Damn Right, This Changes Everything

It’s no surprise that the deacons of disinformation are denouncing Naomi Klein and her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. This book is so threatening to the right-wing mindset that we will soon see Tea Party members burning it in YouTube videos. Hardcore conservatives will condemn the book with language they don’t even use to describe the Qu’ran. It will be banned from bookstores, forced from public libraries, preached against from pulpits.

They will lash out because Klein has, with this book, throughly and completely debunked everything promoted under the banner of conservatism today–and she has done so with a work that’s more powerful than a stack of C4.

This Changes Everything deserves to be viewed not as one of the greatest nonfiction works of the 2010s, but as one of the greatest nonfiction works of all-time. Disregard that 2008 Obama speech–the publication of this book will truly mark the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow, and the planet began to heal.

I write this filled with self-doubt; I’m not certain I can put into words the majesty, the power, the glory of this book. I grew covetous of her talent as I read it; how can one communicate so much truth so effectively, so clearly, so crisply?

“What is really preventing us from putting out the fire that is threatening to burn down our collective house?” Klein asks early on, before observing:

I think the answer is far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe–and would benefit the vast majority–are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.

As Klein observes, the twin demons of globalization and market fundamentalism began to possess the developed world in the late-1980s, and have yet to be exorcised. Only a powerful, determined, diverse, international, grassroots progressive movement can drive those demons out:

The mainstream environmental movement…generally stands apart from…expressions of mass frustration, choosing to define climate activism narrowly–demanding a carbon tax, say, or even trying to stop a pipeline. And those campaigns are important. But building a mass movement that has a chance of taking on the corporate forces arrayed against science-based emission reduction will require the broadest possible spectrum of [progressive] allies.

Klein notes that climate-change deniers are so grotesque in their attacks on climate science because they know what’s at stake if concerned citizens take emissions seriously:

More fundamentally than any of this, though, is [deniers’] deep fear that if the free market system really has set in motion physical and chemical processes that, if allowed to continue unchecked, threaten large parts of humanity at an existential level, then their entire crusade to morally redeem capitalism has been for naught. With stakes like these, clearly greed is not so very good after all. And that is what is behind the abrupt rise in climate change denial among hardcore conservatives: they have come to understand that as soon as they admit that climate change is real, they will lose the central ideological battle of our time–whether we need to plan and manage our societies to reflect our goals and values, or whether that task can be left to the magic of the market.

Klein holds nothing back, condemning the decision by certain prominent environmental organizations to play pattycake with polluters, faulting former Vice President Al Gore for being “largely responsible for getting so many Big Green groups on board” to support the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, exposing the chasm between the words and the deeds of Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg and President Obama on climate. Klein notes that even the political center-left trembles at the implications of the climate crisis:

This is where the right-wing climate deniers have overstated their conspiracy theories about what a cosmic gift global warming is to the left. It is true…that many climate responses reinforce progressive support for government intervention in the market, for greater equality, and for a more robust public sphere. But the deeper message carried by the [climate crisis] is a profound challenge to large parts of the left as well as the right. It’s a challenge to some trade unions, those trying to freeze in place the dirtiest jobs, instead of fighting for the good clean jobs their members deserve. And it’s a challenge to the overwhelming majority of center-left Keynesians, who still define economic success in terms of traditional measures of GDP growth, regardless of whether that growth comes from rampant resource extraction.

The book is profoundly hopeful, praising the emergence of “a resurgent grassroots climate movement” opposed to tar sands mining, fracking, and the overall culture of contamination that the fossil-fuel industry has fought for decades to maintain, a movement that “is winning a series of startling victories against the fossil fuel sector as a result,” including victories on the divestment front. She notes that the fossil fuel industry’s obsession with sucking every last bit of dirty energy from the ground has awakened sleeping giants across the economic spectrum:

…[T]he scope of many new extraction and transportation projects has created opportunities for people whose voices are traditionally shut out of the dominant conversation to form alliances with those who have significantly more social power…In the 1990s, it was trade deals that brought huge and unlikely coalitions together; today it is fossil fuel infrastructure.

Klein concludes by noting that in addition to resisting the abuse of the Earth by the fossil fuel industry, the new grassroots climate movement is “actively building an alternative economy based on very different principles and values” than the economy that gave birth to the climate crisis. Either this alternative economy is out future…or we won’t have a future.

Klein declares:

…[A]ny attempt to rise to the climate challenge will be fruitless unless it is understood as part of a much broader battle of worldviews, a process of rebuilding and reinventing the very idea of the collective, the communal, the commons, the civil, and the civic after so many decades of attack and neglect. Because what is so overwhelming about the climate challenge is that it requires breaking so many rules at once–rules written into national laws and trade agreements, as well as powerful unwritten rules that tell us that no government can increase taxes and stay in power, or say no to major investments no matter how damaging, or plan to gradually contract those parts of our economies that endanger us all…Fundamentally, the task is to articulate not just an alternative set of policy proposals but an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis–embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy. This is required not only to create a political context to dramatically lower emissions, but also to help us cope with the disasters we can no longer avoid. Because in the hot and stormy future we have already made inevitable through our past emissions, an unshakable belief in the equal rights of all people and a capacity for deep compassion will be the only things left standing between civilization and barbarism.

This book will expand and intensify the worldwide climate-justice movement, which is why the rhetorical attacks on Klein will become ever more aggressive. It will politically galvanize the young and the vulnerable, who have so much to lose due to the climate crisis. It will create climate leaders across this warming globe.

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate is not just a book, not just a moment, not just a movement. It is a weapon of justice. It is a path of survival.This Changes Everything is the Truth, and the Answer.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.