The full title of Naomi Klein’s latest book is, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. It’s well worth reading, though it is not the sort of book you will read straight through for the simple pleasure of the story. Neither climate change nor capitalism is a simple story.
Climate change may not change “everything,” but it certainly changes every imagined future for our society that was based on the assumption of a stable, predictable climate. We can be certain of this, even though there are a lot of uncertainties with models of climate change.
There are a lot of moving parts to consider; science, society, history, economy, politics, geography, geology, ecology and more. No one individual – not even Naomi Klein, though she is a conscientious and thorough journalist who spent years researching the subject – knows how climate change affects all the moving parts.
The thing to keep in mind while working your way through the book is that it is not gospel. Like the rest of us, Klein is still struggling to see what we individually and collectively should do about the issues, and even what we can do.
Early in the book, she presents the scientific consensus on climate change as something very close to certainty. Some examples:
From p. 25; “… virtually all of us [climate scientists] are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.”
From p. 28; “… the scientific community made its decisive diagnosis of the climate threat …”
And from p. 53; “… let me be absolutely clear: as 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists attest …”
The listing above has quotes selected to focus on Klein’s assertion of scientific near-certainty about climate change. It’s a good example of how making a case for action takes precedence over explaining the subtleties of the scientific models. The “97 percent” in particular is a citation also heard elsewhere, and it exaggerates the unanimity of climate scientists on the subject. Among the 97%, for instance, there is wide disagreement about what percentage of the observed change is attributable to human activities. One worthwhile article that discusses this range of opinion in some detail can be found at http://euanmearns.com/the-nature-of-the-scientific-consensus-on-climate-change/#more-6132.
She does say in the introduction that she is not a scientist. This should be sufficient warning that she is more interested in the political history of the subject, and she has numerous good insights about this aspect of things. Here’s one essential observation Klein makes about why there is so much opposition to the very idea of climate change, taken from page 49:
“… If the dire projections coming out of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] are left unchallenged, and business as usual is indeed driving us straight toward civilization-threatening tipping points, then the implications are obvious: the ideological crusade incubated in think tanks like Heartland, Cato, and Heritage [basically, leave everything to the free market] will have to come to a screeching halt. … they know very well that ours is a global economy created by, and fully reliant upon, the burning of fossil fuels, and that a dependency that foundational cannot be changed with a few gentle market mechanisms.”
And more along that line, 5 pages later:
“… these hard-core ideologues understand the real significance of climate change better than most of the ‘warmists’ in the political center, the ones who are still insisting that the response can be gradual and painless and that we don’t need to go to war with anybody, including the fossil fuel companies.”
There’s a lot of valuable discussion about how the politics around climate change play out in conferences, treaties, movements and so on. Klein’s book is not the last word on climate change, but it is a good start for discussion of a critical issue for our times.