I have been a fan of Naomi Klein for a long long time. When No Logo came out in 1999 it seemed like the warning that it offered was just scratching the surface. Five major works later, countless columns in The Nation, The Guardian and so many other publications – she, my image of a smart women against the status quo declared that her next master-work would tackle the subject of climate change; I was absolutely astounded. The one topic that I had spent the last 2 decades trying to make relevant in my day-to-day would get her risky, marginalized, rebellious, revolutionary and totally totally cautionary touch! With my copy pre-ordered I was set.
The book This Changes Everything arrived and I jumped right in. Now I am sure at least half of the people on this blog have read this book already and whatever I may have to add here to the long list of powerful reviews and commentary is likely too little too late. But for fun, I’ll tell you what I really think.
Naomi doesn’t dress Climate Change up in pretty clothes. She doesn’t take the most complicated crash of science, society, technology and economy we have ever seen and say everything is going to be ok. In fact, quite the opposite; she exposes huge gaps in logic. Obvious things like how can capitalism keep going on a finite planet when it is based on a model of continuous growth. Unless of course that growth is not accessible to all communities equally. Less obvious things like the orchestrated smear campaign against a local family doctor in Fort Chipewyan; Dr. John O’Connor who treats patients downstream from the tar sands mines, who started reporting “coming across alarming numbers of cancers, including extremely rare and aggressive bile-duct malignancies.”
And she reminds us, way too few people are working on meaningful solutions right now. Or when they are working on meaningful solutions like finding energy sources that sustain all of us and regenerate the planet at the same time; faulty logic capitalism comes to bat with free trade legislation which squishes those meaningful solutions out of the picture. Ontario fell into that category when our own home grown renewable solar panel manufacturing strategy was called illegal by the World Trade Organization and closed down.
I thought about all of those things before I read Naomi’s book but she has reached down deep into people’s lives around the world including her own personal story toward the end to paint an alternative to “extractivism” fuelled capitalism which is turning our generation into the first to feel the effects of climate change and the last who can do anything about it.
The most painful example to read about is the small island nation of Nauru in the Pacific Ocean. “In the 1960’s development and suicide commenced first with the extraction of phosphate of lime, an agricultural fertilizer. Nauru, in other words, was developed to disappear, designed by the Australian Government and the extractive companies that controlled its fate as a disposable country. It’s not that they had anything against the place, no genocidal intent per se. It’s just that one dead island that few even knew existed seemed like an acceptable sacrifice to make in the name of progress represented by industrial agriculture.” That tragedy was followed up in the late 1990’s with phantom banks, Russian gangsters, $70 billion in money laundering. Today Nauru is housing boat loads of refugees in conditions suggested to be unfit for animals and now finds itself to be one of the most vulnerable places on earth to the impacts of climate change. Naomi sums up this cautionary tale like this, “These days, Nauru is in a near constant state of political crisis [ ] the island’s leaders would be well within their rights to point fingers outward – at their former colonial masters who flayed them, at the investors who fleeced them, and at the rich countries whose emissions now threaten to drown them. And some do. But several of Nauru’s leaders have also chosen to do something else: to hold up their country as a kind of warning to a warming world.”
Most of the book is like that – filled with warning after warning, injustice after injustice and finally the last straw; a global crisis so big that a great many people are beginning to wonder if we are going to make it or at least which of us will?
Stop right there think of cute kittens for just a minute – Ahhh.
Here have another.
This book does not dance around the real threats of climate change and the destruction that it will bring. It does not dance around the root causes that Naomi squarely puts on the back of capitalism, economies based on natural resource extraction (as opposed to regeneration) and Western consumer culture. Please fortify mentally before you read this book or like me read it in small doses. It is difficult to hear that everything around you must change in order for us all to survive. But it is even more difficult to hear that your island nation has been washed to sea and your culture doesn’t count any more, especially if you happen to live on that island. This is happening and we are watching. Nauru is just the beginning.
The book is big, fact filled, story filled and mostly dire. Naomi puts tough questions on the table throughout. How will we cope with the raising costs of extreme weather disasters when the philosophy and practice of austerity abounds – ultimately making societies more vulnerable to disasters. Will the logic of geoengineering and high risk technologies be “the last tragic act in this centuries-long fairy tale of control”? What conditions must be in place for a group like the Nature Conservancy in Texas to directly benefit from the proceeds of a gas well they had commissioned inside their preserve?
She exposes the subtle truth about climate justice and it is no surprise that the burden, cost and suffering from climate change and fossil fuel extraction will not be equal. The Heiltsuk who oppose the Northern Gateway Pipeline will not just loose their fishery but their way of life and “therefore [see it] as another wave of colonial violence.” Or after Superstorm Sandy devastated New York it was in the Rockaways a “dumping ground for New York’s poor and unwanted” where one volunteer noticed that no health care was being provided at all because the last derelict hospital had closed the year before. She turned a storefront into a makeshift MASH unit where “volunteer doctors and nurses began to see patients, treat wounds, write prescriptions and provide trauma counselling.” Naomi, even cites the example of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation who live beside “Chemical Valley” in Sarnia. On this small reserve the number of boys being born is about half that of girls. Not to mention the increased incident of infertility and miscarriage. Having more girls is a survival mechanism for many species in nature when the going gets tough or polluted.
Reading along you feel like she is looking every reader in the eye and saying “yes, I am talking to you” and she is. She is saying that it is you and I and us who can change everything. And there are even some signs that this is happening. Blockadia; “resistance to high risk extreme extraction”, the divestment movement; taking money out of fossil fuel investment, First Nations fighting for their rightful ownership of their land in court to protect the resources beneath and most interestingly she cites Abolition as the last time that the world had to look is faulty capitalist logic in the eye and change.
What is the last word how does this all end? Why not follow Naomi’s lead and say what is risky, marginalized, rebellious, and even revolutionary to each other. She believes “only mass social movements can save us now” which certainly seems more appealing then watching the end of the world as we know it.