Does This Change Anything? Or, “Is Earth F**ked?”

So I got Naomi Klein’s latest book This Changes Everything (2015, originally published in 2014) as a Christmas present from Santa (or, since my three-year old is probably not reading this I can go ahead and say my lovely wife actually). I also just a couple of days ago watched the film that Klein made together with her husband Avi Lewis. The film was kindly shown for free as part of the Vaasa EnergyWeek at the local movie theater. Below follow some thoughts on both the film* and the book, both of which revolve around some of the same central questions as my own research.

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Credit: books.simonandschuster.com

First, the obvious thing when looking at the book cover of this particular version is the subtitle “Capitalism vs the Climate” (this is actually missing from my own version). Noticeably, it is also missing from the film’s poster (featured image above). This brings us directly to the first, rather major, difference between the book and its ‘light version’, the film (again, if I missed something substantial due to the lacking subtitles then see my explanation [*] at the bottom of the page).

In the book, Klein takes on capitalism and its destructive consequences head on in an understandable yet intellectually convincing way, demonstrating how its demand for constant growth not only destroys nature (seen as a ‘resource’ by capitalists) but also, by demanding constant optimizing and streamlining, shifts jobs away from the Global North to the Global South. Now, seeing that the Global North is vastly richer than the Global South, this could even be looked on as being somehow equitable. But, when vast amounts of people working full-time jobs in both the North and South struggle to earn living wages at the same time as the one percenters are increasing their profits and natural environments are being destroyed in an ever-increasing pace, it’s plain to see that what we are seeing is neither fair nor equitable.

The film version makes the attempt to look at the issue of Global warming more from an individual level than a systemic one. This is done in a way that is at times somewhat naive; scenes cutting between beer-bellied tar sands (funny how the pronunciation of that almost sounds like Tarzans) workers drinking after work, and Native American families peacefully strolling in meadows make the contrasts just a little too obvious for my taste. Throughout, the film stays closer to the ‘little person’ than the book. Obviously, attempting the kind of thorough analysis of the relationship that capitalism and its ugly cousin, fossil fuel business, have to the environment and Global warming would be difficult in a 90-minute film. As it is in a blog post, so I’ll just cut to some main points next.

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Naomi Klein. Credit: naomiklein.org

Regarding my own research, the most important parts of the book, specifically, were how both masculinity and “social and economic privilege” are linked to climate change denial (46) and how the othering and feminizing of nature may contribute to its being treated as both a resource and as something that needs to be ‘managed by sensible men’ positioned somewhere outside and above it (169-170). Klein also rightly criticizes recent developments in ecomodernity (57, 89). The relationship between ‘ecomodern’ capitalist-technological environmental optimism and masculinity is something that I’m planning to discuss also in my own research. Klein also convincingly argues how previous cases of the (at least relative) success of the “second-wave feminist movement” (453) and MLK’s civil rights campaigns can show us both that change is possible and also perhaps offer models on how that change could be facilitated.

The book names several steps that should be taken on a systemic, socio-political level in order to move towards a sustainable future. These include “cheap public transit”, “affordable, energy-efficient housing”, “low-energy forms of agriculture”, and so forth (91). She makes her point truly well in convincing the reader that if the planet is to stand any chance of surviving the current climate crisis, all new fossil fuel sources should be left in the ground. This is so imperatively important and blindingly obvious that it is amazing that we humans still continue to excavate for new and more fuel sources when the reality is that we should leave most of the oil, etc.  that we have already found, under ground. That said, I did find it strange that the book makes practically no mention of one of the easiest ways any individual can reduce their carbon footprint: radically reducing one’s meat consumption. It is entirely possible that this ‘lack’ is only due to her having deemed promoting this particular measure to be strategically ill advised, as it could potentially alienate some of the people that she is trying to win over. All in all, however, the measures outlined and the reasoning behind them make perfect sense.

Then, as for the concrete steps that the book suggests we the global population should take: We should resist. This is emphasized in both the film and the book, and this resistance should be directed against both capitalism in general, and the fossil fuel industry especially. The targets may seem a bit broad but the book, at least, manages to make this case quite well, and even offers its reader a lot of hope in the potential success of this resistance.

A couple of final thoughts to conclude: When thinking about whether this book and film could actually change anything (not to mention everything) I was struck by a very powerful thought that my old hero (as well as the subject of my MA Thesis) Gary Snyder said** about how an individual could/should act in regards to the devastation of the environment: We should think of it as a question of style, i.e. it doesn’t really matter what we think is going to happen to the planet, whether it (and we along it) will survive, or whether we are all screwed. What matters is what we do, and what we should do is to live life in good style, i.e. do big or small good things when we get the chance, and above all, as the core teaching of Buddhism informs, avoid doing unnecessary harm.

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Gary Snyder. Credit: oregonlive.com

Brad Werner (cited in Klein 2015, 449) asks: “Is Earth F**ked?”. To think of it in terms of Zen Buddhism***: possibly. Yet, what we should do is live our lives as well as possible, which means giving a damn about nature and at least trying in some small way to do something environmentally positive; Driving around in a Hummer while wearing a fur coat and eating steak is just plain bad style. (Mellow) rant over; I, whose carbon footprint is significantly increased by my frequent travels, am well aware that people living in glass houses should be wary of throwing too many stones around.

To return to This Changes Everything: Both the film and the book end up in the same conclusion: Change must come. And, optimistically, they both see it as coming from below, i.e. no longer will politicians and economists alone decide from top-to-bottom the direction that the Earth’s population will take. No, it is the people from bottom-up who will make those decisions. If this sounds more than a little optimistic, you’re not alone. However, the book at least makes a fairly good (though still optimistic) case that this will happen. If you disagree (or agree), read the book yourself. It is worth it. As for the film, let’s just say that I give it three stars (I could be convinced to give it a fourth if I saw a version of it that wasn’t technically compromised). I didn’t give any stars in my previous film review so maybe I’m getting better in this film review thing, eh..? In any case, the next blog post will most likely be about something other than films. I am actually kinda itching to write about the various manifestoes circling around in the world and the academia but we’ll see. Thanks for reading.

*I do appreciate very much that this film screening was arranged in the first place, and free of charge too, but unfortunately the lack of subtitles in this particular screening detracted more than a little both from the enjoyment of the film and understanding it (a large portion of the film features people from India, China, and Greece who talk their native languages). Therefore, if it looks like I missed anything at all in the above ‘analysis’ then I’ll just go ahead and blame the lack of subtitles, not my own possible lack of understanding.

**Apologies for the missing reference. I’ll dig it up at some point and update it here in the blog. It might be either in his interview book The Real Work, or possibly in Practice of the Wild.

***Snyder is thoroughly trained in Zen Buddhism which is often intellectually lazily portrayed in the West as being somehow a mellow and chilled out, ‘anything goes’ approach to life. Though it can, for amusement’s sake, sometimes be thought of like that, it’s not really very fruitful. I actually sometimes amuse myself by making comparisons between Zen Buddhism and postmodernist philosophy, and often I find myself thinking that the hardcore Zen philosophers were way ahead of their Western, postmodernist ‘counterparts’.

Featured image credit (Holy moly, I don’t know what happened but I think it’s actually [maybe] visible via mobile phone also!): thischangeseverything.org

References

Klein, Naomi (2015). This Changes Everything. Capitalism vs. the Climate. London: Penguin.

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