On page 21 of her book, ‘This Changes Everything’, Naomi Klein argues that an economic model which demands “unfettered expansion” is in conflict with our need to drastically limit our use of resources in order to avoid a collapse of our climatic systems. It is difficult to argue with the author’s thesis and it would appear that we are heading for an environmental Armageddon, if we don’t act now. Nevertheless, despite the book offering us an array of solutions it is difficult to share the optimism implied in its title. It is very unlikely that anything will change. Indeed, one of the main reasons for that pessimism here is hinted on by Klein herself when she returns to a point she made in the introduction towards the end of the book. She writes:
“As Andreas Malm writes, “the first commercial steam engine “was appreciated for having no ways or places of its own, no external laws, no residual existence outside that brought forth by its proprietors; it was absolutely, indeed ontologically subservient to those who owned it.” ….. “It is this powerfully seductive illusion of total control that a great many boosters of extractive energy are so reluctant to relinquish (Klein:394)”.
The key word, of course, is “control”, and in order for us to understand the nature of that control, we might want to turn to William Engdahl’s ‘A Centruy of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order’. The thesis is established in the opening paragraph when the author writes:
“No other element has shaped the history of the past 100 years so much as the fight to secure and control the world’s reserves of petroleum. Too little is understood of how political and economic power around the raw material, petroleum, has been shaped by interests principally under the control of wo nations – the United Kingdom and, later, the United States of America.”
The implications of this are obvious and while the manufacturers of consent continue to push the good guy and bad guy theory of everything, the real evil is a crazy elite which continues to condone genocide, mass murder, drought, poverty and starvation on a mass scale. Are they going to change?
Still where there is life there is hope and Klein does offer us hope. “Activists have won fracking bans”, and then there are the successes of indigenous Peoples in Nigeria and South America. She also discusses indigenous land rights, which she calls “real” and “powerful” in North America (Klein: 375). However, does she really expect these rights to be enforced? After all she herself says that although these Peoples “have legitimate legal claims, whether they are able to exercise those rights is another matter” (ibid).
‘This Changes Everything’ is an excellent book. It leaves us in no doubt that our very existences on this planet are endangered and it offers us a path to survival. However, it is difficult to share in an optimism which is based on a belief that humans have changed before and that they can change again. There has been no metamorphoses in the history of mankind of the type required and with droughts in Africa, oil wars worldwide, and refugees dying while trying to enter the rich north, the evidence would appear to suggest that, rather than implementing a plan A to stop the relentless exploitation of the planet, our elites will focus on the “geoengineering plan B” or the “escape to another planet plan C” when the time is ripe. Of course, bearing that in mind, if Naomi Klein’s book doesn’t change everything, it might provide some impetus for us trying to do so.