Monday, December 8, 2014

book review: This Changes Everything

During my immersion in the People's Climate March a few months ago, I became aware of the new book by Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate. Being a fan of instant gratification, I pre-ordered it from the Kindle store and eagerly awaited the publication. I love reading popular non-fiction science type books, so I was looking forward to a good read. 

When it arrived, I settled in to enjoy it. I did not enjoy it. I realized quickly that it was not a "good read", it was a tough read. I don't mean that I didn't appreciate and respect it when I say it wasn't enjoyable, it's just the my expectation of "enjoyment" was misplaced. For instance, I enjoyed Michael Pollan's book Cooked. This book I had to take in small, digestible chunks, so it took me a long time to work through.

Her basic premise is that in order to turn around our global carbon emissions, and try to forestall climate disruption, we have to change our entire economic system. This isn't news to most environmental activists. I saw people carrying signs at the people's Climate March with the slogan "System change, not Climate change", but that extent of that message hadn't penetrated my brain fog yet. 

Here's a sample from page 169 of the Kindle version: 

"Extractivism is the mentality of the mountaintop remover and the old- growth clear- cutter. It is the reduction of life into objects for the use of others, giving them no integrity or value of their own— turning living complex ecosystems into “natural resources,” mountains into “overburden” (as the mining industry terms the forests, rocks, and streams that get in the way of its bulldozers). It is also the reduction of human beings either into labor to be brutally extracted, pushed beyond limits, or, alternatively, into social burden, problems to be locked out at borders and locked away in prisons or reservations. In an extractivist economy, the interconnections among these various objectified components of life are ignored; the consequences of severing them are of no concern. Extractivism is also directly connected to the notion of sacrifice zones— places that, to their extractors, somehow don’t count and therefore can be poisoned, drained, or otherwise destroyed, for the supposed greater good of economic progress."

Klein systematically exposes Capitalism, the basis of our cherished economy, as the perpetrator of environmental destruction, the successor of imperialism, and the source of much of human inequality and injustice. Yeah, it's a tough read. 

But even as she describes the corner we have painted ourselves into by trashing our planet's resources for short-term economic gain, she writes of hope. She gives us portraits of key leaders in the global fights against the extractive industries. She shows alternatives to the "business as usual" path that we are currently on.

In section three, Starting Anyway, after describing many pockets of system change all over the globe, she writes:

"And contrary to capitalism’s drift toward monopoly and duopoly in virtually every arena, these systems mimic nature’s genius for built-in redundancy by amplifying diversity wherever possible, from more seed varieties to more sources of energy and water. The goal becomes not to build a few gigantic green solutions, but to infinitely multiply smaller ones, and to use policies— like Germany’s feed-in tariff for renewable energy, for instance— that encourage multiplication rather than consolidation. The beauty of these models is that when they fail, they fail on a small and manageable scale— with backup systems in place. Because if there is one thing we know, it’s that the future is going to have plenty of shocks."


Change is a constant in Nature. Change is a constant in our daily lives. Climate Disruption has moved our cheese, and we will have to react. After reading this book, I'm convinced we will have to react with some serious economic upheaval. Hopefully we will learn how to steer that change toward learning to respect and replenish the natural systems we need to survive.