Naomi Klein Takes on Climate Change

Portraits of Naomi Klein

On Tuesday, September 16, SSMU, the Concordia Student Union and Ricochet Media hosted the launch of Naomi Klein’s latest book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Klein, a Montreal native, is the author of the New York Times #1 international bestseller, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, a contributing editor for Harper’s, a reporter for Rolling Stone and a syndicated columnist for The Nation and The Guardian. She spoke to an enthusiastic audience at the Imperial Theater about the conflict between capitalist economics and the health of our planet.

 Stories We Tell Ourselves

Klein began by confessing that she “used to be a climate change denier.” Wanting to detract attention from the radical, often publicized climate change deniers she instead spoke about how we deny climate change in our daily lives.

Klein explains that “we are in a culture that is acting as if this is not happening.” Despite warnings and pleas from scientists we are unable to acknowledge that “we are part of a system that is waging war against life on Earth.” The stories we tell ourselves, Klein remarks, are that we must have more time to tackle this issue, that environmentalists are dealing with climate change, that it must not be that big of a problem and that as intelligent humans we will develop a technological fix to save the day. She continued by stating that we often rationalize our inaction by telling ourselves we are focused on something more immediate and therefore cannot focus on something so far off.

“We will never be able to look all the time, it is just too hard,” elaborated Klein. “We need to absorb what 97 percent of climate scientists are telling us and we need to find ways to form community with one another to actually feel the grief and the loss.”

Klein acknowledges that social change is an emotional process. We must support each other as we begin to see the ramifications of climate change. Klein argued that after taking in the urgency of this issue it “becomes clear that only radical change has a chance of averting catastrophe.”

Ending False Solutions

Although many of the facts and statistics present a bleak future, Klein asserts that “climate change presents us with a once in a century opportunity to change the global economy for the better,” suggesting robust investment in the public sphere to work towards a renewable energy-based economy. Such change requires that we tackle institutionalized forms of injustice both within and amongst our countries to “build a fairer world.”

She continued by pointing out that “some of the largest pools of carbon left are under the feet of some of the poorest people.” Rather than getting the polluters to pay, governments and policy makers are turning to the polluters to solve this. As a result, we are getting what she calls “false solutions,” technological fixes on a global scale that ignore that pollution is the root cause of climate change. This is because “doing the things we must do clash with the pillars of neoliberalism,” citing privatization, deregulation, cuts to government spending and free trade as major roadblocks. Often times “trade trumps the climate,” and in Klein’s opinion, the global community has failed to rise to the challenge.

However, we do have the opportunity to impact the energy choices of developing countries, according to Klein. She encourages “transfers of technology and of wealth from the global north to the global south” to help developing countries bypass dependency on CO2. However, she claims that this goal is challenged by the global economic crisis.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Klein remains optimistic, recognizing the growth of the fossil fuel divestment movement. “ I’ve never seen a student movement move so quickly,” she note. Klein claimed that by reinvesting money removed from fossil fuel companies we can “fund a just transition [to renewable energy] that our government refuses to.”

Klein commented that it is important to ensure economic opportunities beyond extraction. “Communities that are already on the front lines of the extracted economy should be the first in line to receive the benefits of this new economy and control it,” Klein said. Moving away from individualism and towards a progressive shift in values can allow us to “have an economy that does not require sacrificial places or sacrificial people.”

“Courage is Contagious”

Members of Divest Concordia, Divest McGill and Climate Justice Montreal — organizations that promote divestment and climate awareness — attended and were happy that Klein readily addressed such a difficult topic.

Marianne, a U2 student, was extremely pleased with Klein’s presentation. “What I really liked about the talk was the examples she gave, I came out knowing more with the ability to back an argument before even reading the book, which is a really good introduction.”

Sarah Southey, a U2 Physiology student also left the event with a positive outlook. “I think the thing that struck me most about the talk was how much opportunity she saw in changing our current policies—that it’s not all doom and gloom, but that by radically changing our economic approach from “mindless growth” we can not only help halt climate change but also provide justice to oppressed cultures around the world,” she continued. “It was awesome because a lot of what she said supports what groups such as Divest McGill are doing on campus, and her emphasis on the potential of  the divest movement made me look at it from a totally different perspective.”

Klein ended her presentation optimistically, stating that Quebec can lead on climate issues. Doing nothing is no longer an option, she asserts, societies have shown their adaptability and flexibility through history. Klein concluded that although “we can’t change the laws of nature, we can change our broken economy, that is why climate change is not just a disaster it’s also our best chance to demand and build a better world.”