Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything was a seriously depressing book for me. It took a long time to get through because I could not bear to read more than twenty or so pages at a time. The book can be more or less broken up into two parts, the bad news and there is still a chance to do something news. This will be the bad news post.
Of all the things I have read about climate change, Klein’s book stands out for a number of reasons. First and foremost, she takes the economic angle and attacks capitalism, particularly the neoliberal kind we have been living under since the 1980s. Second, she presents a viable economic alternative that would not only save us from cooking the planet, but that would raise the living conditions of not only poor countries but also the poor in wealthy countries to a level where everyone had enough — food, decent housing, and good health care. Yes, this takes a massive redistribution of wealth and a good many people won’t like it, but such a move is part of a social justice issue that addresses many of the wrongs wealthy countries have perpetrated against poor, undeveloped and developing countries for hundreds of years.
Klein’s book is filled with lots and lots of facts and numbers. I won’t go into the details of those, if you want them, read the book or do some Googling or visit 350.org. I’m going to stay high level or else there will be more than two posts about this book. So let’s start where we are right now:
So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate change disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us. Gentle tweaks to the status quo stopped being a climate option when we supersized the American Dream in the 1990s, and then proceeded to take it global.
In other words, if we had begun immediately cutting emissions after the World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere in 1988, we’d be in pretty good shape right now because we could have gone about the whole thing gradually. But since we haven’t done that, in order to limit global warming to 2C (which is still huge and will cause, and is already causing as we move toward that number, untold disasters) we have to make drastic changes immediately and take less than a decade to get to the targeted reduction in emissions required. What kind of cuts are we talking about? Try 8-10% every year.
I was not surprised to learn about the horrors perpetrated by the extraction companies (coal, gas, oil) against the environment, people and even governments. I was, however, surprised to learn that some of the largest and most respected environmental groups take money from extraction companies and in the case of The Nature Conservancy, even have their own oil well on land that they are supposed to be protecting from oil drilling. I have lost all respect for them as well as WWF (World Wildlife Fund), World Resources Institute, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Conservation International. The Sierra Club was also extraction friendly for quite some time until a few years ago when they got a new president who put an end to that.
Unless we leave the oil and coal and natural gas in the ground there is at this point no “safe” emissions level. The free market is not going save us nor is technology. “Buying green” has become a thing, and yes, it is good to buy recycled products when you need them. The trouble is the free market tells us to buy in the first place. Buying green is not going to buy us into a livable environment. Not buying at all is what helps. But our economy is based on consumption and if we don’t buy, things go wrong. If we do buy, things go even more wrong.
Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Richard Branson (Virgin Group) among others are convinced technology will save us. They don’t think we should have to change anything we are doing at all and are funneling money into research that is looking for ways to suck carbon from the air. Still others are seriously considering geoengineering as a viable solution. Let’s make giant mirrors to reflect the sun away from our atmosphere! No, better yet, let’s go for the “Pinatubo option” and spray sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere! Problem is, while we know volcanic eruptions like Pinatubo had a cooling effect on the climate, we have no idea how it works and have no control over what happens up in the atmosphere and if we screw up there is nothing we can to about it. Not only that, climate models (and studies from the Pinatubo eruption) tend to reveal that such a maneuver would cause severe drought over a large area of Africa and South Asia. But somehow that is okay because why? The industrialized north will be saved and we can continue on our merry way without making any sacrifice other than then maybe sending food aid to all the starving millions. Of course, this is only a guess as to what would happen, we could also find ourselves suddenly in a Snowpiercer-like situation.
So if technology or the free market won’t save us, if the extraction companies refuse to cease operations and our politicians aren’t doing anything at all or not nearly enough, what can possibly be done? It looks pretty bleak but there is a small crack of hope. More on that tomorrow.