Sustainable Book Club is a great initiative from Zoe Morrison of Eco Thrifty Living, where environmentally-minded people can come together on Twitter and Facebook to chat over our chosen reading material. My suggestion was This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein (non-Amazon shopping link – no affiliation). I chose this book because rarely have I experienced a non-fiction book that brought me so close to tears, that made me so angry, and so inspired me into action.
Lots of us take personal action on a daily basis against environmental destruction by consuming less, making better and more local food choices, rejecting excess packaging, reusing, mending and so on. All great things, but this book isn’t really about that. Instead, this book starts at the very top of society, looking at the destruction and selling off of our environment by governments and corporations. It calls for a complete overhaul of how countries and businesses conduct themselves, treat their citizens and looks at reinventing the entire global capitalist society. It is quite simply, huge. A rallying call to halt our current trajectory of fossil fuel-based runaway consumerism of resources, and replace it with something better.
There’s no getting round it, the first half of this book is going to make you angry and miserable (so make sure you plough on through to the end – it’s definitely worth it). Not only does it tear down the ‘bad guys’ that you’d expect – fossil fuel companies and so on – it goes on to expose the complicity of environmental charities in the status quo. Tales of a charity drilling for oil in its own wildlife reserves, and others supporting legislation that flies in the face of environmentalism and more sunk me into a oil-filled pit of despair.
Klein’s writing is well-researched and polished, but the book maintains a very personal voice as well. You can feel her anger seeping between the words as she clearly explains why and how the planet is being polluted beyond recognition. She explains how she looked away for so long, from a problem that seemed so remote, and figured that someone else would fix it. For many people, I think that probably is the case – most people accept that pumping out huge levels of carbon and other gases, as well as destroying wildlife habits and formerly-untouched swathes of land is a bad thing, but what can one person do about it?
Well, as it turns out, quite a lot actually. As the book progresses, Klein tries to rally our flagging spirits with stories of native communities coming together to protect their land from exploitation, of people protesting and campaigning together for change.
The other personal aspect that really resonated with me was Klein’s assertion that to change society, we have to change our own relationship with how we see the Earth. She asserts that our ongoing destruction of the planet is because we think we can, and should, control and subdue it – that it is here to be exploited, and that the exploitation is the price we pay to live our current lifestyle. This is why we place our faith in unproven and dangerous geo-engineering to be able to continue on business as usual; because we don’t want to accept that we should have to make sacrifices for the sake of something that seems so intangible.
And I think she’s right. The current system isn’t working. Whilst we accept the massive increases in human standards of living that fossil fuels have brought, we must also accept that they have, and continue, to cause destruction beyond compare. We need to evolve. Alternatives are now becoming more and more viable, and we should be able to embrace these without fear of economic collapse and threats from multi-billion dollar oil companies. Being okay on a personal level isn’t enough of a reason to allow others to remain in fuel – and real – poverty.
I think this is what I have taken from the book the most – if you want change, you have to become part of it. Perhaps still just small actions, but I’ve started writing to my MP, stepped up my sustainability efforts at work, and just last week went on a protest with tens of thousands of other people who also wanted to take a stand on social injustice (social injustice that it is reasonably claimed is partially fuelled by climate change). And it felt really good.
It’s not going to save the world overnight, and there’s no way to know that it actually will in the long term either. I just know that I can’t look away any longer, and if I’m going to look, I don’t want to do it from the sidelines.