This Changes Everything illustrates what Naomi Klein grapples with in her internationally bestselling book.
At the beginning of This Changes Everything, Avi Lewis’ new documentary inspired by his wife’s climate change manifesto, a polar bear lumbers forward on pieces of ice in the bright artic sun, loosened from glaciers in the warming climate. Over this we hear her, our narrator, Naomi Klein, say that she doesn’t like movies about climate change starring polar bears—they threaten to make her “bored by the end of the world.” And as if she’s talking to Lewis directly behind the camera in real time, the film cuts away from the bear immediately to begin the story Klein and Lewis want to tell.
This one has to do with people, not deforestation, rising seas or oil-slick birds, but the conditions and the systems people put in place which cause these things. As she does in her book, Klein tells a story of capitalist appetites and needs being responsible for climate change while portraying the communities directly affected by the crisis and the ones enacting change. The film is a call to action more than it is a warning — Klein and Lewis know we’ve all been warned — and the crowd at the sold-out Hollywood theater, made up of quite a few wearing Friends of the Gorge t-shirts, activists and environmentalists made for a passionate, absorbent sponge of an audience. Adding to the energy was also the fact that Klein joined Lewis after the film for a Q&A session on stage at the theatre.
The Hollywood Theatre screened the film as part of the Eco-film festival last Monday, which was Columbus Day last year but this year, Portland swapped the holiday for Indigenous People’s Day, joining a handful of cities across the country. It was a fitting date for the film’s Portland premiere, as Lewis said in his introduction that the documentary looks to “rebuild memory and acknowledgment of original place.” In the film, Klein says we need a new story, one that no longer sees the planet as a machine or nature as something to dominate. A story that doesn’t entertain the delusion of a “one-way relationship,” sees ourselves as part of nature and reevaluates the definition of progress. Factories used to be water-powered and didn’t run around the clock, she says, and boats waited for the wind to move.
Both stories seem equally natural — the earth as nature and then, the earth as machine, as a stockroom for resources. I realize the latter feels “natural” only because it’s how generations have lived here on the planet, it’s what we all know in a capitalist society. And it is the story that is our truth currently. We consume on a large scale, what feels natural is not waiting for the wind to blow anymore — most of us have never known that. Klein sees the ways we can combat climate change, like renewable technology as “not just technology, but a rebirth of this other story…a story that all humans knew once.”
Beginning in the forests of Alberta, Canada at the Tar Sands, one of the largest oil reservoirs in the world, This Changes Everything follows members of the Beaver Cree nation confronting the loss of traditional life, and fighting the oil industry’s expansion. Klein and Lewis travel to Montana, China, India and Greece illustrating how climate change is not a local problem but a global one. In Chinese cities, cars driving through smog resembles footage of blizzards in Northeastern American cities — the air is so heavy with pollution it looks like snow. In India, people protest coal-mining plants. In capital-drained Greece, a mayor justifies allowing a Canadian company to mine for gold, saying “the land needs it.” The film reaches beyond the devastating environmental impact of capitalism, to examine the social, psychological and economic troubles as well.
It is heart-wrenching and frustrating to watch communities and individuals experience the plunder of their homes. But Lewis does an effective service by showing the appeal and delirium of capitalism’s sunny side.
Up near the Tar Sands in the boomtown of Fort McMurray, men and woman party in a bar and the scenes look pulled from a documentary about college life. Interviewed are baby-faced men, eyes glazed by the bliss of booze, talking about the money they make. They’re here temporarily, working as boilermakers, equipment outfitters, and pipefitters raking in $4,000 a week. Close ups of booze spilling over lined-up shot glasses scream of mindless excess. But these young men are not the film’s villians, they are simply the system’s products — profit driven and oblivious to the land.
If any character in the film evokes indignation, it is a member of the Heartland Institute, the notorious climate change denying think tank, who says, “If you want more elephants, market their ivory.” This sums up what Lewis and Klein mean when they say that solutions to the crisis cannot be effective if market interests are the priority. Or if we keep succumbing to expansion at any expense, blindly worshiping growth as a “global deity.”
Klein and others in the film call for no more “sacrifice zones” — farms in Montana, tribal lands in Canada, villages in India. But we do have to make sacrifices. And although the film doesn’t expound on exactly what those are, it urges that there is no alternative to radical, fundamental changes and it offers a first step: learning about what is happening and seeing that there are people already mobilizing, and succeeding, in making change happen.