I thought the cause of climate destruction was political corruption, but I thought the cause of so little popular resistance was ignorance and denial. Naomi Klein’s new film This Changes Everything seems to assume that everyone is aware of the problem. The enemy that the film takes on is the belief that “human nature” is simply greedy and destructive and destined to behave in the way that Western culture behaves toward the natural world.
I think that is an increasingly common frame of mind among those paying attention. But if it ever becomes truly widespread, I expect it to be followed by epidemics of despair.
Of course, the idea that “human nature” destroys the earth is as ridiculous as the idea that “human nature” creates war, or the idea that human nature combined with climate change must produce war. Human societies are destroying the climate at vastly different rates, as are individuals within them. Which are we to suppose are “human nature” and which acting in violation of the same?
I think it’s safe to assume that those not recognizing the climate crisis are going to be brought to recognize it along an exponentially rising curve, and it’s possible that treating an audience as if they all already know the problem is a helpful way to get them there.
The problem, this film tells us, is a story that humans have been telling each other for 400 years, a story in which people are the masters of the earth rather than its children. The fact that a story is the problem, Klein says, should give us hope, because we can change it. In fact, we largely need to change it to what it was before and what it has remained in some of the communities featured in the film.
Whether that should give us hope is, I think, a whole different question. Either we’re past the point of being able to maintain a livable climate or we’re not. Either the conference in Copenhagen was the last chance or it wasn’t. Either the upcoming conference in Paris will be the last chance or it won’t be. Either there’s a grassroots way around the failure of such conferences, or there isn’t. Either Obama’s drill-baby-Arctic drilling is the final nail or it isn’t. Same for the tar sands featured in the movie.
But if we are going to act, we need to act as Klein urges: not by intensifying our efforts to control nature, and not by seeking out a different planet to ruin, but by re-learning to live as part of the planet earth rather than its controllers. This film shows us horrific images of the wasteland created in Alberta to get at the tar sands. Canada is dumping some $150 to $200 billion into extracting this poison. And those involved speak in the film as if it were simply inevitable, thus allowing themselves no blame. In their view, humans may be masters of the earth, but they clearly are not masters of themselves.
In contrast, This Changes Everything shows us indigenous cultures where the belief that the land owns us rather than the reverse leads toward sustainable and also more enjoyable life. The film seems to focus on the immediate local destruction of projects like the tar sands and others, rather than the climate of the whole planet. But the point of featuring acts of local resistance is clearly to show us not only the joy and solidarity that comes in acting for a better world, but also to model what that world could look like and how it could be experienced.
We’re usually told that it is a weakness of solar energy that it must function when the sun shines, a weakness of wind energy that it must wait for the wind to blow — whereas it is a strength of coal or oil or nuclear that it can render your home uninhabitable 24-7. This Changes Everything suggests that renewable energy’s dependence on nature is a strength because it is part of how we must live and think if we are to cease attacking our natural home.
Hurricane Sandy is featured as a hint of how nature will eventually let humans know who is really in charge. Not in charge because we haven’t developed good enough technology yet to truly master it. Not in charge because we need to alter our energy consumption a little as soon as Wall Street approves. Not in charge because of a quirk of corruption in our government that fails to help people in danger while bombing other distant people to control more fossil fuels with which to bring on more danger. No. In charge now and forever, whether you like it or not — but perfectly happy to work with us, to live in harmony with us, if we live in harmony with the rest of the earth.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.