In this talking point, Aimee Walsh reads Cormac McCarthy’s The Road through the lens of Naomi Klein’s ground-breaking This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus Climate.
Post 9/11 America is in an on-going, ignored-by-the-masses crisis. It is a warranted fear for our safety and not from any bombs, threats or debts. It is much bigger than that. There is a crisis going on that is being overlooked; the world is in the midst of an environmental crisis. America, as the biggest super power and second highest carbon emitting country, are notably looking the other way.
The lack of safety from a natural, environmental disaster is a theme that runs through Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The dystopian novel gives a glimpse into the nightmarish world that America, amongst other high emitting countries like China, is currently taking marching steps towards.
The absence and search of natural light in The Road heeds a warning of the fragility of the global climate; the environment is not secure and definitely cannot be sustained at current levels of deforestation, carbon emissions and consumption of fossil fuels. Whilst battling to survive in the snow, the nameless father and son attempt to kindle the light as if it alone can give relief from the unnamed disaster. “The fire was little more than coals and it gave no light and the wood was nearly gone and the trees were falling all about them in the darkness” (McCarthy 102). The pair’s unsuccessful attempt to harness and sustain light throughout the novel is used as a hope for emotional security to the uninhabitable surroundings. There is a fear of the darkness and the unknown that lurks beyond their circle of light. The Earth has rejected civilisation as a whole despite the accountability in carbon emissions lying with the second highest emitting country America.
The male duo in The Road are continually searching for light and a (false) feeling of safety that it provides. They are hiding from the darkness and the unknown of what civilisation Earth will continue on to, if any. “They lay in the woods like fugitives. Nowhere to build a fire. Nowhere safe” (McCarthy 198). They are prisoners to the extreme effects of years of disregard from America for the preservation of the global environment. However, Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything argues that complete environmental disaster, like that seen in The Road, is avoidable only if we act now (4). So, why is the world reluctant to change?
America’s current reality, one of consumerist and capitalist driven ideologies, toes the capitalist nation party-line on climate change through soothing tones from the megaphone of political and corporation driven media; climate change is not a serious issue yet. The United Nation’s Climate Summit 2014 uses ‘catalysing action’ as the programme’s current slogan, though the World’s governments have been reluctant in the past to enter into binding agreements to decrease the fossil fuel consumptions or greenhouse gas emissions. Klein states that “preliminary data shows that in 2013, global carbon dioxide emissions were 61 percent higher than they were in 1990, when negotiations toward a climate treaty began in earnest” (Klein 11). A recent agreement was reached this week (12 November 2014) between America and China, the top two carbon emitting countries, which will aim to decrease carbon emissions. China, which is still a developing country and is heavily reliant on coal, has agreed to cap emissions by 2030 when a peak is reached, whilst the U.S. has committed to a 26 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2025. While this is a historic step in the right direction for tackling climate change we must keep in mind that there is no set limit on the peak which China’s emissions can reach by 2030. We are not in the clear yet. Klein calls for a movement and as a result to obtain a “far more just economy” (10). For this to be reached a global community’s interests must be considered when ‘catalysing action’ but still allowing an increased, and unlimited, peak in emissions to be reached in 2030 before a cap is set.
McCarthy’s hellish dystopia shows America’s, and indeed the world’s, “ecological amnesia”(Klein 4) to be a false and unwarranted sense of safety. The mother in The Road, prior to her suicide, says, “We’re not survivors. We’re the walking dead in a horror film”(McCarthy 57) in response to being told by the father, over the security of the lamp light, that they are survivors of this disaster. Klein states “a great many of us engage in this kind of climate change denial” (3) in believing that we can be “survivors”(McCarthy 57) of the disaster. If there is not change now our reality will be “the walking dead”(McCarthy 57) unable to survive in the uninhabitable landscape we have created.
Not only is creating an unliveable environment an issue for the capitalist epicentre, America, it is a global crisis. The Earth, when eventual environmental destruction occurs as shown in The Road, will take no consideration of borders, race or wealth when it cracks under the pressures that increased greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and the consumption of fossil fuels are causing. The boy in the novel, who was born into this nightmarish world and knows no alternative life, asks his father:
“Why are they the state roads?
Because they used to belong to the states. What used to be called the states.
But there’s not any more states?
No.” (McCarthy 43)
This breaking down of borders gives us a sense that we should seek to come together as citizens of one global community where we are all affected by the same issues. Instead of the segregated geographical communities we live in that are largely dictated by capitalism and corporate agendas. Shouldn’t we put human survival before profit?
The nameless two wanderers in The Road trudge through the barren landscape in a daily renewed longing for food and light to keep them safe and alive. In one scene in the novel the father retrieves a can of Coca Cola from a tipped over vending machine amongst scattered “coins everywhere in the ash”(McCarthy 22). It was the boys first, and probably, last can of Coke. This symbol of American capitalism being extracted from the rubble is not vision of hope, but rather one that begs the reader to question what good capitalism is in the face of civilisation crumbling at the hands of catastrophic, global disasters. What good is the government’s dollar funding economic recovery when the efforts to keep our very habitats from climate change is minimal? What good will wealth be when civilisation itself begins to wilt?
America’s and the majority of the World’s governments lack of urgency in implementing solutions to the climate change crisis is nothing short of terrifying for the safety of the population of the world. There is a disregard of communities being anything more than consumers. “Clearly, what gets declared a crisis is an expression of power and priorities as much as hard facts” (Klein 6). The economic crash, that started on Wall Street, in 2008 and the destruction of the Twin Towers as symbols of economic dominance and growth on 11 September 2001 both received ‘crisis’ status from American government. “Climate change has never received the crisis treatment from our leaders, despite the fact that it carries the risk of destroying lives on a vastly greater scale than collapsed banks or collapsed buildings” (Klein 6). It begs the question, can governments really have a population’s best interest in mind when publicly recognising a crisis if “power and priorities”(Klein 6) are in the equation?
The lack of support from governments to stem the climate change since 1990‘s beginning of the continuing journey to reach a climate treaty has only made the battle harder. Klein states that we have already reached a stage where what we are doing on a daily basis, what we are consuming and what we are refusing to change on a global scale has gone beyond being able to edge backwards to have a look at the bigger picture. The bigger picture has hit us in the face and nobody is seeing it. Klein argues that we are “faced with a crisis that threatens our survival as a species, our entire culture is continuing to do the very thing that caused the crisis, only with an extra dose of grease behind it” (2). An effort from all countries is needed to battle this global crisis.
To avoid this nightmare world that is foreseen both by scientists and in the dystopian world in The Road there must be continued commitment to keep tackling climate change and indeed increase efforts to stem it. We must act as one global community through action on local levels for the human species to stand a chance in surviving this environmental crisis. So, as Klein rightly questions, why is nobody acting?
Atkin, Emily. What Scientists Have To Say About Obama’s Deal With China. ThinkProgress, 12 Nov 2014. Web. 13 Nov 2014.
Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014. Print.
McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. London: Picador, 2006. Print.
Taylor, Lenore and Tania Branigan. US and China strike deal on carbon cuts in push for global climate change pact. The Guardian. Web. 12 Nov 2014.
United Nations. UN Climate Summit Programme. United Nations, n.d. Web. 12 Nov 2014.