On Tuesday, Oct. 20, Music Box Theatre in Chicago, Ill. was sold out for the nationwide release of “This Changes Everything,” a film based off of Naomi Klein’s book by the same title, and narrated by her. The film was shown that night in over 50 cities across the U.S., and Klein and Avi Lewis, her husband and the director of the film, chose to spend the night in Chicago.
Klein’s book, subtitled Capitalism vs. The Climate, was released in 2014 and awarded the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, was named the Observer Book of the Year and earned recognition as one of the New York Times Book Review 100 Books of the Year.
Klein, a Canadian, writes for The Nation; she covered the Iraq War and has written many books about globalization and neoliberalism. She published No Logo in 1999 about brands and Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate with Debra Levy in 2002, and co-edited War With No End in 2007 about the War on Terror. In many ways she sees her newest book as the sequel to her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, which analyzes how U.S. economists and governments take advantage of economic and ecological disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and austerity, to impose its own neoliberal capitalist system, often causing more damage. In This Changes Everything, she argues that climate change is driven by capitalism; while it is a crisis, she also sees it as an opportunity to create a new culture.
She and Lewis also co-directed The Take, a 2004 documentary about Argentine auto workers taking over abandoned factories. Lewis’s film credits include “Counterspin,” “The Big Picture with Avi Lewis,” “On the Map,” “Why Democracy?,” “Inside America,” and “Politics of Race.”
Unlike most climate change films that thrive on despair, this film is driven by positive resistance efforts, following different grassroots movements around the world. The Beaver Lake Cree Nation is suing the Canadian and Alberta governments for violating treaty rights for the biggest industrial project on Earth, the Alberta Tar Sands. A couple living on a goat farm in Montana’s Powder River Basin experience a tragic oil spill that taints their water. Volunteers from Occupy Sandy respond to Hurricane Sandy, setting up medical and other relief where the government fails. The smog in Beijing prevents people from leaving their houses, sometimes for more than half a year. South Indians fight off coal plant companies. The Halkidiki community in Greece fight off the Canadian gold corporation Eldorado.
Following the film, Klein and Lewis took a few questions from the audience. They opened by celebrating the Canadian election results announced the night before; Stephen Harper, known for supporting fossil fuel development, was replaced by Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party.
One audience member asked how many African-Americans were in the audience; a few people raised their hands. He then made the point that whites are the minority in Chicago, and that climate change activism is still white and middle class. “I don’t see anyone from Africa in this film. We’re not in it,” he said. Lewis responded by admitting, “You’re right.” He then went on to say they originally tried to visit Mali to film the land grabs, but political unrest prevented that. More importantly, though, they emphasized that the climate justice movement aims to “address deep historical wrongs” in a “deliberate way,” as Klein said. One example is the Leap Manifesto, an influential document drafted by many groups in Toronto, including Black Lives Matter Toronto, to guide the country’s transition to a new economy and culture. The document stresses that “sacrifice zones become empowered zones,” as Klein said, adding that urgent crises must lead to positive job infrastructure. “We need this as a guiding principle for any just transition,” she added.
In the introduction, Klein and Lewis had mentioned in passing the recent development of petroleum coke (also known as petcoke) pollution in the South Side Chicago. The Southeast Side, once home of the steel industry, now hosts KCBX Terminals, part of Koch Industries. Chicago’s petcoke is produced in Whiting, Ind. in refineries processing tar sands delivered from Alberta. Wind displaces piles of the oily, powdery substance, coating everything, negatively affecting public health. In 2013, the city passed an ordinance giving KCBX two years to enclose the piles; the company tried hosing them down, which was ineffective.
While they sarcastically apologized as Canadians, two members of frontline community in the South Side Chicago interrupted them, walking towards the stage. Lewis gave them his microphone. “Leave the North Side and some to the South Side. I invite you to come to our neighborhood,” one of them said. “If this gets you jazzed up, we have a place for you to fight this.”
After applause, Klein apologized for her earlier dismissive remark, saying “it is a travesty and fills us with shame,” thanking them for speaking up. The event ended with a book signing.
Neither filmmaker claim this is the definitive film on climate change, and both praise the efforts of these grassroots communities. As Lewis said in his introduction, “Films and books don’t change the world, movements do.”