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“You need a clothesline”: Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein on the film adaptation of This Changes Everything

After the experience with The Shock Doctrine, Klein and Lewis decided together that if they were to do a film of a book in the future, they would take a different approach. “The only problem with that is that it is a much longer process,” Klein says. “It’s much harder because Avi had the wonderful problem of having to figure out how to make a movie about a book that hadn’t been written.”

Director Avi Lewis (right) filming This Changes Everything in New York City

The film does include material that eventually made its way into the book, including a 2011 climate-change conference Klein attended in Washington, D.C. The conference was put on by the Heartland Institute, a Chicago think tank known for challenging the arguments about global warming. The film and the book both contain scenes in which an attendee at the conference asks, in all apparent seriousness, “To what extent is this entire movement simply a green Trojan horse, whose belly is full with red Marxist socioeconomic doctrine?”

And the film opens with a nod to one of the most startling sections in the written work, in which technologists suggest that one possibility to counteract global warming would be to dim the sun’s rays by shooting sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere as a kind of shield for the earth. This idea appears mordantly funny until one realizes that the people proposing it are absolutely serious. “It’s totally logical from the point of view that the human being is the pinnacle of evolution and our genius can solve all problems,” says Lewis, articulating the key ideology his film sets out to challenge.

“A lot of these scientists actually come to it with desperation and despair,” says Klein, “because they don’t believe that anything is going to happen. And who can blame them? They’ve been raising the alarm for decades. They turn to geoengineering not because they think it’s a good idea, but because they’re terrified and they don’t see any signs that politicians are listening.”

It may be that politicians aren’t listening now, but with a Canadian federal election in just under two weeks, Klein and Lewis both hope that the theatrical release of This Changes Everything (which opens Oct. 9) will help spur action among the people politicians have to listen to: voters. “We’re seeing it in the polls, too, right?” says Klein. “Climate is polling as the second most important issue for Canadians, right after the economy. And we’re saying, actually, these aren’t different issues, they’re the same issue. We can have a stronger economy if we act on climate.”

This is the clothesline on which everything in the documentary hangs: the film attempts to provoke people to action by showing the ways in which grassroots organizations have already been successful in various contexts around the world. “The biggest barrier is that people don’t believe that things can change,” says Lewis. “And when you spend 90 minutes with people who are changing the material conditions of their lives and communities, you start to think, maybe, if they can do it – what am I doing?”