Film Review: This Changes Everything

this changes everything trailer

Submitted to Fightback by Maria Ramos.

Although the seriousness of global warming and climate change has been made clear through the work of scientists and environmental advocates, it’s sometimes difficult to present this message in a way that resonates with the general public. As long as modern practices of pollution and resource extraction continue unchecked, ecological harm will almost certainly get worse. The documentary film This Changes Everything aims to alert viewers to the environmental hazards inherent in our economic system and ways of going about addressing the problem.

Based upon Naomi Klein’s 2014 book of the same name, the film was directed by her husband, Avi Lewis. Instead of focusing upon one or two specific effects of corporate disregard for our natural surroundings – say, a decline in polar bear populations or increased illnesses caused by polluted water – Klein and Lewis indict our entire neoliberal capitalist system as a whole. An ethos of viewing the earth as something to be ruthlessly exploited has caused unsustainable growth and ecological degradation. Most of the negative consequences hit hardest in poor communities, whose residents lack the financial resources and political clout to protect their rights through normal channels.

Even though certain pollution-reducing initiatives and public policy goals have been spearheaded by the wealthy and elite, the filmmakers show how these efforts have either been illusory from the start or have been derailed. The cap-and-trade system in particular is rife with abuse, often amounting to little more than the rich trading emissions among themselves with no overall reductions in greenhouse gas pollution. Corporate titans often parrot lines about green energy and clean business practices, but the reality is that any gains thereby achieved are often negated by the wholesale expansions of production in a quest for market share and profits.

This Changes Everything shows the stories of assorted individuals and communities around the world who have been adversely affected by the activities of big enterprises. This allows the documentary to explore the human side of climate change, which is often neglected in other similar works that focus their attention on lakes, rivers and animals. Unfortunately, the broad scope of the film combined with its running time of only 90 minutes mean that the final results feel a bit scatter-shot and disjointed. It’s difficult for the viewer to parse how the various stories relate to each other and to the overall theme of the movie.

Instead of just concerning itself with the damage caused by multinational businesses, This Changes Everything shows us how to fight back against these soulless entities. Through grassroots campaigns directed by the very people whose livelihoods or homes are threatened, depredations against Mother Nature can be halted. People in India have physically blocked the construction of fossil-fuel-burning plants while ranchers in Montana are defending themselves and their homes against a polluting oil company. Meanwhile, municipalities in Germany are purchasing their electric grids back from private companies. Because large national and international bodies are likely to be co-opted or have their missions subtly shift and morph over time, it is these small-scale, locally directed, authentic movements that are most promising.

According to a report from Direct Energy, more than 30 gigatonnes of CO2 were released from the combustion of fossil fuels in 2010, up from less than 15 gigatonnes in 1970. Clearly we must halt and reverse this trend if we would leave succeeding generations a healthy, comfortable planet to live upon.

This Changes Everything and other documentaries are important in order to drum up support among ordinary people for combating dangers that could make the Earth uninhabitable or at least a poor place to live. While the scientific case for the reality of climate change is incredibly strong, we need public outreach and entertainment as a way of delivering the news in a way that the average person can easily access. After all, climate change deniers spend a lot of money spreading their version of the facts, so it’s only fair that we raise our voices against them in whatever media are available.

See also

CHCH Fightback Reading Group #6: The Limits of Utopia

limits of utopia

This week our reading is a piece by fantasy author and marxian socialist China Miéville – “The Limits of Utopia.”

If you prefer listening to reading, the piece is based on this speech.

The piece discusses on the one hand, the need for utopian thinking in an era of ecological devastation – but also the dangers of environmentalism that can empower those who profit from the exploitation of the planet’s resources. Miéville’s language is a bit verbose, but in a creative rather than technical way so hopefully people will enjoy some of the more bombastic passages.

“The stench and blare of poisoned cities, lugubrious underground bunkers, ash landscapes… Worseness is the bad conscience of betterness, dystopias rebukes integral to the utopian tradition. We hanker and warn, our best dreams and our worst standing together against our waking.

Fuck this up, and it’s a desiccated, flooded, cold, hot, dead Earth. Get it right? There are lifetimes-worth of pre-dreams of New Edens, from le Guin and Piercy and innumerable others, going right back, visions of what, nearly two millennia ago, the Church Father Lactantius, in The Divine Institutes, called the ‘Renewed World’.”

We thought this reading would be beneficial in as it’s a couple days before the People’s Climate Parade in Christchurch which Fightback is supporting. The need for anti-capitalist analysis of the climate crisis is essential, especially while the vast majority of Enviro orgs rush to court the middle ground – and are unwilling to challenge the structural causes of ecological degradation.

-Koha appreciated
-Food provided
-All welcome
-Reading beforehand encouraged but not required

6:30pm, Thursday 26th November
59 Gloucester Street, Workers Educational Association, Christchurch
[Facebook event]

Change Everything: Climate Justice Post-Paris (Oil Free Wellington)


By Michelle Ducat, Oil Free Wellington.

To be published in Fightback’s upcoming Climate Crisis magazine issue.

Oil Free Wellington started in late 2012 when the government announced it has granted Texas-based oil giant Anadarko a permit to prospect for oil off Wellington’s coast in the Pegasus Basin. Anadarko had a 25% working interest in BP’s Deep Water Horizon rig, which exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, killing eleven and causing huge environmental devastation. Since then, we have campaigned in Wellington to draw attention to the Block Offer process and granting of licenses to Anadarko, Statoil and Chevron. We have held marches, public talks and film screenings, run email, letter and social media campaigns, dropped banners, and protested on the water, at times using direct action to directly resist the expansion of fossil fuel extraction. Increasingly, we have made climate change and climate justice central to our demands.

Many of OFW’s initial members came from a climate justice group that formed after the Camp for Climate Action Aotearoa in 2009, inspired by similar camps in Europe. Climate Camp was held towards the end of the Copenhagen climate talks, and was explicit in its criticism of the whole ‘COP’(Conference of Parties- the UN climate talks) process: if governments wouldn’t address the systemic causes of climate change – the economic system that put profits over the planet – it was up to the people to create the solutions and movement to get that system change. This required acknowledging that those who are most vulnerable to the threat of climate change are those who have contributed least to it. The camp culminated in a day of action targeting the stock exchange. The stock exchange represented the root causes of climate change – and how carbon trading allowed businesses to benefit from climate change. Ten people were arrested for blockading the building.

Many environmental groups had held high hopes for Copenhagen to create a binding ambitious agreement. The talks were chaotic and marred by the exclusion of civil society. There was a last minute deal brokered by just five of the countries – US, China, South Africa, Brazil and India – which recognised the scientific case for keeping temperatures to no more that 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, but made no binding commitments. Vulnerable nations were deeply disappointed that the 1.5 degree target was dropped, guaranteeing their disappearance as sea levels rise.

So, eight years later we find ourselves at the eve of another “last, best, chance” – COP 21 in Paris – where once again governments will try to get a legally binding agreement to “prevent dangerous interference with the climate system”. The science has become ever clearer – and the latest IPCC report in 2014 has introduced the concept of a climate budget: to keep a 66% chance of keeping warming under 2 degrees we can put maybe an additional 270 billions of tonnes of carbon in the atmosphere. We already emit 10 billion tonnes a year. This means we can only use between 1/5 and 1/3 of existing oil, gas and coal reserves.

Already, the latest iteration of the proposed Paris documents are pointing to a lack of ambition and a lack of focus on the root causes: the long term target and process are still up for negotiation; they barely mention fossil fuels – just mentioning an end to fossil fuel subsidies; there is no mention now of human rights, rights to Mother Earth, civil society, health, gender equity, a just transition for workers, and a Climate Justice tribunal; there is an acknowledgement of loss and damages by vulnerable nations – but with no mention of specific commitments.

And although the draft agreement suggests there could be reviews to make these more ambitious, the current tally of voluntary emissions reduction targets – the INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) guarantee a huge overshoot of the 2 degree target.

And it’s not only a lack of ambition that make the UN talks, or what some have dubbed the ‘Conference of Polluters’, a failure- it is the whole framework of market based mechanisms and carbon accounting it has adopted as ‘solutions. New markets are being created which do little to nothing to help prevent climate change, but do help Government’s appear to be doing something, and help create new profit.

The REDD+ scheme, born out of these negotiations, is basically a new industry where people can be paid for not chopping or burning down forests. In some cases, such as in Mexico and Brazil, indigenous peoples who make their livelihoods and also live off the resources in these forests, sustainably, are having their access to their lands cut off as these forests are affectively privatized for the new carbon economy. Not only this, but rich countries get to buy credits from this programme to allow them to keep emitting. And this is just one example of such a project, there are many; and while even many environmental NGOs accept these solutions, resistance to them is being led by indigenous groups, peasant farmers like the group La Via Campesina, and women of the global south.

Given vested interests in the current economic system, Paris will fail. But we can find power and solutions elsewhere and we believe that’s where we should put our collective energy.

In this context Oil Free Wellington has decided to organize two events to strengthen what has been working to address climate change: local grassroots resistance to fossil fuels and the growth of a climate justice approach that makes links across progressive movements. For instance local people have been successfully resisting fossil fuel expansion in the US – stopping hundreds of new coal-fired plants; in Canada – delaying pipeline construction; and in South America where indigenous peoples are resisting fossil fuel expansion into forests.

Specifically we want to deepen understanding of the structural causes of climate change and the big picture solutions; make stronger links between diverse groups; and build capacity for and commitment to direct action.

Change Everything will take place on the weekend of the 12th and 13th December, at the end of the Paris talks. The gathering on the Saturday will involve plenary sessions on capitalism, colonialism and the climate, as well as peoples’ solutions to climate change. The afternoon will involve participatory workshops exploring radical solutions in more depth. Registration will go live at the start of November.

On December 13th we take action. We will take to the water for Wellington’s largest ever on-water demonstration and practice blockade for resistance to fossil fuels this Summer. At this point no one knows for sure when the oil industry will show up this Summer but it is likely they will again, for surveying off Wellington’s coast.

We’ll have a large number of kayaks and paddleboards available for people to use and action on the land too.

Regardless of what is agreed to, it will be more important than ever that we empower each other to work for climate justice from the ground up. Let’s look elsewhere for power and action, let’s look within and across our communities and struggles.

If you have your own water-going vessel, be it a kayak, paddleboard, yacht, jetski, barge, speedboat or pirate raft, bring it along. Email us at to let us know you can bring your own vessel. We’ll need other help on the day too so let us know if you want to help out. We have a Give a Little page to cover the costs of boat hire.

We’re interested in forging new relationships and networks with others wanting to work towards climate justice with a critique of capitalism and false solutions, and in a way that empowers communities and builds resilience. Get in touch.
[Change Everything Facebook event]

Urban Housing is an Ecosocialist Issue

urban green

Fightback is running a series of articles on the housing crisis in Aotearoa/NZ.

Daphne Lawless (Fightback Tamaki Makarau) argues that we need green, sustainable and affordable solutions to the housing problem. But that means more urbanisation, not less.

It’s obvious that there is a great shortage of quality, affordable housing in Aotearoa. Or to be more precise, there’s a shortage in those places where people want to live. There are regular stories about houses going on TradeMe for a few hundred dollars, in places like Balclutha or other isolated rural zones.

Rural houses are great for people who can support themselves in a rural lifestyle, like farm workers or independent writers or artists. But the facts of life in a modern economy are that most of the economic growth, and therefore new jobs and opportunities, will happen in the cities – Auckland in particular, but Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton as well. Because Auckland is where I live and expect to raise my family, it’s that town which I will concentrate on in this article.

Explosive growth

Auckland’s explosive growth to near 1.5 million inhabitants is also exacerbated, not only by its milder climate compared to our other urban centres, but by immigration. New settlers in our country prefer to live near to people who share their culture, hence Auckland’s massively high levels of cultural diversity compared to the rest of the country. Whether Pasifika peoples in Mangere, Chinese in Botany or people from the Indian subcontinent in Sandringham, Auckland’s cultural mosaic gets more complicated and colourful all the time.

But Auckland’s expanding population needs somewhere to live. The latest survey shows that the median house price in Auckland has passed $670,000 – almost 15 times the median yearly income. Historically, that ratio has been stable at around 4. So a house in Auckland costs almost 4 times as much as it should.

The media blame this on “a shortage of new housing”, mainly blaming Auckland Council’s planning tools, like the Metropolitan Urban Limit – refusing to rezone rural areas bordering the city for new housing. But this is unfair, and pushes a political ideology which is both anti-worker, and anti-green.

One of the main problems of neoliberal capitalism is that, when wages are pushed down, workers can’t buy things and the economy slows. One of the solutions – in virtually every advanced country in the world – has been to semi-deliberately create a housing bubble. Loans for buying houses have become cheap and plentiful, pushing up prices. And when house prices go up, those who already own houses (the middle and upper classes) benefit. They can buy cars or go on holidays and “put it on the mortgage”.

But even capitalist economics understands what happens when you just pump more money into a market – prices go up overall. The longer the bubble goes on, the less hope for the people at the bottom of the “housing ladder”. A similar thing happens in the rental market with WINZ giving out Accomodation Supplement, a rent subsidy for those on low-to-average incomes. This money just goes to boost the landlord’s profits, and rents rise to match.

Pricking the bubble

The housing bubble is therefore just another way of transferring wealth from the property-less to the property-owners. But even our bosses are getting nervous that we could end up in a situation like the United States or Ireland, where after the bubble burst, entire neighbourhoods became vacant after their mortgages were foreclosed on. Hence, the Reserve Bank has recently cut the availability of loans for new home-owners (once again punishing the needy so as to safeguard the gains of the greedy).

So what’s a pro-worker, pro-environment solution to the housing crisis? A bursting housing bubble might bring prices down, but would also cause massive economic recession. The right-wing media and the National Government want us to think that the answer is building new housing zones on the fringes of the urban area at “affordable prices”.

Let’s go through all the ways that this kind of urban sprawl is ecological and economic bad news:

  • New fringe suburbs encroach onto fertile farming land. Some of Auckland’s best volcanic soils (such as the market gardens in Avondale) have long since been built over. Pushing development towards Pukekohe would put the food sustainability of the region under severe pressure.
  • New developments require brand new services such as telephone, stormwater and electricity to be built, at a high cost.
  • In New Zealand, new housing areas are generally built without any thought as to public transport – and generally nowhere near workplaces. Not only does this require that everyone who lives there has to own a car, but they have to commute for stupid distances across our already-clogged motorway network, turning expensive fossil fuels into air pollution as they do so.

The National Government’s “special housing areas”, such as Hobsonville Point, Flat Bush or Hingaia, are nowhere near the recently upgraded electric train services, and will all need new bus or ferry services to make it possible to live there without a car. This isn’t solving the housing crisis – just opening it up to developers to profit from.

Up, not out

The alternative – as many insightful commenters on Auckland’s housing issues have identified, for example, the Generation Zero pressure group – is for Auckland to grow up, not out. That is, new affordable, high-density (flat or apartment) housing should be build in and around the Central City and central suburbs. Amazingly enough, it’s only been legal to build apartments in the Auckland CBD since 1995, and since then its population has grown to 25,000 – and, with a large population of students and creative types, it’s generally a lower-income and more culturally diverse population than the ultra-rich inner ‘burbs like Remuera or Herne Bay.

The rich absolutely hate this idea. The working-class population of central Auckland were systematically moved out between the 1950s and 1970s, when “slums” like Freemans Bay and Newton were gutted to build the Central Motorway junction, and surrounding suburbs like Ponsonby or Grey Lynn were gentrified.

The old working-men’s cottages of Auckland’s central fringe suburbs can now fetch more than $1 million. The last thing that their privileged current owners want is for the price to be brought down by affordable apartments being built round the corner – or indeed, for working-class (or non-white) people to live in their area at all. They’d much prefer working people out of sight and out of mind, in the far-flung fringes. Which is of course precisely what happened to the inhabitants of “old” Ponsonby – Mangere or Otara were settled by refugees from “slum clearances” and motorway madness around the CBD.

Housing and transport are both aspects of the same question, as is access to public services. Auckland’s liberal mayor Len Brown, elected by the working-class outer suburbs over the screams of the Parnell and Newmarket ruling classes, has staked his credibility on the Central Rail Link, an underground railway through the CBD which would greatly increase the efficiency of public transport. Auckland’s inner-suburb privileged class, though, see this as part and parcel of intensified housing, and their representatives on Council have tried to sabotage it at every turn. Making urban life in Auckland more accessible, affordable and vibrant is the last thing that the ultra-exclusive, financially-segregated communities of the city fringe want.


Studying the facts, it becomes clear that to improve quality of life in Auckland, to reduce social equalities and make life richer and more affordable for working people, the affordable as well as the green solution is centralisation and intensification combined with much better public transport. However, many who see themselves on the liberal side or even the Left of politics wouldn’t agree.

When I interviewed MANA co-vice-president John Minto in this paper a couple of years ago, when he was running for Mayor of Auckland, he had this to say:

“They’re replacing existing state housing with 8-story slums in the town centre. We’ve seen this happen overseas – they’ll be rubbish-quality… Families need wide spaces to grow up in – they’re not growing to grow up on the sixth floor of an apartment building.”

There is absolutely no reason why – excluding the greed of developers and the ignorance of planners – high-density living should become a “slum” nightmare like an English “estate” or a French “cité”. All that is required is people-centred and eco-friendly planning. Attention to green space, sustainable transport links, and integration to the broader culture of the city can prevent affordable housing becoming a shunned slum.

Large apartment buildings can even be more environmentally friendly than a traditional, draughty, uninsulated Kiwi single-dweller property – especially in, as has happened in Chicago and other places, they become self-sufficient in energy by installing solar panels on their roofs. The biggest barrier to children being raised in the Auckland CBD is the lack of schools – which could be fixed by a people-centred education policy.


While John is motivated by concern for the poor, other anti-intensificationists have less savoury motivations. “Big cities” are something, for these people, which happen in other countries. Auckland, to them, is something like a cancer or a parasite on the country, and should never have been allowed to grow to its giant sprawling size (and certainly not with such ethnic diversity!)

Some of them even suggest deliberately letting it run down and become uninhabitable, provoking a Detroit-style exodus to the other centres or the regions. This kind of ruralist or small town mythology makes one remember Karl Marx’s comment about the “idiocy of rural life” – by which he did not mean stupidity, but self-absorbed parochialism.

Ecosocialism concentrates on quality of life as well as income for working people. “Agglomeration benefits” – the economic, cultural and environmental benefits of concentrating and enhancing the central areas of large cities – are very real. Although some will always prefer a suburban big back-yard lifestyle, the cultural benefits of living in a teeming, vibrant, culturally rich community should be open to all working people of Aotearoa/New Zealand. This is the future that the “Remuera brigade” (you’d say Thorndon or Fendalton in other cities, I suppose) hate and fear.

When they “cleared” Freeman’s Bay and Newton in the 1960s, they told the working-class and Pasifika residents that they’d never miss their old “slums” in their brand new houses in far-away Mangere and Otara. We can see how that turned out – economic apartheid, auto-dependent isolation, and a downward spiralling local economy leading to crime. It’s time to put an end to economic apartheid, and bring working people back into the centre of our urban life and culture – where they belong. The only way we can all fit sustainably is by growing our cities upwards.

A national hui on the state housing crisis will be held in Auckland on February the 21st.
Register at
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Thousands march against climate change

Flood Wall Street

Flood Wall Street

Article by Bronwen Beechey (Fightback/MANA Owairaka).

The largest demonstration to date against climate change was held in New York City on September 21.

The march was part of a global day of action held before a United Nations climate change summit in New York on September 23. Among the estimated 400,000 who attended were indigenous people from the US, Canada and Latin America, students, unions and representatives of communities affected by fracking.

The marchers stopped for a moment of silence to honour those who have already died around the world as a result of catastrophes linked to global warming. The entire crowd then erupted in a tremendous roar to literally sound the alarm, accompanied by the 26 marching bands that took part blaring their instruments. It was directed at the heads of state and governments that have repeatedly failed to address the problem.

The march was initiated by and other groups on the activist wing of the environmental movement, but as the momentum grew, more conservative groups like the Sierra Club endorsed the march.  The march was also built extensively through social media activist groups such as Avaaz and NZ’s Action Station.

One of the groups in the US that initiated the march, and was a central organising force, was System Change Not Climate Change (SCNCC). A coalition of socialist groups and individual radicals,  SCNCC targets capitalism as the cause of climate change and advocate socialism as the only long-term solution.. The role played by SCNCC in organising the march and its acceptance as part of the broader environmental movement marks an important step forward. The impact of the recession, the Occupy movement that targeted the wealthy “1%” and implicitly capitalism itself, and the obvious role of big corporations as destroyers of the environment, has made many realise that capitalism is to blame.

According to US socialist Barry Shepherd, writing for Green Left Weekly : “This was a truly grass-roots march, not a top-down affair. The march organisers from different environmental groups encouraged everyone to bring their own banners and literature, and raise their own concerns. The result was that all aspects of the problem of climate change were expressed.”

The day after the march, around 1000 people took part in a sit-in in Wall Street that was explicitly anti-capitalist. The action was called “Flood Wall Street”, referring to the flooding of the area that happened following Hurricane Sandy last year.  Around 100 people, including one dressed in a polar bear suit and three in wheelchairs, were arrested after blockading the street for eight hours.

Solidarity actions also took place in other cities in the US, and around the world, with an estimated 40,000 in London and 30,000 in Melbourne. In Auckland, several hundred people turned out despite miserable weather and the disappointment of the previous day’s election result.

Unsurprisingly, the UN summit produced little in the way of any action on climate change. However, the numbers protesting shows that more and more ordinary people are prepared to act, and that many are recognising that stopping climate change will mean changing the system.