When Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate was published in 2014, making the New York Times’ list of 100 Notable Books, it was a full-throated cry about the existential threat posed by climate change. Reading the book four years later, it’s more like a primal scream. Since 2014, the world has watched Hurricane Harvey batter Houston and Hurricane Maria devastate Puerto Rico and witnessed record flooding in Boston, Atlantic City, and Galveston and deadly flooding in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Californians have seen three of the largest wildfires in the state’s history. Moreover, 17 of the 18 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001. Climate change is happening.
In This Changes Everything, Klein presents a compelling argument that serious, concerted action to slow the impact of climate change is impossible unless we challenge the fundamental logic of deregulated capitalism. This means confronting political and economic structures that are joined at the hip and perpetuate the three pillars of free-market neoliberalism: privatization of public goods and spaces, deregulation of corporations, and reduced corporate and individual income taxes for the wealthy. As Klein describes it, “Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war.”
Under the resource-extraction-friendly and anti-regulatory Trump administration, the economic system is clearly winning, and that means the climate is losing. At a moment when the limits of economic growth — the grand, fetishized goal of globalization — powered by fossil fuels is becoming clearer and more urgent, the United States, one of the heaviest polluters on the planet, is leaning all its weight behind the continued removal and burning of fossil fuels, reneging on international climate agreements, and behaving as if climate change were a fiction. It’s not. It’s the single most important issue of our time, and the clock is running down.
Klein shows that although time is short, solutions exist, but only if we face and acknowledge the hard fact that deregulated global capitalism, endless consumption, and a life-sustaining climate are incompatible. If we fail, the consequences will be catastrophic and will undoubtedly fall first on those least able to withstand them.