on this changes everything

Expansive and visionary, This Changes Everything demystifies the climate debate and exposes capitalism as the greatest threat to a sustainable future.

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Across three wide-ranging parts Klein urges that bold, structural changes to the global economy must be made if greenhouse gas emissions are to be lowered and cataclysmic climate change avoided. Fueled by the brazen quest for private profit at any public cost, the author insists, the fossil fuel industry has gotten out of control; extraction emissions are soaring, and unless governments across the world begin to tax polluters, subsidize green energy, and redistribute wealth, an unstable, unjust world seems certain.

In lucid prose Klein begins the book by overviewing how neoliberal policies have wrecked havoc on the public sphere and environment over the past four decades, intensifying already-rampant inequality and industrial pollution. Austerity’s eviscerated public services and convinced people their beliefs hold less value than corporate interests, while deregulation’s given industry a free pass to pollute as it pleases. Swiftly surveying countries across the globe, Klein establishes the sinister means by which late capitalism’s annihilated its opposition and put the world on a path to dystopia.

Embedded within the first part’s social history are critiques of incrementalist approaches to climate change. With painstaking attention to detail Klein maps out how, until recently, the environmentalist movement all too often has capitulated to the demands of capital, acquiescing to pollution, daring only to fight for small legislative achievements, and placing faith in the ever-shrinking hope that a free market magically would lead the world toward sustainable energy.

The second part shifts to deconstructing this toxic mythology in full force. Klein takes to task the notion that benevolent billionaires’ green tech initiatives will substantially impact emissions, and she exposes the many ways “Big Green” organizations, more preoccupied with preserving capitalism than the environment, have in fact colluded with the fossil fuel industry for profit. Klein’s as thorough as she is incisive, and breaks down complex concepts clearly.

Adopting a brighter tone, the final section puts forth a wide array of imaginative proposals on how social and environmental justice might be pursued. Referring to real-world examples, past and present, Klein makes clear that there are several ways out of this mess: raising taxes on the wealthy, nationalizing industries, passing ambitious climate legislation, reinvesting in the public sphere through green public works projects, and more.

At a dizzying pace the author also examines recent environmental victories, focusing on how indigenous communities are leading the struggle for eco-justice. Klein vividly illustrates the ingenious ways in which areas affected by the fossil fuel industry’s greed, from Standing Rock to Bolivia, are fighting back and increasingly framing their activism as part of a global anti-capitalist resistance movement aiming to build a new world.

The book’s thesis contends that our current crisis is rooted in what these activists identify as Western extractivism: “a nonreciprocal, dominance-based relationship with the earth, one purely of taking . . . the opposite of stewardship, which involves taking but also taking care that regeneration and future life continue.” The profit-obsessed mindset that’s okay with blowing up a mountaintop to mine for coal is the same that’s comfortable with subjecting people to dangerous, underpaid work.

Arguing that only the shift toward a more humane economy can avert climate catastrophe, This Changes Everything already has deeply impacted American politics, informing resolutions like the Green New Deal. International and inclusive, the book is at once accessible, extensively researched, and well worth (re)reading ahead of the release of Klein’s new work On Fire.

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14 thoughts on “on this changes everything

  1. What exactly is a neoliberal? The way it’s described, it almost sounds more like someone who is anti-environment, which is not how I think of liberals.

    I like that this book takes an anti-capitalist approach. I’ve read arguments for capitalism, and I’m never convinced by them. The main argument that I always hear is, think about how we would only have a couple of types of cell phones instead of competing to create newer, better cell phones. I mean, unless people are taking a capitalist approach to curing diseases or improving the medical system or bettering public schools, I guess I just don’t care if I have more options to buy things that don’t really, in the long-term, matter.

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    1. Neoliberal is just an umbrella term for the worldview that promotes deregulating industry, lowering taxes on the rich, and (paying for those tax cuts by) slashing public services. Think “Reaganomics” but on a global scale, with capitalist countries ganging up and toppling any government that resists.

      It’s interesting that you mention the argument about choice because Klein takes that claim on in another book of hers I’m reading right now, No Logo. She claims that the brands that loudly argue that capitalism creates choices for consumers are the same ones actively trying to crush small businesses, stymie any form of competition, and create a monopoly (e.g. Apple for phones, Starbucks for coffee).

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      1. OH! I’ve heard of No Logo! Okay, cool. Maybe I’ll read her work if I can fit it in. I’ve been leaning toward nonfiction this year, especially memoir and journalism. When I think “choice” I think Baskin Robbins’s 31 flavors. The company has served as an example of how too much choice is increasing anxiety in consumers. We wonder if we made the right choice and then don’t enjoy what we chose because we’re thinking of all the options we didn’t choose. Compare this to when your options were chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.

        Okay, I Wiki-ed “neoliberal” and my head started to spin. I hope I have not been using that term, as I would have used it wrong no matter which iteration was in vogue at the time.

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      2. If you ever have the interest and space opens up in your reading schedule, her latest book, No Is Not Enough, takes on Trump and condenses the ideas of her first three long books. That’s a nice way of putting it – we’re made to second guess ourselves and then encouraged to buy/try out other flavors, even though many of the choices are so similar.

        Out of curiosity I just Wiki-ed it and felt disoriented. I tend to dislike books about the economy because they read that way, needlessly complicating what could be simple concepts, but there are a few authors who I think do a consistently good job of clearly breaking things down.

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  2. I have this on my book shelf but haven’t read it. I think I’ve been a bit scared of it – that it will be too heavy, too depressing. But you make it sound wonderful! I’m happy to hear she includes good news as well as the bad.
    And now, after reading all the comments, I want to read all her books!

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    1. I also felt hesitant to read this for the longest time – the topic’s dreadful and so little’s been done since the time she wrote it – but the last third is surprisingly uplifting and motivational. Interested to know your thoughts on this if you ever have the chance to check it out!

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  3. The only books of hers I’ve read are No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, but I feel like she’s just someone I should loyally follow. And more currently than I am inclined to do, in these days of focussing on various backlist-reading-projects. You’re certainly encouraging on that score lately!

    I just recently listened to the NYTBR podcast interview with David Wallace-Wells, about The Uninhabitable Earth, which sounds like it would make a fascinating companion. (Probably not a good choice for listening to in the middle of the night, in a can’t-sleep moment, however. *laughs*)

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    1. Her latest book, No Is Not Enough, was really inspiring, though fairly U.S.-centric (given it focuses on Trump), and this was brilliant. So much collaborative research went into this that it almost feels co-authored.

      I’ve added The Uninhabitable Earth to my list! I might focus on environmental nonfiction for Nov or Dec, and that looks really interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

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