Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.
“The earth I tread on is not a dead, inert mass. It is a body, has a spirit, is organic, and fluid to the influence of its spirit, and to whatever particle of that spirit is in me.”
– Henry David Thoreau, mid-1800s, as quoted by Naomi Klein (p. 184)
Several weeks ago, my book club at the NIE discussed Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate.
While we are all in agreement that this was a very important book, there were several issues raised by the group. One of which was Naomi Klein’s target audience. Given the painstaking manner in which she explored the many issues surrounding climate change and her exposition that assumes the reader knows half of what she is talking about, this isn’t the easiest book to read. One of the piercing questions asked by one of the members of the group was: who was she writing for? And did she succeed in reaching that particular audience?
Since we are all coming from different specializations and diverse backgrounds, we were all reading the book using different lenses: there were those who read the book with an editor’s eye, an ardent activist’s vantage point, a concerned parent, a researcher, children’s lit enthusiast, a psychologist, educator, a storyteller – and it was interesting to see all these varied lenses merge together in our discussion.
One of our members also pointed out that the duality highlighted in Capitalism vs the Climate is what sells in terms of bite-size headlines that immediately captures the reader’s attention, making it crystal clear that this book is written by a journalist – as opposed perhaps to the many gray areas and expansive permutations that researchers more often explore and appreciate. We also talked about how the book serves as a provocateur invoking the reader to reevaluate one’s life choices, one’s (lack of) involvement in promoting environmental awareness, and allows the reader to see our dying world a little bit differently.
I also thought that this book is still very much in keeping with our current reading theme as it gives voice to those who are silenced and those who are not in any position to defend themselves against multinational corporations whose sole intent is to strip the earth of its coal and other minerals. But as Klein put it:
… what Nauru’s fate tells us is that there is no middle of nowhere, nowhere that doesn’t ‘count’ – and that nothing ever truly disappears. On some level we all know this, that we are part of a swirling web of connections. Yet we are trapped in linear narratives that tell us the opposite: that we can expand infinitely, that there will always be more space to absorb our waste, more resources to fuel our wants, more people to abuse. (p. 168)
I also mentioned how disempowered I felt as I was reading Klein’s book. While she did talk about communities who demonstrated indomitable strength, sense of determination, and ultimately succeeded in taking back their communities from oil fracking companies and their ilk, this came at the latter part of the book when the reader has already despaired over humanity and the loss of our shared habitat as we know it. The worst thing is that in a desperate attempt to continue on maintaining our lifestyle of taking and not giving back (marked by the continuous drilling of coal – it’s always coal and oil), there are geoengineering options being promoted by scientists which can even worsen the situation – and these are actually being seriously considered by policy makers – and why? Klein answers this:
… because wealthy-country governments are already doing this, albeit more passively, by allowing temperatures to increase to levels that are a danger to hundreds of millions of people, mostly in the poorest parts of the world, rather than introducing policies that interfere with short-term profits. This is why African delegates at U. N. climate summits have begun using words like “genocide” to describe the collective failure to lower emissions. And why Mary Ann Lucille Sering, climate change secretary for the Philippines, told the 2013 summit in Warsaw, Poland, “I am beginning to feel like we are neogiating on who is to live and who is to die.” (p. 276)
I also couldn’t help feeling: What now? What next? Most of us felt that there should have been another chapter that included ways through which people can start exploring alternative and renewable sources of energy and power and how we can all come together to have our collective strength felt by multinational corporations who still think that people have dozed off and are simply content to just live in their own safe individual plastic-wrapped bubble. Well, she did say this in her conclusion:
Put another way, only mass social movements can save us now. Because we know where the current system, left unchecked, is headed. We also know, I would add, how that system will deal with the reality of serial climate-related disasters: with profiteering, and escalating barbarism to segregate the losers from the winners. To arrive at that dystopia, all we need to do is keep barreling down the road we are on. The only remaining variable is whether some countervailing power will emerge to block the road, and simultaneously clear some alternate pathways to destinations that are safer. If that happens, well, it changes everything. (p. 450)
The group also reflected on whether there were enough children’s books that effectively tackle climate change and its magnitude, and we began dreaming about possibly writing story books for children as inspired by the dense research Klein conducted and included in her book – but presented in an easily-digestible format that would move the readers’ emotions and sense of social justice. One of the members of the group pointed out that providing more information is never the answer; rather, it is awakening the spirit and the soul that would work best. As I was pondering about the titles that I know of, I couldn’t think of a single book that really discuss climate change head-on off the top of my head. Then just a few days ago, an artist friend (and book designer and our featured Artist here in GatheringBooks for July-August) from the Philippines came to attend a conference here in Singapore and gave me two bags filled with books. One of these books is about climate change.
Miguel is a young boy who lived near the beach. As a child of the sea, he was sad to see their beautiful fish dying. When he asked his mother why this is happening, “His mother told him how a local mining company was dumping waste into a river which led out to the sea.”
When the young boy asked who in the world could get companies like these to stop dumping toxic waste into our seas, his mother replied: “You… It’s always up to us… Send them a message.”
And so with this young man’s pure heart, good-albeit-naive intentions, and a twig found on the beach, he wrote his message in the sand: “Save our Seas.” However, the sea with its turning of the tides, merely washes away his words. Miguel tried using fronds of seaweed and broken seashells but “Over and over, the waves washed away the words.”
Whether anyone responded to Miguel’s message, I leave for you to discover. Apart from the beautiful art, I was also inspired by the simplicity of the message, the young boy’s courage, and the earnest truth behind the storyline that does not mean to educate or moralize. It simply is. There is despair but there is also hope, and most of all a can-do, can-change-things attitude that is unyielding.
The great thing about Canvas books is that you can download the e-book FOR FREE. CANVAS or Center for Art, New Ventures and Sustainable Development is a “nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of greater awareness and appreciation for Philippine art, culture and the environment. CANVAS pursues this mission principally through the publication of children’s books that showcase the works of some of the best young contemporary Filipino artists and writers.” Here is the official website of Message in the Sand where you can hear the story read aloud.
And soo.. for a little bit of music. Here’s Tracy Chapman for you.
As my husband and I were watching the HBO documentary Gasland 2010 and 2013 and Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth (all three movies mentioned in Naomi Klein’s book), I was reminded of this beautiful song by Tracy Chapman entitled The Rape of the World, which I thought was particularly apt. Listen, fellow bibliophiles:
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein. Published by Simon & Schuster, 2014. Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library.
Message in the Sand (Sulat sa Buhangin). Written by Charmaine Aserappa and paintings by Roel Obemio. Published by CANVAS, 2008. Review copy provided by publisher.