Book Review- This changes everything
“We must rapidly shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘people-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
Each chapter of the book begins with a quote, which makes you stop and think, while setting pace for what follows. This one is by Martin Luther King Jr, in 1967, triggered by the Vietnam War.
Klein’s book puts people, their rights and their health, right in the centre of the Climate conversation, making it more relatable than technical climate change books that solely talk about CCUS technology and emission numbers. It’s a 500 page book. Some of the points that particularly resonated with me are:
1. Direct impact of extraction on human health: Klein shares findings of a bold paper submitted by a Dr Connor, on the correlation between the Alberta Tar sands extraction and the rise in cancer rates in the vicinity. She presents data on how such studies have been routinely suppressed, thanks to the stronghold of the Energy giants. She shares a very personal account of being in the Mexican gulf, where the infamous BP oil spill took place, and how she swam in the toxic waters, watching life around her (we would have seen photos of oil covered Cormorants) die. Empirical evidence of toxins from Oil and Coal extraction, on fertility and overall reproductive health and in the case of conception, on birth defects, exists but no action is taken against the polluting companies. This particular chapter reminds one of the film Erin Brokovich and the complete indifference of the polluting company towards rising hysterectomies and cancers in its area of operation.
2. Free market ideology and lack of freedom: While ‘Free Trade Zones’ and international financial institutions mandating them in developing countries in return for loans, has been under attack for long, the book uses examples of how such policies may actually have pushed back a more wholistic uptake of Renewable Energy in poor countries. For examples, instead of encouraging locally produced solar panels, which would have ensured solar technology flourished, employment grew and communities got involved in the complete value chain, free-trade guidelines actually pushed against local production. Through numerous examples, Klein shows how Friedman’s shareholder capitalism is still the prevalent ideology and at the core of inequitable distribution of wealth, not just within a country but between the global North and South.
3. Thank god for Smog: Till toxic smog started enveloping Beijing and surrounding cities, China displayed the same Climate Denial that the developed countries had been doing for decades. The developed countries’ firm belief that poor countries can be exploited to produce and bear the consequences of production, while they sit safe, across the Pacific, was the same thinking that the rich manufacturers of China had. Except this was at the cost of their own poor country folk. So when smog enveloped all, rich and poor alike, the rich started taking action. Klein provides data to show that the Chinese smog was the reason why the country shifted rapidly to RE and cleaner methods of production, while toxic water and soil or coal dust in the immediate vicinity of factories, did not lead to change. Because unlike the smog, toxic water, soil and coal dust could be dealt with by the rich, with their purified water, food and safe homes away from factories.
4. Horrors of Sun Blocking technologies: A complete chapter is dedicated to the multiple conferences, lectures and meetings that Klein attended on technologies that would stop Sun’s rays from warming Earth. Using learnings from volcanic eruptions and their sun-blocking effect, scientists apparently have been considering sulphate aerosol releases to block out the sun. As it happens, the only problem is that poor countries in south, due to their specific geographic situations, will get dangerously affected by droughts or floods, as has been seen in the case of large volcanic eruptions anywhere in the world. Again, the global North is willing to even consider these options because it does not adversely affect the USA or Europe at all.
Klein constantly shows us that the Climate crisis is a Humanitarian crisis. Whether it’s the scam of carbon credits where Oil and Gas companies claim credit for not burning the emitting methane and poisoning the poor neighbourhoods. Or the extreme capitalism which allows companies to seize indigenous lands for extraction, poisoning rivers and forests which have sustained ancient tribes for centuries. She brings it down to her personal story of motherhood to show that being able to regenerate, that is give life, is more important than to merely restore. She ends the book with a lot of hope. As we know, technologies exist, better ways exist. She shares stories of activism and communities opposing unsustainable development with love, and winning. The book talks about the possibility of a more equitable world, where everyone appreciates all other life, and that is possibly the true outcome of climate change resolution. Quoting from one of the chapters:
“The more we can focus on our attention on the wonders of the universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction”. Rachel Carson, 1954.