Get­ting the mes­sage

An in­ter­view with Naomi Klein

Element - - Contents -

Naomi Klein’s new pow­er­house of a book, This Changes Ev­ery­thing, is aptly ti­tled. In it, the best-sell­ing Cana­dian jour­nal­ist ar­gues that our col­lec­tive at­tempts at solv­ing cli­mate change have failed for so long, that now it’s ei­ther change or be changed. That is: ei­ther we rad­i­cally al­ter our so­ci­ety to get our­selves off fos­sil fu­els quickly; or we will find our lives rad­i­cally changed by cli­mate chaos.

It’s not all bad news, though. Klein’s book, is an oddly hope­ful one. Be­cause such dras­tic ac­tion is needed on cli­mate, she ar­gues, this cri­sis of­fers an op­por­tu­nity: to slash fos­sil fuel use, we’ll need to rewrite the rules of our lop­sided econ­omy, and in the process, we can cre­ate fairer so­ci­eties.

She be­lieves that can hap­pen – if enough of us get on board to change our po­lit­i­cal cul­ture.

It’s an orig­i­nal, bold look at the cli­mate cri­sis, which is bound to pro­voke de­bate – some­thing Klein is no stranger to (“they say I’m po­lar­iz­ing,” reads her Twit­ter bio).

The mas­ter­fully re­searched book is by turns a dev­as­tat­ing and in­spir­ing jour­ney. Klein me­an­ders through the ashes of past cli­mate pol­icy fail­ures, demon­strat­ing how the goal of cor­po­rate wealth has trumped plan­e­tary health. How­ever, she also doc­u­ments the ris­ing power of lo­cal ac­tivist move­ments now grow­ing around the globe, de­mand­ing (and build­ing) an al­ter­na­tive fu­ture.

Lead­ing th­ese move­ments are many or­di­nary peo­ple who were rudely awak­ened by oil pipe­lines and frack­ing wells on their doorsteps. Yet Klein makes it clear that win­ning on cli­mate is not just about say­ing no to fos­sil fu­els, but about build­ing lo­cal re­new­ably pow­ered economies at the same time.

El­e­ment spoke with Naomi Klein on the eve of her book’s world­wide re­lease.

“There is a way in which cli­mate change is a rev­e­la­tion,” she says. “It is a mes­sage telling us that our sys­tem is bro­ken.”

Klein is un­flinch­ing in her as­sess­ment of where decades of in­ter­na­tional cli­mate ne­go­ti­a­tions have got­ten us: “This in­cre­men­tal­ist ap­proach has failed. Emis­sions are up 61 per cent from the time we started talk­ing, ne­go­ti­at­ing se­ri­ously about emis­sion re­duc­tion [in 1992]. That’s a cat­a­strophic fail­ure.”

She traces that fail­ure to a cul­tural ob­ses­sion with un­fet­tered mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism as the so­lu­tion to ev­ery so­cial prob­lem – a view­point that as­cended just as the cli­mate cri­sis was be­com­ing widely un­der­stood in the 1980s.

“When you de­cide, okay we have an ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis and we’re go­ing to deal with it by cre­at­ing a con­vo­luted mar­ket of pol­lu­tion trad­ing, that’s an ex­tremely ide­o­log­i­cal decision,” she says. “It’s based on an ide­ol­ogy that mar­kets are al­ways bet­ter than reg­u­la­tion. But that idea is so in­grained in our cul­ture that we don’t even see it.”

“If civil­i­sa­tion is on the line it doesn’t make sense for us to be cre­at­ing a con­vo­luted mar­ket that’s prone to boom and bust and is a fraud mag­net.”

She’s quick to point out the in­ef­fec­tive­ness of emis­sions trad­ing mar­ket schemes – in­clud­ing New Zealand’s.

“If civil­i­sa­tion is on the line,” she says. “It doesn’t make sense for us to be cre­at­ing a con­vo­luted mar­ket that’s prone to boom and bust and is a fraud mag­net.

“Fraud has been a huge part of the car­bon mar­ket, and why wouldn’t it be? As soon as word gets out that you’re trad­ing air, guess who shows up?

“We have so many ex­am­ples of car­bon mar­kets fail­ing. We don’t have any of car­bon mar­kets suc­ceed­ing.”

After decades of such fail­ures, we need firm gov­ern­ment ac­tion, Klein in­sists. As she ar­gues in the book, that means forc­ing pol­luters to pay, while in­vest­ing in the pub­lic sphere (such as trans­port), and fol­low­ing ex­am­ples such as Ger­many’s, where a re­turn to lo­cal pub­lic own­er­ship of util­i­ties, stim­u­lated by na­tional pol­icy, has sparked a re­new­able en­ergy revo­lu­tion.

How to change the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate to make such re­forms pos­si­ble? That’s a chewier ques­tion than how to change our at­mos­phere. But as child of an ac­tivist fam­ily, and as a me­dia veteran of popular up­ris­ings around the world, Naomi Klein be­lieves strong so­cial move­ments can shift the con­ver­sa­tion on cli­mate.

“We are ca­pa­ble of com­ing to­gether in cri­sis,” she says. “We’ve done it be­fore in his­tory. I be­lieve it’s far more likely that change will come from mass so­cial move­ments than from glossy NGOs.

“I think it won’t hap­pen on cli­mate un­til it stops be­ing treated as a nar­row en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sue.”

So she’s aimed This Changes Ev­ery­thing at “peo­ple who are en­gaged on all kinds of other is­sues,” such as health­care and poverty, in­equal­ity, food – say­ing, “this is not an is­sue we can out­source. This is an every­body is­sue.”

“I don’t be­lieve a pos­i­tive out­come is by any means guar­an­teed, and I don’t think it’s easy,” she ad­mits. “But I can see it. I think it is pos­si­ble, and ex­cit­ing… I think we can build bet­ter so­ci­eties in the face of this cri­sis that are fairer, and we can build ci­ties that are more liv­able and more hu­mane; and we can have stronger com­mu­ni­ties.

“I’m try­ing to high­light that path, and try­ing to share some of that ex­cite­ment, be­cause the only thing that will make it pos­si­ble is if more peo­ple be­lieve in it.”

With a lack of gov­ern­ment ac­tion on cli­mate change, au­thor Naomi Klein says strong so­cial move­ments may be

a force for change. NZH / File photo

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