Film Review: This Changes Everything

Had the opportunity to view the This Changes Everything documentary film tonight, with Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein in attendance. Generally it’s fine and I’m glad it exists and that people watch it, but it’s not particularly ground-breaking.

A few gripes:

  • It takes a long time for the film to name capitalism as the thing that changes, which it really should do much earlier;
  • Starting off with a distinction between use-value and exchange-value would have been really useful (remember the first chapter of Capital?). The film covers several accounts of “sacrifice zones” where petro-carbon extractive industries are ruining communities. The film stresses the uses of the land/ecology for the local community and contrasts this to the greed/destruction/ruin of industry. Yes it’s short-sighted, yes, it doesn’t care about traditions/local people, yes it’s a process that will cook the planet, because the exchange-value of the commodity is higher than dealing with the (potentially nonexistent) replacement of use-values for the affected communities. Will industry or the Alberta government fully cost and then replace/compensate First Nations in Fort Chip for lost and poisoned game/fish/land? Probably not, because that would cost a lot. So the choice is screw over current residents (no cost) and get barrels full of bitumen, OR … do neither. Court battles might create a precedent for costing these losses (which would be great), but it hasn’t happened yet.
  • I’m sympathetic to precapitalist worldviews and how they value things, but just as the “free market” doesn’t wonderfully reconcile all things to resolve all worldly problems, likewise, “nature” and its precapitalist and Romantic concepts are completely not useful in a sustainability/climate conversation. It’s ridiculous to invoke a “get back to nature” nostalgia/authenticity argument.
    WE LIVE ON A FLYING ROCK THAT HAS ASTEROIDS HIT IT AND END MOST LIFE EVERY ONCE IN AWHILE. WE LIVE ON A PLANET THAT OCCASIONALLY HAS ICE AGES. It’s hippie bullshit to appeal to some Mother Goddess. What we really need is to understand the fragile balance of variables that we have LUCKED OUT on as a species for the recent planetary past, and then design and plan for the extremes that are likely to happen when those balances get out of whack and extreme events occur. Maintaining nature/civilization, spiritual/material dichotomies is not helpful at all and will only direct energy and attention to navel-gazing consumerism.
    We don’t need to be more “spiritual” and “in touch” with nature. What we need is to realize that it’s really dumb and life-threatening to just dump waste (CO2 or otherwise) into a complex set of variables that maintains a livable ecosystem.
  • The need to “leap” to green/sustainable tech that is widely distributed (and not monopolized by an energy system) is basically an argument that the means of power production should be democratically controlled but they don’t really frame it that way…

Lastly, if you’ve not yet read them: Jodi Dean on Naomi Klein, and Capitalist Klein vs. Socialist Klein are both good reads.

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