This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

By Naomi Klein
Penguin Random House, November 30, 2013, $36.95

On Burnaby Mountain, while oil company Kinder Morgan works to lay a pipeline, growing numbers of people have been standing and resisting since September 3.

Indigenous land defenders and settler allies point out that these are still unceded Indigenous lands. Occupying them to establish the Trans Mountain pipeline, transporting crude oil and refined products from Edmonton to Burnaby, would also bring 890,000 barrels of tar sands oil every day. This at a time when nearly every day another report reveals that our climate is more susceptible to carbon dioxide than we realized, and that we should be keeping it all in the ground to stand anywhere near a chance.

“[W]hy are we putting our economic system — the market — above the very ecology that we all depend upon?” asked Tamo Campos, the grandson of David Suzuki, after being arrested on the mountain recently. “We’re more dependent on clean water, fresh air and clean soil, than the market! It’s the thing that keeps us alive.”

It should be clear why Kinder Morgan would continue with a plan that even a cursory look at the latest climate science shows would be disastrous. The reason is it’s profitable — at least for its stakeholders.

This intersection between our economic and ecological system is where Naomi Klein’s latest book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, lives.

The ecological crisis, she argues, is inextricable from our way of organizing our social and political world. Perhaps the recognition that dealing with climate change would be questioning, and potentially uprooting, all our most basic assumptions about how to live is what keeps us from facing the threat to our ecology squarely.

We’ll catch snippets of the latest warnings, or the most recent assessment that things are even worse than we thought, and then we’ll turn away. To face it is to acknowledge that something is deeply wrong with how we live.

For this reason, we also turn away from discussions about our social and economic systems.

Klein acknowledges and empathizes with this tendency, but asks us to turn away no longer. Both our ecological and our economic systems must be understood, however grim doing so may be, and they must be seen as affecting and even reinforcing one another.

The climate crisis, she argues, is the product of a system which displaces people and which plunders the land as if it had no inherent value in order to extract profitable resources. The capitalist ethic of “progress” at all costs is the crisis.

And if this mode of operating is at the heart of ecological problem, we must find new ways to organize ourselves. We must topple the systems of power, which laid so much of this world to waste.

The examples of ways forward for Klein lie in the efforts by Indigenous people to resist extraction throughout the global south and on Turtle Island. Not only have Indigenous communities stopped pipelines and fracking, and countless other ecologically disastrous measures — but they’ve also exemplified a way of life that’s sustainable and built around mutual aid.

Promoting the social good is what, according to Klein, will starve the motivation towards greed and consumption. We might finally have society that redistributes wealth so that people are no longer so destitute that they must work jobs in the mining or oil and gas industry. We would invest more in environmentally sustainable jobs, like health care and child care, and education.

Despite marshaling a great deal of surprising and disheartening information about just how profitable killing the planet has become, Klein’s book leaves one with a sense of hope.

It leaves one feeling that a true climate justice movement, which connects diverse struggles, will not only be strong enough to defeat the current system of power — it can also help bring about a world which, she writes, is “frankly, better than where we are right now.”

Daniel Tseghay is an editor for The Mainlander.