“You have been negotiating all my life.” said the Canadian college student Anjali Appadurai, addressing the assembled government negotiators at the 2011 United Nations climate conference in Durban, South Africa. In 2011, Anjali was twenty-one years old.
The international response to climate change was launched in 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, with the signing of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Earth Summit convention committed countries to stabilise “greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. It set a voluntary goal of reducing emissions from developed countries to 1990 by 2000, a goal the most countries did not met. Our governments wasted years fudging numbers and squabbling over start dates, perpetually trying to get extensions. In the meantime, the emissions form fossil fuels, instead of reducing, have significantly increased. The history of climate change policy is full of missed targets and broken promises.
This Changes Everything is divided into three parts. The first part is a critique to right-wing think-tanks and lobby groups that deny climate change and theirs attempt to block climate action and discredit climate science. Naomi Klein minces no words when it comes to Big Green groups, ‘Green billionaires’ and corporate environmentalism. When capitalism itself is a principal cause of climate change, Klein argues, you cannot expect billionaires to put the planet before corporate profit. It is a compelling argument, but I found Klein’s critique to people like Bill Gates and Richard Branson harsh and rather unfair.
In the second part, Klein discusses the ideas to geoengineer Earth’s climate and she warns of unknown consequences both intended and unintended. Quite a few observers worry that, under Trump, the climate engineering could become part of a justification for delaying government action to curb carbon emissions, with the reasoning that geoengineering technologies could be used to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Geoengineering refers to a wide range of techniques. Regrettably, Klein focusses in only one of them, Solar Radiation Management or SRM, a technology that seeks to manage the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth.
She further discusses the wave of protests against oil and gas developments around the world from my closest site, the protest against fracking at Balcombe, in West Sussex, UK, back in 2013, to Skouries in Greece, and from Pungesti in Romania to the badlands of Alberta in Canada.
I was pleasantly surprised by the number and dynamism of movements and direct action campaigns led by the Indigenous people in the United States, Canada, Australia and Arctic. Naomi Klein believes that this is a new kind of social movement, a reproductive rights movement that could strengthen our communities and challenge the current worldview that values profits over the wellness of both people and the planet. It is a movement that question the nation-state, and imagine “new forms of sovereignty” based on interrelatedness and responsibility.
Some of Klein’s ideas are less convincing, especially the idea that corporate elites are in charge of the world. We live in a geopolitically hostile and uncertain world, where great powers are fighting for natural resources. It is an unstable and dangerous world but not only because a powerful corporate elite is in charge.
She also overlooks the effect of overpopulation. Human population grew from 1.6 billion to 6.1 billion people during the course of the 20th century. It is expected to surpass nine billion over the next few decades. Many politicians and business people believe that a technological fix – in this case geoengineering – will allow the population and the economy to grow forever, but this is a delusion. Overpopulation will have a huge impact on natural resources and it is still uncertain how population growth and over-consumption will impact global warming.
This Changes Everything is not just a book about climate change. It is also a book that emphasizes respect for our planet, cooperation and responsibility. It is a provocative, passionate and optimistic book. Naomi Klein is right that we need to move as rapidly as possible to a low-carbon world. We need to move from dirty to clean tech.