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Bookends: Why we need to change how we do things January 28, 2016

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Why we need to change how we do things

By Dan Davidson

July 22, 2015

– 948 words –

 This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

By Naomi KleinThis changes everything

Vintage Canada

576 pages


Kindle edition



Say what you may about Naomi Klein, it was impossible not to take notice when she was invited by Pope Francis to join a top level environmental conference at the Vatican recently. Self-described as a “secular Jewish feminist”, Klein is not exactly the sort of public intellectual that one might expect to answer such a call. On the other hand, a number of the Pope’s statements coming out of that conference sounded very much like he had read her book and taken notes.

Klein is, after all, the person who made “branding” a household word with her first book, No Logo. Likewise, the ideas that fuelled her second big book, The Shock Doctrine, have been very much in play recently as we have watched the economic struggles going on between Greece and the rest of the Eurozone.

It would be hard to deny (though the federal government does) that it made effective use of the shock doctrine after Michael Zehaf-Bibeau attacked Parliament Hill and Martin Couture-Rouleau attacked the two soldiers in Quebec, killing one of them.

These isolated events, carried out by two unconnected and disturbed individuals, were made to be the spur for panic and the enactment of Bill C-51, or the Anti-Terrorism Bill, as it is now known.

Klein’s main thesis is spelled out in the title of the book. The world’s economic system was birthed when James Watt created the steam engine, and freed engine driven enterprises from dependence on water power.

We began burning fossil fuels at an expanding rate: first wood, then coal, and finally, the various products that come from the petroleum industry. She calls the process extractivism and says that, hand in hand with our current practices of capitalism, it is waging war on the planet.

It is not simply capitalism which is at fault; Klein points to the economies of the old Soviet Union and Communist China as being just as much parts of the problem. They have followed an extractivist model just as closely as the capitalist world.

Aside from a dedicated search for improved and reliable sources of non-polluting energy – solar, wind and hydro, in spite of the latter’s problems – Klein doesn’t offer a lot in the way of solutions, but she does a good job of eviscerating most of the capitalist based models that have been proposed so far.

A lot of the major environmental organizations have, she says, been sucked into the capitalist dreams of not doing anything unless it can make tons of money. A number of them get their major funding from the oil industry and one even has an oil well on property that it controls.

Carbon capture, as well as cap and trade systems, all come under fire because they fail to address the basic problem as she defines it: we need to stop burning carbon based products. Going further, any carbon that is still in the ground needs to stay there.

Global trade and the proliferation of “free trade” agreements come up for criticism in a big way. These have enabled corporations to move their work around, take advantage of cheap labour, dodge the regulations wherever they might actually be working, and take various levels of government to court when they attempt to do things to deal with the climate change problem.

She gives several examples of this type of action, as well as others. One of the reasons the book is as long at it is, is the inclusion of many anecdotes and examples to enliven the statistics and arguments she puts forward.

Never content to simply make a statement of fact or advance a proposition, Klein is a belt and suspenders type of intellectual who reinforces every point she makes.

On the personal side of things, she informs us about her cancer scare and all the difficulties she and Avi Lewis had while attempting to conceive a child, including several false starts. She doesn’t underline this too much, but it’s certainly no accident that success came after they put less faith in medicines and more in nature.

Moving from the negatives into the positives in the latter sections of the book, she gives a number of examples of things that seem to be working. Citizens must, she says, get control of their governments, wresting this back from the industrial classes that now dominate the field.

Blockadia is not a county, but a word she coins to describe the resistance to fossil fuel exploitation wherever it is happening in the world. Blockades are part of this reclamation, but so were the Occupy Movement and Idle No More. Indigenous values have a lot to say about what needs to be done, she feels.

The change that needs to come does mean that everyone will have to do with a little bit less – have to downsize somewhat – until adjustments can be made. Continuous growth never was sustainable, and we need to admit it. That there must be “limits to growth” was known as early as 1972, when the Club of Rome commissioned a study with just that name.

It studied five variables: population, industrialization, pollution, food production and resource depletion. Klein touches most of these in her book, but several of them are subsumed in one additional problem that really wasn’t on most peoples’ radar in 1972: climate change.

Klein won the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction for this 2014 book. It takes a while to read, but it’s worth the time.




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