For myself and others who joined a book group to discuss Naomi Klein’s thoughtful and provocative work, This Changes Everything clarified our vision in ways we had not expected.
Many of us considered ourselves pretty well-versed in climate change, so it was something of a surprise how, well, surprising we found much of her book. In case you don’t have time for nearly 500 pages of compellingly presented research on climate policy and activism, here is a highly condensed version of a few key points that really struck home for us:
1. We have very little time left to do something about climate change. After decades of doing nothing (and actually increasing emissions), scientists believe we are committed to some climate change, but drastic action taken now could mediate it. We have squandered precious years believing science would save us from ourselves while politicians took money from big oil companies and allowed them to drill and pollute as they pleased.
2. Scientists working on tech fixes to global warming do not believe any of them will work. There is no amazing new technological solution on the horizon that will suck carbon out of the atmosphere, cool the planet, or allow us to keep burning fossil fuels without further warming.
3. Fracking and tar-sands extraction have exploded in the last several years and are on track to add disastrous amounts of carbon to the air. These drill sites are everywhere, maybe even near you. (Check out this fracking map.)
Klein’s book powerfully reveals the dangerous paths we have been unwittingly led down by free market capitalism, which seeks unlimited growth on a finite planet. She traces the story of extractivist ideology from its origins in the Industrial Revolution to the deregulated marketplace of the last few decades. She believes “our economic system and our planetary system are now at war” and argues we will save ourselves only by drastically remaking our worldview and the ways it has led us to conduct our lives. Much of the book’s power comes from Klein’s bluntness in describing the immense challenge we face:
…we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.
She recognizes that this process will be difficult in large part because “the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe—and would benefit the vast majority—are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.”
I found this book a page-turner, even as what Klein reveals—about numerous missed opportunities, misguided policies, and dangerous collusion between big business, environmental groups, and politicians—outraged and frustrated me.
It's not all bad news
Here’s the hopeful news Klein reports: As extreme energy extraction has pushed evermore dangerous and polluting projects (think BP’s Deepwater Horizon or Keystone XL, which would send corrosive bitumen through pipelines that have already proved unstable), outraged citizens around the world have banded together to stand up to Big Oil’s relentless and reckless pursuit of profit. Klein follows some of the citizen groups collectively called “Blockadia,” and sees in Native people’s legal challenges to drilling and Indian villagers’ demonstrations against new power plants our best hope against climate change.
Klein ends her book by calling on all of us to help create a collective action on par with the Civil Rights movement. To oppose an ideology as entrenched in our culture as extractivism might take even more effort than overturning racist laws. But she argues that in a crisis where the survival of humanity is at stake, everyone must join in demanding immediate action:
Climate change has never received the crisis treatment from our leaders, despite the fact that it carries the risk of destroying lives on a vastly greater scale than collapsed banks or collapsed buildings. …But we need not be spectators in all this: politicians aren’t the only ones with power to declare a crisis. Mass movements of regular people can declare one, too.
That movement was growing rapidly even as her book went to press and has grown still more in ensuing months. The film, which will likely spur many more to take action, has just been released and will play in a number of venues around the world. (You can also download it from itunes for $9.99.) As is the case with most film adaptations of books, a lot must get cut to fit a two-hour viewing experience. What we gain are powerful images of the vastness of the Alberta Tar Sands and of marginalized peoples fighting for their right to clean air and water. What we lose are Klein’s incisive discussions of scientists’ failed attempts to solve climate change with technological interventions, of Big Green’s involvement with Big Oil, of the terrifying scale of extreme extraction. If you have limited time, see the movie. If you can spare a few evenings to read the book, it may change everything for you, too.
But not everyone has that kind of time or inclination, and making the film means that Klein’s message can reach far more people. Klein (and her husband and director of the film, Avi Lewis) hope the movie works as a grass-roots organizing tool in the weeks left before the climate conference in Paris this December.
Klein serves on the board of 350.org, a network of grassroots groups organizing protests against fossil fuel extraction around the world. The group has planned a number of mobilizations leading up to and following the Twenty First United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) next month. Their focus is keeping the carbon in the ground and moving some of the vast subsidies given to the oil industry right now to pay for a “just transition to renewable energy.” Many mass protests against fossil fuel extraction projects have succeeded thus far, and 350 will continue to focus their energies on those projects that represent the largest “carbon bombs.” You can find an action to join near you here.
Both the book and the film aim to augment 350.org’s work, bringing still more people from around the globe and from diverse ethnic and social backgrounds to work together for climate justice. Hundreds of thousands of people have marched to protest fossil fuel extraction and urge governments to swiftly decarbonize our economy. Observers of the climate movement have marveled at how widely and quickly it has spread and believe this visible rise in popular pressure has led to some of the movement’s recent wins, including Shell’s retreat from the Arctic and the President’s decision just a month ahead of COP21 to finally reject Keystone XL.
What will you do?
If you’re concerned but haven’t yet joined the movement, it’s time to throw your hat in the ring. Decisions made in coming months will profoundly affect the planet our kids and grandkids inherit. So how can you contribute on the cusp of what could be a long overdue global power shift?
1. Join (and help promote) mass demonstrations that show politicians that we will not, indeed cannot, tolerate more delay on real climate action. Bring as many friends along as you can.
2. Wake up your friends and your community to the urgency of the situation. Talk about it often, host discussion groups, and try to educate those not yet tuned in to the urgency of the situation.
3. Use social media to share updates and petitions from activist groups.
4. Start working with others to create your own “Beautiful Solutions,” whether it’s a community solar project, weatherization program, or your institution’s divestment in fossil fuels (and investment in renewables).
5. Write to political and business leaders urging them to take real and immediate steps to transition to a decarbonized economy. (Snail mail is deemed most effective.)
6. Put your money where your mouth is. Don’t support the fossil fuel industry with your investments or purchasing choices. Commit to decarbonizing your own life and help others do likewise. Consider donating to one of the organizations working to change climate policy.
As the People’s Climate Movement put it, “To change everything, we need everyone.” We all must work together to build new ways of living within the finite limits we’ve already overstepped.
How will you help to change everything before it’s too late?