This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, and the documentary based upon it, have been on my watch-list for quite some time. Probably not surprising considering that I think of myself as an environmental and a justice advocate in the realms of social media, but I’ve been keeping an eye on this one in particular just for the simple boldness of the title, a statement of fact that is challenging the dinosaur that is our present socio-economic system that continues to sputter onward in the face of humanity’s most pressing problem, climate change.
Having read the book and watched the documentary, I have to say there are ways in which I have been changed personally. I think first and foremost it has helped me come to a greater understanding and appreciation of how interwoven or environmental, social, and economic fates are, and how climate change is simultaneously the defining and most dire challenge of our time, and our best opportunity to build a better world.
One of the things I particularly found interesting in the book was the insight into what got us to where we are today, primarily the very idea that we could subdue all of nature, the entire planet, and bend it to our will. Nothing is impossible in this world view, and nothing is sacred. By inviting it in, we delude ourselves into believing that human beings are somehow apart from nature, reigning above it like some all-powerful deity. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We have wrested from nature whatever we want at an ever increasing and unsustainable rate, so much so that we are consuming one and a half times the resources that the Earth can replenish in a given year. With developing countries aspiring to the levels of “development” and consumerism we have here in the West currently, that could very easily double. The concept that the Earth is an animal of burden to be broken and used until its last gasp has to be abolished because the Earth will not just simply die. In all likelihood, given our present course, the will become inhospitable to civilisation as we know it, and perhaps the human species itself will be lost. With our downfall, or indeed our passing, the Earth’s life systems would eventually recover, but that could take millennia, and certainly many tens or hundreds of millennia more to replace the diversity of life that would be lost in the inevitable wave of extinction.
So why should it come to this? Why should this be our legacy?
It is true that idea that we are masters of all, or at least can be if we apply enough thought and brute technological power to it, has been around for centuries, but only in the past few decades has it taken on its most sinister and insidious form. Neoliberalism, trickle-down economics, free-for-all deregulated capitalism, the Trojan horses of economic policies that should never have been let in the gate, but they’re here and at a most inopportune time.
Climate change is the kind of problem that can only be effectively tackled by government intervention in the economy, strictly regulating the polluters and sources of CO2, shifting investment to renewable energy and other clean tech, curbing fossil fuel exploration and development leaving most of the known reserves in the ground thereby stranding these assets, and the eventual phase out of the entire fossil fuel industry and the related infrastructure and technology. All this is anathema to the current free market capitalist system which calls for minimal government intervention, total deregulation of corporations, and full exploitation of all resources.
The politicians and corporations who advocate for this way of conducting business argue that it will better us all, at least financially because surely the richer the corporations get, the more well off we will all become as that wealth finds its way down the line from Wall Street to Main Street. The reality is that it has never worked that way. Instead, wealth has increasingly been concentrated in the hands of the top 1% whilst the rest of us become poorer, struggling against economic and environmental hardships, all at least partly to blame on this model of doing business. Essentially, their best argument for wrecking the planet and civilisation is that it will generate huge wealth for a very small number of people for a short time.
If we carry on like this, much like the housing bubble, it won’t be long before the carbon bubble bursts under the ever increasing costs of prioritizing profit over the stability of our climate and the wider environment. If we wait until that point to take meaningful action, it will be just the opposite. It will be like throwing a bucket of water on a house that is already burning to the ground. We have maybe one, maximum two decades to drastically alter our course to avoid the worst of climate change and even then, some damage is already done and will linger for generations. Still, it is the difference between disruption and absolute chaos.
Considering what’s at stake, you’d think our governments would be heading the response, be one of the loudest voices in the chorus of calls for action. Yet what we get instead is a bunch of bickering politicians who gather every year to do a whole lot of nothing except probably exacerbating climate change more with all the private flights to the event. It’s clear at this stage that nothing is going to come from above, until something rises up from beneath.
This is another thing I appreciated about the book and the documentary, the human element, the personal side of the story on the fight against extractive industries around the globe. From Native American communities fighting tar sands development in Alberta, to people rallying in Washington DC against Keystone XL, to a Greek community fighting a gold mine. It is seeing how people on the frontlines are affected, seeing their struggles and their determination that should be an inspiration for the rest of us to take up the fight, even if we are not in a so-called “sacrifice zone”, a place corporations and governments have written off in favour of extraction, for, make no mistake, soon enough we will find ourselves in one. If our lands, our communities, our homes are in the way of major fossil fuel or other mining developments, we will find ourselves fighting for the land we tread, the water we drink, the air we breathe.
When you think about it, though, with climate change, we’ve all already been subsumed by a wider, more pervasive sacrifice zone than a coal mine or a fracking well; the destabilisation of our atmosphere through carbon pollution. The climate touches everything, and nothing in your life, or the world at large is likely to remain unaffected by the catastrophe we tempt by burning ever more fossil fuels. Yet this is what Big Energy demands, and our governments are more than happy to tag along, as long as they can get a piece of windfall from these dirty projects. Until there is a popular uprising against the status quo, as there was with the civil rights movement in the US, or the fight against apartheid in South Africa, nothing will change, at least not fast enough to avert the most extreme scenarios that climate scientists predict.
That is why it’s important for people to get out on the streets, to flood officials with calls, emails, and petitions, and, if we can, physically put ourselves in the path of these developments. We need to be proactive, we need to be visible, we need to be heard, if anything is going to change and change quickly. Standing on the side-lines is no longer an option; it is the same as throwing your avid support behind the fossil fuel machine. What we all need to be are wrenches in its engine, for even a small wrench can stop a big engine. This is what “Blockadia” is about, people quite literally putting their necks on the line to stop this industry in its tracks. From villagers in Balcombe and Barton Moss in the UK attempting to stop fracking and confronting an unsympathetic, even repressive police force, to a thousand people marching on a lignite coal mine in Germany, putting themselves between the land and the heavy machinery, to rural communities in Romania actually committing acts of sabotage to stop fracking wells being drilled into their land.
This is what those in power notice, and it is beginning to turn the tide. For example, even now, the Alberta tar sands are struggling because of popular resistance to all their major projects to export their dirty product to refineries on practically every coast of North America. Still, even the long-awaited death of the primary focus in that battle, the Keystone XL Pipeline, is insufficient, as tar sands oil is still making it out of Alberta by train and by other established pipeline projects. In order to end this, as well, along with all coal mines and oil and gas wells will require more popular support, more direct action, enough to really hit Big Energy’s bottom line, and to make our voices louder than the dirty energy dollars being fed to politicians.
We, as people, need to believe in what we can achieve, individually and as communities. We have to believe in what is possible, that we can make all of society better by taking this one problem and using it as a catalyst for widespread change. The regulations against the fossil fuel industry alone could greatly improve the quality of our land, water, and air. We could use the money from taxing CO2 emitters to build a decentralised, clean energy economy that will return wealth to communities and further empower them by giving them control over energy generation. We can begin to restore communities and ecosystems devastated by extractive industries already and prevent more such calamities from occurring. All this translates into a society built to take care of people and their needs, not those moneyed interests that can buy influence with officials.
The present course is not set in stone. We don’t have to have a cutthroat economy where the wealthy grow in power and evermore wealth whilst the middle class gets crushed and the poorer get poorer. We don’t have to have a world three, four, five degrees hotter, where disaster becomes the norm and anything beyond survival is a luxury. We don’t have to leave our children an economic, social, and environmental mess that it’s too late for them to tackle, so that they have to leave their children a hopeless, dystopian future.
We can have clean energy and a clean environment. We can have better social supports and a more just and fair economic model. We can even have a stable climate eventually. If we stop carbon pollution now, balance will eventually return and possibly within our lifetimes if technology of CO2 removal and sequestration is further developed. In the meantime, a society where communities have a say and a better support system, where money isn’t wasted ravaging the planet for finite resources that do more harm than good and instead is invested to develop and protect our cities and our homes, can build in resilience to adapt to whatever shocks current and future climate change might still bring.
We have seen how much unprepared, impoverished, and unsupported communities can suffer in the midst and wake of disaster. Think Katrina, Sandy, Haiyan, and all the other disasters in the past decade or so that are becoming increasingly record-breaking, increasingly unprecedented. This is not the future I want to sign up for where people won’t even bat an eyelid at such tragedies. We all want better than this. We deserve better. We just need to make it clear to our governments that enough is enough, and not just around the annual climate meetings. This needs to be in their faces day in, day out. We need to show them that we won’t just stand by while they allow corporations to plunder our planet, crush communities, and push the Earth past tipping points and civilisation over a cliff.
Naomi Klein said in her book that there would be no real benefit to violent revolution, and I tend to agree. When injustice becomes so grave that such acts are deemed both necessary and acceptable, the problems have indeed become dire but on climate change, we need action before it gets to that, and we need an intact and cooperative society ready to face up to our mistakes, the challenges they have wrought, and to learn from them so, in future, we can do better by everyone and everything on our vibrant Earth.
Climate change doesn’t just change everything, about our reality and what we should choose to do from here on out, it must change everything because even though we can’t predict exactly what our future will be on our present heading, we know the waters ahead will be rough to say the least. So, let’s together choose to change the course, or have the choice taken out of our hands by the consequences of our own inaction.
All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.