Ye Olde Natural Philosophy Discussion Group

Reviews and comments on
Naomi Klein: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate [2014]

This book is about climate change, the role of capitalism in producing this, and what we all can do to slow down or mitigate the unfortunate results. While everyone in our group is concerned about this problem, most of our ratings for this much promoted book were not all that high. Our group average, on a scale of 0 to 10, was 4.9. We all felt that Naomi Klein offered little or nothing in the way of effective solutions with which to deal with this increasingly serious climate change problem.

Scott recommended that our group read this book, but ended up just rating it a 3, and even that much only because Klein does help raise the alarm about the serious problems developing around climate change. Although Scott knew that Klein is only a “progressive”, or “radical-liberal” or “social democrat”, he was interested to see if she was really serious with the subtitle to her book: “Capitalism vs. The Climate”. She was not.

Scott says that when liberals or social democrats complain about capitalism they are not really opposing capitalism as a social system. They are merely complaining about its “excesses”, and calling for a “kinder, gentler” form of capitalism. The most common way of doing that these days is to join in the ineffective chorus of condemnation of “neoliberalism”, which is the ferocious style of capitalism that exists in the U.S. and most countries today. These people do not at all understand that capitalism exists in this extreme and ferocious form these days because it has to, in other words because of the requirements of the capitalist system in the midst of growing economic crisis. The ruling capitalist class simply must try to take out their mushrooming problems on the backs of the working class and people in general; they have no other choice.

Thus while Klein’s subtitle correctly suggests that the capitalist system is leading to the serious problems associated with climate change, in the book itself the focus is very different. It is against neoliberalism and puts forward calls for reforms away from neoliberalism—but not for the end capitalism in general. Since the capitalists and their corporations are in total control of the country, there is no possible way for such reforms to be successful. This, says Scott, is why Klein’s proposed “solutions” to the climate problem seem so obviously and pathetically hopeless.

Scott also disagrees with one of the central implications of this book and its title, namely that of all the problems in the world today climate change is the most serious. Yes, it is indeed a serious problem, but there are much more serious ones which also derive from the capitalist-imperialist system, including: growing economic crisis; disappearing jobs; continuing and perhaps even intensifying racism and other forms of oppression; constant imperialist wars (especially over resources like oil in the Middle East); growing inter-imperialist contention with the rise of Chinese imperialism and the serious possibility of a nuclear war in coming decades. Climate change is serious, but it is capitalism itself which “changes everything” with regard to the future of humanity.

Rosie liked the emphasis on localism and building local responses to problems such as global warming. She found the book rather repetitive, though she says it is also “good on the facts”. She would tell others to read the book. And she feels it has implications well beyond just the environment. As far as the facts go, Rosie would rate it an 8; but overall, she gives it a 5.

Ron also said the facts are great and that he learned a lot. He felt that Klein didn’t suggest any full solution to the climate problem, but did give some good suggestions for local action. He rated the book a 7.

John rated the book a 6. He wished the author had included a chapter on why we know there is such a thing as human-caused global warming. He says Klein is “in fairy land” as far as solutions go. John liked the “extractivism” terminology, and felt she provided a good description of the economy and economic forces. He liked the material about Richard Branson. John agreed that the “big green” movements are basically co-opted. And added with regard to the “technological solutions” chapter, that “anything they come up with there is crap”.

Rich gave the book a 4. He admitted that he wasn’t really looking forward to reading this book and it matched his low expectations. He agreed with the science presented in it, but didn’t really learn anything new. “It was a mediocre book, for me.”

Vicki rated it a 6, and said “this book made me really angry”, especially at the outrageous betrayals by “Big Green” operations. (NGOs, such as the Nature Conservancy, which present themselves as far more concerned and active about climate issues than they really are.) She feels the “cap and trade” scheme is a terrible idea. Vicki didn’t see that she got any clear ideas about solutions to this whole climate problem from the book. Vicki is the youngest person in our group, and yet even in her own lifetime she already sees some serious climate changes which have occurred. Even if Klein is exaggerating the seriousness of the situation at times, things are definitely snowballing out of control. The book is well researched, but there is a lack of solutions.

Barbara, who also rated it a 6, found the book fascinating and informative. She said that environmentalists like Klein are just trying to keep the country clean and pure. But Barbara raised questions about the dubious geo-engineering proposals that Klein discussed.

Kirby was disappointed with the book and just rated it as a 4. He didn’t like the author’s style. But Kirby noted that he is critiquing the book, not the problem. The climate change problem is real. He also agrees with Vicki; “the book makes me angry”—not at the book, but at those who are doing nothing about the growing problem, or very little. However, Kirby didn’t feel that Klein did a very good job with the book.

Kevin began his comments with the remark: “We’re all fucked!” He thought the book itself was an ordeal, and hated the writing style. He switched over to the audio version to get through it. “None of the ‘solutions’ she talked about stand a snowball’s chance in hell of working. People just aren’t going to do it. Yes, some battles have been won, but these are small tactical victories, and not a strategic victory. If we were serious there would be a substantial tax on carbon emissions.” Kevin rated the book a 3.

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