Everyone once in a while I stumble across a book that is transformative for my way of thinking. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is one such book. When I read it in 10th grade, which was quite a while ago, I was blown away at the story telling abilities of this great American writer. Recently, I finished reading a book by another great writer, This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein. It is nothing short of revolutionary in its diagnosis of, and proposed responses to, the greatest challenge to face humanity.
What is the greatest challenge to face humanity? The way we live our lives on this planet, a planet under great strain from the damage wrought to it by capitalism, and its kissing cousin, consumerism. Klein uses 400+ pages of rigorous research to point out the multiple ways in which capitalism and consumerism, first, create environmental catastrophes and, second, frame the narratives of what is happening to the environment in such a way that capitalism and consumerism become the “solutions” to those same environmental catastrophes. I suggest you read the book in order to appreciate the clear diagnosis.
When I finished reading Klein’s book, a part of me wondered if it is as bad as she so clearly demonstrates. Is it really the case that capitalism and consumerism conspire to draw a narrative about the environment that hides or at least minimizes the role of the kissing cousins in the crisis? Well, a partial answer to my question arrived in the May 13, 2016 Philadelphia Inquirer. Dan Kish, a senior vice-President of the Energy Research Institute wrote an op-ed piece entitled “Once again: siding with greens over job creation.” Kish condemns President Obama for siding with the greens (those in favor of policies that protect the environment AND those who depend on it for survival) over “working Americans.” Notice the story Kish wants us to accept. American jobs are more important than the long term sustainability of the life-supportive mechanisms of planet earth. He wants us to believe that the jobs created by efforts to capture the 4.7 billion barrels of oil and the 37.5 trillion square feet of natural gas that are “trapped beneath the Atlantic coast” is more than a fair trade off for the environmental damage that releasing that amount of carbon, producing by burning those fuels, would produce.
How does that make any sense? It only makes sense if you simply ignore the impact on our air, our water and our soil from the burning fossil fuels. Nowhere in this article does Kish make any reference to the fact that we are already well on our way to an increase of 2° centigrade of the atmosphere. The vast majority of scientists have demonstrated the massive changes happening to our climate, in large part due to human contributions to the greenhouse gas amounts in the atmosphere. To be caught up on this science, visit this site. The most rational and moral response to climate change and its consequences is to keep carbon-based fuels like oil and gas in the ground. We must also pivot as a global society to renewable energy sources in order to slow down the climate change that will already happen, and so lessen the impact on our brothers and sisters, human and non human, especially those most vulnerable.
Why isn’t this the story that Kish tells? Clearly he and people like him realize that if they told the story that scientists are telling, then the capital investments in oil and gas would be threatened. Why so vociferously deny the science on climate change and human contributions? Why so ferociously fight every reasonable policy that seeks to move the US economy toward renewable and/or cleaner energy production? Why tell a story about the creation of US jobs which will, surely, give the US capitalist economy a boost AND it will give more resources to fuel the consumerist lifestyle? I am sure the hope is that the story will entice “working Americans,” which includes many of us who are “green,” to think we have more time, to think we can continue to live the way we’ve always lived, to value a job in hand for the short term over the decreased capacity to live on the planet in the short term. The story Kish wants us to believe is that if we have more jobs, pumping carbon and other toxics into the atmosphere, somehow the laws of physics and biology will somehow not apply to us ” working Americans.”
Well, the story is nonsense. It is suicidal, in some sense. Why do we advocate for behaviors which science tells us will make our earth uninhabitable!? It must stop. We need to tell a different story, based on science, based on the value of all life on the planet, including our own. Naomi Klein’s book goes a long way to creating the narrative or story, that may, just may, set us right! Read it!
Mark Doorley, Ph.D.
Emeritus Board Member, CFET