By Meg Sherman, a student of Modern History and Politics at University of Southampton.
The global movement to divest from fossil fuels is a clear-thinking, progressive choice for action on climate change. This Changes Everything: Capitalism VS The Climate, a newly published volume by Naomi Klein, provides an invaluable history of environmental and economic injustices and should be required reading for anyone interested in the divestment movement.
The truth on climate change is hard to identify in a world where business is powerfully invested in misinformation. But under the smog of denialism the effects of human-made global warming (via carbon emissions) are already being wrought in real, violent ways upon the planet: ways of life are being extinguished; low-lying pacific islands look set to be swallowed by the sea; global temperatures melt previous records with alarming alacrity, and extreme weather events displacing large populations are fast becoming the norm. Our generation lives throughout the endgame of industrial civilization, a time when humanity urgently needs new, compelling narratives about potential transformations in society, economics and politics. Incisive, compelling and relevant as its predecessors, Capitalism VS The Climate appears as a stray flicker of hope, imploring a thoughtful resistance to predatory capitalism and envisioning a real place for a climate movement with redistributive justice at its’ core.
Following in the path of No Logo and Shock Doctrine, Klein’s latest volume deepens her earlier work exposing the disastrous underbelly of neoliberal globalization. The crux of her argument is that the environmental crisis is itself a consequence of the systematic desolation of the global commons, increasingly privatized and deregulated by centralized trading regimes, dominated by the richer industrialized nations, questing for more control of planetary resources. Shock Doctrine railed against the callousness of structural adjustment regimes which deprived nascent economies in the global south of their health, wealth and stability in order to serve the narrow interests and myopic greed of corporations and profiteers, that is to say, the agenda of the 1%. And in Capitalism VS The Climate Klein, using the aftermath of hurricane Katrina by way of example as to how reconstruction efforts can be hijacked and stymied, argues that global warming itself will be hoisted to the engine of the shock doctrine insofar as business competes to advantage from mounting crises without advancing help, solutions, assistance or attempts to mitigate and alleviate the accruing damage. Instead they use crises cynically as a platform for further deregulation and privatization, undermining public unity and collective solidarity. This is disaster capitalism laid bare: a lethal obstacle to public health and environmental sustainability. Major economies founded on the extraction of fossil fuels and emission of greenhouse gases are the major crisis culprits, stoking inequalities. Key stakeholder groups with historically the least restricted access to resources deriving from this foundation are called upon to amend their high-consumption lifestyles, to rediscover the real need for economic justice, or condemn global citizens to further disaster.
Klein looks to initiatives already underway which speak to hopes of achieving lasting social and environmental security by approximating more conscientious and democratic ways of life. Capitalism VS The Climate integrates the lessons and voices of Cheyenne social movements who live on lands intersected by the Keystone XL pipeline, and who have given life to the concept of stewardship by taking bold leaps forward in the resistance against big oil with public education initiatives empowering citizens to establish clean forms of power production in their own communities, harnessing abundant sources like solar and wind energy. Corporate rhetoric has a canny habit of reframing disastrous policies which attack the lives of vulnerable people as a triumph for democracy as much as it has a way of casting radical change as beyond the spectrum of possibility. But in Klein’s view the alternative is not only clear, but well within the means and creativity of people everywhere:
“with the right kind of public pressure, money can be marshaled not just to rebuild cities and communities, but to transform them into models of nonextractive living… activists can demand everything from free, democratically controlled public transit, to more public housing along those transit lines, powered by community-controlled renewable energy – with the jobs created by this investment going to local workers and paying a living wage.”
When it comes to climate change prominent politicians and business leaders argue that we can overcome it by investing more faith in technological and market-based solutions, perpetuating the idea that we don’t need wholesale social and economic reform to underwrite the transition to a low-carbon future. Klein on the other paw argues that a deregulated system which creates the widespread market failure of climate change has obviously outlived its utility, and she argues for more support for research directed at renewable energies, as a pre-requisite for solving issues of public health and the environment. She is astute when she argues that if you take the warnings of modern climate science to their logical conclusion then we ought to have democratically control over public utilities so that they are governed less recklessly. A well-known truism states that madness is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. Einstein put it this way: We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” How, then, can we rely on plutocratic capitalism to solve a problem it created and support the long term needs of life on Earth?
Global forecasts predict another unassailable reality aside climate change, that fledgling economies like Brazil, Russia, India and China, tailed by developing LEDCS, will together surpass the activity of the traditional MEDCs and G7 by the middle of this century. The total energy demanded to support those transitions is huge. And two imperatives are to meet that demand and to do it whilst reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions. Concurrently. An immense challenge. It is clear that climate change is an urgent global issue and getting good policy and functional alternatives on the go is crucial as only this will form the basis for societies and industries to reverse the very damaging practices inherent in current methods of production, to respect the balance of nature, and ensure we put a stop to pollution everywhere to protect the shared lands which sustain life on the planet. And the narrative in Capitalism VS The Climate is driven by a heartfelt wish to open people’s eyes to the collective power we have to create new visions and strategies, real options and choices for progressive, radical change in a future which runs fugitive from the totalizing, destructive ambitions of corporate capitalism.