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Feministing Reads: Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything

this-changes-everything-9781451697384_lgThe thesis of Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate — backed up with a heap of devastating research — is very simple: We’ve dithered away so many decades failing to take real action to combat climate change that now global capitalism and a livable world are a collision course — one of them must radically change. Very quickly. 

The bad news is that under the status quo — if we continue down the path we’ve been going — the earth loses (which, of course, means we lose). Our profit-driven, growth-oriented economic model — exported by globalization worldwide now — will ceaselessly continue to burn fossil fuels that we simply can’t afford to burn. (Because capitalism is stupid and knows no other way.) And our political leaders, who should have the mandate to take all regulatory action necessary to protect the future of planet and avert environmental and social collapse, have proven, again and again, to be incapable of saying “no” to such corporate power. (Because that’s what money buys.)

Therefore, Klein argues, the only thing that will save us all is a mass social movement. One that unites all the great justice movements to challenge an economic model — and worldview — that values profits over the wellness of both people and the earth that sustains us. Klein calls this mindset “extractivism” — an exploitative, non-reciprocal relationship to the earth’s natural and human resources — and it extend beyond just the mechanisms of the capitalist economy to the whole logic that underpins it. As Sarah Jaffe notes in this interview with Klein, the book makes clear that this is not just about “capitalism vs. the climate” but also “patriarchy vs. the climate” and “colonialism vs. the climate.” The movement we need is ultimately one to “defend a richness that our economy has not figured out how to count.”

And it’s no surprise then that the great movement that’s required looks a lot like the kind of intersectional, anti-capitalist feminism I believe in. A feminism that goes beyond the mainstream second-wave request for the mere equality of women in the current social, political, and economic order and instead calls for a radically new one. A feminism that draws on the tradition of the “wages for housework” movement that aimed to show that women’s unpaid work in the home is, as Klein says, “a massive unacknowledged market subsidy” and demands an economic system that properly values “the work that makes all other work possible.” A feminism that really takes to heart the reproductive justice movement’s wisdom that true reproductive freedom requires more than just a legal “right to choose” — it requires new social conditions to make it a real choice. A feminism that adopts indigenous feminism’s commitment to “questioning the nation-state” and imagining new forms of sovereignty “predicated on interrelatedness and responsibility,” as Andrea Smith urges us.

And indeed, Klein notes that women have been integral in the burgeoning climate justice movement she calls Blockadia that has mobilized against fossil fuel projects — from Mongolia to Oregon — to protect the health of the water, soil, air, and people in local communities:

Spend enough time in Blockadia and you start to notice patterns. The slogans on the signs: “Water is life,” “You can’t eat money,” “Draw the line.” A shared determination to stay in the fight for the long haul, and to do whatever it takes to win. Another recurring theme is the prominent role played by women, who often dominate the front lines, providing not only powerful moral leadership but also some of these movements’ most enduring iconography. In New Brunswick, for instance, the image of a lone Mi’kmag mother, kneeling in the middle of the highway before a line of riot police, holding up a single eagle feather went viral. In Greece, the gesture that captured hearts and minds was when a seventy-four-year-old woman confronted a line of riot police by belting out a revolutionary song that had been sung by the Greek resistance against German occupation. From Romania, the image of an old woman wearing a babushka and holding a knobby walking stick went around the world under the caption: “You know your government has failed when your grandma starts to riot.”

The brilliance of Klein’s book is that she is ruthlessly realistic about how bad the climate crisis is but frames it as an opportunity — perhaps the best opportunity we’ve had yet and certainly one of the last ones we’ll have if we continue on this path to destruction. An opportunity to imagine the just futures we’ve been told are impossible and “actually build the world that will keep us all safe.” Given the stark facts that fill the book’s pages, such optimism could have easily rung false. Yet Klein pulls it off, leaving you feeling hopeful and deeply ready to rise to the demands of this moment.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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