I believe myself to be a realist. I have no doubt that many who know me would scoff at this, having long ago slotted me firmly in the ‘pessimist’ pigeonhole.
Nevertheless, my weeks of late seem to be full of Thursdays. As in “This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.” This particular week, my copy of Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything arrived and, though snuffling and sneezing from a streaming cold, I tore through it in about five thick gulps.
I found it a fascinating read.
The book is aptly subtitled ‘Capitalism vs The Climate’. Here’s a passage that I think summarises both the book, and our situation, rather well:
The idea that capitalism and only capitalism can save the world from a crisis created by capitalism is no longer an abstract theory; it’s a hypothesis that has been tested and retested in the real world. We are now able to set theory aside and take a hard look at the results: at the celebrities and media conglomerates that were supposed to model chic green lifestyles who have long since moved on to the next fad; at the green products that were shunted to the back of the supermarket shelves at the first signs of recession; at the venture capitalists who were supposed to bankroll a parade of innovation but have come up far short; at the fraud-infested, boom-and-bust carbon market that has failed miserably to lower emissions; at the natural gas sector that was supposed to be our bridge to renewables but ended up devouring much of their market instead. And most of all, at the parade of billionaires who were going to invent a new form of enlightened capitalism but decided that, on second thought, the old one was just too profitable to surrender.
We’ve tried it Branson’s way. (And Buffett’s, Bloomberg’s, Gates’s, and Pickens’s way.) The soaring emissions speak for themselves. There will, no doubt, be more billionaire saviors who make splashy entrances, with more schemes to rebrand capitalism. The trouble is, we simply don’t have another decade to lose pinning our hopes on these sideshows. There is plenty of room to make a profit in a zero-carbon economy; but the profit motive is not going to be the midwife for that great transformation.
This is important because Branson was onto something with his pledge [to spend $3 billion developing technologies to battle climate change — a pledge he has yet to fulfil]. It makes perfect sense to make the profits and proceeds from the businesses that are most responsible for exacerbating the climate crisis help pay for the transition to a safer, greener future. Branson’s original idea — to spend 100 percent of the proceeds from his trains and airlines on figuring out a way to get off fossil fuels — was, at least in theory, exactly the kind of thing that needs to take place on a grand scale. The problem is that under current business models, once the shareholders have taken a slice, once the executives have given themselves yet another raise, once Richard Branson has launched yet another world-domination project and purchased another private island, there doesn’t seem to be much left over to fulfill the promise.
— Naomi Klein, ‘This Changes Everything’, pp 252-3
One of the many features of homo fatuus brutus is an uncompromising optimism, a trait that has helped to get us to the top of the food chain. Unfortunately, we’re busily demolishing all the links below us. Our species has had so much practise finding ways out of problems that the precipice ahead is literally unthinkable, as in ‘impossible to think about’. And yet, full of hope and optimism, Klein points to a path out of the nightmare. ‘This Changes Everything’ is the kind of book I would love to write; though I doubt I could ever flavour our predicament with the verve and confident enthusiasm with which she has imbued it.
I’m too much the realist, you see ;)
In fact, having finished the book, I’m resolved to read it again to try to figure out how Klein pulled off the optimistic view trick… because where she sees burgeoning mass activism everywhere, I only see sporadic signs; bubbling under, perhaps, but never making enough impact.
Whitehall is just one place that must be choked by a throng demanding action every week — not just once in a blue moon — until Those In Power feel their cosy positions under threat. Because until they feel they absolutely must act, they.
Whether optimist, pessimist, or realist, we all need to pull together, soon, because the last drop will soon be gone — and there will be no way to refill the glass.