This Changes Everything, Capitalism vs the Climate.

By Naomi Klein. Allen Lane, London. 2014.

Reviewed by Peter Healy

This is a comprehensive and timely book. Klein says in part one, “If there has ever been a moment to advance a plan to heal the planet that also heals our broken economies and our shattered communities, this is it.” In the introduction she says “this is the hardest book I have ever written because climate change puts us on such a tight and unforgiving deadline.”

This book is about our “climate moment” with all its challenges and opportunities. First, Klein says we have to stop looking away. We deny because we fear  letting in the full reality of a crisis that changes everything. The need to change everything is not something we readily accept.  If we are to curb emissions in the next decade we need a massive mobilisation larger than any in history.

The question is posed: What is wrong with us? What is really preventing us from putting out the fire that’s threatening to burn down our collective house? The global economy always takes centre stage. Market fundamentalsim has systematically sabotaged our collective responses. Our economic system and our planetary systems are at war. We are faced with a stark choice: “either we allow climate change to disrupt everything about our world or we change pretty much everything about our world to avoid that fate”.

Our “climate moment” is accompanied by what she calls a “fossil fuel frenzy”.  A  wild dig is going on in most nations on the planet,  Aotearoa/NZ being no exception.  Klein says, “We have become a society of grave robbers, we need to become a society of life amplifiers, deriving our energy directly from elements that sustain life. It’s time to let the dead rest.” Our most imporatant task now is to keep carbon in the ground.

To do all this a new worldview is required, “a project of mutual reinvention” has to be entered into. The door to 2 degrees of warming will close in 2017. We are in the midst of a civilisational wake-up call, coming to us in the language of fires, floods, droughts and extinctions. We are being called to evolve, and the point about a crisis this big is that it changes everything.

Wealthy nations need to start cutting emissions by 8-10 percent per yearstarting now. We need to get back to 1970’s consumption levels. Low consumptions activites like gardening and home cooking are good. Large corporations dodge regulations, and they refuse to change behaviours,their goal is to always expand their market share. Klein talks about addiction rather than innovation when it comes to new methods of extraction.  The madness of “extractivism” is a relationship of taking with little care being given to regeneration and the future of life. As Klein says, the market economy and the fossil fuel economy emerged at about the same time. “Coal is the blank ink in which the story of modern capitalism is  written.”

There are no messiahs. The green billionares will not save us, we have to change our lifestyles. Our most intoxicating narrative is that technology will save us, but this isa form of magical thinking.

The book has inspiring things to say about “Blockadia” a broadbased grassroots resistance movement  intent on shaking the fossil fuel industry to the core. Indigenous peoples are key here, their rights can be a great gift for the revival and reinvention of the commons we all love. Blockadia asks the question, “How come that a big distant company can come to my land and put me and my kids at risk and never ask my permission?”  The corporations come from far away and go everywhere because the fossil fuel industry is one of extreme rootlessness.

In chapter 13 of the book Klein talks about her attempts to have a child while researching  this book. There are some lovely descriptions of Klein coming to realise that the earth is facing  fertility challenges of her own. Many species are now up against “infertility walls” and finding it hard to reproduce. Fertility is one of the first functions to erode when animals are under stress. 

The challenge for the climate movement hinges on pulling off a profound and radical economic transformation. In extraordinary historical moments “the usual category that divides “activists” and “regular people” become meaningless, the activists are quite simply everyone”.

So this book is for you and me and everyone. We are all implicated in everything this book is about, so get hold of it, read it and pass it around. Request your local library to purchase it. As a slogan at the recent climate march in New York said, “To change everything we need everybody.”

I found myself saying to someone the other day, “If any book will push us through and beyond the Great Transition that we all have to make, then this is it!” Along with the film that Klein’s partner  is making on the same subject, we can take some hope. We still have our brief window of time. We are inventive and creative. We can join with the tangata whenua as guardians of Mother Earth.

Fr Peter Healy is a Marist priest who lives and works in Ōtaki