First of all, apologies for the long break! I’ve been on holiday and caught up with moving house and dealing with work etc. But now I am back and hitting the ground running!
So on the recommendation of a friend, I read This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein, a Canadian author and environmental activist. After reading the excellent but rather dated book Biomimicry by Janine Benyus last year, I was looking forward to reading something that followed on from this, explaining the various ways being implored to tackle climate change, usually those which relied on science and engineering, and telling us that everything will probably be ok in the end as long as we start acting in the next decade or so.
However Klein’s story offered a much starker truth. The earth is dying because of our reckless, deluded lifestyles, and we have no more than a year to change radically the attitudes and actions of the entire world. And this isn’t because not enough people aren’t turning off their light switches or are driving to work, but the problem resides at a much greater scale, in particular, western governments. Now I have never really been into politics, but This Changes Everything opened up the world of governments based on neoliberal capitalism and how they are devastating this planet to a point of no return, due to arrogance and purposeful ignorance of the fact that climate change exists, and it is their responsibility to do something about it.
Klein breaks the problem down into three sections. Firstly, how and why we started violently polluting the environment; secondly, why there does not seem to be any major changes from the people in power to stop climate change, and finally the thread of hope: the rebellions uniting regular people from all backgrounds against fossil fuel companies and governmental powers, and pushing for renewables and the system overhaul we need to stop destroying the planet. I find that her method of writing is excellent: each chapter she starts with a personal anecdote, through which she weaves in experience, knowledge and casestudies to create the big picture that ties in with the theme of the chapter. Everything she presents is well informed and referenced, with examples and ideas coming from all over the globe. What I loved most about the book was her fearlessness in addressing issues, regardless of who it might upset. She shows no hesitation to state outright the racism of climate change and the social inequality of our current economic systems; points other people shy away from.
Below I have summarised some of the key points from this book that really stood out to me as information I had never really considered or understood before about tackling climate change, and which made me realise the fundamental problems with society’s attitudes towards it:
1. Climate change is happening now.
... And research suggests that we only have until 2017 to make the major move into clean renewable energy, otherwise we may push the world beyond its tipping point and we shall not be able to halt the consequent changes (note that this book was first published in 2014, so we had a three year warning…) Yet it is remarkable that there have still not been those important steps, and climate change is still portrayed as a weak threat distant in the future.
2. There have been few advances in tackling climate change because of capitalism.
This is because in this market, big businesses and a wealthy minority are in control of everything, and we run on constantly consuming more products, more resources. However this is seen as the norm in most countries, and many people do not like this negative view as it appears too communist, hence it and the dangers of climate change have been so profoundly ignored. What’s more, outright denial is still rife in communities, with the majority of culprits being white male conservatives. An addition to the problem is that companies are making the move to renewables impossible: for example, by taking smaller companies to court for hiring local staff as it “violates international trade laws”. Another example is energy schemes, most of which are privatized, as these alone cannot deliver on the scale required to combat climate change, unlike public schemes. But we cannot just blame the big coal and energy companies for mucking up the planet. Everyone seems to be getting their hands dirty, including some major environmentalist groups. There seems to be an addiction to money, so strong that we have forgotten the values of nature. There is a greater value on oil than there is water, the one substance we need to survive (it makes up 60% of our cells!), and yet we are constantly polluting it with rubbish, toxic chemicals and pesticides, we are continuously focusing on producing more dirty energy, pumping out more objects to maintain consumerism, and turning a blind eye to the poisonous waste we are producing that will eventually kill us. We are so quick to bail out banks with billions of pounds, but we cannot survive without clean water or air, so why aren’t we investing in them?
3. Climate change is racist.
A lot of people don’t care about climate change because they don’t think it will affect them. And that may be true for some people, but which parts of the world are going to suffer most? The Climate Change Vulnerability Index 2015 suggests it is going to be countries in Africa and Asia suffering from flooding, droughts and more extreme weather. And yet the countries that have already gone through their industrial revolutions and polluted excessively are showing no sign of stopping, because they are not in the firing line. Do you really think that if the UK or USA were threatened by such severe climate disasters, they would stand back and do nothing, as they are doing now? Instead they continue to pollute, adding more and more carbon into the air, because it doesn’t matter if some random island of brown people disappears under the ocean, right? As long as the effects of climate change feel far away, both in time and space, western countries are likely not to cut back their emissions to help other countries, especially if it will limit their production which keeps that old economy going. And the racism not only continues at the consequences of climate change, but began at the causes of it too. Often the areas that are most directly damaged by fossil fuel companies, for example by water pollution or mines scarring the earth, are those that house poorer, ethnic minority communities. They tend to have no political power or method to stop the government from destroying their land, and so have no say in the matter. And once again, nobody seems to care. I really wonder whether there would be a difference if those communities affected were white, middle class families… although the answer to that question makes me feel slightly nauseous.
4. If we want change, it won’t come from the government.
Instead we need to rely on support from each other, from people like you and me. We are the ones suffering, but by joining together from different backgrounds, we can share knowledge and expertise and protect our land from frackers and oil companies. We can demand that the governments make energy schemes public, and build a more fair community for everyone. Uprisings are occurring all over the world against fuel companies trying to attack beautiful or protected areas for more oil, coal and gas. Not only is the fight for preserving land inspiring, but it is also wonderful to see people uniting over a common good cause: young learning history from the elderly, and teaching them the power of technology and social media, first nation communities passing down their knowledge to farmers and ranchers, people from all backgrounds working together to prevent climate change and to protect the environment. It is movements like this that generate that sprig of hope, signaling a change for a better future.
Overall, I really loved reading This Changes Everything. At times it could be a bit depressing and left me feeling forlorn, but by the end I felt like I understood much better why we are in the climate change situation that we are in, and what we can do about it. I highly recommend this book to everyone interested in climate change, environmentalism, economics or politics!