By: Grace Kennedy
Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, was released last week, fittingly right before a crowd of 300,000 rallied to draw attention to climate change in New York City. In response to Klein’s book, Globe and Mail editorialist Margaret Wente disparaged it as a case of “childish form of magical thinking.” Wente is a predictable member of the camp that quickly condemns grassroots movements. For example, she frowns upon Aboriginal protests against pipelines and hydroelectric dams and Greenpeace initiatives, as folks who just don’t understand the imperativeness and functioning of the global economy – as if the literal economy, and not the earth, is our lifeline. Wente charges Klein with ignoring the presumption that China and other developing nations are unwilling and unlikely to be harnessed into emissions agreements, and that therefore, Klein and other activists “should do themselves a favor and grow up.”
What Wente seems to be feeding on is the apparently impervious claim that if we stop extracting oil or decrease our demand in the global economy, it will be found or demanded elsewhere. Right. But Canada is geographically a large country with substantial resources, a population that for the most part lives comfortably within first-world conditions, i.e. a socio-environmental situation where we can afford to reduce our footprint. Trucking on with the rest of the world is not a better alternative. We are talking about the economy here. It’s not a person, it’s not alive – we know it’s not as free a market to support any neoliberal arguments, and it’s not on its way there either. It is altered in un-free ways now via the world’s largest oligopolistic corporations, trade bloc agreements, nationalism movements in some countries, etc. So what’s the harm in altering it in more ways, ways that benefit the earth – our real lifeline?
Last week, in an interview with the National Post, Klein said that her lifestyle has changed and that she only flies “one-tenth as how much” she used to. She also argued that the “environmental movement has overstressed the consumer side of it.” It’s easy to agree that change needs to come in the form of legislation shaping corporate practices that are admittedly a major part of the solution, but I disagree that the consumer side is overplayed. Sure, I get that each plastic bag I don’t take home from Fortinos isn’t making a big difference; consumers don’t have as much effect on matters as we are feigned to believe. However, unless we – consumers – change our lifestyles to adapt to a world that uses less fossil fuel, and grow to enjoy taking public transit, riding bikes, shopping local and not buying out-of-season produce – we are going to be poor accompaniments to the fight against climate change. We are not going to elect governments that create the necessary policies if we don’t like how our lives will be altered. I think everyone makes the mistake of reducing situations in order to find an easy answer, but to reiterate a point from Canadian author, John Ralston Saul, in these cases, which revolve around ethics, there is no easy answer.
Saul writes about the imperative of individual compromise in relation to ethical choices, in this case, becoming environmentally conscious. Don’t think that green activists absolutely love cycling to work during torrential downpours. Fresh berries in the winter are nice – but could we substitute some fruit preservative from the summer?
A mindful attitude with the freedom to do what we should and not what we always want, while evolving our sustainable philosophies and techniques, will make us better citizens of the earth.
Economics is an ideology, and to borrow another point from Saul, “it is promoted as if it were civilization’s first item of importance…[requiring] common false sense, because it is built on inevitabilities and demands passivity”.
I reiterated this to a friend over a pint last night and he replied that climate change is another ideology just the same. Fine, call it that, call it whatever you want. But the image of polar ice caps melting is inarguable evidence of a phenomenon that needs more ingenuity from people like Klein and less ignorance from the Wentes of this world.
Photo credit: Peter Dean