This Changes Everything – Naomi Klein
Charles David Keeling is the first person that alerted the world of the possibility of anthropogenic contribution to the greenhouse effect. He set up to measure the CO2 levels in the mid-1950s first in the Yosemite Park, then on top of Mauna Loa. He was so serious about measuring it that supposedly he missed the birth of his first child. He measured it four times per day and even accounting for seasonal differences (summer vs winter), he was able to see an increase in the CO2 levels. The results of his findings created a sensation and it eventually led to him receiving the National Medal of Science, the highest US award for scientific research lifetime achievements.
The Keeling curve shows on a simple graph how we are doing when it comes to putting CO2 in the atmosphere. It’s been steadily climbing for quite some time now. You can check it on the Scripps Institution of Oceanography website. The point of no return was passed fairly recently, in the grand scheme of things. Scientists put it at 400 ppm CO2, when the Earth will go into positive-feedback cycles that will defrost methane deposits, thus releasing the potent gas into the atmosphere and accelerating the effect.
Naomi Klein’s book walks us through another aspect of climate change, one that looks to cast blame on industries and other actors that consistently denied any man-made influence to global warming. It’s a wonderfully researched work, that walks the reader through a series of events spanning decades where privately funded NGO’s have maliciously lied and distorted the truth in a way that created ambiguity about a topic that all climatologists agree is happening – the planet is warming and it’s because of us.
The book provides a glimpse of the solution in the first chapter: the capitalism model is not in favor of responsible extractive industries. Klein puts the blame in the end on our economic culture and the way we shaped our relationship with the environment. Growth-based model for companies will make change difficult, sometimes impossible. This has been apparent for decades. The interconnected global economy pushes companies to drill, political power is needed to make companies accountable.
"A company's reserve replacement ratio must be at least 100% for the company to stay in business long-term, otherwise, it will eventually run out of oil. […] From the perspective of a fossil fuel company, going after these high-risk carbon deposits is not a matter of choice, it is its fiduciary responsibility to shareholders.[…] fulfilling that fiduciary responsibility virtually guarantees that the planet will cook.
In order to please their investors, the industry has announced that they are determined to burn five times more fossil fuel than the planet's atmosphere can begin to absorb.
The total amount of carbon in reserve represents roughly $27 trillion (2015 - 2049)." p.147
It’s no wonder there has been little progress on a policy level, as you’d need political consensus across the board. With how fragmented opinions are at the moment in regards to who should pay for the investments, little progress will be made.
"People are less willing to change their behaviors (turn off the lights, wear a sweater etc) when they know this is unfair. The big polluters get away with dodging regulations and they are profiting at the expense of cleanups being done by public governments. Oil companies have record profits, but then floods are being dealt with by the government and the public has to pay the bill." p.122
Finally, the book feels obsolete in its assessment of the world, as fracking industries are going bankrupt with the 2016 oil-prices that are being driven down by the Saudi government. If the book was written now, the conclusions would be different. The correlation between the oil industries, their impact on social and political life and consequences to the public in terms of environmental impact hold true. While the end game is similar – a shift to non-polluting energy industries – the route is slightly different now.
"This, without a doubt, is neoliberalism's single most damaging legacy: the realization of its bleak vision has isolated us enough from one another that I became possible to convince us that we are not just incapable of self-preservation but fundamentally not worth saving.
Yet at the same time, many of us know the mirror that has been held up to us is profoundly distorted - that we are, in fact, a mess of contradictions, with our desire for self-gratification coexisting with deep compassion, our greed with empathy and solidarity." p.62