Passionate, damning and suffused with entirely justified (I think) righteous anger, I would be hard pressed to call Klein’s book anything other than what it is – a polemic that must be treated as such.
This Changes Everything is a screed against impending environmental destruction from the relentless exploitation of resources, driven by a rapacious ideology of extractivism. The drivers of our economy, oil and gas, are delving deeper into the Earth and employing ever more reckless methods to get at their precious resource, not caring about massive environmental destruction and the threat of runaway greenhouse effects as they relentlessly chase the bottom dollar. In keeping with Klein’s other books, No Logo, unchecked, corporatist capitalism is the source of the mania that drives our thirst for resources, to the extent that we risk our long term survival as a species.
At this point in our history, per Klein, nothing less than a revolution in our economic and social systems will save us from disaster – a point right wing climate change denialists realise better than the Left does. Averting the catastrophe will require changes in the way people consume goods and services, massive government intervention, punishing carbon taxes – all anathema to the neoliberal orthodoxy. The likes of the Heartland Institute cannot fathom the disintermediation caused to their vested interests from the change required – so their strategy is to deny the very existence of the problem, in order to remove the galvanising existential reasons for people to rise up and take action.
Klein denies that any of our existing institutions or scientific solutions will serve as panaceas to our climate problem – not large environmental groups, who are often in bed with the enemy, not with activist billionaires like Richard Branson, who champions climate change issues but does very little in reality, not geoengineering solutions whose potential side effects would only careen us into other types of climactic catastrophes.
Instead, Klein says that change must come from where change always comes – a mass coalition of people that have a common goal – of preserving homes, livelihoods, and memories. Mass protests – part of a shifting, ill-defined global movement known as Blockadia – have stopped many extractivist projects in their tracks. These movements comprise many different types of groups – from Indigenous peoples to fishermen to farmers – cutting across religion, race and political affiliation. Klein says that we must try to identify commonalities between different constituencies to create sustainable mass movements that can effect real change.
As an exhortation for sustained ground-up activism, This Changes Everything is at times alarming, heartbreaking, anger-inducing, and encouraging. It fills you with existential dread and makes you want to jump up and do something. It is especially timely to read now, in the age of Trump and Scott Pruitt gutting the EPA and pulling out of the Paris Agreement – almost a prophecy of the where unchecked capitalism will get us. And I do think that Klein makes a good case that action is needed and that extractivism is a problem.
That said, Klein must be read with the constant awareness that there is a polemic agenda in mind. I don’t know if Klein really does manage to make the watertight case that there really is no recourse other than to leverage on localised guerilla-style tactics and mass protest. It’s also not clear from the text what she thinks of the fast-accelerating pace of renewable energy development, and whether market forces might actually be able to make clean energy crest the hill of profitability.
And in the end, Klein’s main message, while hopeful isn’t really a clearly articulated manifesto for change as it is an acknowledgement of existing efforts and a hope that these local efforts will continue to blossom. There is no five-point plan, no real policy prescriptions, and while the injunctions are emotively appealing, they just aren’t enough to justify the book’s claim that this changes everything.
I give this book: 3.5 out of 5 oil spills