Film/ Book Review on Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. Climate

I recently started a Goodreads Eco book club with my friends that I graduated with from a master’s in Environmental Management. We decided our first book to read and discuss would be, Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. Climate. After finishing her book, Naomi is my new favorite feminine eco-warrior. Her words have inspired me to keep my head in this uphill battle for the survival of humanity and this Earth we are here temporarily visiting. Naomi Klein is a member on the board of directors for 350.org, a columnist for The Nation and The Guardian, and a reporter for Rolling Stone.

Image © Klein Lewis Productions

Image © Klein Lewis Productions

After finishing her book, I made sure to watch the accompanying documentary directed by her husband Avi Lewis. Both her book and her husband’s documentary, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. Climate have been a HUGE enlightenment for me in every sense of my life. These resources have not only exposed me to some very brutal realities that I didn't know about, but also have taught me how to look at everything that is happening around us in a light of opportunity.

Her book traveled with me everywhere I went for the past five months and has seen many beautiful places; from the banks of the French Loire river to the crystal clear Mediterranean waters of Sardegna, Italy and even all the way to Grenada, the West Indies Caribbean island. Unfortunately it's seen better days and after months of travels has been split in two, cover falling off, and pages individually torn out (talk about an aggressive reader). I finished the book in my hometown Marietta, GA just north of Atlanta in my childhood home where I grew up. In each town and country I read in, I made sure to take into consideration my surroundings and ask myself what would I do if tomorrow the government decided to dredge up the Loire River, build an offshore oil rig off the coast of the majestic Golfo Aranci, Sardegna, or construct a pipeline that would run right through the Chattahoochee River where I grew up running around and playing in. I would fight back.  

As the documentary opens, Naomi poses the question are we so innately greedy and selfish that there is no way to fix the problems we have caused? She explains her visit on a retreat she attended in Buckinghamshire, England hosted by the Royal Society, the oldest scientific association in the world which has included legendary scientists such as Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking, and Isaac Newton. During this three day retreat scientists from around the world discuss geoengineering as a Plan B for our Planet Earth. Concepts such as fertilizing our ocean with iron to pull carbon, injecting particles into our atmosphere to reflect sunlight back into space, and the most recently discussed “Pinatubo Option” spraying sulfuric acid into the stratosphere to drop temperatures by half a degree. What is very vaguely mentioned during the retreat are all of the numerous negative effects these technological “solutions” would have on our Earth one being the major tampering with our climate causing massive droughts in our world’s poorest regions, Africa and Asia. As if they weren’t already battling climate crisis. Solving the issue of pollution with more pollution is not the answer and we do not have a planet B. Naomi affirms that unlike human nature, stories such as this 400 year old story, are something we can change.

Image © Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.

Image © Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.

She parallels our crisis with the 400 year old story of this society of scientists and 17th century scientific pioneers regarding our Earth as a machine rather than our home that we are only guests on. Our kind has the mindset of manipulation and treating our natural ecosystems as if we were their masters and they are here to serve us. When in fact, quite the opposite, nature has been here for over 4.5 billion years (22,500 times longer than us). Our survival directly depends on nature. We are not the masters, Mother Nature is and will always be in charge. How we choose to live our lives whether we disregard or take care of her will determine our fate.

Alberta, Canada’s disgusting tar sands oil fields are made up of sludgy, sticky, black bitumen, encompassing the largest industrial project in the world three times larger than what the Saudis have. After seeing this, I have only room for anger when 10,000 year old forests have been clear cut and stripped all in the name of big oil and big money. Naomi touches on the disastrous effects of Hurricane Sandy leaving hundreds of people in some of the poorest neighborhoods of New York abandoned to die without any medication. How can one of the wealthiest nations on Earth not have enough medical supplies or attention for pockets of poor dying people after such a massive devastating natural disaster? But I thought we had dominion over Earth right? What happened after Hurricanes Sandy, Katrina, and Matthew, droughts in Syria causing massive political unrest, record rains in France, flooding in Canada and India, extreme heat in Australia, longer summers and shorter winters? I thought we were in control? And this is only the beginning.

Image NewsActivist

Image NewsActivist

One of the questions I posed in our book club was:

What are the connections between trade agreements, pollution, and labor exploitation?

After reading Naomi’s chapter in her book about this, I had never really thought too much into Free Trade but I found this chapter very disturbing. I never even thought about how trade rules and regulations like the WTO and the Free Trade Agreement could possibly deter green energy programs and progressive renewable initiatives from getting off the ground. I thought it was absolutely insane how Naomi mentions that countries will rush to bash each other for whatever they can get their hands on at UN summits instead of competing with each other for creating the best most efficient form of clean energy production.

Pablo Maccaario's story about how he moved his Italian solar company to Toronto in 2010 when the prospects were looking positive for clean energy in Ontario was nothing but depressing to read about. By 2012 with only one coal-fired power plant left, the province was well on its way to completely coming off of coal and gas. When legislation created the feed-in tariff program allowing for energy providers to sell back to the grid, the catch was they had to source 40-60% of their materials from within the province.

As soon as word got out, Japan and the EU were not happy about this locally sourced content requirement. And just like that, fingers were pointed, charges were pressed, and foreign investors pulled out. Leaving poor Maccaario and his solar lab as if it were an abandoned junk yard.

Saarinen's Bell Labs. Image © Rob Dobi

Saarinen's Bell Labs. Image © Rob Dobi

It makes you think about what else these countries are stopping from coming into fruition all in the name of power and money, claiming that these kinds of buy local incentives lead to “free trade distortion.” The fact that this has come down to even stopping the creation of hundreds of clean and local jobs is sickening.

How will our world and environment be affected by agreements such as NAFTA and TAFTA and regulations or lack thereof by free trade and globalization?

Our global problem is the western ideology of capitalism, we need more, a bigger house, a third car, a newer phone. Do we even stop and think about how our choices affect our world? China is choking in their own pollution all in the name of our high-demanding capitalist and consumerist lifestyle.

The last question I asked in our book club was:

How do you think mass movements can create a shift in power?

It’s refreshing to see that there are millions of people around the world voicing their concern right now and physically getting in the way of corporate greed. Whether it be being arrested for a peaceful protest, putting their bodies between extractive machines and the Earth, or speaking out against dirty actions... How lucky are we to be a part of this movement. This is history. This is BLOCKADIA, as the people on the Frontlines call it and as Naomi mentions in her book and documentary! I remember when I interviewed my colleague, Stacia Sheputa, in Budapest on successful protests. She mentioned how in order to create an effective and efficient protest, we have to appreciate each other’s talents and differences and unify in these talents, we need to recognize the huge benefits and opportunities that will result in these massive protests. Nowadays all of this has so much to do with social media and how easy it is to connect with people across the world who you may not know anything about except that you have similar interests.

Image Christine Lacayo

Image Christine Lacayo

When I reflect on Trumps decisions in office I can’t help but think about how absolutely everything he does is all connected. His recent approval of the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines are structures that are racist by design plowing through indigenous lands and sacred waters only to keep lining the pockets of the richest in this country. His only motive is to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Naomi mentions in her book the protest in 2013, against Keystone, was the largest Environmental protest in US history gathering more than 40,000 citizens in front of the White House. And guess what?I It was defeated! Then just a year later in 2014, 400,000 gathered in New York for the People's Climate March!! So if we can do it once, we can do it again! And I'm sure we’ll double those numbers in the March for Science this coming Earth day April 22nd.

When I think back on history’s most successful social movements- civil rights, women’s suffrage, anti-apartheid, environmental justice movement, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, it all came from a small group of people determined and concerned for their health and their safety that eventually grew into a massive movement. We are the same small group of people now expect that we are more and more connected than ever today. I have enormous faith for our generation and our future. As Naomi says “the stakes are far too high and time far too short to expect anything less.”

So all of this is just to say that even after all of the negative environmental news, and Trump’s win, I still believe in us because we are the ones who will create and push for a mass movement of regular people and regular citizens who just want what everybody else wants, better quality of life, income equality, good, clean, and safe jobs.

Dispersing the power into the hands of the many rather than consolidating it into the hands of the few.
— Noami Klein

One of my colleagues asked the question “what can we tell non-environmentalists to do instead of just recycling and eating less meat?” I would say the most important thing would be to tell them to get informed. Read the news, read the headlines, listen to NPR, get to know what's happening around the world, talk to people, start a conversation, get involved in your local government, know who and what you are voting for, step outside of your comfort zone and wake up to the fact that every choice you make plays huge role on the thousands of lives living all over the world. We are only person on this earth in the sea of 7 billion others. What will you do to fight for humanity? People don't like thinking that they might be misinformed, under informed, or living ignorantly in their own world. So if you strike up a meaningful conversation with someone and they don't know what you're talking about, they will most likely be intrigued to know more and to do more research so that they can intelligently carry on that conversation with you the next time. Once people start becoming informed and start realizing their choices really matter, that is when the power of activism strikes and you notice people with the desire to act in order to make a difference.

Image Christine Lacayo

Image Christine Lacayo

In her documentary, Naomi mentions the recent shift in power in Europe’s largest economy, Germany. When my class took a trip to Freiburg, Germany I noticed this amazing grassroots movement and energy revolution that started with the people. The Germans respected and appreciated their Black Forest too much to watch it be stripped away for extraction so they fought. The government told them they were building a nuclear reactor or their lights would go out in Freiburg. Local farmers and students fought back and protested for nearly ten years forcing the government to give up on their plans. They not only won that battle but the city of Freiburg became an exemplary Solar City. Its Solar Settlement, which I visited with my class, designed by local architect Rolf Disch, includes 50 houses that all produce four times the energy than they consume! We had the opportunity to go into Melinda’s home in the Solar Settlement as she described to us their clean energy lifestyle. The people of Freiburg fought so hard against nuclear energy and for alternative clean energies that now the power has shifted into the hands of the people and local cooperatives. With over 400,000 jobs created from clean energy, Germany is a leading example, a pioneer of this energy transformation they call energiewende.

We have to keep fighting our fight because time is running out and we are our last hope. Our work is more important than ever before now because we have the information, the data, the science, the technology and the will power all in our hands. We won't just sit back and watch us burn to the ground in a 6th mass extinction. We are the Environmental Warriors and we will pass on our legacy to those who will continue to spread the word. Power and strength to us all in every environmental field that we have chosen to lead because we are going to do amazing things. What if this climate movement is our chance to build the most resilient, clean energy driven, healthier world?  With that I will leave you with one of Naomi's inspiring quotes on page 7 in her Introduction that really made me sit and think about our future:

“And through conversations with others in the growing climate justice movement, I began to see all kinds of ways that climate change could become a catalyzing force for positive change- how it could be the best argument progressives have ever had to demand the rebuilding and reviving of local economies; to reclaim our democracies from corrosive corporate influence; to block harmful new free trade deals and rewrite old ones; to invest in starving public infrastructure like mass transit and affordable housing; to take back ownership of essential services like energy and water; to remake our sick agricultural system into something much healthier; to open borders to migrants whose displacement is linked to climate impacts; to finally respect Indigenous land rights- all of which would help to end grotesque levels of inequality within our nations and between them.”
— - Naomi Klein
Image Christine Lacayo

Image Christine Lacayo