On this day last year, I won a competition – 5 signed books from Triodos Bank. They sat on my Unread shelf for a while, and eventually, I shelved them properly (still unread). This morning I have pulled one out – This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. So far I have only read a few pages of the introduction, but it’s neatly tying into things that I have been thinking lately, which bodes well.
Years ago, I read Ms Klein’s No Logo, which investigated how corporate branding was turning everything into a marketing opportunity, and drowning out any non-commercial messaging. Since then she’s written Shock Doctrine, which I haven’t read, but which is about the way that capitalism capitalises on disaster, selling off public assets or reducing government oversight (e.g.) in its wake, and isn’t above generating disaster when the world has been too long without one. Ms Klein is an investigative journalist of the highest order, contemplating complexity and distilling it into readable prose for the rest of us. In This Changes Everything she has turned her attention to the climate change crisis, and why so many people are so intent on ignoring it, but also to the opportunity it presents for us to change the world for the better.
She begins by looking at some of the horrendous events that climate change has caused over the last few years – epic flooding, extensive droughts, temperatures so hot that a plane sank into the runway in Washington D.C. – and how we continue to use fossil fuels at ever-increasing rates, so that we now have to explore horrifically damaging extraction methods such as fracking to get our fix. She extrapolates from that to a future where humanity spends a great deal of time fleeing from the weather, or recovering from what we would now consider extreme events. All we have to do to reach that future is carry on as we are now.
[*If you’re reading this blog you are probably more environmentally-conscious than most, and no doubt have a lower carbon footprint as a result. But we can’t kid ourselves – those of us in developed nations can do a lot to reduce our personal footprint, but changing our infrastructure footprint needs wider action, and it would be very difficult for a Western person to reduce their carbon footprint to the necessary level without those wider changes taking place.]
“There are ways of preventing this grim future, or at least making it a lot less dire. But the catch is that these also involve changing everything. For us high consumers*, it involves changing how we live, how our economies function, even the stories we tell about our place on earth. The good news is that many of these changes are distinctly un-catastrophic. Many are down-right exciting.”
Klein carries on to talk about the way in which cash-strapped governments always find a way to pay for the latest ‘crisis’: a recent UK example is the ‘magic money tree’ coughing up £2bn for No Deal Brexit preparations, because our government is intent on running out the clock so that MPs are forced to accept the current (unpopular) deal or risk a No Deal Brexit. This at a time when a school has been forced to open a food bank because the government has cut public services to the point where our children are starving.
As Klein points out, climate change has never been perceived as a crisis situation, even though it has the power to destroy lives on a global scale. Politicians are refusing to declare it a crisis.
But they’re not the only ones with the ability to do so. Much of the social transformation of the past century has come about through mass movements of regular people – the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, feminism, gay rights and the anti-apartheid movement have all forced governments into action on issues they were blissfully ignoring. Klein suggests we do the same for climate change; if we decide that it is a crisis that requires a massive response, the political class will have to respond.
“…I began to understand how climate change – if treated as a true planetary emergency akin to those rising flood waters – could become a galvanising force for humanity, leaving us all not just safer from extreme weather, but with societies that are safer and fairer in all kinds of other ways as well.”
Klein is talking about a vision of the future that goes beyond surviving or enduring climate change, beyond mitigating its affects of adapting to them, and involves us collectively using the climate crisis to create a genuinely better world.
“…I began to see all kinds of ways that climate change could become a catalyzing force for positive change – how it could be the best argument progressives have ever had to demand the rebuilding and reviving of local economies; to reclaim our democracies from corrosive corporate influence; to block harmful new free trade deals and rewrite old ones; to invest in starving public infrastructure like mass transit and affordable housing; to take back ownership of essential services like energy and water; to open borders to migrants whose displacement is linked to climate impacts… – all of which would help to end grotesque levels of inequality within our nations and between them.”
Of course, it could all go the other way, and at the moment it seems like we’re in a downward spiral. Hopefully as the book goes on Klein will deliver on her promise of providing a positive vision of a global mobilization that will stop climate change in its tracks and create a better world. In the meantime, here are some links to organisations who are part of the solution. You may be familiar with some of them, they have been around a long while. But if, like me, you’ve lost touch with them a little bit, it’s worth getting to know them again:
- The Permaculture Association
- The Transition Movement
- Community Action Groups (Oxfordshire)
- Incredible Edible
- The Soil Association
- Friends of the Earth
- Extinction Rebellion
- Garden Organic
Which organisations would you add to the list?