Reviewed by Kevin Peoples.

photo naomi klein
Naomi Klein, Peoples’ Social Forum, flickr cc.

This politically-charged book reads like a great dramatic novel. The drama is fixed in a clash of values. On one side are the powerful free-market fundamentalists. They are the rich and powerful of the world, committed to wealth, consumerism, and materialism, the articulate voices for profit-driven growth. Their actions rape the earth and exploit the poor. They sponsor right-wing think-tanks, lobby governments, and befuddle public opinion. They are creating a world that is hotter, colder, wetter, thirstier, hungrier, angrier than ever. They publicly deny climate change, though many actually believe in it, but, typically, see it as an opportunity to enhance their already immense wealth.

On the other side are the little people, with values outside the dominant capitalist culture. They are often indigenous, and they value interconnectedness, community, cooperation, and relationships with nature and with each other. They reject consumerism and materialism, and seek to live simply. They are ostensibly powerless, but they are organising and learning how to protect their communities, their environment, and their lands from those who would destroy their livelihoods and everything they value.

Klein writes from inside the action. An action learner, her research is alive with real people and events. She travels the world to listen to the rich and powerful as they plan their actions to maintain the status quo, just as she links arms with indigenous peoples and local groups in their communities as they form barricades and picket lines to protect their interests from multinational corporations.

Klein is not out to convince the reader of the dangers of climate change – that is a given. More importantly, she sees climate change as an opportunity. Her thesis is that modern capitalism is incompatible with saving the planet. Klein does not deal in half measures. She argues that the changes required to stay within safe limits of warming have diminished to the point at which they cannot be achieved within global capitalism.

Klein is critical of those who would solve the problem of climate change by painting capitalism green. For her, capitalism is the problem. She argues that green technical solutions won’t do. Consuming green, she says, means simply substituting one power source for a more efficient one. We should not play the game of the bean counters. Politicians and Big Green working with the corporate sector within the neoliberal capitalist model cannot solve the problem. Climate change is the visual reflection of a far more deep-seated problem than this, namely, the current extreme form of capitalism. Modifying capitalism to save the planet won’t do. Centrism won’t do. Some arguments are just wrong. The central issue for Klein is not increasing efficiencies, but ridding the world of capitalism. It’s a question of values, of pitting one world view against another. It’s about the way we live and work and play. The same old global neoliberal economy painted green and producing the same old inequalities won’t do.

Klein argues that to concentrate the debate around climate change is not only missing the point, but losing the argument. Climate change changes everything. The argument can’t be won by narrowing the debate to the economy. People are likely to accept the arguments about dangerous climate change when they have a sense of a new way of living. Therefore, we need to place the climate change debate in a broad context in whic whole-of-life solutions are sought, and all people are valued.

Klein, therefore, feels the need to outline her own vision for the future, and, critically, how such a vision can emerge without violent revolution. One of the fascinating things in this book is her own idealistic – some would say hopelessly utopian – vision of a new society. Writing with extraordinary clarity and a speaking voice, she argues for an alternate economic model, one which is caring and compassionate and would fundamentally change the way we live.

Her model is in the political middle, pitched between capitalism and state socialism. She values planning and a strong public sector, with widespread distribution and ownership of private property and business. She values public transport, regional development whereby local industries are driven by local resources and local labour, and profits remain in the district. She favours low-energy farming, the production of goods which last, the establishment of worker and producer cooperatives, and the development of what she calls neighbourhood sharing banks (credit unions).

Overseas trade is kept to a minimum. Catholics brought up on the papal encyclicals, Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno, will find a surprising likeness. Without wishing to put the kiss of death on Klein, it could be said that her vision resembles the program B A Santamaria (1915-1998) set out for the National Catholic Rural Movement in mid-twentieth century.

There are winners and big losers here. The rich and powerful will lose much. Only a very brave person would make a stand on such a platform. Klein is her own woman. She sees a democratic transition via a mass worldwide movement comprising all people who believe we can be so much better than we are. She knows the problems of transition. She analyses the historical successes and failures of previous great social movements. And she remains hopeful. I remain sceptical. Such changes as she envisages generally end in blood and tears. Change we will have one way or other. At the very least, Klein offers the possibility of peaceful transition. The alternatives are frightening.

Kevin Peoples is a Melbourne writer and the author of Santamaria’s Salesman: Working for the National Catholic Rural Movement 1859-61 (John Garratt Publishing, 2012).

Reprinted with permission from EarthSong, a biannual journal with leading writers on education, ecology and spirituality, sustainable living and care for the environment in Australia.


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