Does this change anything?

Last Monday I was asked to facilitate a discussion between the 70 or so people who had watched Naomi Klein’s film “This Changes Everything” hosted by Wiveliscombe Action on Climate.

The film makes the link between climate change and capitalism, essentially saying that the economic system has to change if we are to have any chance of addressing climate chaos. The New York Times described Klein’s book by the same name as “the most momentous and contentious environmental book since Silent Spring” so its clearly to be taken seriously.  But does it really change anything?

In leading the post-film discussion it was clear that we were amongst friends – everyone there was concerned about climate change, shocked by the impact of big industry on local communities and sympathetic to the general message that change was needed.

But one of the down-sides of getting older is that you see the same things coming round time and again. Another film, another talk, another group of people saying that something has to change. But what really changes?

In the 30 years since I first got involved in the environmental movement there has been much to celebrate.  The environment is now of mainstream concern, recycling is the norm, there is no lead in petrol, the concept of environmental justice is understood, river water quality is way better, the ozone layer is repairing itself, the car is no longer king, and so on. The voice of ordinary people has had some part to play in that.

But s*** still happens and seemingly on an ever-greater scale. Communities and environments are still being destroyed, governments back-pedal on the progress of their predecessors, climate treaties get ignored, the rich get richer and so on. And all this despite countless films, marches, letters, blogs and angst.  So what’s the point?

In the discussion I tried to get people to look at Klein’s argument from different points of view – to take a dialiectic approach.  In that way I hoped we’d come up with a more robust response to the film than just lots of nodding and hand-wringing. It drew out some interesting observations and a diversity of responses. But I still went away feeling that nothing had really changed; just a tendency to expect others to agree with us and then change what they do, but little appetite for more.

Some people (not necessarily those in the room last Monday) advocate a complete overthrow of our economic system, the ruling class and corporate power. But that sort of radical upheavel generally brings with it many unintended consequences. Other people propose nudges. One person who was present at the film talked about influencers in society – the people who will push us past the tipping point at which major change happens. People in the arts often take on that role, to greater or lesser effect, but sports people less so (although they probably have the greater reach). But still I wonder.

Are we just on the wrong trajectory? Is everything just stacked up against regard for the environment and communities as the powerful exploit all in pursuit of more wealth, more power, more consumption? Or is there something, some as yet unidentified thing, that we the little people (and little companies) can do that really would change everything.  If there is, please let me know!

And a final thought: Imagine the impact if David and Victoria Beckham traded in all their properties for a passivhaus, swapped their gas guzzlers for an electric car and went on a global pilgramage to persuade decision makers to address climate change. That might change something!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *