In 2014, Naomi Klein published a book called This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. In 2019, I checked it out at the New York Public Library. A month later, I was filled with a fathomless weariness and was ready to lay down on the floor and never get up.
When I started reading This Changes Everything, I was living my motto: Undaunted. Sure, the planet is warming at an alarming rate. Sure, most of my friends, family, and total strangers weren’t doing anything about it despite being aware of the ongoing and impending environment collapse. Maybe people didn’t totally care about the social justice implications of anthropogenic climate change, or maybe they thought it was a problem, but not their problem. But it’s okay, I thought. All we need is education, I thought, the likes of which this book could provide. We can do this.
Now I’m not so sure.
Naomi Klein writes about climate denial. Not just the kind of climate denial I’ve encountered back home (“It’s arrogant to say that humans can destroy God’s creation,” “My backyard is safe from rising seas because I don’t believe in climate change,” “Tree rings, tho!”). She talks about the kind of climate denial that allows folks to acknowledge that it’s happening, quickening, and yet continue doing business as usual—drilling, consuming, scaling—like doing the same things we’ve always done will disappear the problem. Like someone else will fix it. Like all the fish in the acidifying oceans will suddenly come back to life or the dolphins drowning on beaches will suddenly stand up and learn to walk inland where they can live out their days in nuclear-underwater-testing-free peace. Like the people and ancestors of Vanuatu and the Maldives and Guam and Puerto Rico won’t lose their homelands to rising seas and extreme weather events. The further into the book I read, the more the weight of this reality oppressed me. It’s been a month and I haven’t made it past page 77.
Just a few weeks ago I was sitting on the floor at a friend’s place and chatting hopefully about the possibility that this book would give me knowledge and inspiration to move forward. Now it’s all I can do to go out in the world every day, to move through this disposable culture and breathe this dying air.