Sunday, November 02, 2014

Naomi Klein - This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate

This review was first published in Socialist Worker (UK) issue 2429 (11 Nov 2014)

There’s no denying it—capitalism is damaging the planet. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report proves that humans are fundamentally changing the environment, leading to a more dangerous climate.

The impact will be immense, particularly on the world’s poorest. The report says that to avoid dangerous climate change above 2°C, energy generation must be almost entirely low carbon by 2050 and completely so by 2100. 

The report’s authors hope it will influence a global treaty being prepared for December 2015. 

But there are worrying signs. Some countries such as oil supplier Saudi Arabia were concerned about sections that urged reductions of fossil fuel use. 

A previous attempt to get countries to agree to serious action in 2009 was scuppered by a coalition of governments led by US president Barack Obama.

But there is also a growing climate movement demanding action. In September there were big protests worldwide as government representatives met in New York. 

Another indication of the new mood is the popularity of Naomi Klein’s latest book, This Changes Everything. A launch event in London drew some 2,000 attendees.

The book is explicitly anti-capitalist. Klein writes that we need to “protect humanity from the ravages of both a savagely unjust economic system and a destabilised climate system”. 

Reducing emissions gives us the “chance to advance policies that dramatically improve lives, close the gap between rich and poor, create huge numbers of good jobs, and reinvigorate democracy from the ground up”.

Environmental action cannot be left to individuals such as the “lifestyle decisions of earnest urbanites who like going to farmers’ markets on Saturday afternoons”. 

Instead, we need state action such as sustainable transport and energy-efficient housing.

Market mechanisms are supposed to reduce emissions. But Klein points out that the private sector has played only a tiny role in investing in renewable energies. Governments have been responsible for nearly everything.

Klein says we need an “alternative worldview” and mass movements such as those that fought against slavery or for civil rights. We need to “Grow the Caring Economy, Shrinking the Careless One”. 

Klein sometimes looks to local change, such as communities divesting from fossil fuel industries and supporting sustainable alternatives. But she also acknowledges the need for economic planning, tough regulation of businesses and higher taxation for the rich.

This is important stuff and has incurred the wrath of many right wingers. 

But while Klein’s book looks to challenging capitalism, it is less clear about who has the power to do this. The fossil fuel companies have already demonstrated how they will fight to protect their interests.

Klein quotes Karl Marx, noting capitalism’s irreparable rift with “the natural laws of life itself”. This is why we need to overthrow the system. 

The force to do this is the working class. Through its unique role in capitalist production, it has the power to stop the system and build a new world. 

As Klein says, in the face of climate change, “only mass social movements can save us now”.

Related Reviews

Foster - Marx's Ecology

Burkett - Marxism and Ecological Economics
Thomas - Man and the Natural World
Monbiot - Heat
Kolbert - The Sixth Extinction

Heinberg - SnakeOil

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