Here is my review of This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. An impressive book, with many ideas similar to this in ELEVEN. I like that she mentioned one of my heroes, Stan Rowe, for example.
“Capitalism is the astonishing belief that the nastiest of motives of the nastiest men somehow or other work for the best results in the best of all possible worlds.” So said John Maynard Keynes, the 20th century’s most influential economist, widely credited with “saving capitalism” by promoting government intervention to correct market failures.
Adding to its sins, star journalist Naomi Klein lays blame for endangering the climate squarely at the feet of nasty capitalism. Her new blockbuster book, This Changes Everything, Capitalism vs. The Climate, makes the case that people and their governments must intervene once again to correct the biggest of all market failures, climate change.
Klein’s book is chockablock full of alarming, convincing data to support her case that the plutocrats who control the levers of economic and political power are willing to sacrifice the commonweal for their short-term interests.
Saving the climate will require a radical transformation of the social-economic order and the nasty values behind it, says Klein. The current system “fetishizes GDP growth above all else, regardless of the human and ecological consequences, while failing to place value on those things that most of us cherish above all else—a decent standard of living, a measure of future security, and our relationships with one another.”
Here’s the rub. Saving the planet by embracing these more modest ambitions involves a profound challenge to growth, and the current system requires continuous growth to avoid unemployment. So significant is this conundrum that “Changing the earth’s climate in ways that will be chaotic and disastrous is easier to accept that the prospect of changing the fundamental, growth-based, profit-seeking logic of capitalism.”
Unregulated capitalism, according to Marx, is “a machine for demolishing limits.” How right he was, on this point at least. The key to the demolition project is the ever more risky extraction of oil, gas and coal. But the vast majority of currently identified fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground to prevent catastrophic climate change. That would result in the loss of trillions in corporate revenues, revenues that represent a massive incentive to keep barreling down the road to oblivion.
Klein puts her faith in mass social movements to block the demolition juggernaut. She documents in some detail a movement dubbed “Blockadia”, the efforts of local people to block extractive projects like oil pipelines. Other spanners in the works include the growing movement among public institutions to withdraw investments in the fossil fuel industry and reinvest in renewable energy; local laws banning high-risk extraction; and court challenges posed by Indigenous people to protect their lands from extractive industry.
Opposition to the wrecking machine is half the fight, but “there is no more potent weapon in the battle against fossil fuels that the creation of real alternatives.” And Klein shows how people are building alternatives, people like Henry Red Cloud, a Lakota social entrepreneur who is pioneering small-scale renewable energy as a development alternative in Native American communities.
Klein argues there is a way to shape an economy that helps achieve the goals of economic security without wrecking the planet and exploiting people. Alternatives may not be as profitable as extracting oil and gas, but they are job creators. Five billion invested in things like renewable energy, building retrofits and public transit could generate 30 times the jobs of a $5 billion pipeline.
Climate change is such a massive threat to the future of everything and everybody, especially the poor and disadvantaged, that it can “change everything.” And in one way or another it is linked to every unfinished social liberation movement of our time, from civil rights to feminism to Indigenous sovereignty. A “Marshall Plan for the Earth” has the potential to address the inequalities that give rise to a system that is also altering climate.
This climate challenge has the potential to pull together a range of movements for environmental and social change. Says Klein, “Climate change can be the force—the grand push—that will bring together these still living movements. A rushing river fed by countless streams, gathering collective force to finally reach the sea.”