Review: This Changes Everything

TCE

By Enrique Lescure

Introduction

Yesterday, I frequented a climate event in Umea, and had the privilege to watch This Changes Everything, of course streamed from a computer to a cinema screen. All those watching the improvised movie theatre left with sense of optimism and feel-good hope in their bellies.

All except one.

Sometimes, there can be a refreshment in bluntness. So, I would put forth my points in a very rash and frisky manner. I think ‘This Changes Everything’ is basically just stating what documentaries on the subject of Global Warming have been stating for the last twenty or so years.

Technically speaking, it is probably one of the best documentaries on the subject as of yet, filmed with HD cameras and tying together the issues of global warming with the de-facto disenfranchisement of local communities.

Still, I do believe that documentaries like these can do more harm than good, especially as Naomi Klein, one of the two producers and the author of the same book, have failed in defining the real problem with contemporary Capitalism.

Therefore, this entry, rather than being a whole review of the film, will focus on the issue of Naomi Klein’s background and how it can have influenced the film.

No Logo

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Naomi Klein, a journalist and author from Canada, became well-known within the Alt-Globalization Movement of the 1990’s, as a critic of the type of economic globalization which went into a new phase during that decade.

In her breakthrough book, No Logo, she made an ardent work visualising how multinational corporations are exploiting the absence of worker’s rights in third world nations, and how logotypes have turned into mythical symbols within advertisement.

Naomi Klein is highly critical of the economic school of monetarism – most often referred to as “neo-liberalism” by its critics – and generally is positively inclined towards protest movements against austerity, natural resources exploitation and anti-war sentiments.

All this is highly evident in “This Changes Everything”, and if you have read Klein before watching the film, you can be able to predict everything in it. That is not where my critique against Klein lies.

Klein’s thesis and solution

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Klein’s thesis in ‘This Changes Everything‘ is that the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century created a culture where we view nature as a resource to be exploited and the Earth as a “machine” that we have the power over and can manipulate as we want. This is also the reason behind for example the addiction to growth.

According to Klein, growth addiction is an example of a political choice that is ideologically structured and follows the principles of Capitalism, which in itself flows from the Scientific Revolution. As a conflicting principle, Klein presents the aboriginal principle of ‘the Earth as a nurturing mother’ and the principles of democratic sovereignty (hailing back to the populistic practices of Gaius Gracchus).

While not directly mentioned, it is indicated that the Scientific Revolution and Capitalism are masculine principles, while Nature worship and Democracy are feminine principles. For example, most of the proponents for democratic activist movements interviewed in the film are female, while most proponents for the exploitative forces that are interviewed are males.

Klein’s solution to the current problem is that the free market has caused these problems, and the solution should be to increase government interventionism and regulate the market more. Since the governments (according to Klein) do not desire to follow such policies, activist movements would have to protest and stop mining projects and then move on towards advocating public investments in green technology – solar panels and windmills everywhere.

Essentially, the solution is that people should protest to roll back deregulation to the 1970’s, while deepening democracy.

Klein is essentially right, or rather moving in the right direction in her critique of the current system. But her solutions are essentially flawed and (I would claim) build on several misunderstandings and ignorance.

The flaws of Klein’s solutions

Fractional-reserve-banking-infographic-HORIZONTAL

Naomi Klein makes three basic misunderstandings about the reality of the system we are living in, either because she herself has not studied these issues or because she deliberately omits to tell certain things which are essential to know if we truly want to change the system.

The first misunderstanding lies in the nature of the environmental crisis.

Klein focuses very much on climate change, but climate change is only one of five serious environmental challenges that are causing the current mass extinction as I write these words. The oceanic crisis, the soil crisis, the freshwater crisis and the biodiversity crisis are as serious for the well-being of life on Earth. Green energy won’t solve these problems, and emphasising this issue will block out public understanding of the other issues. I believe it is essential to see antropogenic climate change as a part of a wider environmental crisis caused by the current system.

The second misunderstanding lies in Klein’s understanding of free markets contra government intervention.

It seems that Klein has a very binary view on the system, which can be understood as ‘government intervention good’, ‘markets bad’. What that fails to account for is that both governments and private businesses operate as economic actors with the goal of creating economic growth. Keynesian economics have nearly exactly the same goals as monetarist economics, namely the stabilization of the growth curve to ensure stability for investors and economic growth. Keynesians want to focus on low unemployment, while monetarists see inflation as the main threat to the well-being of an economy. To a large extent, deregulation has been caused as much by technological development as by political choices – in an evolutionary process within Capitalism itself.

The third, and most serious misunderstanding, is the idea that economic growth primarily is an ideological choice, and that by consuming smarter and changing the ruling ideology from Liberalism to Green Social Democracy, we will have started to save the Earth.

The core of this lies in that Klein omits to put focus on the nature of money within the framework of modern Capitalism. Ultimately, money today is Debt. Within the banking system, banks only need to keep a part of the money of their clients as deposits, and can loan out the rest – as illustrated by the image above. This means that from an  original deposit of $1000, the bank can create an additional amount of money several times larger than the original $1000.

These loans from the bank have to be repaid with interest. Since both the loans and the interest is created from capital that doesn’t currently exist, this demands that the capital is created. And most of that capital is created from turning parts of the Earth into utilities for the market. This means that the current system both demands a constant growth rate and the continued transformation of the biosphere into linear production units to satisfy the demand for exponential growth as seen in these oil palm plantations in Sumatra.

dsc_0019.jpg

For a more comprehensive description, see this entry.

Summary

I hold no doubt that Naomi Klein truly believes that the current situation represents a mortal threat, but I suspect that she also is emotionally invested for other reasons in moving away from monetarism towards neo-keynesianism.

The problem is of course that neither of these two systems are able to solve the current ecological crisis.

Now it is possible to claim that different documentaries should focus on different issues, and that nobody can focus on everything, but by many small groups focusing on different issues, we will together solve the problem and making the world a better place.

The problem is of course that ‘This Changes Everything‘ is claiming to present the path-way to solve the entire problem of climate change, by connecting it to economic growth and questioning its ideological foundations. The thing is, economic growth is not an ideological choice, but a survival imperative for the current system.

Therefore, no matter if it is monetaristic neo-liberalism or green social democracy, the system demands the repayment of debt, and in order to repay the debt more resources would have to be transformed to utilities. If the shark doesn’t swim, it drowns.

index

Omitting the ‘shark in the bath-tub’ is a disservice, since it doesn’t correctly informs activists about the true nature of the socio-economic system and keeps them preoccupied with trails of thought that only move around in circles.

I am truly impressed by the engagement of First Nations activists who protest against the tar sands in Canada. I also share Naomi Klein’s sentiments that the reason for our destruction does not lie in human nature. Yet, I think that any failure to mention the problems with fractional reserve banking is going to hurt all those people ultimately, since even if they achieve their political objectives, they won’t be able to change the system if they don’t understand it.

 

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12 Comments

  1. Eddie Olsson said,

    November 30, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    Have yet to see the film, but this review in itself is a very good read. I would argue, however, that the fixation on economical growth is an ideological chois, albeit indirekt, since the “current system” is an ideological choice, no matter how much economists try to veil their ideology as science

    • Eos Umeå said,

      November 30, 2015 at 1:33 pm

      Depends on. All systems are self-perpetuating to an extent, and when you are going to change from one system to another, the transition is always going to be painful – most often for the elites. So while ideologies tend to constrict our view of reality and define reality, ideologies all have a utility-function, to rationalise the current system.

  2. Brad Arnold said,

    December 1, 2015 at 11:13 am

    There is now a technology that removes the CO2 from the air, and with the carbon manufactures a valuable product at a profit. THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING:

    http://www.fastcoexist.com/3050184/this-new-technology-sucks-up-carbon-pollution-and-turns-it-into-carbon-nanotubes

    “The method can run on solar power, so it serves as a carbon sink. If machines were spread over a large area—10% of the size of the Sahara Desert—the scientists calculated that they could remove enough carbon in the atmosphere to return to preindustrial levels in about a decade.”

    • Eos Umeå said,

      December 1, 2015 at 12:15 pm

      That is amazing, but the thing that we tend to forget is that climate change is not the only problem. Most of the problems are actually connected to how we utilize land space (mono-cultures), since we are outcrowding eco-systems.

  3. denniswingo said,

    December 1, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    It amazes me, as a historian and scientist that views of this nature capture anything more than antiquarian academic interest.

    There is an underpinning philosophical viewpoint from Klein and the majority of the anti-globalist/gaia-st school of thought that anything humans do to alter the pristine terrestrial environment is bad or at least to be rigidly controlled by definition. There is absolutely no indication in nature itself, or to use their language, anything that gaia has produced, that indicates that what humanity does, including industrialization and the production of several billion bodies, is wrong, or negative in any sense of the natural world.

    Since humans are a product of an are intrinsically linked to the terrestrial environment, then by definition, what ever we do is natural. To take the position that industrialization and resource utilization by humans is bad or even undesirable is akin to take the position of the fern family of plants that the overtaking of the environment by flowering plants is bad.

    Angiosperms did everything that the Klein school of thought claims is bad in what humans have done. They exploded on the scene rapidly in geologic time. They literally overtook the planetary biome, and they pushed all previously dominant plant species into either extinction or niches from which they have never recovered, even after over 100 million years.

    Nuclear power is not natural? A natural nuclear reactor operated in Southern Africa for over 100 million years, thus obviating arguments in this vein.

    Industrialization and capitalism is anti-human? Again, a fallacious argument to anyone who knows anything about human history and government. For 200,000 years of human history, life was short, brutish and hard and no argument that you can intelligently craft can deny this fact of history and anthropology. It is only in the past 300 years and the rise of industrial capitalism, individual and religious liberty, and limited government that humanity has been able to transcend the primitive lifestyles and habits that have been the human norm.

    Thus an argument can be made is that the appeal to the authority of nature and of a Gaiast mindset is merely the use of clever marketing to mask a form of misandry. Their future? Indeed the logical conclusion of this school of thought at its absolute best, would be to return humanity to a primitive hunter gatherer existence of the type that characterized 95% of human history.

    What then? Around 70,000 years ago and the explosion of the Toba volcano, rapid climate change dramatically reduced temperatures in the middle of the Wisconsin Ice Age, leading the mass extinctions and the reduction of the human population to perhaps as few as 1,000. In the primitive state that the Klein school of thought would take us, we would be vulnerable to the next mega volcano or asteroid impact. Poof, no more humanity. Perhaps that is the ultimate goal of such a school of thought, then Gaia would be bothered no more by humans and periodic mass extinctions could then occur naturally, as she intended. That is, until the atmosphere is ripped away by a random space rock.

    On the other paw, perhaps gaia is smarter than the Naomi Kleins of this world and like Georg Carlin once opined about gaia creating humans because she wanted plastic, we could be here in order to clear out the asteroids that have punctuated our existence and have been responsible for 95% of the mass extinctions of the past half billion years of Earthly history. To do that requires a technological civilization capable of interplanetary flight and feats of monumental engineering. Naomi Klein would of course assign this thought to a masculine perspective, but at no time in my engineering and science career have I seen a vagina or its lack have any bearing on the intelligence or wisdom of an engineer of scientist.

    Think about this the next time you are out protesting science, communicating via your Apple phone, wearing your clothes derived from technologies developed by you fellow humans…

    • Eos Umeå said,

      December 1, 2015 at 3:31 pm

      I believe that you might not see a relationship between us wrecking the biosphere and any bad effects it will have on the human race in the future.

      If we are transforming the climate, it will affect weather patterns, coastlines and other factors.

      If we are destroying the topsoil and depleting the freshwater reserves, it will hurt a majority of the human race.

      A reduction of biological diversity will also hurt us, by making all systems more vulnerable.

      While I do not agree with Klein’s way of *presenting* the problem, I do agree that there is a major problem with having a system dependent on exponential growth.

      That does not mean that the fruits of the current system are bad and should be discarded, but that we in the West today have far higher standards of living than at the beginning of the Industrial Age does not mean that we are somehow mythically obliged to keep the current system when it is about to cause a mass extinction.

      Unlike the K/T Asteroid, we have a choice in causing a mass extinction or not.

      We do not need to move back to agricultural society, but we do need to transcend the current socio-economic system. The EOS has a proposal for doing exactly that. We need to test it on a local and regional level first however, to see what does and doesn’t work.

      https://eoshorizon.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/energy-accounting/

      • denniswingo said,

        December 2, 2015 at 5:04 pm

        The term “exponential growth” is decidedly misused as a pejorative when discussing the development of industrial civilization. Most who opine on this subject are neither engineers or scientists.

        All of civilization’s use of resources can be traced back to the amount of energy that is available. Up until the 1600’s dominate energy forms were wood, wind, and human muscle. As the first spark of industrialization was lit in England we began using coal. Our coal based energy infrastructure increased the average human lifespan in the industrialized countries by 50% of its pre industrial level. As we transitioned to oil, a higher form of energy much more amenable to transportation, we have now almost doubled the human lifespan.

        You write, as do others that we can’t keep going in this direction because it will cause a mass extinction and have other negative effects. I will assert that it is the attempt by very well meaning, yet untutored people like yourself, Ms. Klein, and others to restrain the continuing development of technology that will lead to this negative end.

        At the end of the day, intelligent technologists understand that oil is a limited resource and that to continue the advance of civilization that it must be replaced, preferably with a form of energy that has a higher payback ratio (energy out vs energy required to implement) than oil. The preferred technological pathway of the technological minimalist (which Klein, and yourself are of that school) is that of energy systems such as wind, solar, hydro, and other such systems. These systems are claimed to be “renewable” and “sustainable”. With the exception of hydroelectric, those terms are nothing more than marketing slogans with that mask their nature from the engineering viewpoint.

        None of the technological minimalist favored tech is sustainable or renewable in a world without the massive energy subsidy provided by oil. Without oil, the energy required to manufacture solar and wind systems would be more than the energy payback over their operating lifetime. Thus the energy payback ratio, when ALL considerations are taken into account is negative. So long marketing slogans.

        Nuclear power on the other hand, is dismissed by the majority of technological minimalists as either to dangerous or too polluting. I am of the generation that remembers the bumper stickers “Split wood, not atoms”. In the 1970’s this mindset killed the nuclear power plant construction of 98 power plants that were already under construction. If those plants had been built, we would have avoided almost 1 billion tons of CO2 per year and today we would have 40% of our power from nuclear sources.

        These are the same people that today (technological minimalists) that want wind and solar as our preferred technologies.

        I am obviously of the school of maximizing technology to solve the transitory problems of our energy system today. Nuclear power from Thorium molten salt reactors (there is 3x more Thorium in the world than Uranium, and it is a byproduct of the mining of Rare Earth metals that go into wind turbines and batteries for your Prius and Teslas). Thorium is also proliferation resistant, and we would not be having the problems with Iran today if they were pursuing Thorium nuclear power. Then there is fusion, which you may maintain has not been proven, but that is because the technological minimalists in congress have reduced funding to a level that barely pays the people involved.

        We technological maximalists also reject the thesis of limited resources. With enough power resources we could either mine bare rock for metals, or obtain most if not all of our metal and other resources from off planet as we live in a solar system rich with resources.

      • Eos Umeå said,

        December 2, 2015 at 5:10 pm

        The EOS are not “technological minimalists”. In fact, we do believe in a high-tech sustainable civilization, but we believe that currently we are using too heavy footprints on the biosphere. Advanced technology is a way to scale down, but we believe that the current system of Fractional Reserve Banking is incentivizing economic behaviour that runs contrary to sustainability.

        We are positive to asteroid mining as an alternative to mining on Earth. We do also understand that to transition to a sustainable future, we will have to do some things that temporarily can hurt the Earth.

        Regarding exponential growth, we are not against exponential growth in itself, we are against a debt-based monetary system that necessitates a maximalization of exponential growth at the expense of the biosphere.

        http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/

      • denniswingo said,

        December 2, 2015 at 5:07 pm

        sorry, typing on a plane and made some mistakes in that post.

      • Eos Umeå said,

        December 2, 2015 at 6:01 pm

        Can happen to anyone 😛

      • denniswingo said,

        December 2, 2015 at 10:56 pm

        Fair enough. Will look at your link later…..

  4. denniswingo said,

    December 1, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    Also, the entire masculine/feminine construct is scientifically invalid..

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn28582-scans-prove-theres-no-such-thing-as-a-male-or-female-brain/


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