The scenes of chaos, disbelief and naiveté that Bulagakov so well describes reminded me of the debate about climate change.
Green taxes, renewable energy, carbon pricing, you name it, I have heard it. I have learnt a whole new vocabulary in the last ten years or so that my attention has finally turned to the issue of the slow, but ultimately unstoppable, global warming of our planet. I confess to having felt indifferent before. Seventeen years ago I was still getting used to the idea of not just travelling to another country but also looking to spend the rest of my life there with the family I was just about to form. Under these circumstances I am sorry to say that polar bears and their plight were not at the top of my priorities.
They are now, though. Climate change is real and it is here. But rather than a straightforward issue climate change is a topic fraught with squabbling and bickering. This is a subject that has the word politics emblazoned across its chest both with a capital and lower case “p”.
Climate change is no different. Like smoking, we cannot see the immediate effects of our lifestyles on the planet and similarly by the time we realise the harm we have done, we will be facing the equivalent of an X-ray in a cold, impersonal GP’s room.
The reason why this issue has been on my mind of late is that there is a new book out by the Canadian author Naomi Klein. Now, full disclosure is called for here. I have been a fan of Naomi’s writing since I read No Logo about twelve or thirteen years ago. The way she laid bare the exploitation of sweatshop workers in Third World countries was an eye-opener for me. The Shock Doctrine, a thorough account of how free market capitalism cashes in on natural and man-made crises for its own gain, was another book I devoured avidly. This time Naomi turns her attention to the plight of our planet and brings us This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. I will surely buy this volume but for the first time I have the uneasy feeling that perhaps Ms Klein is slightly out of her depth. I’m not one of those people who judge a book by reviews. I like to read the work, analyse it and arrive at my conclusions, but in this instance I have paid a closer attention to what critics are saying and writing.
There are many reasons why I feel that Naomi has bitten more than she can chew this time. For the first time I feel that the solutions she offers might fall way too short of the real changes we need to make in order to stop the destruction of our planet. There are many challenges to Ms Klein's theories. I will address three of them only, otherwise this would make for a rather long post.
Partisan politics. We’ve come to a standoff in contemporary politics in which neither left nor right is willing to budge. This impasse has led to a cultural war of which climate change has become a high-profile casualty. This is not just in the developed First World, but also in state-run, capitalist China and Russia. Attitudes to climate change have become as toxic as abortion rights or social welfare. The difference is that whereas the latter two belong more to a domestic agenda, global warming affects us all.
It is not hard to see why the traditional left-vs right struggle has met a barrier in regards to climate change. Countries are not run by governments, but by corporations. They are the ones with the wherewithal to raise funds in order to support the type of candidate who will respond to their corporate interests. That leads me to the second reason.
We used to make things, now we import them. Or, we have them made elsewhere. For corporations to be financially viable and stay competitive they have to reduce their production costs and maximise profit. If that means closing a factory in the Midlands and relocating it to Indonesia, laying off in the process a thousand workers, so be it. We, consumers, on the other hand have stopped asking where our stuff comes from and accepted that it is our right to buy it. For a mobile phone to reach our local retailer, it first has to go from Eastern Congo (the coltan in its capacitors is dug there by miners who are amongst the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of victims who have died in the “conflict minerals” wars) to India or China or another sweatshop where it is assembled. Now, try convincing that bloke who has queued up for two days in a row in the pouring rain to be the first to get the latest (insert model here. I want no trouble with lawyers) that in a certain way he is responsible for global warming. That leads me to the third and final reason.
Our lifestyles. They are hard to change because many of us have worked hard for them. And I will tell you what, reader, or maybe you will be the one telling me this, we will be loath to lose the standards to which we feel entitled. We work our fingers to the bones, some of you might even work unsocial hours. That telly from Japan (assembled all over the world), that new Mini (c’mon, it’s not a bleeming gas-guzzling SUV, is it?), the long-haul holiday to Australia (the first time you've taken a vacation abroad for five years). It’s my/your sweat in those choices, you might say to me. To which I will nod in agreement. This seems to be, based on the reviews I’ve read so far, the part of Naomi’s argument where she falters somewhat. It’s less difficult to rally support behind the plight of sweatshop workers or tsunami survivors. The cause is not just, but it is also distant. It is a whole different ball game when the issue is so close to home. To the point where we might be forced to change our lifestyles completely. That is why one of the solutions she offers, a network of activists organising mass action at summits and taking to the streets, will work short- or even mid-term. Long-term? Not a chance. It is also worth mentioning that what complicates this situation even more is that we also have populations in developing countries attempting to emulate the “western way of life” with devastating effects to their economies. Not only do they fall prey more easily to unscrupulous (western) investors, but also their governments are more prone to corruption.
Those of you who have been visiting my blog for a long time probably know that I am an optimist by nature. When it comes to climate change, however, I find a dark cloud looming over the horizon. This dark cloud is similar to the one in the last chapter of The Master and Margarita that presages a storm that threatens to destroy Moscow. Let us hope that for once fiction stays fiction.
Next Post: “Living in a Multicultural World”, to be published on Wednesday 29th October at 11:59pm (GMT)