Simon & Schuster ($30)
by Eliza Murphy
The heat is on. If not the hottest year ever recorded, 2014 sizzled to one of the hottest in the past decade, the result of global warming trends that scientists attribute to human activity. How economic lust and a broken political system have precipitated this climate catastrophe is at the heart of Naomi Klein’s latest book, This Changes Everything.
Klein traces the world’s ecological crisis back to the Industrial Revolution, when coal burning ushered in a new phenomenon: the introduction of gases to the earth’s atmosphere with a potential to turn the planet into a hothouse. Add the burning of oil and gas and the energy-intensive process of extracting fossil fuels, and we’ve got a formula for disaster.
This broken system treats the planet and its inhabitants as if they were disposable and infinitely replenishable, but Klein makes it clear that life on the planet can no longer bear doing business as usual. Her call acts like bellows on smoldering coals of citizen action, a historically successful means of bringing about social change.
Since the industry will stop at nothing to get at the remaining oil and gas deep underground, citizens around the world must stop at nothing to prevent that from happening. Citizens must insist on renewable sources of energy and a more equitable distribution of money. Polluting corporations must be held accountable by paying for the damage they’ve caused.
Klein’s investigation reveals the uncomfortable necessity of reining in our insatiable appetite for the pleasures and conveniences made possible by the remains of liquefied dinosaur bones, sucked from beneath the earth’s crust using increasingly destructive and toxic technology. However, as vital as our individual choices might be for curtailing greenhouse gas emissions, Klein argues that uniting against social and environmental injustice is more urgent. She builds a steady and convincing case that to do otherwise will likely make life on Earth unbearable.
From the start, the book flabbergasts the reader with non-stop what-the-#*%! moments. Klein exposes high-profile environmental groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy, whose leaders reap riches through a free market intent on gutting regulations essential for environmental protection. Bedding the enemy led to public endorsements by these same organizations for misguided cap-and-trade policies that have only led to further carbon emissions, which is in itself a dangerous trend. It also led to the creation of sacrifice zones around the world. Indigenous people are now treated like criminals for entering forests "owned" by gas and oil companies in unconscionable land grabs.
It comes as less of a surprise that a handful of billionaires like Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet continue to profit from dirty industries while spinning public images as saviors. Klein deflates their green-washed promises, exposing them as hollow. Her profiles demonstrate "that seeing the risks climate change poses to financial markets in the long term may not be enough to curtail the temptation to profit from planet destabilization in the short-term." Adding insult to injury, she reveals that these scoundrels are getting even richer by selling disaster insurance.
Perhaps the chapter "Dimming The Sun," devoted to the most cockamamie hair-brained scheme ever given credence by a scientific community that ought to know better, is most outrageous. Observing “disheveled scientists discussing a parasol for the planet," Klein echoes other international stakeholders in challenging the morality of the methods geo-engineers are plotting for "the exploration of radical interventions into the earth's climate system as a response to global warming."
Even though many of these geeks study volcanoes in an attempt to mimic their earth-cooling effects in an effort to devise similar, manmade planetary air conditioners, the schemes sound utterly preposterous and out of synch with natural history. Solar radiation management, the fix of the moment, is an especially risky endeavor. It entails hosing sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to block out the sun. Not only would this grand experiment interrupt the solar radiation necessary for renewable energy, it would inevitably cause catastrophic drought and make blue skies a relic. This is hubris of the highest order.
In a rare moment of self-disclosure, Klein links her own experience with fertility difficulties to the horrific after-effects of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This chapter touches on the heart of the issue as she describes the difficulties of marine species to reproduce successfully after exposure to the spilled oil and the toxic dispersants used to “clean” up the mess; she calls the tragic animal losses an aquatic miscarriage. Her reports from the Gulf serve as a reminder of what’s at stake: all of the wondrous inhabitants of the planet are imperiled, from squiggling aquatic species unable to survive beyond the larval state to the playful dolphins whose diet depends on them reaching maturity.
There is nothing simplistic about the remedy Klein recommends. It will take a colossal commitment of people from vastly different backgrounds to overcome their subjective differences and fight against uncomfortable objective realities. We all live on a planet choking on life-threatening gaseous effluents that are a direct result of international trade agreements that consistently trump environmental regulations.
Klein urges readers to join forces to ensure that all of Earth’s inhabitants have the chance not only to survive, but also to regenerate. She shows that we must fight for renewable energy, for a just worldwide economic system, and for fossil fuels to stay in the ground as if our lives depend on it—because they do.