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5 Crucial Lessons for the Left from Naomi Klein’s New Book

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page, Politics and Democracy and our  Health Issues.


Naomi Klein (Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images)  

In her previous books The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007) and NO LOGO: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs (2000), Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein took on topics like neoliberal "shock therapy," consumerism, globalization and "disaster capitalism," extensively documenting the forces behind the dramatic rise in economic inequality and environmental degradation over the past 50 years. But in her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (due in stores September 16), Klein casts her gaze toward the future, arguing that the dangers of climate change demand radical action now to ward off catastrophe. She certainly isn't alone in pointing out the urgency of the threat, but what sets Klein apart is her argument that it is capitalism - not carbon - that is at the root of climate change, inexorably driving us toward an environmental Armageddon in the pursuit of profit. This Changes Everything is well worth a read (or two) in full, but we've distilled some of its key points here.

1. Band-Aid solutions don't work.

"Only mass social movements can save us now. Because we know where the current system, left unchecked, is headed."

Much of the conversation surrounding climate change focuses on what Klein dismisses as "Band-Aid solutions": profit-friendly fixes like whizz-bang technological innovations, cap-and-trade schemes and supposedly "clean" alternatives like natural gas. To Klein, such strategies are too little, too late. In her drawn-out critique of corporate involvement in climate change prevention, she demonstrates how profitable "solutions" put forward by many think tanks (and their corporate backers) actually end up making the problem worse. For instance, Klein argues that carbon trading programs create perverse incentives, allowing manufacturers to produce more harmful greenhouse gases, just to be paid to reduce them. In the process, carbon trading schemes have helped corporations make billions - allowing them to directly profit off the degradation of the planet. Instead, Klein argues, we need to break free of market fundamentalism and implement long-term planning, strict regulation of business, more taxation, more government spending and reversals of privatization to return key infrastructure to public control.

2. We need to fix ourselves, not fix the world.

"The earth is not our prisoner, our patient, our machine, or, indeed, our monster. It is our entire world. And the solution to global warming is not to fix the world, it is to fix ourselves."

Klein devotes a full chapter of the book to geoengineering: the field of research, championed by a niche group of scientists, funders and media figures, that aims to fight global warming by altering the earth itself - say, by covering deserts with reflective material to send sunlight back to space or even dimming the sun to decrease the amount of heat reaching the planet. However, politicians and much of the global public have raised environmental, health and ethical concerns regarding these proposed science experiments with the planet, and Klein warns of the unknown consequences of creating "a Frankenstein's world," with multiple countries launching projects simultaneously. Instead of restoring an environmental equilibrium, Klein argues these "techno-fixes" will only further upset the earth's balance, each one creating a host of new problems, requiring an endless chain of further "fixes." She writes, "The earth - our life support system - would itself be put on life support, hooked up to machines 24/7 to prevent it from going full-tilt monster on us."      
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