Tag Archives: Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein

thischangeseverything_collage

I did some teaching for trainee Lay Readers in Sheffield Diocese recently, about discipleship and our care for the environment. The Assistant Principal, Bill Goodman, wondered if I’d read Naomi Klein’s book. Well, to be honest, I’d based most of my talk on her book! I’d thoroughly recommend it, and to help persuade you to read it, here is his book review.

Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate (London: Penguin, 2014)

Naomi Klein is not for the faint hearted: an uncompromising thinker and activist, a compelling communicator. She is clear that we are now in the final decade of opportunity to avoid catastrophic climate change. She sees much of our current environmental crisis as driven by the rapacious demands of unregulated capitalism – while being equally scathing about the destructive effects of some centralised socialist regimes. The key problem she attacks is what she terms ‘extractivism’ – a desire to extract resources endlessly from a finite planet, while also disregarding their polluting outcomes.

The book is in three major parts. The first section, ‘Bad Timing’, considers how our current climate crisis has developed since the industrial revolution, and how it has accelerated in recent years, fuelled by free-market fundamentalism. She sees an urgent need to rebuild the public sphere (health care, affordable homes, flood defences, public transport), with those who cause pollution – particularly fossil fuel companies and users – paying their fair share of the cost. I found much of this section familiar, but brought to life by her gift for researching and recounting true stories from today’s world which bring the issues vividly to life.

Her second section, ‘Magical Thinking’, critiques some recent proposals for solutions to the climate change crisis: miraculous scientific interventions (such as seeding our atmosphere with sulphates to dim the sun), philanthropic billionaire ‘messiahs’ (such as Richard Branson), and market-based ‘green business’ solutions. She is scathing about all these options, particularly the way some environmental groups have been co-opted and neutralised by the big-business groups they are seeking to work with.

The final section, ‘Starting Anyway’, looks for effective responses to the crisis. One is to invest our savings and pension funds not in oil and coal, but in firms that positively promote the transition away from carbon to renewable energy – so her antipathy towards our current model of capitalism is not total: she can work within the system to some extent. In addition, she champions the direct action of ‘blockadia’ – passive resistance to fossil fuel extraction and other polluting industries, particularly by the local communities most affected. These need to move beyond ‘NIMBY’ism to a wider perspective: ‘Not In My Back Yard – Nor In Anyone Else’s’. Her inspiring stories often focus on indigenous groups disputing land claims with mining companies in USA and her native Canada (also Nigeria and Ecuador); these stories have less immediate resonance in our corner of the world, although they might inspire us to support the groups described and to think about action in our own context.

For Klein, solutions need to be both top-down and bottom-up. She is convinced that only significant intervention and regulation by governments (of the kind seen in the USA in the 1960s and 70s) can turn the tide, with a kind of Marshall Plan for the planet. But where is the political will to be found? It needs to come from ordinary people, leadership bubbling up from below, with social media helping spread its reach. She draws inspiration and hope from grassroots groups and people movements, often arising from particular crises (such as the Occupy movement after the 2008 financial crash); mass movements are needed now, demanding radical action and initiating it at local levels. I find myself wondering whether this will be enough; I hope so – what is the alternative? She sees one striking example of how this was achieved in the past, in the historic movement to abolish slavery. Despite mockery, outrage and fierce resistance from the powerful, a key foundation of the global economic order – slavery – was eventually abolished (although sadly, with significant compensation paid to the slave owners).

Klein expresses no overt faith stance; but a number of her concerns resonate with mine as a Christian. When so many politicians today resort to self-serving pragmatism as the only way to motivate us, Klein’s moral conviction and passion for social justice is a refreshing change – she sees it as morally self-evident that we need to reduce the glaring inequalities that marginalise many and disfigure our world. The world’s poorest people are those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The urgency of this task for our day which she conveys reminds me of the Kairos Document’s challenge to apartheid at a pivotal moment in South Africa. For Naomi Klein, the climate change crisis is an opportunity to transform and reinvent our cultural values, and so our world; to embrace a worldview of ‘interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy’ (p.462). An inspiring vision, and a tall order to achieve. For me, that will take grace, courage and perseverance which we need God to nurture within us and draw out of us.

Bill Goodman, August 2016

Advertisements

The story of the black stuff

img_1388_2The roots of the devastation that is climate change lie in the same roots as the industrial revolution – in the discovery and burning of coal. Leading to steam engines, capitalism, colonialism and the British Empire. Without coal, none of this would have been possible. And we have merely been postponing the consequences.

It has been clear to me for a while that in order to stop rampant global warming, we will need to consume much less. There may be some technological fixes, and it will help if we switch to renewables. But at the end of the day, the earth’s resources are finite, and we need to stop using them up at the current rate.

But this using up of resources is what our economy is based on. We depend on perpetual growth to make the world go round. If people stop buying so much stuff, then we won’t need to make as much stuff, so there won’t be as much work to go round. There will be less money being spent and less profit being made. I can see some easy solutions – shorter working hours, but with a decent minimum wage so everyone can manage, and capping of wages at the top. But all of this is a great departure from our current system of how we measure progress and success.

So far, this is challenging, but not too difficult to conceptualise and imagine how we might get there. What I’m struggling with today is not what the future might look like, but how we interpret our past. The coal that built the world we live in is the cause of its destruction. The rapacious appetites of capitalism and empire have created gross inequalities between people and countries north and south, and stored up in the atmosphere enough carbon to finish us off.

But coal built the world we live in. As I walk to work through Leeds city centre, I admire the beautiful buildings that coal built. And I live in Sheffield, a city built on steel. To regret the industrial revolution feels like betrayal. The wealth created by capitalism transformed our lives – warmth, comfort, health, leisure. There’s no way I want to go back to subsistence farming, or even working in a Lancashire cotton mill. I like the life that I lead, but how do I process it?

Does it even matter? Do we need to develop a new narrative to come to terms with our past in order to move on with our future? Is the reason that we seem to be failing to face up to climate change anything to do with the fact that it means owning up to our responsibility? That the life we lead has caused climate change. Not just our current lifestyles, but 300 years of history on which our country is based.

We are already facing up to the realisation that progress is no longer inevitable, that our children’s lives will not necessarily be better than our parents’. But now I think we have to face up to the idea that what we call progress is not all it seems, certainly not all progress is for the better. There is much about our past that we have cause to regret – slavery is but one example that springs to mind, and having lived in Liverpool I have admired the beautiful buildings there built on the back of slaves. But until now, I have never stared down the whole edifice of capitalism and wondered if it should ever have happened at all.

What story do we need to tell ourselves about who we are, what we have done, and where we are going? We need to acknowledge the good things that capitalism has brought. There is progress that we can celebrate. But we must also acknowledge the cost, not just the fact of it, but the enormity of the price. Was there a better way? Could we have transformed our lives to this extent without the same rape and pillage of the earth? We can never know, and we cannot change what we have done.

But we can learn from our mistakes. When we tell our stories, we must tell them with humility. We enjoy so much about what progress has brought, but this progress has come at great cost, and that cost is not being borne equally. Our history is not a history of learning to tame the earth, but thinking that we have learnt to tame the earth and now finding out that we haven’t. And now these lessons need to inform our future, and a new understanding of what progress looks like.

 

I’ve been reading Naomi Klein’s ‘This changes everything’ and this train of thought was set off by chapter 5, which I’m currently half way through!