The Thanksgiving Day Missoulian, heavy with ads, exemplifies the obvious: consumerism dominates the holiday season. As the crucial element of the corporate economic system that controls our politics and elections, consumerism is a huge factor in climate change. Because we love this community and planet and are concerned about climate change, many of us boycott Black Friday, make or purchase gifts from local businesses or artists, or give to worthy causes to honor loved ones.
However, we might also give Naomi Klein’s recent book on climate change, "This Changes Everything." While full of convincing and frightening facts and figures, it also offers hope, proposing that climate change is the shock (see her previous book, "The Shock Doctrine") that forces a needed change in the consumption-based, unsustainable economic system that has brought such inequality and imminent disaster to the planet.
While recognizing many individuals and communities are making good efforts to reduce consumption and promote sustainable communities, Klein states we need more: policies that make low-carbon choices easy and fair, so people already struggling to cover the basics are not being asked to make additional sacrifice to offset the excessive consumption of the rich. She writes, “That means cheap public transit and clean light rail accessible to all; affordable, energy-efficient housing along those transit lines; cities planned for high-density living; bike lanes in which riders aren't asked to risk their lives to get to work; land management that discourages sprawl and encourages local, low-energy forms of agriculture; urban design that clusters essential services like schools and health care along transit routes and in pedestrian-friendly areas; programs that require manufacturers to be responsible for the electronic waste they produce, and to radically reduce built-in redundancies and obsolescences.”
We can be proud (but not complacent!) that Missoula has an active Transition Town group focused on creating a sustainable community. Moreover, we have a Community Climate Initiative, in which an impressive array of citizens are involved in a broad effort to help build a more resilient, healthy, sustainable and less polluting community. Many in Missoula are helping to develop opportunities, programs and policies Klein lists because they make economic and climate sense.
While many readers will say “yes!” as they read Klein’s list and local efforts, others will experience anxiety, anger and fear, and will deny climate change exists, convinced it is a plot to diminish or take away their way of life. They will come to city council meetings to express their opposition.
Klein maintains the “right” denies climate change because they “get it” that, if true, climate change forces essential changes in an unsustainable system. She builds the case that a change would decrease the great inequality that prevails. It is hard to understand why so many middle- and low-income people oppose government policies that protect our air and water, and save our planet by forcing corporations to do less damage and share more. Is the big-money fear propaganda so influential in politics and the media that people believe and vote their way or drop out?
Now, as gas prices go down, the media seem focused on the negative economic effects of this apparent surplus of foreign oil. I ask, how’s that? It seems to me that lower gas prices means some families will save some gas money and have more to buy food, home heating and other necessities. Aren't the negative economic effects mainly going to hit the fossil fuel industries and Wall Street? If jobs are lost, where might investment create more?
I argue that if we challenge the economic narrative, we see excess oil on the market as an opportunity! Now is the time to act: we can and should continue to drive and consume less, and we do not need the tar sands oil or the Keystone XL pipeline to carry it across our land to be exported. The big money’s narrative about job creation from fossil fuels has prevailed for too long. KIein’s book, with sources meticulously documented, provides facts and figures to refute it.
The tipping point and the opportunity for change are in sight. What can you and I do? What are we willing to do? Who needs convincing? Will we act in time?