Why you should read Naomi Klein (2014) This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

A review and recommendation by Charles Posa McFadden

Before reading Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything I would have argued that there are no books which everyone on earth should read. But if there are, this is one of them – THE one for this moment in history – the moment of our awakening struggle to meet the greatest challenge living generations face, that of climate change. A challenge Klein recognizes to be one that future generations, if there are to be many, will acknowledge as a turning point in human history, for better or worse.

During the five years she has spent researching and writing this latest book, supported by a team of researchers and editors, Naomi Klein visited places, interviewed personages and brought alive for all of us experiences that few would have the resources and keen intuition to seek and obtain on their own. These include seminal encounters with some of the folks who aggressively impose on the rest of us an agenda that could lead to our common destruction, such as a conference convened by the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based right wing think tank (The Right is Right, p31-63).

Drawing upon personal experience and her own on-the-spot investigative journalism, Klein's accounts also include the ground-breaking development of resistance struggles linking indigenous and settler populations, such as the "Cowboy-Indian Alliance" in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and the devastating coal mining project in Montana (Blockadia, p293-336).

Similar attention is also given by Klein to parallel developments in other parts of the world, including those emerging from coast to coast to coast in Canada. Exemplifying these is her brief, heartwarming account (especially to those of us privileged to be included in these struggles) of the fight being waged by the small Elsipogtog First Nation and their settler neighbours with support from their friends in New Brunswick's environmental and labour movements against some of the world's most powerful extractivist corporations and their captive provincial and federal governments (You and What Army? p367-387).

As a taste of what you will encounter in your reading, the following is a generous sample of the range of issues Klein addresses and the kind of arguments she makes.

The Introduction:

"What is really preventing us from putting out the fire that is threatening to burn down our house?
"I think the answer is far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done those 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." (p18)

"...the things we must do to avoid catastrophic warming are no longer just in conflict with the particular strain of deregulated capitalism that triumphed in the 1980s. They are now in conflict with the fundamental imperative at the heart of our economic model: grow or die."

"...our economic system and our planetary system are now at war...What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction of humanity's use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it's not the laws of nature." (p21)

"...climate change isn't an "issue" to add to the list of things to worry about, next to health care and taxes. It is a civilizational wake-up call. A powerful language – spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions – telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new sharing of the planet. Telling us that we need to evolve." (p25)

Commenting on her conclusion that the solution to the problem of climate change requires system change, she writes: "...this is the hardest book I have ever written, precisely because my research has led me to search out such radical responses. I have no doubt of their necessity, but I question their feasibility every day, especially given that climate change puts us on such a tight and unforgiving deadline." (p26)

"...the thing about a crisis this big, this all-encompassing, is that it changes everything. It changes what we can do, what we can hope for, what we can demand from ourselves and our leaders. It means that there is a whole lot of stuff that we have been told is inevitable that simply cannot stand. And it means that a whole lot of stuff we have been told is impossible has to start happening right away. "Can we pull it off? All I know is that nothing is inevitable. Nothing except that climate change changes everything. And for a very brief time, the nature of that change is up to us." (p28)

The Right is Right:

Referring to the true believers in capitalism, Klein argues that "they know very well that ours is a global economy created by, and fully reliant upon, the burning of fossil fuels and that a dependency that foundational cannot be changed with a few gentle market mechanisms. It requires heavy-duty interventions: sweeping bans on polluting activities, deep subsidies for green alternatives, pricey penalties for violations, new taxes, new public works programs, reversals of privatizations – the list of ideological outrages goes on and on." (p39)

"Climate change detonates the ideological scaffolding on which contemporary conservatism rests. A belief system that vilifies collective action and declares war on all corporate regulation and all things public simply cannot be reconciled with a problem that demands collective action on an unprecedented scale and a dramatic reining in of the market forces that are largely responsible for creating and deepening the crisis." (p41)

"...the culture that triumphed in our corporate age pits us against the natural world... But if there is a reason for social movements to exist, it is not to accept dominant values as fixed and unchangeable but to offer other ways to live – to wage, and win, a battle of cultural worldviews." (p61)

"This, without doubt, is neoliberalism's most damaging legacy: the realization of its bleak vison has isolated us enough from one another that it became possible to convince us that we are not just incapable of self-preservation but fundamentally not worth saving." (p62) And, of course, with her own new family very much in mind Klein refutes that ugly message from the right wing think tanks. She does so in the course of 450 pages of analysis, including a vast exposition of the alternative directions that are being taken by the progressive movements world-wide. In her own words, what follows is a representation of the thorough, honest, balanced but determined perspective of a young mother and outstanding thinker.

Hot Money:

"Not only do fossil fuel companies receive $775 billion to $1 trillion in annual global subsidies, but they pay nothing for the privilege of treating our shared atmosphere as a free waste dump... "In order to cope with these distortions...governments need to take a range of aggressive steps – from price guarantees to straight subsidies – so that green energy has a fair shot at competing." (p70, emphasis mine - CM)

"...the three pillars of the neoliberal age – privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector, and the lowering of income and corporate taxes, paid for with cuts to public spending – are each incompatible with many of the actions we must take to bring our emissions to safe levels. And ideologically these pillars form an ideological wall that has blocked a serious response to climate change for decades." (p72-3)

The era of neoliberal global domination received a decisive impulse from the collapse from 1989 of the authoritarian experiment in Eastern Europe of self-proclaimed but misnamed "socialist" regimes. "Under the banner of ‘the End of History,' right-wing ideologues in Washington seized on this moment of global flux to crush all political competition, whether socialism, Keynesianism, or deep ecology. They waged a frontal attack on all political experimentation, on the idea that there might be viable ways of organizing societies other than deregulated capitalism." (p75)

Critiquing the free trade era's market approach to greenhouse gas emissions, Klein writes: "This deeply flawed system has created a vastly distorted picture of the drivers of global emissions. It has allowed the de-industrializing wealthy states to claim that their emissions have stabilized or even gone down when, in fact, emissions embedded in their consumption have soared during the free trade era... the rise in emissions from goods produced in developing countries but consumed in industrialized ones was six times greater than the emissions savings of industrialized countries." (p79-80)

"The same logic that is willing to work laborers to the bone for pennies a day will burn mountains of dirty coal while spending next to nothing on pollution controls because it's the cheapest way to produce. So when factories moved to China, they got markedly dirtier." (p81)

Klein reports the conclusions of Kevin Anderson and Alice-Bowes Larkin, scientists at the renowned Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK to the effect that "if the governments of developed countries want a fifty-fifty chance of hitting the agreed-upon international target of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius and if reductions are to respect any kind of equity principle between rich and poor countries, then wealthy countries need to start cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by something like 8 to 10 percent a year – and they need to start right now." ... A target that they point out cannot be achieved "with the array of modest carbon-pricing or green tech solutions usually advocated by Big Green" (p 87, emphasis mine – CM)

"We will need comprehensive policies and programs that make low-carbon choices easy and convenient for everyone. Most of all, these policies need to be fair, so that the people already struggling to cover the basics aren't asked to make additional sacrifice to offset the excess consumption of the rich." (p91)

"...when climate change deniers claim that global warming is a plot to redistribute wealth, it's not (only) because they are paranoid. It's also because they are paying attention." (p93)

Referring to the introduction of a basic annual income, Klein argues: "A basic income that discourages shitty work (and wasteful consumption) would have the benefit of providing much-needed economic security in the front-line communities that are being asked to sacrifice their health so that oil companies can refine tar sands oil or gas companies can drill another fracking well." (p94)

I would add that we need Green and other progressive political parties that couple fully adequate policies to curb climate change with commitment to an unequivocal and fully adequate social safety net that includes a guaranteed basic annual income, a vast expansion of a currently minimal and in many places even non-existent network of inexpensive public transportation, affordable housing, fully comprehensive health care, the extension of free public education to all levels and kinds of education and cultural development and the basics of nutritious food and clean water for everyone.

Public and Paid For

Quoting a source describing Germany's experience: "'An active role for government and public sector utilities is thus a far more important condition for developing renewable energy than any expensive system of public subsidies for markets or private investors.'"

"... it is now clear that – at least from a technical perspective – it is entirely possible to rapidly switch our energy systems to 100 percent renewables." (p101)

"All around the world, the hard realities of a warming world are crashing up against the brutal logic of austerity, revealing just how untenable it is to starve the public sphere at the very moment we need it most." (p106)

"There is ... no scenario in which we can avoid wartime levels of spending in the public sector – not if we are serious about preventing catastrophic levels of warming, and minimizing the destructive potential of coming storms." (p108)

The global cost of overcoming poverty, increasing food production to eradicate hunger without degrading land and water resources, and averting climate change catastrophe was estimated by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs in 2011 to be $1.9 trillion a year for the next forty years. Reporting this estimated cost, Klein argues that to address climate change by dramatically lowering emissions "the only rational way forward is to fully embrace the principle already well established in Western law: the polluter pays." (p110)

Looking to fossil fuel company profits as a source of funding the transition to a new economy, Klein argues: "A steep carbon tax would be a straightforward way to get a piece of the profits, as long as it contained a generous redistributive mechanism – a tax cut or income credit – that compensated poor and middle-class consumers for increased fuel and heating costs." (p112)

Pointing out that the military is a major source of emissions, Klein argues that "surely the arms companies should pay their share." Likewise the shipping industry and airlines. (p113)

"After paying for the crisis of the bankers with cuts to education, health care, and social safety nets, is it any wonder that the beleaguered public is in no mood to bail out the fossil fuel companies from the crisis that they not only created but continue to actively worsen?" (p118)

Planning and Banning

"There is little hope of bringing the fossil fuel companies onside to a green transition; the profits they stand to lose are simply too great. That is not the case, however, for the workers whose salaries are currently tied to fossil fuel extraction and combustion. "What we do know is this: trade unions can be counted on to fiercely protect jobs, however dirty, if these are the only jobs on offer. On the other hand, when workers in dirty sectors are offered jobs in clean sectors (like the former autoworkers at the Silfab factory in Toronto), and are enlisted as active participants in a green transition, then progress can happen at lightning speed." (p126) In the following pages of this chapter, Klein discusses, on the basis of logic and accumulated experience, which policies work and which do not in effecting a transition away from fossil fuels.

On a somewhat more relaxed time scale than quoted in her argument from researchers at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research as represented above, Klein states (p.146) that "climate experts tell us that if we want to have a shot at keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius, then developed country economies need to have begun their energy turnaround by the end of this decade and to be almost completely weaned from fossil fuels before 2050, which certainly seems to this reviewer more doable than an 8 to 10% reduction per year that would magically have to have begun even before the publication date of Klein's book.

In the latter part of this chapter, Klein addresses the democratic deficit, the role of the fossil fuel industry in creating it and our need to contain that control if we are to succeed in winning policies for curbing climate change.

Beyond Extractivism, Fruits not Roots, and No Messiahs

In the chapter, "Beyond Extractivism", Klein instructively reports on selected examples from around the world of failed and failing governmental efforts to address the threat of climate change. Then in her chapters, "Fruits and Roots" and "No Messiahs", the history and early development of the environmental movement is exemplified, with particular attention to the failed attempts during the latter decades of the last century and first decade of this one.

"The idea that capitalism and only capitalism can save the world from a crisis created by capitalism is no longer abstract theory; it's a hypothesis that has been tested and retested in the real world." (p252) And found wanting, as represented by recent examples, including one that she traces from its smelly head to its ugly bottom.

"...the profits from our dirtiest industries must be diverted into the grand and hopeful project of cleaning up their mess." (p254) "...the oligarchs who were minted by the era of deregulation are not, in fact, going to use their vast wealth to save the world on our behalf." (p255)

Dimming the Sun

In the chapter "Dimming the Sun", Klein bursts the geoengineering bubble. Not only does this geoengineering method do "nothing to change the underlying cause of climate change, the buildup of heat-trapping gases, and instead treats only the most obvious symptom – warmer temperatures" (p259) it adds serious additional risks. Likewise for the other Dr. Strangelove projects in the geoengineering tool kit.

"The earth is not our prisoner, our patient, our machine, or, indeed, our monster. It is our entire world. And the solution to global warming is not to fix the world, it is to fix ourselves." (p279)

Blockadia, Love Will Save This Place, You and What Army? and Sharing the Sky

The next four chapters are those that represent the growing number of courageous, heartening responses to the present crisis, inspiring hope and providing examples of how we can win this struggle for a future well worth achieving.

The Right to Regenerate

In the chapter, "The Right to Regenerate," Naomi Klein offers her own poignant personal experience and her parallel observations and reflections upon nature's inherent impetus to regenerate. It is her most powerful chapter, one that cannot be represented by less than its full rendition. So readers will have to see the book for all the benefits this chapter offers and most of those to be found in its other chapters, including the book's conclusion.

Welcome!

This website was launched September 1, 2010 in support of a green social democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist policy and practice. The primary result is a work by Charles and Karen McFadden of seven chapters, grouped under the title, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism available here in pdf and html formats.

Below under the heading What’s New can be found the most recent materials posted on this website, including opinion pieces, book reviews, articles and selections from the 2017 edition of the main work.  For the interest of new and returning visitors, new materials will be included quarterly.

What's New

NEW & REVISED

Authors' Preface

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

6.0 The socialism we need against the "socialism" of the 20th century

6.8 Additional concerns about 20th century variants of "socialism"

6.9 The people united!

7.1 Policy alternatives and political movements to advance them

OPINION

Charles and Karen McFadden, Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda

Charles and Karen McFaddenHumanity on the Brink

Charles and Karen McFaddenMovements of Resistance to Movements for System Change

Charles McFaddenTranslating Green Principles into Education Policy and Practice

Charles and Karen McFadden, The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement

REVIEWS

Charles and Karen McFadden, “The Shape of Water” as an Antidote to the Age of Trump 

Charles McFadden, Decolonizing the U.S. & Canada: The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future

Karen and Charles McFaddenCan emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system

Karen and Charles McFaddenA Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.

US CORNER

William I. RobinsonThe Crisis of Global Capitalism and Trump's March to War

William I. RobinsonTrumpism, 21st Century Fascism, and the Dictatorship of the Transnational Capitalist Class

CANADA CORNER

George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP

RECOMMENDED

Albert Einstein, David Swanson, Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, William I. Robinson, and others Selected articles for Winter 2018

FEATURED WORK

ECONOMICS

1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

3.1 The challenge of a moribund economic system

3.7 Public banking: A cornerstone of a green social democracy

4.7 Economics and culture

6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism

HISTORY

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

2.0 Theoretical Perspective: Defining Green Social Democracy

2.5. Socialism and green social democracy in historical materialist theory

4.3 Culture in historical perspective

5.1 Contrasting a green social democratic world with the currently prevailing, but challenged neo-liberal one

6.2 Socialism and capitalism as coexisting social systems

LABOR

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

5.7 Defeating neo-liberal capitalism: The role of social movements

7.3 Justice: Creating a just society, based on the right of all to a dignified, secure existence

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) applies to all work posted on this website except that which appears with authors whose last name is other than McFadden, in which case standard copyright should be assumed to apply.