Last Reviewed on October 4, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 658
Naomi Klein's principal argument in This Changes Everything is that capitalism as we know it is unable to accommodate meaningful solutions to the problems posed by climate change. Klein therefore argues that we need to fundamentally alter the economic model of capitalism if we are to seriously tackle—or at least significantly mitigate—those problems.
What is really preventing us from putting out the fire that is threatening to burn down our collective house? I think the answer is far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis.
In this quotation, Klein refers metaphorically to the problems posed by climate change as a "fire that is threatening to burn down our collective house." Ordinarily, of course, one would take action to put out a fire as soon as possible, and with some haste. Klein here suggests, though, that the necessary actions have not been taken only because they would "fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism," which she calls "the reigning ideology." The burning house metaphor conveys how ridiculous and dangerous it is not to extinguish the fire of climate change because of an ideology. The metaphor also makes the threat of climate change more relatable—and more immediate.
Fear is a survival response. Fear makes us run, it makes us leap, it can make us act superhuman. But we need somewhere to run to. Without that, the fear is only paralyzing. So the real trick, the only hope, really, is to allow the terror of an unlivable future to be balanced and soothed by the prospect of building something much better than many of us have previously dared hope.
In many ways, This Changes Everything is a rather depressing book. It paints a very vivid and alarming picture of a possible future in which climate change is allowed to continue unchecked. However, Klein does try to offer a more hopeful picture too. In this quotation, for example, Klein indicates that—in addition to a possible future which is bleak and, frankly, dystopian—there is also a possible future which is, if not quite utopian, at least much more palatable. Klein argues throughout the book that if we rethink and fundamentally alter the economic model of capitalism to effectively deal with climate change, then we can also live in a world which is more secure, more democratic and less unequal. This is the "sooth[ing] . . . prospect" which she hopes will dispel the "paralyzing" fear, and in turn inspire the necessary change.
As Upton Sinclair famously observed: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"
This third quotation highlights rather succinctly what Klein suggests is the biggest obstacle between the present time and the aforementioned "sooth[ing] . . . prospect" of a better future. Although the problem of climate change is understood, and the problems it will cause for future generations widely acknowledged, we fail to take adequate steps to address the problem because we have, Klein says, become so dependent upon the very economic model which is incompatible with those steps. Klein uses the Upton Sinclair quotation specifically in reference to those who have vested economic interests in the big fossil fuel companies. These companies fund groups to spread climate change skepticism and pretend (or so Klein contends) not to understand or believe that climate change is a significant problem—precisely because they have so much to lose should it be understood otherwise. Thus, to return to the first quotation, these vested interests fan the flames of the fire while at the same time convincing people to look the other way and believe that there is no fire at all. It is in their interests for the fire to keep burning.
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