Naomi Klein – This Changes Everything, Chapter 5 ‘Beyond Extractivism’

In this chapter Klein examines a specific example of extractivism to demonstrate how this dominance based relationship is leaving the world ‘digging itself to death’.

Be warned, it does not have a happy ending.

Once upon a time, the island of Nauru was found to have a large source of pure phosphate of lime, a valuable agricultural fertiliser. Colonisers (from Britain then Australia and New Zealand) stripped the land of this fertiliser to improve the lands of their own. This made Nauru, financially, extremely rich. The inhabitants received free health care, state education and good housing. Unfortunately this left them free to pursue the ultimate consumer lifestyle, throwing money around whilst driving fast cars and gorging on processed food (they were later named ‘The Worlds Fattest Nation’). The selling of all their natural fertilizer left them with over mined, infertile and unusable land covering the entire centre of this little island.

When the people of Nauru finally took charge in 1968 they wanted to change. They moved away from the mining and tried to create alternative income. Unfortunately they made horrendous investment choices and their fortune- the only thing they were left with, was lost. This lead the country into corruption and desperation. It became a money laundering haven. This was discovered and Nauru found itself $800 million in debt with 90% of its island depleted.

You would think things couldn’t get much worse for the little island…

In an effort to rescue their economy they agreed to house an offshore refugee camp. Immigrants heading towards the creamy beaches of Australia are picked up and shipped to one of these inhumane camps. Known as ‘The Pacific Solution’ these communities house men, women and children who have fought their way through some of the toughest physical and emotional situations imaginable. It is said Nauru is where their resilience comes to die. Hunger strike is common, inhabitants have sewn their mouths shut in protest and sexual abuse if rife. One man says of this, his home for the next five years,‘Even god can’t help you here’.

Can anything? With the newest challenge facing Nauru – Climate change. Rising sea levels mean the coast, the only habitable portion of the island, may erode to nothing. As Klein puts it Nauru is ‘a place to turn the land into trash, to launder dirty money, to disappear unwanted people, and now to a place that may be allowed to disappear altogether’

This is a cautionary tale. For our ideology. The mentality of a society that uses the earth, uses its inhabitants for monetary gain. To adjust for nothing, to be able to use our huge brains to extract more from the earth, not to give anything back. Klein states ‘Western culture does not offer a road map for how to live that is not based on a extractivism, a nonreciprocal relationship with nature’.

This Western narrative further plays to the notion that we are in charge of this world not the other way round. We are still waiting for the big invention to solve all our problems, we cannot pay our way out of this crisis and until we realise the savior is not coming we cannot keep blindly extracting. Klein pleads that it is time to leave this unrealistic ideal behind and instead be hopeful of a new order of things where we ‘build the societies we need within the boundaries we have’