Not much has changed since Naomi Klein published her book in Fall 2014, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Instead, a dire situation only continues to deteriorate. That same week, world leaders gathered at the UN to set goals to “reduce carbon emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will.” They were also there to agree on an ambitious goal to limit the rise in global temperature by no more than 2-degrees Celsius in the coming years. Three-hundred-thousand also took part in a People’s Climate March to show solidarity with those fighting on the frontlines against the extraction industry. Later that same week, hundreds of activists “flooded” Wall Street, to draw attention to the ways our economic system continues to place profit above the needs of not only this planet but the survival of everyone on it. Indeed there was much education, energy, and emotion driving “climate action week.” Many were poised and ready to do more.
But, frustratingly, there has been no abrupt, sweeping change to anything, let alone everything. We’re still consuming and polluting like we have multiple eco-systems to spare. Sure, there have been moderate steps taken in the right direction, and lots of awareness concerning the science of climate change, but nothing close to what is realistically needed to begin rolling-back the inevitable effects of our industrial-era binge. Climate change will happen and is happening. Just because this winter was the coldest on record throughout North America, does not mean it wasn’t the warmest globally. The weather is getting wilder and weirder. So, how will we adapt?
It is inspiring to read about the noble efforts and hard-won victories from the Climate Justice Movement. For instance, environmental activists worked alongside indigenous communities to succeed in blocking the development of the XL Oil pipeline. Universities (like The New School) and cities have divested from fossil-fuel companies. The state of New York (standingwith four European countries) agreed to ban hydraulic fracturing. Students, activists, educators, and yes, even entrepreneurs continue to remain committed to enacting real change. Nevertheless, despite these wins, the climate justice movement suffers no delusions about how difficult it will be to truly change everything.
Small victories have taken place, but they do not outweigh the surge of ongoing developments that continue to challenge and damage the limits of our environment. While the climate justice movement rallies in the streets and takes the fight to the courts, the extraction industry and its powerful influence ensures valuable interests and profits are protected. For example, while we debated the XL oil-pipeline, the United States added 11,600 miles of pipeline over the last decade, increasing its capacity by a quarter.
What is most troubling about Klein’s book is the sheer magnitude of the change we’re tasked to collectively make now, so as to potentially delay the collapse of civilization. Extreme weather patterns throughout the foreseeable future are inevitable, what is frightfully unclear is how humanity will react. Likely, obliviously, and stupidly – there is no denying a horrible truth staring right back at us – our stupid, wasteful ‘stuff’. Human consumption, and all its many incantations of flavors, needs, and demands, consumes at an insatiable, unrelenting pace and doesn’t seem to abate. Sure, we can talk a good game about climate action: reduce, reuse, recycle, plant a community garden, but we’re still locked into a trajectory that does not bode well for our ongoing survival.
Robert N. Stavins opines about “Climate Realities” in The New York Times. He writes, “In theory, we can avoid the worst consequences of climate change with an intensive global effort over the next several decades. But given real-world economic and, in particular, political realities, that seems unlikely.” Unlikely indeed; for instance, although the U.N. has set a goal of keeping global temperatures from rising no more than two-degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, China alone “is expected to add the equivalent of a new 500-megawatt coal-fired electric plant every 10 days for the next decade.”
And what of the extraction industry, which remains steadfast in pursuing profits at whatever costs? As Bill McKibben made clear in his 2012 essay, “Global Warming’sTerrifying New Math”, one of the greatest challenges facing the Climate Justice movement is finding a way to convince the most profitable corporations in the world (e.g., ExxonMobil, et. al.) that they will need to leave at least 80 percent of the carbon they have claims to in the ground. Meaning all that property and resources investors are counting on cannot be touched. How can we convince these companies (along with their multi-million-dollar lobbying firms) to just walk away from trillions in wealth?
McKibben’s 350.org cautions that "to preserve a livable planet, scientists tell us we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 400 parts per million (ppm) to below 350 ppm. Right now we're at 400 ppm, and we're adding 2 ppm of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. Unless we're able to rapidly turn that around and return to below 350 ppm this century, we risk triggering tipping points and irreversible impacts that could send climate change spinning truly beyond our control."
It is difficult to comprehend how climate deniers continue to have any clout. It seems like every month a new report is published communicating the urgency and irreversibility of the real changes that will in fact change everything. For instance, just this week, NASA published a report indicating the likelihood that the Larsen B ice-shelf would break-off and melt sooner than initially predicted. This also tends to be the frightening trend of any updated climate report - the predictions are always adjusted, but never in the affirmative, only to further perpetuate a presumably hopeless situation.
Perhaps this is the reason it is so intoxicating to fall in-line with the climate deniers camp? Ignorance (or oblivion) is bliss. Better to pretend everything is okay; especially, if you're privileged enough to benefit off the valuable resources of this planet. But what happens when the effects of climate change begin to really affect our communities? It's easy for Americans to ignore the affects of climate change when it is happening over there, but when the waters begin to rise in Miami, water becomes increasingly scarce in Los Angeles, and New York City swelters through extreme summers and braces for winters with "super-storms", deniability would be laughable if the subject wasn't so depressing.
When talking climate change, conversations tend to display a wide-range of emotions: dismissive, extreme, cynical, outright refusal, etc. Accordingly, this is because there is one thing that remains the same for all of us, climate change affects everyone, thus it is inherently personal (whether we admit it, or not). Naomi Klein explains that This Changes Everything was the toughest book she has ever written. As a recent mother, Klein wrestles with raising her child in this “the age of extinction.” But despite the grim realities facing future generations, Klein remains hopeful. Her time spent with activist and indigenous tribes fighting the extraction industry (i.e., “blockadia”) helped her “to imagine various futures that were decidedly less bleak.” But Klein leaves her reader with the sense that the climate justice movement will need to ready itself for a broader battle.
Accordingly, Chris Hayes warns in his essay, “The New Abolitionism”, That “there is no way around conflict with this much money on the line, no available solution that makes everyone happy. No use trying to persuade people otherwise.” In the same issue of The Nation, Naomi Klein again connects the struggles of the Climate Justice movement with consumerism. She writes, “Climate change is not a problem that can be solved simply by changing what we buy… At its core, [this] is a crisis born of overconsumption by the comparatively wealthy, which means the world’s most manic consumers are going to have to consume less.”
Of course, consuming less is not a phrase in the lexicon of multi-national corporations making billions off the continued abuse to our ecosystem, let alone the millions of first and developing-world consumers demanding the comforts of modern industrial living. As natural resources such as our air, water, and soil continue to become unsuitable for the propagation of life on this planet – religions, communities, and ideas will fight to survive. The wealthy will try to protect themselves and their property through security systems and isolation. But no one will be exempt from the repercussions of our industrial-era actions.
Despite all this, think tanks, lobbying firms, and institutes are all pushing efforts for broader fossil-fuel exploration alongside, continued exploitation of the local communities in the way of corporate interests. Humanity has become the key causality of late capitalism. For instance, consider the Hudson Institutes recent report titled, “Energy: The West’s Strategic Opportunity in the Eastern Mediterranean”, which outlines the “geostrategic significance of the middle east.” The report draws attention to recent hydrocarbon discoveries in the Mediterranean Sea and goes on to encourage ‘the west’ to unlock the “economic and geostrategic benefits of the East Med’s energy potential.” The bulk of the report reads as a warning to ‘the West’, which must pro-actively (i.e. militarily) “secure” interest in the region, or lose all that valuable fossil fuel to another regional player. This report is just an example of the many delusions intoxicating the structures of power that determine the fate of our planet.
I would like to believe our species is capable of reasonably confronting this huge challenge. But I also fear this is an unrealistic and idealistic lie we tell ourselves. Can this really be the subject that mobilizes people enough to create a catalyst for a just and equitable society as a whole? Likely not... But if we could, if there is to be hope, we must present and develop viable economic alternatives to the extraction industry. As Klein writes, “One way or another, everything is going to change. But at least for this moment, it is still up to us to contribute to this change and what it will look like.”
The climate justice movement has a costly and difficult task ahead of itself. It is no wonder many are already suffering from burnout. In order to make the changes required to potentially slow the effects of climate change, the international community must work collaboratively and cooperatively – two qualities hard to imagine in this volatile geopolitical landscape. Even if we reduce emissions, regulate the extraction industry, and everyone is engaged in a lock-step effort to enact real change, the planet is still poised for a wild and weird ride.
Still hanging on…