Because these are collected essays that span the last decade or so, we get a sense of Klein’s own developing anxiety around the climate disaster. One chapter focuses on her experiences during 2017 as a family holiday is ruined by smog from record-breaking forest fires. A footnote added for this book notes the ‘grim’ record was broken by even larger fires in 2018.
But unlike those frustrating climate travelogues where authors show their sudden realisation of the scale of the crisis after travels to stricken parts of the world, Klein already understands the problem and its origin.
In a chapter on the climate deniers she listens to at a right-wing conference, Klein shows how fossil fuel companies have funded and encouraged denial. But she notes another important point. Those that argue against the reality of climate change because they see it as a way for the left to attack capitalism are, ironically, right in a way. For if you follow the logic of the science, the conclusion has to be that capitalism has to go. Some scientists, she says, are reaching ‘transformative, even revolutionary, conclusions’.
This is why you often meet scientists and academics on protests, and why many more activists are drawing the conclusion that ‘system change’ is the answer. Faced with the scale of the crisis, and the need to stop extractive industries, transform our economies and transition to zero carbon in the next decade, the scale of the task is enormous. What sort of response is needed?
Well, one important point that Klein makes as a chapter heading is to ‘Stop trying to save the world all by yourself’. In other words, we need social movements. But those movements have to have alternatives, and one theme of On Fire is what those alternatives are and how they can be won.
Klein helped author the LEAP manifesto, a Canadian alternative economic plan similar to Britain’s One Million Climate Jobs report. This, and other plans, such as the Green New Deal championed by left Democrats in the US, are Klein’s inspiration. But her emphasis is not top down.
Looking at the experience of the 1930s New Deal in America and the Marshall Plan for rebuilding post-war Europe, she points out that both were improved because of US and European social movements and left-wing organisation. The Green New Deal must also offer real improvements to ordinary people - better healthcare and education as well as jobs that reduce emissions.
She emphasises the need for a just transition for those workers in high-carbon industry and the central need for justice for oppressed groups. While I’m not sure that Klein’s understanding of socialism is quite the same as that of Socialist Review, it is not far off. It is certainly one that originates in the activity of mass movements and ordinary people challenging the system itself.
Given the scale of the crisis it is not easy to be hopeful. But Klein’s book is run through with inspiration from social movements (much of the introduction is about Greta Thunberg). So her emphasis on the need to ‘confront that [capitalist] economic order and replace it with something that is rooted in both human and planetary security, one that does not place at its centre the quest for growth and profit at all costs’ is inspirational. I urge you to read this book.