Capitalism vs the Climate

SUBHEAD: Review of Naomi Klein's new book "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate".

[IB Publisher's note: An excerpt from Naiomi Klein's book is below the review by Robert Jensen.]

By Robert Jensen on 29 September 2014 for CounterCurrents -

Image above: Cooling towers at electrical power station illustrating review of Klein's book. From (

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate
By Naomi Klein
Simon & Schuster
576 pages

Naomi Klein has written a brave book that not only confronts the calamity of climate destabilization but also examines the deep roots of the crisis in the perverse logic of capitalism and the dehumanizing values of the “extractivist” high-energy/high-technology world.

Klein's courage comes not in her reporting on the science and politics—there we get the exhaustive research and intellectual rigor that are her trademark—but in her simple plea that we not only think about all this and commit to act , but feel it as well. Taking climate change seriously is not only about data and analysis but about anguish, and Klein is refreshingly candid about her own struggles with the grief that's inevitable when we face the truth.

On the political front, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate takes on conservative climate-change deniers and the liberal climate-change minimizers. While both groups will no doubt accuse her of being alarmist, my only quibble runs in the opposite direction—Klein is too upbeat in her assessment of what is possible.

But reasonable people can disagree on these hunches about where we're heading. We'll get to that after the science, economics, and social critique that are so urgently needed, and in those matters we are in good hands with This Changes Everything .

The book, and a companion film directed by Avi Lewis planned for a 2015 release, should set the framework for an honest conversation about climate and culture, ecology and economics.

Klein emerged as a major journalist and activist with 1999's No Logo , a critique of corporate ideology in a globalized era of branding, and solidified that position in 2007 with The Shock Doctrine 's analysis of “disaster capitalism.” Dubbed a leader of the “new New Left” by the New Yorker in a 2008 profile, Klein has been sketching the argument of This Changes Everything in articles since then, and the book is worth the wait.

[Disclosure: I am a member of activist groups that have hosted talks by Klein in Austin three times, and I'm listed in the acknowledgements as one of the many people with whom she has had conversations on these subjects.]

Klein starts with a blunt statement of the problem: “[O]ur economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life.” (21) Human survival requires a new economics, which explains why climate-change denial is strongest among conservatives.

Klein points out that while deniers are wrong about science, “the right is right” when it says that climate change demands a full frontal assault on free-market ideology. The minimizers—often liberals, usually self-professed environmentalists—dream of technological fixes and peddle policy changes that don't upset the status quo, such as the carbon-market shell game of cap-and-trade. Klein's reproach:

Trying to protect existing lifestyles through existing economics “is either dishonest or delusional because a way of life based on the promise of infinite growth cannot be protected, least of all exported to every corner of the globe.” (58)

Klein argues that efforts to cope with global warming must challenge neoliberalism (the uber-capitalist ideology, dominant the past four decades, that emphasizes privatization, deregulation, and cuts to public spending to reduce taxes).

One problem is that neoliberal international trade agreements can be used to block climate policy that is designed to encourage local renewables as an illegal “restraint on trade” (while elites ignore the ways nations subsidize fossil fuels).

Even more crippling is that this economic system doesn't have a language to talk about reducing consumption. Instead, we get blather about green-consuming, which naïvely assumes we can solve the climate problem through buying ever-more efficient gadgets.

Steadily rising carbon emissions reveal these “market-friendly” approaches as a dead-end, leading Klein to advocate a steady-state economy with selective de-growth—“growing the caring economy, shrinking the careless one.” (93)

Klein argues that people will accept a lower-energy world and reductions in consumption, but only with guarantees of fairness in the distribution of cutbacks. The necessary investment in services and infrastructure will require higher taxes, which should follow the principle that the polluter pays—tax burdens falling heaviest on fossil-fuel corporations and others dependent on those fuels, such as the weapons and auto industries.

These basic steps are easy to outline and could gain wide support if people believed governments would spend increased revenues wisely.

But market ideology complicates the picture. Klein points out that the financial crisis created an opening for coordinated planning when the U.S. government bailed out the banks and auto companies. But instead of demands for people- and planet-centered changes, Obama toed the neoliberal line—government shouldn't tell corporations what to do.

The task for the left, Klein argues, is to demonstrate that “the real solutions to the climate crisis are also our best hope of building a much more stable and equitable economic system, one that strengthens and transforms the public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work, and radically reins in corporate greed.” (125)

While not arguing for state ownership, Klein realizes that neoliberals will object to any policies that involve overt government planning, favor alternative energy sources, and create a fair playing field.

But we should demand government programs. Such as? Community-controlled renewable energy, industrial planning with local sourcing and job protection, support for worker cooperatives, decentralized farming based on agroecology rather than industrial models—all are good places to start, she suggests.

Governments also need to “remember how to say no,” Klein says, especially to energy projects such as the “terra-deforming” tar sands mines of Alberta, which climate scientist James Hansen has warned will mean “game over” for the climate. Beyond the insanity of the project on ecological grounds, there is something profane about this extraction of “extreme energy,” which Klein captures in a phrase: “The earth, skinned alive.” (139)

Impediments to serious climate policy are everywhere, of course. The fossil-fuel companies' primary assets are fossil fuels, meaning those companies' fiduciary responsibility to shareholders “virtually guarantees the planet will cook.”

Citing Bill McKibben's widely circulated 2012 Rolling Stone article on the “terrifying new math” of climate change, Klein reminds us that the energy companies would have to forgo 80 percent of their proven reserves if we are to control runaway climate change, meaning “the very thing we must do to avert catastrophe—stop digging—is the very thing these companies cannot contemplate without initiating their own demise.” (148)

The legalized bribery allowed by our campaign funding system gives those companies powerful tools to block political change.

Klein argues that the way to fight this is not by claiming “climate trumps all other issues” but building a movement that advocates “system change not climate change” and ties ecological sustainability to economic changes that benefit ordinary people. Along with specific projects, she suggests we go deeper and face our “profound disconnection from our surroundings and one another.”

That problem didn't begin in the Reagan administration but with the industrial revolution: “[T]he roots of the climate crisis date back to core civilizational myths on which post-Enlightenment Western culture is founded—myths about humanity's duty to dominate a natural world that is believed to be at once limitless and entirely controllable.” (159)

It's time, she says, to go beyond extractivism—defined as “a nonreciprocal, dominance-based relationship with the earth, one of purely taking,” the opposite of stewardship. (169)

Don't expect much help from mainstream environmental groups such as the Nature Conservancy. While all mainstream social movements face difficult decisions about what funding to accept, Klein critiques the Nature Conservancy for continuing to allow, and profit from, oil drilling on land it received as a gift from Mobil Oil, what became the Texas City Prairie Preserve near Galveston Bay.

Hitting the top of the hypocrisy scale, the Nature Conservancy has even allowed drilling near the nesting area of the Attwater prairie chicken, which it was supposed to protect from extinction. Groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund also have taken the corporate-friendly road; by helping limit debate to technical fixes not system change, they divert attention from consumption and consumerism.

Klein also places little hope in the “enlightened billionaires” who have expressed interest in environmental protection, such as Warren Buffett, Tom Steyer, Bill Gates, or—heaven help us—T. Boone Pickens. Klein goes into detail about how Virgin Airlines' Richard Branson has consistently gone back on promises to go green, while touting decidedly non-green ideas such as Virgin Galactic's space tourism.

Could there be anything crazier than expecting rich people to save us? How about combining an adolescent yearning for superhero stories with a fundamentalist faith in technology, which gives us geo-engineering, the project of “dimming the sun.”

While not endorsed by most climate scientists, “Solar Radiation Management” is promoted by “the Geoclique,” which Klein describes as a group “crammed with overconfident men prone to complimenting each other on their fearsome brainpower.” (267)

These fantastical projects, which would pump sulfate aerosols into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight back into space and slow warming, offer the kind of techno-fix that our culture finds so tempting, no matter what the risks. Klein points out the obvious lesson: “[I]f the danger of climate change is sufficiently grave and imminent for governments to be considering science-fiction solutions, isn't it also grave and imminent enough for them to consider just plain science-based solutions.” (283)

After diagnosing the problem and rejecting the “solutions” that have failed, or promise to fail even more dramatically, Klein devotes the rest of the book to stories of more hopeful social justice/climate organizing.

From Greek activists' resistance to corporate plans for copper and gold mines in the Skouries forest to opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline in North America—with reminders of longstanding campaigns such as the Nigerians in Ogoniland working to save their land and culture from destructive drilling—Klein offers accounts of the roving transnational movement dubbed “Blockadia,” people demanding ecological responsibility and real democracy.

Indigenous people are leading way, such as the Idle No More coalition in Canada, with poor and non-white communities everywhere defying stereotypes of what environmentalists look like, such as the organizing to resist expansion of a Chevron refinery in Richmond, CA.

These organizers understand what neoliberal ideologues can't seem to fathom: The demands of the economy can be changed, but the natural world will not adjust to our needs. Each struggle is different, but around the world activists want to abandon “risk assessment” (which typically leads to elites risking the health of others) in favor of the “precautionary principle,” which demands evidence that a chemical or industrial process is safe before approval.

Not all these campaigns have won, but Klein points out that this activism creates uncertainty, which investors don't like, that can slow down the machine and buy more time.

The strength of this part of the book is Klein's descriptions of small-scale projects, such as Henry Red Cloud's work teaching solar energy systems to young people on the Pine Ridge reservation, one of those “transformative yeses” that has to come along with the many “nos” of the climate struggle.

At the same time, she goes big-picture, explaining how “climate debt” reparations could rebalance global inequality, all part of “the most powerful level for change, in the Global South as in the Global North: the emergence of positive, practical, and concrete alternatives to dirty development that do not ask people to choose between higher living standards and toxic extraction.” (413)

This Changes Everything takes an interesting turn at this point, with Klein reflecting on her own fertility—miscarriages, a short-lived interaction with a fertility clinic, and the birth of a child—to explore the limits of our living world. The chapter is brave—any woman writing about such matters risks being dismissed as overly emotional (“See, it was in the end all about her ovaries and babies”).

But Klein realizes that ignoring the intense emotions kicked up by the subject only contributes to the culture's profound dissociation; the struggle for ecological sanity is intellectual, political, moral, and deeply emotional. Klein is not naïvely calling for the end of all extraction, but rather “the end of the extractivist mindset—of taking without caretaking, of treating land and people as resources to deplete rather than as complex entities with rights to a dignified existence based on renewal and regeneration.” (447) At both the personal and the planetary level, we renew and regenerate, or we die.

Klein argues that hope lies not with a new climate movement but with a coming together of all the living movements to pursue “the unfinished business of liberation,” (459) which will come into view when awareness and political engagement aren't only for activists but become part of everyday life.

Win or lose any specific campaign in any one place, we can create the friction that wears down the dominant culture's denial. In five years working on the book, Klein reports that these movements are growing and new policies are pointing us in the right direction.

I'm with Klein's analysis all the way, until the last half-dozen pages. “There is just enough time,” (459) she writes, and we have more than enough green technology and green plans.

Things may not look bright now, but we have to be ready for the “moments when the impossible seems suddenly possible” to be “harnessed not only to denounce the world as it is, and build fleeting pockets of liberated space. It must be the catalyst to actually build the world that will keep us all safe. The stakes are simply too high, and time too short, to settle for anything less.” (466)

My reading of the previous 400-plus pages, and everything I know from my own study of the issues, tells me that there is not enough time to build the world that will keep us all safe, and that we have to start preparing to settle for something less.

This isn't a nihilistic argument for giving in or giving up, but rather a good-faith assessment of what has already been lost and the limits of what might be saved. The death spiral set in motion by fossil-fueled capitalism can't magically be reversed, and the extractivist mindset is deeply set in not only the 1% but in most of the population of the developed world.

No one has magic powers of prediction, but my best guess is that a decent human future—if there is to be a future—will be in low-energy societies with a greatly reduced human population.

Most of the infrastructure of modern life will disappear, given that no combination of renewable-energy technologies can come close to replacing the concentrated energy of fossil fuels, and that the collapse of our dense-energy-dependent infrastructure is proceeding far faster than the building of alternatives.

Klein touches on the other problems, often related to climate, such as dramatic changes in the hydrological cycle, ongoing soil erosion and contamination, and declines in biodiversity. Put all that bad news together, and we are not facing simply a climate crisis or a set of definable environmental problems, but what my late friend Jim Koplin called “multiple, cascading ecological crises.”

Klein is right to advise that we should grieve, and get to work. The question is how we understand that work. We need to let go of the world as we know it, accept that what is coming will test our basic humanity, and commit to constructing a saving remnant. We have to confront not just conservative climate-change deniers and liberal minimizers, but also our own desire to believe that we can solve problems because we want to solve them.

The challenge as I see it: Can we continue to exhibit the best of human nature knowing that we will lose? Can we act with hope knowing there is no hope? It may be that in the coming decades, that will be the central test of our humanity, individually and collectively.

On questions that take us beyond evidence and reason—decisions we make based on imperfect knowledge in a complex world—reasonable people can disagree, and we should not fear those disagreements. Whatever a reader's hunch on where we are heading, This Changes Everything clarifies the nature of the crises we face and Naomi Klein provides a model for how to face the crises honestly and productively.

• Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. His latest books are Arguing for Our Lives: A User's Guide to Constructive Dialogue , , and We Are All Apocalyptic Now: On the Responsibilities of Teaching, Preaching, Reporting, Writing, and Speaking Out ,

Jensen is also the author of All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice , (Soft Skull Press, 2009); Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press, 2007); The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (City Lights, 2005); Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City Lights, 2004); and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang, 2002). Jensen is also co-producer of the documentary film “Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing” (Media Education Foundation, 2009), which chronicles the life and philosophy of the longtime radical activist.

Jensen can be reached at and his articles can be found online at . To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to . Twitter: @jensenrobertw.

Excerpt from This Changes Everything

By Naoimi Klein on 17 September 2014 for Truthdig -

Image above: Graphic used for publicizing Naomi Klein's book. From original article.

The following is excerpted from “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate” by Naomi Klein. Copyright © 2014 by Naomi Klein. For much more of the book's excerpt visit the Truthdig link above.
“Most projections of climate change presume that future changes—greenhouse gas emissions, temperature increases and effects such as sea level rise—will happen incrementally. A given amount of emission will lead to a given amount of temperature increase that will lead to a given amount of smooth incremental sea level rise. However, the geological record for the climate reflects instances where a relatively small change in one element of climate led to abrupt changes in the system as a whole. In other words, pushing global temperatures past certain thresholds could trigger abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes that have massively disruptive and large-scale impacts. At that point, even if we do not add any additional CO2 to the atmosphere, potentially unstoppable processes are set in motion. We can think of this as sudden climate brake and steering failure where the problem and its consequences are no longer something we can control.”
—Report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society, 2014 1
“I love that smell of the emissions.”
—Sarah Palin, 2011 2
A voice came over the intercom: would the passengers of Flight 3935, scheduled to depart Washington, D.C., for Charleston, South Carolina, kindly collect their carry-on luggage and get off the plane.

They went down the stairs and gathered on the hot tarmac. There they saw something unusual: the wheels of the US Airways jet had sunk into the black pavement as if it were wet cement. The wheels were lodged so deep, in fact, that the truck that came to tow the plane away couldn’t pry it loose. The airline had hoped that without the added weight of the flight’s thirty-five passengers, the aircraft would be light enough to pull. It wasn’t. Someone posted a picture: “Why is my flight cancelled? Because DC is so damn hot that our plane sank 4” into the pavement.”3

Eventually, a larger, more powerful vehicle was brought in to tow the plane and this time it worked; the plane finally took off, three hours behind schedule. A spokesperson for the airline blamed the incident on “very unusual temperatures.”4

The temperatures in the summer of 2012 were indeed unusually hot. (As they were the year before and the year after.) And it’s no mystery why this has been happening: the profligate burning of fossil fuels, the very thing that US Airways was bound and determined to do despite the inconvenience presented by a melting tarmac. This irony—the fact that the burning of fossil fuels is so radically changing our climate that it is getting in the way of our capacity to burn fossil fuels—did not stop the passengers of Flight 3935 from reembarking and continuing their journeys. Nor was climate change mentioned in any of the major news coverage of the incident.

I am in no position to judge these passengers. All of us who live high consumer lifestyles, wherever we happen to reside, are, metaphorically, passengers on Flight 3935. Faced with a crisis that threatens our survival as a species, our entire culture is continuing to do the very thing that caused the crisis, only with an extra dose of elbow grease behind it. Like the airline bringing in a truck with a more powerful engine to tow that plane, the global economy is upping the ante from conventional sources of fossil fuels to even dirtier and more dangerous versions—bitumen from the Alberta tar sands, oil from deepwater drilling, gas from hydraulic fracturing (fracking), coal from detonated mountains, and so on.

Meanwhile, each supercharged natural disaster produces new ironyladen snapshots of a climate increasingly inhospitable to the very industries most responsible for its warming. Like the 2013 historic floods in Calgary that forced the head offices of the oil companies mining the Alberta tar sands to go dark and send their employees home, while a train carrying flammable petroleum products teetered on the edge of a disintegrating rail bridge. Or the drought that hit the Mississippi

River one year earlier, pushing water levels so low that barges loaded with oil and coal were unable to move for days, while they waited for the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge a channel (they had to appropriate funds allocated to rebuild from the previous year’s historic flooding along the same waterway). Or the coal-fired power plants in other parts of the country that were temporarily shut down because the waterways that they draw on to cool their machinery were either too hot or too dry (or, in some cases, both).

Living with this kind of cognitive dissonance is simply part of being alive in this jarring moment in history, when a crisis we have been studiously ignoring is hitting us in the face—and yet we are doubling down on the stuff that is causing the crisis in the first place.

I denied climate change for longer than I care to admit. I knew it was happening, sure. Not like Donald Trump and the Tea Partiers going on about how the continued existence of winter proves it’s all a hoax. But I stayed pretty hazy on the details and only skimmed most of the news stories, especially the really scary ones. I told myself the science was too complicated and that the environmentalists were dealing with it. And I continued to behave as if there was nothing wrong with the shiny card in my wallet attesting to my “elite” frequent flyer status.

A great many of us engage in this kind of climate change denial. We look for a split second and then we look away. Or we look but then turn it into a joke (“more signs of the Apocalypse!”). Which is another way of looking away.

Or we look but tell ourselves comforting stories about how humans are clever and will come up with a technological miracle that will safely suck the carbon out of the skies or magically turn down the heat of the sun. Which, I was to discover while researching this book, is yet another way of looking away.

Or we look but try to be hyper-rational about it (“dollar for dollar it’s more efficient to focus on economic development than climate change, since wealth is the best protection from weather extremes”)—as if having a few more dollars will make much difference when your city is underwater. Which is a way of looking away if you happen to be a policy wonk. Or we look but tell ourselves we are too busy to care about something so distant and abstract—even though we saw the water in the subways in New York City, and the people on their rooftops in New Orleans, and know that no one is safe, the most vulnerable least of all. And though perfectly understandable, this too is a way of looking away.

Or we look but tell ourselves that all we can do is focus on ourselves. Meditate and shop at farmers’ markets and stop driving—but forget trying to actually change the systems that are making the crisis inevitable because that’s too much “bad energy” and it will never work. And at first it may appear as if we are looking, because many of these lifestyle changes are indeed part of the solution, but we still have one eye tightly shut.

Or maybe we do look—really look—but then, inevitably, we seem to forget. Remember and then forget again. Climate change is like that; it’s hard to keep it in your head for very long. We engage in this odd form of on-again-off-again ecological amnesia for perfectly rational reasons. We deny because we fear that letting in the full reality of this crisis will change everything. And we are right. 5

We know that if we continue on our current path of allowing emissions to rise year after year, climate change will change everything about our world. Major cities will very likely drown, ancient cultures will be swallowed by the seas, and there is a very high chance that our children will spend a great deal of their lives fleeing and recovering from vicious storms and extreme droughts. And we don’t have to do anything to bring about this future. All we have to do is nothing. Just continue to do what we are doing now, whether it’s counting on a techno-fix or tending to our gardens or telling ourselves we’re unfortunately too busy to deal with it.

All we have to do is not react as if this is a full-blown crisis. All we have to do is keep on denying how frightened we actually are. And then, bit by bit, we will have arrived at the place we most fear, the thing from which we have been averting our eyes. No additional effort required.

There are ways of preventing this grim future, or at least making it a lot less dire. But the catch is that these also involve changing everything. For us high consumers, it involves changing how we live, how our economies function, even the stories we tell about our place on earth. The good news is that many of these changes are distinctly un-catastrophic. Many are downright exciting. But I didn’t discover this for a long while.

I remember the precise moment when I stopped averting my eyes to the reality of climate change, or at least when I first allowed my eyes to rest there for a good while. It was in Geneva, in April 2009, and I was meeting with Bolivia’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO), who was then a surprisingly young woman named Angélica Navarro Llanos. Bolivia being a poor country with a small international budget, Navarro Llanos had recently taken on the climate portfolio in addition to her trade responsibilities.

Over lunch in an empty Chinese restaurant, she explained to me (using chopsticks as props to make a graph of the global emission trajectory) that she saw climate change both as a terrible threat to her people—but also an opportunity.

A threat for the obvious reasons: Bolivia is extraordinarily dependent on glaciers for its drinking and irrigation water and those white-capped mountains that tower over its capital were turning gray and brown at an alarming rate. The opportunity, Navarro Llanos said, was that since countries like hers had done almost nothing to send emissions soaring, they were in a position to declare themselves “climate creditors,” owed money and technology support from the large emitters to defray the hefty costs of coping with more climate-related disasters, as well as to help them develop on a green energy path.

She had recently given a speech at a United Nations climate conference in which she laid out the case for these kinds of wealth transfers, and she gave me a copy. “Millions of people,” it read, “in small islands, least developed countries, landlocked countries as well as vulnerable communities in Brazil, India and China, and all around the world—are suffering from the effects of a problem to which they did not contribute. . . .

If we are to curb emissions in the next decade, we need a massive mobilization larger than any in history. We need a Marshall Plan for the Earth. This plan must mobilize financing and technology transfer on scales never seen before. It must get technology onto the ground in every country to ensure we reduce emissions while raising people’s quality of life. We have only a decade.”6

Of course a Marshall Plan for the Earth would be very costly—hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars (Navarro Llanos was reluctant to name a figure). And one might have thought that the cost alone would make it a nonstarter—after all, this was 2009 and the global financial crisis was in full swing. Yet the grinding logic of austerity—passing on the bankers’ bills to the people in the form of public sector layoffs, school closures, and the like—had not yet been normalized. So rather than making Navarro Llanos’s ideas seem less plausible, the crisis had the opposite effect.

We had all just watched as trillions of dollars were marshaled in a moment when our elites decided to declare a crisis. If the banks were allowed to fail, we were told, the rest of the economy would collapse. It was a matter of collective survival, so the money had to be found. In the process, some rather large fictions at the heart of our economic system were exposed (Need more money? Print some!).

A few years earlier, governments took a similar approach to public finances after the September 11 terrorist attacks. In many Western countries, when it came to constructing the security/surveillance state at home and waging war abroad, budgets never seemed to be an issue.

Climate change has never received the crisis treatment from our leaders, despite the fact that it carries the risk of destroying lives on a vastly greater scale than collapsed banks or collapsed buildings. The cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions that scientists tell us are necessary in order to greatly reduce the risk of catastrophe are treated as nothing more than gentle suggestions, actions that can be put off pretty much indefinitely.

Clearly, what gets declared a crisis is an expression of power and priorities as much as hard facts. But we need not be spectators in all this: politicians aren’t the only ones with the power to declare a crisis. Mass movements of regular people can declare one too.

Slavery wasn’t a crisis for British and American elites until abolitionism turned it into one. Racial discrimination wasn’t a crisis until the civil rights movement turned it into one. Sex discrimination wasn’t a crisis until feminism turned it into one. Apartheid wasn’t a crisis until the anti-apartheid movement turned it into one.

In the very same way, if enough of us stop looking away and decide that climate change is a crisis worthy of Marshall Plan levels of response, then it will become one, and the political class will have to respond, both by making resources available and by bending the free market rules that have proven so pliable when elite interests are in peril.

We occasionally catch glimpses of this potential when a crisis puts climate change at the front of our minds for a while. “Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed for it will be spent,” declared British prime minister David Cameron—Mr. Austerity himself—when large parts of his country were underwater from historic flooding in February 2014 and the public was enraged that his government was not doing more to help.7

Listening to Navarro Llanos describe Bolivia’s perspective, I began to understand how climate change—if treated as a true planetary emergency akin to those rising flood waters—could become a galvanizing force for humanity, leaving us all not just safer from extreme weather, but with societies that are safer and fairer in all kinds of other ways as well.

The resources required to rapidly move away from fossil fuels and prepare for the coming heavy weather could pull huge swaths of humanity out of poverty, providing services now sorely lacking, from clean water to electricity. This is a vision of the future that goes beyond just surviving or enduring climate change, beyond “mitigating” and “adapting” to it in the grim language of the United Nations. It is a vision in which we collectively use the crisis to leap somewhere that seems, frankly, better than where we are right now.

After that conversation, I found that I no longer feared immersing myself in the scientific reality of the climate threat. I stopped avoiding the articles and the scientific studies and read everything I could find. I also stopped outsourcing the problem to the environmentalists, stopped telling myself this was somebody else’s issue, somebody else’s job.

And through conversations with others in the growing climate justice movement, I began to see all kinds of ways that climate change could become a catalyzing force for positive change—how it could be the best argument progressives have ever had to demand the rebuilding and reviving of local economies; to reclaim our democracies from corrosive corporate influence; to block harmful new free trade deals and rewrite old ones; to invest in starving public infrastructure like mass transit and affordable housing; to take back ownership of essential services like energy and water; to remake our sick agricultural system into something much healthier; to open borders to migrants whose displacement is linked to climate impacts; to finally respect Indigenous land rights—all of which would help to end grotesque levels of inequality within our nations and between them.

And I started to see signs—new coalitions and fresh arguments—hinting at how, if these various connections were more widely understood, the urgency of the climate crisis could form the basis of a powerful mass movement, one that would weave all these seemingly disparate issues into a coherent narrative about how to protect humanity from the ravages of both a savagely unjust economic system and a destabilized climate system. I have written this book because I came to the conclusion that climate action could provide just such a rare catalyst.

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