Friday, January 2, 2015

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

Klein has every reason to be depressed about the way governments the world over are relinquishing their responsibilities when it comes to air, water, and land pollution. Although she admits to faltering in looking forward to the future we have left for our children, in the end she does not quail: she comes to see that there is a glimmer of hope that humans might actually slow or stop other humans from destroying our habitat, and the habitat of other species on the planet. In fact, our salvation may only be possible if the electorate, the populace, refuse to accept what we are being offered by our governments and the corporations “serving our needs.”

Oh, what a thing man is…but Klein’s concludes that “humanity is not hopelessly selfish and greedy—the image ceaselessly sold to us by everything from reality shows to neoclassical economics.” Climate change is not merely about climate: Klein explains how it has always has been and always will be about social justice. It isn’t about the politicians or corporations, really, any more, it is about us, though it is true that corporations
“have become the authors of the laws under which they operate…In fact, current trade and investment rules provide legal grounds for foreign corporations to fight virtually any attempt by governments to restrict the exploitation of fossil fuels, particularly once a carbon deposit has attracted investment and extraction has begun. And when the aim of the investment is explicitly to export the oil, gas, and coal and sell it on the world market—as is increasingly the case—successful campaigns to block those exports could well be met with similar legal challenges, since imposing ‘quantitative restrictions’ on the free flow of goods across borders violates a fundamental tenet of trade law.”

Klein makes the inescapable point that we are currently legally bound to accept fracking, oil drilling, and coal extraction on or near our own land and that stopping it from happening requires court action. The poorest and most disenfranchised among us usually have the least tools, but fortunately in Canada and areas of the U.S., some native Indian communities find that the original land grants give them some clout when refusing extractive industry, a strange reversal of fortune in this era of “Drill, baby, Drill.”
"many non-Native people are starting to realize that Indigenous rights—if aggressively backed by court challenges, direct action, and mass movements demanding that they be respected—may now represent the most powerful barriers protecting all of us from a future of climate chaos."
This is about us. We have the power. Politicians and corporations just make the ride more comfortable or less. One could argue that they are not responsible for changing the world—we are. So…it is time to take action and put in place the kind of leadership we seek. Diverse constituencies must come together to make transformative change.

Klein makes the point that the touted “jobs” that are reaped in building, for instance, the tar-sands pipeline would be swamped by the jobs created if that investment went into green investment. And speaking of investment, it is not enough, Klein asserts, merely to divest of extraction industry stocks, but it is also necessary to reinvest those monies in the place they might do the most good: “today’s climate movement does not have the luxury of simply saying no without simultaneously fighting for a series of transformative yeses—the building blocks of our next economy that can provide good clean jobs, as well as a social safety net that cushions the hardships for those inevitably suffering hardships.”

A couple of months ago I reviewed Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, a book the journalist Chris Hedges collaborated on with the graphic artist Joe Sacco. That book describes the “sacrifice zones” in the United States that sustain the extractive industries and a corporate mindset, rather than a consideration of the wider body politic by “sacrificing” certain areas of the country and land to degradation so that the rest of us can live comfortably. Klein mentions the same phenomenon, but she puts us in the driver seat:
“To fail to [confront an imminent and unavoidable climate emergency]—which is what we are collectively doing—knowing full well that eventually the failure could force government to rationalize ‘risking’ turning whole nations, even subcontinents, into sacrifice zones, is a decision our children may judge as humanity’s single most immoral act.”

Klein does discuss the responses and solutions proposed by scientists and corporate entities have given to obvious indications of climate change, to give the other side their say. But in wide discussions with the larger scientific community, the solutions thus far proposed all have hideous effects that may be worse than the problem. For instance, one idea that apparently has gained some traction is the concept of exploding sulfur dioxide particles into the atmosphere to reflect the sun’s rays and some of its heat, similar to a volcanic eruption. Unfortunately, most scientists agree that this would have deleterious effects on monsoon and other weather patterns and certainly would have consequences we have not yet determined. In other words, the proposed fix is to carry on with our lifestyles and almost certainly do more damage, rather than thinking about how to conserve, protect, to think of the world and the creatures on it as a whole. We could utilize our best minds and skills to recreate our energy future, but that opportunity to date is being wasted on chimerical solutions rather than the more obvious one of paying attention.

What Klein does show us, sadly, is how in the past green movement proponents and non-profits have tried to work with oil and gas companies but have ended up in their pockets: “chummy green partnerships” she calls it. “The climate movement has found its nonnegotiables…and it is delivering some of the most significant victories the environmental movement has seen in decades.” There is a movement afoot, and motion has been detected in pockets of resistance across America and the world. It is gaining mass and momentum, and she is urging us to jump onboard and make the changes we wish to see. We have the power.

What use is despair? If we are going down, we might as well go down fighting. Klein quotes Yotam Marom, an organizer with Occupy Wall Street in New York: “The fight for climate isn’t a separate movement, it’s both a challenge and an opportunity for all of our movements. We don’t need to become climate activists, we are climate activists. We don’t need a separate climate movement; we need to seize the climate moment.” Just possibly we might be able to change the world.

This is a big book, but not a difficult or dense read, since undoubtedly the reader that picks up this book will be familiar with some of the facts. It is a fascinating discursive discussion covering the whole world when giving examples of pollution from and resistance to extractive industries. It is a massive collection and organization of information and a real work of generosity. Thank you, Naomi Klein!

--Later-- Still thinking about this book when I picked up Hannah Arendt's Responsibility and Judgment, essays written after her report on Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. I found myself thinking about Arendt's definition of evil alongside Klein's thesis. Check it out here.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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