Book Review – Naomi Klein – This Changes Everything

Book Review

Naomi Klein – This Changes Everything

We’ve all heard the dire warnings. Whether we choose to do anything about them is another story. In this book—which is a kind of manifesto—Naomi Klein charts a path forward to addressing the climate crisis. She does so by looking back at how we arrived at this moment, who and what behaviors are to blame, and asking what kinds of strategies will be necessary to cope. This is no mere Pollyanna approach. The upheavals in the planet, which are now looking inevitable, will, like all crises, provide opportunity. The question is, who will seize on those opportunities, and based on what vision of the future.

International free trade agreements play a starring role in this tale. Agreements such as NAFTA, and those undergirding loans from the IMF and World Bank, make requirements upon nations that limit local communities’ ability to determine their energy futures. For example, Ontario, Canada, in Klein’s home country, for a time was home to a vibrant industry in green energy. Local content requirements mandated that production utilize local labor and materials, thus guaranteeing resilience against international economic upheavals, which encouraged investors who depend on a certain degree of future reliability. All of this changed when the the EU and Japan charged Ontario with betraying WTO agreements which call for the “free” flow of capital, production, and labor. Investors left, production plummeted, and Ontario’s green energy renaissance flopped.

The solution, and the opportunity Klein sees the climate crisis providing, is for communities to rise up to control their energy futures. The residents of Boulder, Colorado, are in the process of “remunicipalizing” their energy grid: demanding the city reclaim it from its private owner, Xcel, in order to transition to renewable forms of energy – changes which which Xcel showed no interest in making. This movement in the face of climate emergency is indeed already underway: the residents of Greensburg, Kansas, after suffering a catastrophic tornado, came together to initiate changes in their community which have now catapulted them to being called one of the “greenest” towns in America.[i]

Connected with the book are two initiatives which I intend to pursue locally. The first is the “Leap Manifesto”—a declaration of a direction for our movement, to oppose corporate power and reinstall power in communities, to radically reinvent our energy future and redistribute wealth. Right at the beginning of this powerful articulation is the declaration that the voices of indigenous communities must be front and center, for it is these people who have been most affected by the destruction of the capitalist system. They also carry with them the philosophies of environmental stewardship and cooperativism which will sustain our next phase.

The second offering is an educational program, aimed at high school and college students, to bring the content of the book to young people. I would like very much to team up with activists, educators, scientists, and well-intentioned people in the Lowcountry to bring this incisive perspective to our work to reinvent our futures together. This is not an environmental movement, per-se. It is about transforming our social world to create systems which care for the planet and for people.

[i] Any readers of Klein’s previous book, The Shock Doctrine, will be all too familiar with an alternative response to crisis, which she documents in Chile, New Orleans, and other places: privatization and gutting of the public sector. We should not doubt for a second that private profiteers will attempt to devise of the climate emergencies further opportunity to seize resources into private ownership, and install neoliberal policies to ensure their international trade dominance. Klein argues, we must seize this opportunity to create a “People’s Shock:” responding to crisis with an unprecedented power-grab for communities and ordinary people.

 

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