This Changes Everything - Naomi Klein

23 July 2023

A collection of points that struck a chord with me reading this amazing book.


  • Cutthroat competition between nations has deadlocked U.N. climate negotiations for decades: rich countries dig in their heels and declare that they won’t cut emissions and risk losing their vaulted position in the global hierarchy; poorer countries declare that they won’t give up their right pollute as much as rich countries did on their way to wealth, even if that means deepening a disaster that hurts the poor most of all. For any of this to change, a worldview will need to rise to the fore that sees nature, other nations, and our own neighbors not as adversaries, but rather as partners in a grand project of mutual reinvention.

  • But what should we do with this fear that comes from living on a planet that is dying, made less alive every day? First, accept that it won’t go away.

  • Next, use it. Fear is a survival response. Fear makes us run, it makes us leap, it makes 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 unlovable future to be balanced and soothed by the prospect of building something much better than many of us have previously dared hope.

Planning and Banning

  • And there are many problems, as we will see, with the whole idea of natural gas being clean. But from a planning perspective, the most immediate problem is that for the bridge concept to work, ways would need to be found to ensure that natural gas was being used only as a replacement for coal and oil - and not to undercut renewable energy. And this is a very real concern in the U.S., the deluge of cheap natural gas thanks to fracking has already hurt the country’s wind market, with wind power’s share of the new electricity coming online plummeting from at least 42% in 2009, to 25% in 2010 and 32% in 2011 - the key years that fracking skyrocketed.

  • It’s true that the market is great at generating technological innovations and, left to their own devices, R&D departments will continue to come up with impressive new ways to make solar modules and electrical appliances more efficient. But at the same time, market force will also drive new and innovative ways to get hard-to-reach fossil fuels out of the deep ocean and hard shale - and those dirty innovations will make green ones essentially irrelevant from a climate change perspective.

  • Just when we needed to slow down and notice of the subtle changes in the natural world that are telling us that something is seriously amiss, we have sped up; just when we needed longer time horizons to see how the actions of our past impact the prospects of our future, we entered into the never-ending feed of the perpetual now, slicing and dicing our attention spans as never before.

  • We may find new inputs - more oil or chromium - or invent substitutes, but we have not produced or discovered more natural sinks. The Earth’s capacity to absorb filthy byproducts of global capitalism’s veracious metabolism is maxing out.

  • When the Big Green groups refer to offsets as the “low-hanging fruit” of climate action, they are in fact making a crude cost-benefit analysis that concludes that it’s easier to cordon off a forest inhabited by politically weak people in a poor country than to stop politically powerful corporate emitters in rich countries - that it’s easier to pick the fruit, in other words, than dig up the roots.


  • In Blockadia, risk assessment has been abandoned on barricaded roadside, replaced by a resurgence of the precautionary principle - which holds that when human health and the environment are significantly at risk, perfect scientific certainty is not required before taking action. Moreover the burden of proving that a practice is safe should not be placed on the public that could be harmed.

  • Blockadia is turning the tables, insisting that is is up to industry to prove that its methods are safe.

Love will save this place

  • We know that we are trapped within an economic system that has it backward; it behaves as if there is no end to what is actually finite (clean water, fossil fuels, and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions) while insisting that there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually quite flexible: the financial resources that human institutions manufacture, and that, if imagined differently, could build the kind of caring society that we need.

  • It is this powerfully seductive illusion of total control that a great many boosters of extractive energy are so reluctant to relinquish. Indeed at the climate change denial conference hosted by the Heartland Institute, renewables were derided as “sunbeams and friendly breezes” - the subtext was clear: real men burn coal. And there is no doubt that moving to renewables represents more than just a shift in power sources but also a fundamental shift in power relations between humanity and the natural world on which we depend. The power of the sun, wind and waves can be harnessed, to be sure, but unlike fossil fuels, those forces can never be fully possessed by us. Nor do the same rules work everywhere.

Sharing the sky

  • One example of this kind of inverted shock doctrine took place in the rural town of Greensburg, Kansas. In 2007, a super tornado ripped through the area, turning about 95% of the town in rubble. As a result of an extraordinary, community-led process that began just days after the disaster, with neighbors holding meetings in tents amid the wreckage of their former lives, Greensburg today stands as a model “green town”, often described as the greenest in America.

  • Most strikingly of all, this “living laboratory” is taking place in the heart of an overwhelmingly Republican-voting county, where a great many people are entirely unconvinced that climate change is real. But those debates seem to matter little to the residents: the shared experience of tremendous loss, as well as the outpouring of generosity that follow the disaster, have, in Greensburg, rekindled the values of land stewardship and inter-generational responsibility that have deep roots in rural life.

  • In 2006, the environmental group Accion Ecologica put forward a counterproposal: the Ecuadorian government should agree not to sell the oil, but it should be supported in this action by the international community, which would benefit collectively from the preservation of biodiversity and from keeping planet-warming gases out of our shared atmosphere. That would mean partially compensating Ecuador for what it would have earned from oil revenues had it opted to drill. As Esperanza Martinez, president of Accion Ecologica, explained, the “proposal establishes a precedent, arguing that countries should be rewarded for not exploiting their oil… Funds gathered would be used for the [renewable] energy transition and could be seen as payments for the ecological debt from North to South. Besides, she writes, surely “the most direct way to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide was to leave fossil fuels in the ground.”

  • The Yasuni plan was based on the premise that Ecuador, like all developing countries, is owed a debt for the inherent injustice of climate change - the fact that wealthy countries had used up most the the atmospheric capacity for safety absorbing CO2 before developing countries had a change to industrialise. And since the entire world would reap the benefits of keeping that carbon in ground (since it would help stabilise the global climate), it is unfair to expect Ecuador, as a poor country whose people had contributed little to the climate crisis, to shoulder the economic burden for giving up those potential petro dollars. Instead, that burden should be shouldered between Ecuador and the highly industrialised countries most responsible for the buildup of atmospheric carbon. This is not charity, in other words: if wealthy countries do not want poorer ones to pull themselves out of poverty in the same dirty way that we did, the onus is on Northern governments to help foot the bill.

  • This, of course, is the core of the argument for the existence of a “climate debt” - the same argument that Bolivia’s climate negotiator had laid out for in Geneva in 2009, helping me to see how climate change could be the catalyst to attack inequality at its core, the basis for a “Marshal Plan for the Earth”. The math behind the argument is simple enough. As discussed, climate change is the result of cumulative emissions: the carbon dioxide we emit stays in the atmosphere for approximately one to two centuries. And since climate is changing as a result of two-hundred-odd years of such accumulated emissions, that means that the countries that have been powering their economies with fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution have done far more to cause temperatures to rise than those that just got in on the globalisation game in the last couple of decades.

  • Developed countries, which represent less than 20% of the worlds population, have emitted almost 70% of all greenhouse gas pollution that is now destabilising the climate.

  • Once again, being right, and evening having rights, is not enough on its own to move the rich and powerful.


  • “What matters today, the issue which blocks the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity will have to address this question, no matter how devastating the consequences may be.” Climate change is our chance to right those festering wrongs at last - the unfinished business of liberation.

  • So how do you change a worldview, and unquestioned ideology? Part of it involves choosing the right early policy battles - game-changing ones that don’t merely aim to change laws but change patterns of thought. That means that a fight for a minimal carbon tax might do a lot less good than, for instance, forming a grand coalition to demand a guaranteed minimum income. That’s not only because a minimum income, as discussed, makes it possible for workers to say no to dirty energy jobs but also because the very process of arguing for a universal social safety net opens up a space for a full-throated debate about values - about what we owe to one another based on our shared humanity, and what we collectively value more than economic growth and corporate profits.

  • What if part of the reason so many of us have failed to act is not because we are too selfish to care about an abstract or seemingly far-off problem but because we are utterly overwhelmed by how much we do care? And what if we stay silent not out of acquiescence but in part because we lack the collective spaces in which to confront the raw terror of ecocide.

  • Because in the hot and stormy future we have already made inevitable through our past emissions, an unshakable belief in the equal rights of all people and a capacity for deep compassion will be the only things standing between civilisation and barbarism.

  • “What’s politically realistic today may have very little to do with what’s politically realistic after another few Hurricane Katrinas and another few Superstorm Sandy another few Typhoon Bophas hit us.” It’s true: the world tends to look a little different when the objects we have worked our whole lives to accumulate are suddenly floating down the street, or smashed to pieces, turned to garbage.