Saturday 16 April 2016

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

I started reading This Changes Everything way back when in November 2015 in preparation for Cop21 in Paris. Not that I planned to go or even had any high hopes for the outcomes, but I wanted to have more knowledge about the main issues and catch up on the latest thinking about climate change.

I knew this would be a slow read and a slow burn.

There were a lot of facts and information to absorb. A lot of rhetoric and statistics to wade through and weed out.

I spent quite a bit of time trying to work out how and why people could say that climate change is not happening or is not real. That somehow it is a belief rather than a fact that you can choose to accept or not.

The scientists sometimes get the details and specific projections wrong, but the overwhelming data on climate change is undeniable.

Reading the first few chapters in Klein's book sheds some insight into this phenomenon.
A great many of us engage in this kind of climate change denial. We look for a split second and then we look away. Or we look then turn it into a joke....Which is another way of looking away.
Or we look but tell ourselves comforting stories about how humans are clever and will come up with a technological miracle that will safely suck the carbon out of the skies or magically turn down the heat of the sun. Which, i was to discover while researching this book, is yet another way of looking away....
Or we look but tell ourselves that all we can do is focus on ourselves. Meditate and shop at farmers' markets and stop driving....And at first it may appear as if we are looking, becasue many of these lifestyle changes are indeed part of the solution, but we still have one eye tightly shut.
Or maybe we do look - really look - but then, inevitably we seem to forget. Remember and then forget again....We deny because we fear that letting in the full reality of this crisis will change everything. And we are right.

Klein reminds us that governments and countries are historically capable of great change and huge shifts in ideology from the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, the overturning of Apartheid and sex discrimination (still a work in progress, I feel).
We are also capable of finding incredible wealth reserves to tackle major events like terrorism and super storms and other weather related disasters. At times like this, all the old excuses get thrown out with the grey-waste dishwater.
The real trick, the only hope, really, is to allow the terror of an unlivable future to be balanced and soothed by the prospect of building something much better than many of us have previously dared hope.
One would have to say though, that the current plethora of end-of-the-world dystopian YA books in the market right now, indicates that this part of the message is not getting through. According to the dystopian authors, our collective futures are not looking very rosy or bright at all.

Klein tells us who the deniers are and why denying benefits them and their world view. They "believe that they and theirs will be protected from the ravages in question" for now. That they will be able to buy their way out of any difficulties that arise.

She brings to light many of the myths surrounding this topic and shows where they come from and who they benefit.

I got bogged down by the chapters on US politics and the corporate world. It was hard not to feel numb and hopeless at this point of the narrative. How could these traditional, self-serving entities ever grab hold of the "bold long-term planning" required by Klein.

The section on the history of Nauru was heart breaking. Australia's tragic use of this island to house the refugees coming across our seas is but the last in a long line of greed, denial and self-interest. 

The few died-in-the-wool capitalists who actually read this book, will probably attack the ideas in this book as being dangerous, irresponsible, socialist or communist.

Not being an economist, I cannot say much about her discussion on the global markets and how big money looks after it's own, except that it felt right. It reflected what I see happening in the news and in some of our local issues (from a coal mine trying to open in my old home town to getting playing spaces for kids in the suburb I live in now).

There was a lot in Klein's book to make us feel pessimistic about our ability to effect any meaningful change.
Our faith in techno wizardry persists, embedded inside the superhero narrative that at the very last minute our best and brightest are going to save us from remains our culture's most powerful form of magical thinking.
However, the main problem that I had with This Changes Everything, is that in so many ways it changes nothing.

It was a huge brick of book that only the dedicated will ever read word for word. People like myself, who already accept that climate change is real are looking for something practical to do about it. Sure I can attend another grass roots demonstration and divest our family portfolio of non-renewable energy stocks (both of which we've already done to the best of our ability), but what else?

We can protest and change some of our behaviours but unless the big end of town joins in too, then really, the whole thing feels pointless and hopeless.

In the end, the best I idea that I came away with is actually an old one - Pascal's Wager - except in this case, it's in our best interests to believe in climate change because if we're wrong, then the worse thing that can happen is that we have a better world to live in with less pollution. But if we deny climate change and we're wrong, then we're all completely stuffed.

For a more day-to-day practical book about what you can do try The Handbook by Jane Rawson and James Whitmore.

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