Naomi Klein’s work, published a week before the 2014 UN Climate Summit in New York, is an attempt to identify the underlying socioeconomic causes to climate change as well as propose systemic solutions. Key actors in the global debate around climate policy and their roles in shaping it are considered. The point of view of governments, international policymakers, NGOs, climatologists, and corporate interests are presented and evaluated thoroughly in the book, over 700 pages long.
The author of The Shock Doctrine (2007), a critical look into the history and evolution of neoliberalism, is unsurprisingly cynical about the ability of the current political and economic system to effectively combat climate change. In fact, Klein argues that three broadly neoliberal policies are incompatible with her framework on combating the issue: privatisation of public services, deregulation of the corporate sector, and the lowering of corporate and income taxes. She also identifies them as explanatory factors for actions that she sees as harming the climate movement, such as climate change skepticism and denial, and the co-optation of the messages of international environmental organisations such as Greenpeace and the WWF in a way that they would not counter corporate interests.
One of Klein’s fundamental issues with the solutions to climate change that are popular within policy making circles is the belief that solutions will be generated through market forces. This, along with the related stream of thought, where climate solutions ought to be framed in a manner that appeals to investors, is that it obscures the need for intervention at a large, systemic scale in order to achieve even the relatively modest targets laid out at climate conferences. Despite this, she also points out the need for consumerist societies more generally to self-reflect on how they relate to their economic system and built environment, making allusions to the degrowth movement that has advocated for a collective reduction in rates of consumption and a re-orientation of priorities in public works investment towards wide-ranging “green infrastructure” projects. Klein also highlights a flawed approach in how the economy views the environment, arguing that we need to move away from seeing the planet as primarily as a place from which resources can be extracted.
Climate change itself, Klein posits, also provides the source for cross-ideological, transnational organisation against what she terms “free market fundamentalism.” She introduces the concept of “Blockadia” as emergent sites of conflict where extractive and environmentally damaging projects are being contested the world over. Ultimately, Klein views opportunity in how the global combat against climate change has evolved over the past few decades, viewing grassroots organising beyond borders as a sign that the climate movement is “driven by a desire for a deeper form of democracy” (p. 295) and that more and more people are beginning to have an influence on climate change discourse. She cites the rise of climate activism in globally influential, rapidly expanding economies such as India and China as signs of the internationalisation and democratisation of the movement.
"The collective response to the climate crisis is changing from something that primarily takes place in closed-door policy and lobbying meetings into something alive and unpredictable and very much in the streets (and mountains, and farmers’ fields, and forests)." (295-96)
Out of her sense of optimism, Klein proposes a few broad and wide-ranging approaches to combating climate change. One of these is the platforming and consideration of indigenous knowledge systems as alternatives to the extractivist world-view, as many of these teach humans to live alongside and safeguard land and resources. On top of that, some also believe that the Earth is a common good to be managed democratically, directly challenging the neoliberal property rights framework.
Widespread adoption and exploration of heterodox perspectives such as these, Klein claims, would lead to a shift in thinking in terms of our economic priorities. States that have built their economies on an industrial-scale exploitation of natural resources would begin to support green projects with a clear vision and distribute the means of building green energy infrastructure to developing countries. This is based on her concept of “climate debt,” where the greatest emitters have a moral obligation to offset historical emissions through at least equal investment in green energy and sustainable development initiatives.
Interestingly, Klein goes on to remark that reproductive rights movements are emerging within climate movements as well, though their advocacy is based around alternative world-views that see extractivism as harmful to the reproductive capacity of animals as well as humans. She argues that we must center the right of all species and systems to reproduce, calling back to the ability of natural ecosystems to regenerate after breakdown. Managing consumption would allow for the revival and renewal of not only the world’s resources, but also its ecosystems and biodiversity.
All in all, This Changes Everything offers a crucial in-depth look at a perspective on climate policy that has been steadily growing more popular as the global climate movement has begun to take a more radical turn. It is important reading for those who wish to get to grips with the current debates on climate policy, whether they are inclined to agree with Klein or have issues with her claims.
Klein, N. (2014). This changes everything: Capitalism vs. the climate. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster
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Viandito Pasaribu is a final year undergraduate at SOAS in BA Politics & International Relations. He is an Intersections writer as well as a contributor to the SOAS Spirit, an independent student-run newspaper.