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Book review – This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein

15 December 20150 comments

Canadian social activist Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate is ostensibly about climate change and the forces driving it.

But it is as much about the destructiveness and wanton waste of our consumerist habits, corrupt political systems and the pre-eminence of corporate entities in civil societies.

Canadian social activist, Naomi Klein

Canadian social activist, Naomi Klein

She argues that ever since the industrial revolution and the emergence of the modern corporation the profit-maximizing machinery of modern societies has sought new ways to exploit resources, new markets to penetrate and new consumers to create.

Two hundred years of intense exploitation and extractive activities have taken a heavy and irreversible toll on the planet, she says.

Klein seems to delight in exposing what she calls the “denier” movement; people who “fly to Davos in private jets or who run for the Republican presidential nomination in the US”.

She says these individuals typically believe that climate change is a “conspiracy” by left-wing activists to redistribute wealth and to stop the driving forces of capitalism.

She says they think climate change is a myth because winter still comes every year and that men are incapable of so drastically altering the world in which we live.

Klein is always uncompromising in her stance. “Let me be absolutely clear: as 97 per cent of the world’s climate scientists attests, the deniers are completely wrong about science. But when it comes to the political and economic consequences of those scientific findings, specifically the kind of deep changes required not just to our energy consumption but to the underlying logic of our liberalized and profit-seeking economy, they have their eyes wide open,” she says.

Klein argues that what’s needed is a rethink of the sanctity of the free-market economy.

She says civil society needs to interfere in the deals brokered by fossil fuel companies with  corrupt governments; and it needs to interfere in the way they exploit finite resources and to regulate their activities so that emissions are brought down significantly.

Klein says we have reached a point where we can, at best, restrict global warming to two degrees celsius.

This is a level still deemed “safe” enough to avoid hundreds of millions migrating from coastal areas or to prevent the further deterioration of glaciers and ice sheets.

However, to stay within this threshold would require our economic system to be recalibrated significantly, our habits to change fundamentally, and governments to intervene rigorously.

Presciently, Klein uses the island nation of Nauru to prosecute her argument.

Nauru was a tropical paradise when first discovered by Europeans. But rich in phosphate of lime, a constituent of fertilizer, it was intensively mined by foreign companies ruthlessly intent on profit.

The mining operations brought high economic development and radically altering the lifestyles of Nauruans with imported food and cars.

But, as Klein would argue is the case for the entire planet, unfettered economic activity has taken its toll on Nauru. Mismanagement and poor lifestyle choices have left Nauruans heavily indebted and with one of the highest diabetes rates in the world.

The phosphate mining transformed the geography of the island, turning the interior into ravaged, uninhabitable moonscape.

Sea levels around Nauru have been climbing by 5 millimetres a year since 1993 and intensified droughts have caused severe freshwater shortages.

As climate change intensifies, the future of Nauru remains uncertain since its people are no longer able to move very far inland.

The book is much more optimistic than its predecessor, The Shock Doctrine, and Klein cites important examples of communities and environmental groups achieving real and tangible results in environmental stabilisation.

She says the scale of economic transformation required to stay within the two degrees target has been achieved before in the last century, when humanity responded to the Great Depression and the Second World War.

This latest of Klein’s books consolidates her central argument; that the economic system in which we live, one that champions consumerism regardless of where you find yourself, is the main threat to our planet.

This Changes Everything provides a realistic, very well written view of what it will take to avert global climate disaster.

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, by Naomi Klein, Simon and Schuster, $24.99


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist