It’s been a long time since I cried over a book. The last time was after I closed the last page of The Kite Runner. I could sympathize so deeply with the protagonist that I felt the last sentence reach out like a fist and hit me squarely in the chest. Last week, I felt the same thump as I read the closing lines of a very different, but equally inspiring book….
For over 20 years, our company has aimed to ‘catalyze social and environmental progress.’ It’s been a point of pride that our raison d’être has been to pursue a purpose beyond profit. In this, we are not unique; it’s a focus that sits at the heart of grassroots networks of socially responsible, sustainable enterprises in every city we visit, and on every continent. To crib from Buckminster Fuller, it’s a vast movement of movements that may well be the better system that threatens to make the old system obsolete.
Will a new system emerge in time?
“Put a dent in this mood of complacency.”
This week, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report. This Guardian piece presents a good summary. The upshot is we’ve got 12 years to ensure global warming is kept to no more than 1.5C. It’s the sort of deadline that might “dent the mood of complacency.” Then again, it might not: the Australian deputy prime minister’s response just a day later was to reject that “some sort of report” should influence his government’s plans.
It seems yawningly preordained these days that some powerful white guy will quickly dismiss the thoughtful, informed, science-based input of advisors, in favour of his ‘mood of complacency.’ Those who hold the power all too often seem to call the shots, for good or for ill. Or as a favourite songwriter put it, “the rich get richer; the poor get the picture.”
Even when the issue at hand is an existential threat to humanity….
Surely, we can do better.
It’s easy to get all heady and jargon-filled when we talk about the problems: Post-colonial capitalism. Neoliberal economic policy. Neoconservative immigration policy. White fragility. Intersectionality. And on and on.
Which is why This Changes Everything is so refreshing. Certainly, in her inimitable, exhaustive way, journalist and author Naomi Klein unpacks, analyzes, and introduces a new take on the gigantic, unyielding problem of climate change.
It’s impressively well-researched, drawing its insights from countless interviews, inestimable reading, and world-class analysis. But that’s not what moved me….
It’s compassionately written. Klein manages to paint a picture of whole people, not simplistic evildoers. Just folks doing their best in the context of their learning, thinking, and communities. But that’s not what moved me….
It’s also boldly provocative. There’s a spirited and uplifting ridicule of our collective tolerance for broken systems that don’t serve people or natural ecosystems—a kind of railing against that ‘mood of complacency.’ But that’s not what moved me, either….
If climate change is a symptom, what’s the real problem?
Throughout This Changes Everything, Klein carefully, fastidiously, step by unrelenting step builds the case that climate change isn’t the root of the problem. It’s just a symptom. The problem is our current brand of unfettered, free market capitalism.
It’s the brand of capitalism that led to colonialism and the heartbreaking entanglements of its legacies. It led to the global scourge of slavery and its relentless reincarnations. It led to demands for the unflinching economic growth that has carried us beyond the capacity of our very planet.
I’m a smart, self-aware, self-reflective sort of fellow. Through most of my reading of This Changes Everything, I found myself questioning everything. And it led me to a difficult question….
What does it mean that I’m a capitalist?
There’s no arguing it. I run a business. My business partner and I benefit from the profits earned in large part from the labour of the people our company employs. I try to accommodate the shifting work patterns, health and wellbeing, personal development, and creative expression of everyone on our team. We only work with clients we believe to be contributing to solutions, sustainability, and social justice. But is it enough?
I honestly don’t know….
But here’s the thing….
The Gordian Knot of problems ahead for humanity was never going to be solved by any individual hero. Certainly, I never expected to be one. It can’t be disentangled simply by taking a new perspective. And there is no single blade with which we might cut through the knot.
Enter that movement of movements….
It’s exactly the unstoppable force that inspires hope for Naomi Klein. Millions of changemakers, creating millions of new approaches. Heroes. New perspectives. Sharp, new solutions.
In the closing paragraphs of This Changes Everything, Klein poses a question: “History knocked on your door. Did you answer?”
Don’t worry about doing it all. Just do your part. Make a little nick in that Gordian Knot. You have millions of allies around the world, each making a nick of their own. Just do your part. And do it well….
We are the change we’ve been waiting for.
History’s knocking…. Will you answer?
That’s what moved me.
Mike Rowlands is President & CEO of Junxion. He has been described as a “peace warrior” and thought leader on issues of social importance. This is one of a series of letters he’s writing as he seeks to embrace transparency, step in to courageous conversations, and be in service to a new era. You can reach him via [email protected].