Friday, October 16, 2015

This Changes Everything : A Book Review

This forms a book review titled "Ahead of her time! Klein maybe the Rachel Carson of the 21st century" that I wrote earlier today on 

Naomi Klein is an award winning Canadian journalist responsible for two other international best sellers, The Shock Doctrine and No Logo, both of which I haven't read. This book, "This Changes Everything : Capitalism vs The Climate Change", becomes her 4th book. Based on reading an original Penguin soft-copy from start to end, my take is as follows :

The crux of the book is simple and complex at the same time. Klein says that most of humanity go on enjoying the benefits of a post-modern, self-gratifying capitalistic life, expecting increasingly greater resource usage but from a finite planet. In doing so, we collectively exhibit a form of cognitive dissonance by not treating climate change as the quintessential crisis it can become. It repeatedly knocks on our door when scientists tell us we got to be doing more to stay within a +2 degree C limit in a warming world, but we conveniently sweep it under our carpets of ignorance. After-all, it's easier to do nothing at all.

Why is that the case? Klein highlights the complexity of inaction , in that it lies in the apparent in-scalability of going against the status quo, the prevailing culture of "tap, exploit and waste" that we are all born into and what we come to pass on to our kids. This is a product of the widespread economic model that powerful elite organizations who own the means of production, who lobby politicians and who pay our own wages directly or indirectly have managed to disseminate. Without significantly changing how this model operates, not much can be done to fight the impending climate crisis.

Rather than being a self-righteous, gloating environmentalist, Klein claims that she was among this crowd of climate deniers roughly until the point when a conversation with Navarro Llanos, the Bolivian ambassador to the World Trade Organization, brought her to the realization of the overwhelming crisis level of the problem as well as the numerous grassroots-level opportunities that lay ahead to bring changes. However, the changes would have to be uncompromising, they would challenge everything we know about our current economic and capitalistic models. Therefore, it would have to change everything we take for granted. Therein lies the background to the book's title.

I'd like to mention at this juncture that there appears to be two underlying emotional themes that made the issue more personal to Klein, and she admits it has been a difficult experience. One was during the reading of a bed-time story to her two-year-old called Looking for a Moose. This event produced an epiphany that her baby boy might never get to see a Moose, thanks to cases she'd heard during visits to Northern Alberta that moose drinking water laced with toxins from the tar sands oil extraction process were showing mutations from within.

The second motivator for her was the deep connection to the ecological crisis that she drew from her experience going through two miscarriages and being suggested by friends and colleagues to explore high risk, unnatural interventions. To her, the climate change response is no different - proposed solutions that are increasingly high risk with unproven technological answers. A famous example (which is cited in the book) becomes the Geo-engineering circle of scientists who claim they can cool the planet by artificially pumping massive amounts of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere to mimic volcanic explosions. 

Perhaps more poignantly powerful is her suggestion to look to the earth as our own mother, with her own fertility challenges that are a consequence of our extractivism and our life choices. It interferes with her fertility cycles and her need to regenerate. Putting the earth in compromise draws full circle, until our own existence is compromised.

Between these beginning and concluding emotional chapters, an emboldened Klein beats up several actors of the climate change story with dizzying array of facts and case studies, most of which seem to have been referenced and cataloged at the end of the book. 

For example, she highlights the problem of climate denial, battling world-views and need for ideological shifts in consumerism, the bizarre problems with our current world trade treaties, how toxic extractivist relationships lead to the degeneration and downfall of communities, how to read beneath pulpit messages of businessmen who appear to be messiahs at first, the seemingly illogical solutions proposed by certain segments of climate scientists, the death and destruction laid behind by the Shells and BP's of the world and so on. 

Klein doesn't end without two or three cautionary tales of non-violent community uprisings (called Blockadia) to the ecological crisis and highlights the continuing need for government to support indigenous populations, who unfortunately being poor and powerless, become the prime victims of climate change.

As an engineer, what I admire about this book is Klein's ability to repeatedly portray the earth as a complex system, where a small but artificially induced change somewhere in the system may mean unforeseen chain reactions with the potential to cause chaos somewhere else. Man appears woefully short of tools to predict the full consequence of his actions with any high degree of accuracy, yet we somehow never seem short of solutions that have never been tried before on massive scales.

I also admire is the lengths to which Klein goes to remind us that change is possible and perhaps the issue of climate change is our best and last shot to re-invent ourselves. For this, she draws on the past - the times of the great Depression, or the civil war, where it so happened that when we collectively as a population got together and understood and recognized there was a crisis, we moved to change it through mass movements and periods of struggle. History, as shown through these movements, would never be the same again.

This Changes Everything is a tireless work of 5 years, bringing to mind a resounding "Rachel Carson" type call to arms. Klein is refreshing and uncompromising at the same time, never sugar coating the roots of this problem with anything more than much needed criticism. In doing so, she has been meticulous to document the sources of her information for those wishing to explore further.

The reason I give 4 stars is not because of the quality of the message, it is in how the message was delivered. It is bit unfortunate that the two emotional themes that Klein highlights as her writing motivation are in two different ends of the book, which may cause several readers to miss if they hadn't read it end to end. Therefore, some readers maybe forgiven for misunderstanding what really pulls Klein so strongly into this subject.

Secondly, in trying to appeal to a wider audience, Klein may want to look into releasing a condensed version of the book. Currently at 450 pages, it becomes a tough read for most unless there was a significant motivator to push through. Its not easy to read at times and there is significant potential to improve.

I'd like to end by saying that I have some strong opinions on this subject, both for and against the current practices in the oil/gas industry. I'd like to analyze if many of the things that Klein proposes in her book can become reality for the industry. This will become the topic for a later post, I promise. Thanks.

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