Naomi Klein: Climate Solutions That Neglect Inequality Are Doomed to Fail

A firefighter sprays burning trees with a hose

Firefighters spray water on burning trees in Santa Paula, California, on November 1, 2019.

California has warmed by approximately 3 degrees Fahrenheit (3°F) over the last century. Heat waves are more common and increase the risk of wildfires in the state. What does climate justice look like, therefore, and for whom? Will cities grappling with environmental disasters consider the racial and economic inequalities that intersect with climate change action? Author and activist Naomi Klein has a few thoughts.

Laura Flanders: It’s been a year since the Camp Fire. You went back there; what did you find?

Naomi Klein: I spent a little time in Paradise, which, of course, was a community that was burned to the ground, almost. There are a few structures that survived, but whole neighborhoods were leveled. And I also went to Chico, which is just a few minutes down the road. And that is the place where the vast majority of the people from Paradise relocated. It’s a pretty small community, was just under 100,000 people and suddenly had 20,000 new residents.

So, a fifth bigger suddenly.

Right … I think one of the things that’s important to remember is that people from these communities behaved with incredible solidarity, incredible generosity and a real spirit of mutual aid as so often happens — actually, invariably happens after disasters. Whether it is Katrina or the Asian tsunami or Sandy, as humans, when we see our fellow humans suffering, we want to help, and Chico showed this very, very powerfully. But when you’re on, what you also see is how difficult it is to maintain that spirit of, “I will fight for people I don’t know.” When your public infrastructure is failing, when there wasn’t enough affordable housing before and now with those 20,000 additional people, rents are skyrocketing, the cost of living is skyrocketing. People are flipping their houses to turn a buck. Real estate speculation is happening. All kinds of, what I’ve called, disaster capitalism is happening.

And that, when people are saying, Wait a minute, some people are getting rich off of this and there aren’t the mental health supports to deal with the PTSD. I mean, 85 people died. A lot of people I spoke with in Chico talked about how when they were breathing the smoke, they knew they were breathing in the remains of people. And that’s just true, it was a crematorium. And so, the trauma of that has really not been addressed … these are just some of the ways where we see that if we don’t invest in the physical infrastructure and in the infrastructure of care that allows people to be their best selves in the long haul, we aren’t going to face these crises with the humanity that we need.

But there are a lot of people who say, “Got it, we understand. We have to deal with racism and homelessness and health care, but right now we have a pollution, environmental recycling, consumer problems. Let’s just focus with that, with plastics or with the supply chain.”

Right. And frankly, I think that that has been the approach of the mainstream green movement for a long time. Sometimes said explicitly, sometimes sort of sotto voce, which is like, “Look, let’s just save the planet first and then we’ll deal with, you know, racism and inequality and gender exclusion and sort of just wait your turn.” And that doesn’t go over very well because for people who are on the front lines of all of those other crises, they’re all existential. I mean, if you can’t feed your kids, if you’re losing your house, if you are facing violence, all of it is existential.

And so, we just have to accept that we live in a time of multiple overlapping intersecting crises and we have to figure out how to multitask, which means we need to figure out how to lower emissions in line with what scientists are telling us, which is really fast. And we need to do it in a way that builds a fair economy in the process. Because if we don’t, people are so overstressed and overburdened because of 40 years of neoliberal policy, that when you introduce the kinds of carbon-centric policies that try to pry this crisis apart from all the others, what that actually looks like is you’re going to pay more for gas, you’re going to pay more for electricity. We’re just going to have a market-based response. And so, it’s perceived as just one more thing that is making life impossible.

And the big boys will get away with it because they have expensive lawyers as they always do.

Right. And that sense of injustice, I think, animated the yellow vest movement in France, and you know that slogan, “You care about the end of the world. We care about the end of the month.” But I’ve heard versions of that for years where it’s like, “Well, we can’t deal with climate change because we have to put food on the table right now, we’re in a crisis.” And so if we don’t figure out a way to deal with climate change that doesn’t ask people to choose between the need to put food on the table, the need to care about the end of the month and the need to safeguard the living systems on which all of life depends, we’re going to lose.

And give them some sense that they’re living in a just society. So, what is Chico doing?

That sense of inequality is really key and it’s an important lesson of history because if we look at other moments when societies have changed very quickly, the original New Deal is one. Another one is the mobilization during the Second World War where people accepted rationing, accepted severe restrictions on the use of private vehicles because there was a limited amount of fuel. It was so central to those campaigns in the U.S. and in Britain that there be fairness that you had to see. This isn’t just regular working people who are being asked to change. Celebrities are having to change. Big corporations are having to change.

“Fair shares for all,” was one of the slogans. “Share, and share alike,” was another one. And we’ve never put justice at the center of our response to climate change at a governmental level. Of course, the environmental justice movement has been demanding this for decades, but our policies have never centered it. And I think that’s a big part of the reason people reject it.

So Chico did put at least affordable housing in their response. What did they actually do?

They weren’t able to. And so, what’s significant now is that … on the eve of the anniversary of the Camp Fire, a couple of members of Chico City Council unveiled their plan for a Green New Deal for Chico.

Which included those.

Which included affordable housing; which includes, as they put it, 21st-century clean transportation; which included food security, water security. Many of the themes that you’ve discussed over the years on this show. And I think it’s significant that this community that has been so much on the front lines of climate displacement because they know what it means to absorb such a huge new population that they said, “This is the infrastructure that we need in the future,” that we have locked in, which isn’t to say that we have locked in catastrophic levels of warming. If we decarbonize our economies very, very quickly, we can avoid those worst outcomes, or at least we hope we can. But what we know is that the future is rocky. The future has more of these types of disasters, more displacement. The future does mean that more people are going to be living on less land.

So how are we going to live together on less land without turning on each other? That is an absolutely central debate we need to have. Because what we’re actually seeing are a lot of politicians — including Donald Trump, but not just Trump — who are coming to power with their response, which is, “We’re going to fortress our borders. We’re going to create these scapegoats; we’re going to hoard what’s left. We’re going to protect our own.” I call this climate barbarism, but I think the right already has their response to the fact that we are entering this period, we’re in this period of mass displacement. What’s our response?

Are there places that you’re excited about?

I’ve been on the road for a couple of months now, talking with people who are trying to do this locally in cities like Austin [and] Seattle. Teresa Mosqueda is part of this council that passed a resolution calling for Seattle to have a Green New Deal with the boldest targets that we’ve ever seen from a city that already has a green reputation. But the significance of it is, the extent to which they’re not just centering justice, but holding themselves accountable to it. And this is what’s very interesting about the Seattle example in their Green [New] Deal resolution that passed unanimously through council; they called for a board to be created that will hold them to their commitments.

And on that board are eight members of front-line communities — activists from communities, mostly communities of color that have the dirty industries in their backyards, that are on the front lines of the impact, as well as climate scientists, as well as your more traditional green groups and trade unionists. Now that, I’ve never seen — having that many activists holding their representatives accountable. So that’s a model that I think we need to look at and say, “Okay, what would that look like in New York? What would that look like in Washington?”

So where do we stand on the movement front…? If you were to compare where we were on this question of, How we are connecting with each other in new ways, how are we?

Okay, so that’s interesting. I think what you said is absolutely true — that that was a more internationalist moment for progressive movements, than the moment that we’re in. In that, I think there was more infrastructure to support ongoing conversations across borders. And a lot of that had to do with the fact that trade unions were in that movement with both feet. I mean, the slogan, “Teamsters and turtles, together at last.” I think [that] was significant about the global justice movement that is very associated with Seattle….

We’ve seen it with Mexico and Paris, there’d been a lot before.

Yes. The big difference, I would say, was that you had some large trade unions that were financing that infrastructure that allowed these tables to be created where people had those international conversations.

And today?

I don’t think we have the anchor institutions that we need that are really investing in social movements so that we can have those … I don’t even think we’re doing it nationally, let alone internationally. So that’s a big difference. You said that it was multiracial. It wasn’t multiracial enough, to be honest. And I think that that is a place where progress has been made. So I think we’ve lost some ground and we’ve gained some ground in terms of understanding the centrality of building a truly multiracial movement.

I think, interestingly, that we saw on the platform a multiracial group of people talking, but the analysis of the role that white supremacy and slavery and incarceration were playing wasn’t integrated into the analysis.

It wasn’t strong enough. We didn’t have that as coherent analysis as informed by racial capitalism and theorists like Cedric Robinson.

But look at where we are in this moment with uprisings in Chile and Lebanon, Hong Kong…. We’re in a moment where things can tip very quickly because people have been pushed so far to the edge that almost anything can act as a spark. I mean, we saw it in Puerto Rico with leaked text messages. I’ve seen it in Haiti, in Ecuador with the loss of fuel subsidies. In Chile with a sudden increase in public transit costs. I think the level of corruption is so intense. Inequality is so outrageous that you just never know when that tip is going to happen.

And I think the lesson, and here’s where I think we’re in a better situation, and this is where the Green New Deal comes in, this moment of multiple uprisings, I think, shares a lot in common with 2009 and [20]10 after the financial crisis, when you have the movement of the squares in Europe, you had the Arab Spring and you had Occupy. And suddenly, societies are tipping, everybody’s in the streets, but there isn’t a clear demand of what the alternative to this failed model is. And I think that in the intervening years, so many people who were part of those movements have taken the responsibility of coming up with an alternative vision and an alternative plan really seriously.

And so now when we have one of those tipping moments, I don’t think we are going to make the same mistake of like opening up a vacuum that somebody else can exploit. Like the far right, which is what has happened in too many instances. And so that’s why I think it is so exciting that you have movements that are not just oppositional, but [propositional].

You started with saying natural human instincts were kind of broken by reality, by the condition of lives that we’ve made through our priority-setting at the government level. In a sense, I’m hearing we need to reclaim our gut instincts about things.

Well, I think what we need to do is figure out what are the policies that light up the best parts of ourselves, because we are complicated…. We are that person that rushes in to the disaster zone with everything we can carry and just wanting to help. And we are that person who just wants to hoard….

Don’t take too much.

… And protect. And different policies light up different parts of ourselves. And when you have a society in which economic precarity and competition are rampant, you light up the hoard and you suppress the share. And there are policies that create a baseline level of security. And this is why it is so important that we are talking about Medicare for All, we are talking about everybody’s right to education at every level. We are talking about the right to a living wage. We are talking about putting in policies that address that core insecurity that allow people to feel like they don’t just have to hoard. Because we’re going to be tested, and we are already being tested. And so, we have to figure out what kind of people are we going to be and what policies will help us be our best selves.  SOURCE

Canada gets poor marks on latest climate report card


A man walks between flooded houses in Constance Bay northwest of Ottawa on April 26, 2019. Photo by Kamara Morozuk

Countries across the world need to make their 2030 emission targets much more ambitious if the world is to stand a chance of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a major research report says.

And Canada is one of the biggest laggards, far from reaching its own targets which are themselves far from enough to keep warming to that level.

The annual “Brown to Green” report from the Climate Transparency partnership said Canada is far from contributing its fair share toward the 1.5 C goal, with the third most energy-intensive economy in the G20. And that’s despite having one of the cleanest electricity grids.

Canada’s economy expands significantly more energy per dollar of value created than the G20 average. Source: Climate Transparency

“South Korea, Canada and Australia are the G20 countries furthest off track to implement their NDCs,” the report said, referring to the nationally determined contributions countries committed to as part of a global response to the climate crisis.

Those goals are due to be updated in 2020.

The report, which its authors call the most comprehensive review of G20 climate action, was developed by experts from 14 research organizations covering most G20 countries, including Climate AnalyticsNew Climate Institute, and the Energy and Resources Institute.

The climate report card on Canada is pretty grim. Canada’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are much higher than the G20 average, at 18.9 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per person. Much of Canada’s failure to limit overall emissions is due to energy-inefficient buildings and rising pollution from two provinces: Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Those two oil-rich provinces shut out the Liberals and their carbon price in the federal election in October.

On the campaign trail, Trudeau pledged to exceed Canada’s 2030 targets and achieve net zero emissions by 2050 with legally binding five-year targets, but with few details about how to do that. Now the Liberals are back in power, but with a weakened mandate, and facing big questions about how to implement climate policies with a minority government and a divided country.

Researchers who worked on the Climate Transparency report acknowledged the regional differences that complicate national policy-making.

Canada is one of the biggest laggards in the G20 when it comes to climate action, a new report from @ClimateT_G20 says, with emissions from buildings that are twice the G20 average.

“It is definitely not the same to decarbonize Saudi Arabia, or Alberta in Canada, than it is to become a nice Costa Rica,” said Enrique Maurtua Konstantinidis, from Argentina’s Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (Environment and Natural Resources Foundation).

Costa Rica is working to be carbon-free by 2050, with a plan for electric passenger and freight trains in service by 2022, nearly a third of its buses to be electric by 2035, and nearly all cars and buses on the roads to be electric by 2050.

“This brings a lot more challenges. You have a big piece of your economy depending on that … you have an entire population, or part of society, that was built on that production and you are actually telling them that actually has to be gone very soon.”

Canada will need to have a plan to help oil and gas workers, the report said, similar to what is being set up for dislocated coal workers as that energy source is targeted for a full phase-out by 2030.

The 2019 federal budget proposed a dedicated $150-million infrastructure fund to support affected coal communities, in addition to funding for coal worker transition centres.

Ipek Gençsü from the U.K.’s Overseas Development Institute said that various levels of government must work together to solve these tough problems.

“Not everyone can be retrained, we know that, so it’s just having to answer these very real questions,” she said. “But definitely not delaying it and not hiding behind sort of unrealistic scenarios of how much the sectors can continue to provide livelihoods for people, because it’s simply not true anymore.”

Canada’s fossil fuel industry accounts for 1 per cent of the national workforce, concentrated in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador provinces.

A chart from the Carbon Transparency report shows Canada’s emission from fuel combustion by sector

Insufficient goals

Yet even Canada’s goal to reduce emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 is insufficient, the report said, since hitting it would reduce emissions to a range of 518 to 557 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) and Canada needs to get to 327 MtCO2e.

If all countries merely hit their existing 2030 targets, global mean temperature would increase to around 3 C by 2100, said the report, which looked at emissions relating to the production of electricity, transportation, buildings, industry and agriculture.

Keeping the global temperature increase to 1.5 C cuts down the average drought length by more than two-thirds compared to a 3 C rise, limits the growing season’s shrinkage and the reduction of rainfall, and sharply cuts the risk of heat waves that ravage crops.

“G20 countries will have to ratchet up their 2030 emissions targets in 2020 and significantly bolster mitigation, adaptation and finance measures over the next decade,” the report said.

Membership of the G20 consists of 19 individual countries plus the European Union. Collectively, the G20 economies account for roughly 90 per cent of gross world product, and two-thirds of the world population and the world’s land.

Canada could improve its overall performance by adopting a clean fuel standard and enhancing measures to boost zero-emission vehicles, including light and heavy-duty trucks and undertaking deep energy retrofits of existing buildings, a country profile attached to the main ‘Brown to Green’ report said.

Canada’s emissions from buildings — including heating, cooking and electricity use — make up a fifth of its total CO2 emissions.

On the plus side, Canada has reduced the energy intensity of its buildings by almost 10 per cent between 2013 and 2018, although on a per capita basis they remain more than double the G20 average.

The full report and G20 country profiles can be accessed at the Climate Transparency website. SOURCE

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UK Labour members launch Green New Deal inspired by US activists

Grassroots group calls on party to commit to decarbonising UK economy within a decade


The US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez inspired Labour members to form the Green New Deal group. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Labour members have launched a grassroots campaign to push the party to adopt a radical Green New Deal to transform the UK economy, tackle inequality and address the escalating climate crisis.

The group, inspired by the success of the Sunrise Movement and the Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the US, is calling on Labour to commit to radical action to decarbonise the UK economy within a decade.

A spokesperson for the group, called Labour for a Green New Deal, said: “Climate change is fundamentally about class, because it means chaos for the many while the few profit.

“We’re starting a campaign to put the labour movement at the forefront of a green transformation in Britain, and to build grassroots support for a Green New Deal within the Labour party.”

The campaign is calling for a region-specific green jobs guarantee, a significant expansion of public ownership and democratic control of industry, as well as mass investment in public infrastructure. MORE

UK LABOUR PARTY PROMISES ‘ECONOMIC REVOLUTION’ TO TACKLE CLIMATE, CREATE GREEN JOBS

An “economic revolution to tackle the climate crisis, using the full power of the state to decarbonize the economy and create hundreds of thousands of green jobs in struggling towns and cities” would be in the offing for the United Kingdom if the opposition Labour party formed a government, The Guardian reports, citing an interview with the party’s shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey.

“It could not be made clearer to us, and people are starting to realize how incredibly dangerous this situation is,” Long-Bailey said in a late December interview. “There is no option but to radically transform our economy.” MORE