s many stories of successful environmental activism:

“The climate movement has yet to find its full moral voice on the world stage, but it is most certainly clearing its throat – beginning to put the very real thefts and torments that ineluctably flow from the decision to mock international climate commitments alongside history’s most damned crimes.”

At the end, however, I suddenly felt a sense of abandonment. I was left wondering, “Well? What can I do?” I had been hoping and waiting for concrete suggestions about lifestyle changes, organizations I could join, resources I could use. Simplistic though it may sound, I wanted to know what she thinks about flying, driving, eating meat, and consumerism, but there was none of that. It was a bit of a letdown, just as I was feeling ready to follow her to the ends of the earth, if that’s what it would take.

This Changes Everything is a book that everyone should read. It’s a book for our time, unlike any other, and hopefully it will be part of the catalyst needed to galvanize the ordinary citizens of the earth to action, once and for all.

You can buy the book here

'This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate' (book review)
Naomi Klein's latest book is about more than just science. She explores the extractivist mentality and historic decisions that have led us to where we now find ourselves, living in a totally unsustainable way.

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