PGI Picks #6: This Changes Everything

A series highlighting our team’s book, film, and podcast recommendations in the post growth and sustainability realms.

By Tegan Tallullah

This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein

Green Energy Futures via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, by well-known Canadian environmentalist and writer Naomi Klein, is the best book I’ve read in ages. This book doesn’t mess around. It bravely goes straight to the core.

In a style that is intensely readable and colloquial while also bursting with well-sourced facts, Klein tells us in no uncertain terms that the time left to avert climate-catastrophe is running out scarily fast. Because we’ve wasted decades faffing around at feeble UN conferences while emissions have soared, we’ve lost the luxury of weaning ourselves off fossil fuels with gentle but steady steps. Saving ourselves now will only be possible with a global response unprecedented in speed and scale, and pulling it off means breaking all the rules of the free-market bible.

A lot of mainstream environmental organisations shy away from admitting the major discrepancies between environmental sustainability and growth-crazed capitalism. They dare not place the two in conflict, presumably because they worry governments would choose the latter. They say that investing in the “green economy” will boost growth and jobs. Klein, on the other hand, boldly underlines that addressing the climate crisis before a tipping point is reached is not compatible with free-market capitalism.

For one thing, free trade rules in many places make it illegal for governments to enact bold climate action like banning oil extraction and ensuring local energy projects hire local people and use local materials. Worse, while climate scientists agree that most of known fossil fuels in reserves need to stay in the ground if we’re to have a hope of staying below two degrees of warming, corporations have already assured their investors that these reserves will be dug up and sold. Free-market, growth-orientated capitalism offers the companies no option other than to do everything in their power to get those fuels to market. To save ourselves, we will have to purposefully sink a huge part of the global economy, voluntarily passing up a multi-trillion cash boost. That is why it is now a stand-off: capitalism vs the climate.

Dealing with this crisis, according to Klein, will force us to rethink many assumptions that have been hegemonic since the Thatcher and Reagan era of the 80s. Like for instance, that private companies are always better at managing resources than the state, and community-management isn’t even an option. That trade is always good, no matter what is traded or where the money goes. That every problem is best solved by the market. That regulations are pretty much the devil incarnate. That people are mostly selfish, isolated and powerless. That the rich deserve their wealth and the poor deserve their poverty. That money is more important than anything else. That “there simply is no alternative.”

The climate crisis even gets at something much deeper than neoliberal theory. When properly acknowledged and acted upon, it uncovers a paradigm that has been entrenched for hundreds of years, which Klein calls extractivism. This is a world-view rooted in the age of colonialism, and yes, it is as ugly as it sounds. It’s the idea that there is always a wild frontier to push back. There are always more resources to take, plenty of space to spew rubbish, more land to expand into, and crucially -more people to exploit. This mindset is all about taking, without giving anything back. Extract, exploit, then move on and repeat. It’s this kind of ideological foundation which has allowed us to think using the sky as a rubbish dump is okay, infinite growth is possible, and gross inequality is just part of life.

All of those ideas need a swift revision.

The book also talks about inspiring coalitions of farmers, environmentalists and Indigenous tribes blocking new fossil fuel extractions, the divestment campaign, and the importance of moving from extractivism to a worldview based on a regenerative relationship with nature and each other. One where we take and we also give back.

But I don’t want to describe the whole book, I want you to read it! It really is brilliant. I read it in just three days, hardly pausing to do much else.

It’s capitalism vs the climate, and I know which side I’m on.

Do you?

Originally published in March 2015. To Find out more about the Post Growth Institute, visit our website.

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