Sep 16, 2014
Timing matters. The calendar is counting. The clock is ticking. The planet is warming.
But... people are rising.
If there's a way to adequately condense the central tenet of Naomi Klein's new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, it's the observation that just as the rise of global greenhouse gas emissions coincided with the emergence of neoliberal globalization as the dominant economic paradigm in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, it's also possible that the growing and various social movements that have been building up to counter those dual forces are now converging at just the right moment to help save us from the destructive path humanity now walks.
"The power of this ferocious love is what the resource companies and their advocates in government inevitably underestimate, precisely because no amount of money can extinguish it."
-- Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything"Climate change," writes Klein in the new book, released today in the US and Canada, "pits what the planet needs to maintain stability against what our economic model needs to sustain itself. But since that economic model is failing the vast majority of people on the planet on multiple fronts that might not be such a bad thing. Put another way, if there has ever been a moment to advance a plan to heal the planet that also heals our broken economies and our shatter communities, this is it."
Well known for her previous books, The Shock Doctrine and No Logo, both of which tackle the nefarious ways in which corporate powers foster their brand of deregulated capitalism on the people of the planet, Klein has acknowledged that this book is not only less angry than her previous works, but actually--despite the grimness of what the climate science tells us about the decades ahead--hopeful.
For those battling against money in politics, lack of affordable healthcare, wars abroad, or inequality and discrimination in their myriad manifestations, argues Klein, the potential of the clear and present climate crisis is its ability to shake lose the chains that make progress on those issues so difficult. Don't think of climate change as a single issue, she tells readers, but rather, a frame for broader social improvements.
"The environmental crisis--if conceived sufficiently broadly--neither trumps nor distracts from our most pressing political and economic causes," she writes, "it supercharges each of them with existential urgency."
It is this urgency that brings the book back--again and again--to the idea that though the challenge has never been greater, there remain great lessons to be learned (and attitudes copied) from those who have already taken the step of recognizing the scale of what's at stake and decided not to look away. Rather than avoiding the harsh realities of what a warming planet might mean for the future of society, they have decided to stare the crisis in the face, to stop waiting, to dig in, and fight back.
Indeed, the hero of the book is quite clearly the global grassroots climate justice movement which has been building its nerve (and nerve centers) despite being largely ignored--and often ridiculed--by those who have resolved to largely shrug off the growing crisis of global warming since it first entered the public consciousness in the 1980s.
What Klein and others have come to call "Blockadia"--the resistance movement that has been blocking pipelines, opposing new extraction projects, and quite willingly putting bodies on the line--is the moral antidote to world leaders who have repeatedly crumbled before the pressures exerted by the fossil fuel industry, the promise of unfettered trade, and the mantra of free marketeers.
In her review of Klein's book, Sandra Steingraber, a professor of biology at Ithaca College and an outspoken climate activist in the anti-fracking movement, points out two of the characteristics that make Klein's treatment of the climate crisis both unique and powerful:
One is an uncanny sense of zeitgeist. Klein offers science, economic analysis and political solutions to climate change--and exposes false solutions for what they are--at just the moment when a mass climate justice movement is awakening and seeking just those things that she provides here. This Changes Everything is both a mirror of that movement and its midwife. Unlike so many other chroniclers of the climate crisis, Naomi Klein is not ahead of her time. And that's a very good thing.
Second, Klein's deft command of diverse material--from climate debt to austerity measures, from indigenous rights to corporatization of the Big Green groups, from geoengineering to impacts of oil spills on fertility, from the psychology of climate denial to the lessons of the abolitionist and civil rights movements--help reveal not only how entrenched and multi-causal the problem but also where lie possible and multiple points of intervention.
Strikingly, for the all the hard-hitting critique of global capitalism and the in-depth look at the climate issue--with perspectives from the deep bottom of the world's acidifying oceans to a look at our warming planet from as far away as the moon and Mars--Klein is decidedly close to home when she delves deepest into the ethos of the climate crisis now facing humanity.
In the end, in fact, when Klein discusses the true promise of the climate justice movement's strength, she talks not about its committed hatred of corporate power, an advanced Marxist critique of capital, opposition to evil fossil fuel companies or distrust of corrupt government leaders. Instead, she talks about the power of "ferocious love" that activists and communities express for the places they are trying so passionately to defend.
From the book:
The power of this ferocious love is what the resource companies and their advocates in government inevitably underestimate, precisely because no amount of money can extinguish it. When what is being fought for is an identity, a culture, a beloved place that people are determined to pass on to their grandchildren, and that their ancestors may have paid for with great sacrifice, there is nothing companies can offer as a bargaining chip. No safety pledge will assuage; no bribe will be big enough. And though this kind of connection to place is surely strongest in Indigenous communities where the ties to the land go back thousands of years, it is in fact Blockadia's defining feature.
And that idea, leads back to the central yet potent irony of the moment now before us. It is the rise of the fossil fuel industry--its aggressive expansion into increasingly extreme forms of extraction (think tar sands, fracking, and offshore Arctic drilling)--that have put more and more of humanity in the path of their destruction. No longer is it just the traditionally marginalized communities, Klein argues, but increasingly larger sections of society who are being placed in the fossil fuel industry's cross-hairs.
"After two centuries of pretending that we could quarantine the collateral damage of this filthy habit, fobbing off the risks on others, the game is up, and we are all in the sacrifice zone now," she writes.
But it is that fact--sad as all of the implications that spring from it are--which also ushers in the transformative opportunity in which Klein finds new sources of hope.
"The rise of Blockadia," Klein argues, is in many ways "simply the flip side of the carbon bomb."
And the result of that bomb is the explosion of resistance that Klein catalogs in great detail in the book.
With more people simply living on what have become the frontlines of both extreme weather created by climate change and the extraction industry's increasingly dirty projects, the number of willing participants offering to join the climate fight is only growing.
In other words, perhaps, the forces fueled by carbon and greed are helping to multiply the forces fueled by "ferocious love" and visions of a better of a world.
And, according to Klein, this is a decidedly positive and powerful development... at just the right time.
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