By James Wallace Harris, Monday, March 2, 2015
The most political perceptive woman of our times is not Hilary Clinton, Angela Merkel or Elizabeth Warren, it’s Naomi Klein. Klein is a journalist, but her new book This Changes Everything synthesizes economics, environmentalism and politics into a holistic statement that should define the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. It probably won’t, but it should. Many reviewers have compared This Changes Everything to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. The environmental insight is only part of this book, Klein’s observations on capitalism are as large as those made by Adam Smith, Karl Marx and Thomas Piketty.
Klein has set forth the hypothesis that free market capitalism is the driving force of climate change, and she provides plenty of evidence for her case. But the scope of her book goes well beyond environmentalism, capitalism and politics, into a deep existential and spiritual challenge. This Changes Everything can be seen as a holy book defining a new moral paradigm.
This Changes Everything in thirteen chapters describes the dynamic scope of the problem. We admire The Greatest Generation for their response to the Depression and World War II. Solving climate change is a greater task than solving a worldwide economic meltdown and will cause more suffering than a war that killed sixty million people. Our generation needs to be greater than the Greatest Generation, and we’re shirking the job. To avoid environmental, social and economic catastrophes that climate change will bring, all seven billion of us must transform our lives. We need leaders far more inspiring than Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, and tragically we’re not finding them. Instead we have people who are fighting with all their might to maintain the status quo. Climate change will change everything, whether we solve the problem, or not. All of humanity is jumping off a cliff, and to deal with climate change is to learn how to make a parachute in free fall – pretending it’s not happening is pretending hitting the ground isn’t in your future.
Climate change is already happening and has been since the beginning of the industrial revolution. We can’t stop its current momentum, at best, we can only put on the brakes, and slow things down. Climate change is only the tip of the iceberg! The impact of free market capitalism fuel by industrialization and technology, is transforming the entire biosphere, destroying the atmosphere, oceans and land, causing the sixth great extinction event.
Naomi Klein spent five years writing This Changes Everything and covers a staggering amount of data and issues. It has over sixty pages of fine print notes. It’s not an easy book to digest, except that each of the thirteen chapters coalesces around a single important concept. Even then, each chapter has evidence to weigh that stretched my mind beyond what I can comprehend. Klein writes clearly, and works hard to help us digest the facts, but reading this book is a commitment. It took me weeks to read. I’d do a chapter at a time, and sometimes I’d go days just thinking about ideas from that one chapter. The problems she presented are like Zen Koans.
The first five chapters describes the economic problems of climate change. The next three covers the failures of the current solutions. The final five chapters explores new solutions that are struggling to emerge. There are many surprises along the way. I feel Klein has convinced me why conservatives have chosen to deny climate change. And she convinced me that the extractive industries for gas, oil and coal have no intention of leaving trillions of dollars in the ground. She also proves why politicians have been no help, and probably won’t be, but even more depressing, she explains how many environmental groups have been coopted, and are failing to meet the challenge.
The first eight chapters are bleak. After reading them I thought the best solution was to go find a quiet retirement community away from all the action, move there, and turn off the news. It’s the last five chapters that offer hope, where Klein offers new paths to explore, but none of those paths will be easy to hike. Essentially, we all need to go through a metamorphosis of how we look at living on this planet. It will be a transformation like moving from hunting and gathering life, to agrarian life, or agrarian living to industrial living. There’s a reason why this book is called This Changes Everything.
Ultimately it comes down to: Do you stay and fight, or run and hide. Klein proves that it’s not just the conservatives that are climate change deniers.