Naomi Klein On Looming Eco-Fascism: ‘We Are Literally And Politically Flammable’

The intellectual godmother of the Green New Deal movement laid out what, exactly, such a plan must entail to be successful.

Image result for naomi klein green new deal

Naomi Klein appears on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman. (YouTube s

California burned. The Amazon burned. Greenland burned. Siberia burned. Indonesia burned. Australia’s ongoing fires look hellish.

Now, last year’s global inferno looks to Naomi Klein, the author and intellectual godmother of the Green New Deal movement, like a lit fuse to a fascist future.

“We’re in a moment where we are literally flammable,” Klein, whose latest book “On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal” was published in September, said on a recent afternoon. “But we are also politically flammable.”

In 2019, some factions of the global far-right that gained power in the past decade started to abandon their traditional climate denialism and adopt new rhetoric that looks increasingly eco-fascist, an ideology that defends its violent authoritarianism as necessary to protect the environment.

In France, the leader of the far right, Marine Le Pen, refurbished Nazi-era blood-and-soil rhetoric in a pledge to make Europe the “world’s first ecological civilization,” drawing a distinction between the “ecologist” social groups who are “rooted in their home” and the “nomadic” people who “have no homeland” and “do not care about the environment.” In Germany, the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party’s Berlin youth wing urged its leaders to abandon climate denialism. The manifestos posted online by the alleged gunmen in massacres from Christchurch, New Zealand, and El Paso, Texas, explicitly cited climate change as a motivation for murdering immigrants and minorities.

“This is what it means to have people so close to the edge,” Klein said. “There is a rage out there that is going to go somewhere, and we have demagogues who are expert at directing that rage at the most vulnerable among us while protecting the most powerful and most culpable.”

The solution, she said, is to enact the kind of Green New Deal that progressives in the United States and elsewhere started fleshing out over the past year. The proposal ― more of a framework than a policy ― calls for the most generous expansion of the social safety net in decades. It promises good-paying, federally backed jobs for workers displaced by the transition away from fossil fuels, and those struggling to get by with stagnant wages and insecure gig-economy and retail jobs.

Klein, a journalist and author whose work over the past decade thrust pointed critiques of capitalism into the mainstream debate over climate change, has campaigned in recent months for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as he runs for the 2020 Democratic nomination on a platform that includes a sweeping, $16.3 trillion Green New Deal.

HuffPost sat down with Klein to discuss her latest book and what comes next in the climate fight.

In Spain, there are competing versions of a Green New Deal. In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo called his clean energy proposal a “green new deal.” The European Commission is pushing a “green deal.” Are you worried about Green New Deal branding being coopted by advocates of austerity and centrism? How do you fight back against that? 

Any phrase can be coopted and watered down. The main reason why I wanted to write the book is to help define what a transformational Green New Deal has to mean, to put more details out there. Any vague proposal is vulnerable to what you’re describing. The reason why I’m using the phrase now is because it is being used in a climate-justice context and the parameters that have been put around it by the resolution sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) — and further supported by the Sanders campaign and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s (D) campaigns — have made it more detailed.

Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein speaks to the media before speaking at the Willy Brandt Foundation in December. CARSTEN KOALL VIA GETTY IMAGES

But I still think there are parts of the discussion that we need to talk about — like the danger of a Green New Deal inadvertently failing to lower emissions in line with what scientists are telling us we need to do, and what sort of mechanisms need to be in place to prevent a carbon bubble that could be generated by rolling out a bunch of new infrastructure and creating a whole bunch of jobs.

How has the emergence of the Green New Deal changed the way we talk about neoliberalism? The movement seems to take the governing ideology of the past five decades as a given, yet we still have certain pundits questioning whether “neoliberalism” even exists. 

It’s so interesting, this. I’ve been trying to understand what the insistence on refusing to understand neoliberalism is all about. In most parts of the world there was a discussion about the phenomenon of neoliberalism and there was a name for it, while in the United States, people were always asking what neoliberalism was. It was always about what hegemony means and that it was an ideology that didn’t want to recognize itself as an ideology. Rather, it sees itself as seriousness and commonsense. The very fact of being named as an ideology, as a contested ideology that had opponents at every stage, was antithetical to the project. How it’s possible to still deny that there is a thing called neoliberalism ― understanding that the term gets thrown around, and every term gets used and abused ― but the insistence that it doesn’t exist is about a desire to not debate it on its merits, to not reckon with the history of how it was imposed through tremendous violence in many parts of the world.

A true Green New Deal platform makes visible that the failure to act in the face of the climate crisis is not the result of something innate in humans. It’s the reality that the things that we need to do to lower emissions while avoiding a massive backlash ― while bringing the population along with you, which is what you have to do in a democracy ― require breaking every single rule in the neoliberal playbook.

Can you briefly define it?

Neoliberalism is a clear set of policy frameworks which used to be called the “Washington consensus.” It’s privatization of the public sphere. It’s deregulation of the corporate sphere. It’s low taxes for corporations and all of this offset with austerity and public cutbacks of the social sphere. That in turn creates more of an argument for privatization, because you starve the public sphere. And all of it is locked in with technocratic-seeming arrangements like free trade deals.

And a progressive Green New Deal would be a reversal of these trends? 

That is what the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has told us we need to do. We need unprecedented transformation in every aspect of society: Energy, transportation, agriculture, built environment. That requires huge investments in the public sphere. It requires regulating corporations. It requires getting some money from somewhere, and usually involves raising taxes on the wealthy. And if you want to do it democratically, you need to do it in a way that is fair. That means creating a lot of well-paying jobs and improving services, so you’re not just adding burdens onto people’s daily lives.

Besides the obvious, what are some obstacles to this project?

It so happens that we have a lot of trade agreements that our governments have signed that make a lot of the things we need to do illegal under international law. So, a lot of those trade agreements are going to have to go.

The reason why we haven’t done these things is we’ve been trying to do them in the constraints and confines of the neoliberal imaginary. That’s the only reason we’re actually now finally talking about solutions: We’re in the midst of a democratic socialist revival, which is breathing oxygen into the political imagination and made us think that maybe we can do things again. The Green New Deal has made visible the constraints, the actual barriers to what it would take to deal with this crisis.

Why can’t a market-based solution deliver on those goals? 

The Green New Deal is certainly making visible the tremendous costs of the neoliberal project. There have been so many attacks on public goods, on public services like transportation, on trade unions, on worker rights of every kind, on living standards. Climate policies that adhere to a neoliberal framework ― like introducing a marginal carbon tax or a buying a fleet of electric buses (but you want to do it in a “fiscally responsible” way, so then you increase bus fares) …  We are seeing these huge, popular resistances.

It’s the reality that the things that we need to do to lower emissions while avoiding a massive backlash … requires breaking every single rule in the neoliberal playbook. Naomi Klein

We saw it in France when President Emmanuel Macron introduced a tax on gasoline. We saw it in Chile with President Sebastián Piñera, ahead of the U.N. climate summit, when they bought a whole bunch of electric buses in order to make their public transit appear green. But, of course, because Chile has been the laboratory for neoliberalism since 1973, they have rules in place that say all of your expenditures have to be offset, so they increased transit fares. That was the spark that set off the Chilean uprising.

A thing I’ve been thinking about a lot, which you write about in the book, is the looming threat of eco-fascism. It’s been hard not to think about that over the past few months, as you’ve had these different shooters in El Paso and Christchurch citing environmental concerns in their manifestos and you have somebody like Marine Le Pen talking about borders as a climate policy and “nomadic” people having no appreciation for the need to make France an ecological society. How quickly do you think this kind of right-wing, climate fascism is going to spread? What besides adopting equitable policies can you do to fight back against that? 

These types of policies that make life more secure for people, that could tamp down the political flammability of the moment we’re in, are absolutely necessary. I don’t think they’re sufficient. I don’t think there’s any way that we move forward without a frontal confrontation with white supremacy. Which isn’t to say “Oh, just fund schools and hospitals and create lots of jobs and it’ll take care of itself.” We need both: We have to address the underlying supremacist logics in our societies and we also need to do what is necessary to be less flammable.

I want to be clear: I don’t think there are any shortcuts where we don’t actually have to battle supremacist logics. And it’s different in different parts of the world. In the United States, it’s white supremacy, it’s Christian supremacy, it’s male supremacy. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India right now, it’s Hindu supremacy; under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it’s Jewish supremacy. It’s all very, very similar. As I argue in the book, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that supremacists have come to power at the very moment when the climate crisis becomes pretty much impossible to deny.

Do you think that’s a blindspot for the climate movement at large? It seems like there has been this consensus for a long time that, if only we could exorcise denialism from the polity, then people would embrace social democratic policies to deal with emissions. Is there any evidence for that? 

It’s a massive blindspot. The assumption that the biggest problem we’ve had is just convincing the right to believe in the scientific reality of climate change was a failure to understand that the right denied climate change not because they didn’t understand the science, but because they objected to the political implications of the science. They understood it better than many liberals understood it.

This is the argument I made after spending some time at the Heartland Institute conference and interviewing [co-founder] Joseph Bast, who was very honest about his motivation. He understood that if the science was true, then the whole reason for the Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank that exists to advance the neoliberal project, would crumble. He said to me that if it was true, then any kind of regulation would be possible, because in the name of safeguarding the habitability of the planet, you’d need to regulate.

It was never about the science or needing someone to patiently explain the science to you. It was always about the political implications of the science.

That said, I think there are lots of people who are not hardcore climate deniers but who are just exposed to a certain kind of right-wing media and haven’t heard the counter arguments, and could absolutely be persuaded. But if you’re talking about the hardcore denier, it’s an epic waste of time, because you’re dealing with somebody who has an intensely hierarchical worldview, which is what all the studies show. That’s just a nice way of saying somebody is racist: It means you’re OK with massive levels of inequality, you think the people who are doing well in the world are doing well because they’re somehow better and the people who are poor and suffering are experiencing this through some cultural or biological failure of their own making.

White nationalists march on the grounds of the University of Virginia ahead of the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. Many of the white supremacists in attendance chanted “blood and soil.” STEPHANIE KEITH / REUTERS

So what happens when those people stop denying climate change? 

If you convince those people climate change really is real, or if it just becomes so obvious that they can no longer deny it, they don’t suddenly want to sign onto the Paris Agreement. What actually happens is they apply that intensely hierarchical supremacist worldview to the reality that what climate change means is that the space for people to live well on this planet is contracting. More and more of us are going to have to live on less and less land, even if we do everything right. It’s already happening. So if you have that worldview, then you will apply it to people who are migrating to your country and to those who want to migrate to your country. We will harden the narratives that say those people deserve what they get because they’re inferior and we deserve what we have because we’re superior. In other words, the racism will get worse.

One last question. Former Secretary of State John Kerry just announced a new project, this star-studded effort called World War Zero, saying we’ve got to have war footing on climate change but we’re not married to any specific policy. John Kasich, the Republican former governor of Ohio, was quoted in The New York Times saying he was on board because it’s policy agnostic and if there were a “no frackers” provision, he wouldn’t join. Is there a danger to these elite, “let’s just do something about climate change” efforts?

There would be a huge danger if there wasn’t a powerful movement today pushing for a Green New Deal at the same time. The idea that what we need to just scare people in this moment, or just get people to understand that we’re in an emergency and once we’re on emergency footing, this will somehow solve itself, that’s a very dangerous theory of change.

I began writing about climate change while I was writing about something I called the “shock doctrine,” which says that for the past four decades, states of emergency have been systematically harnessed by the most powerful and wealthy forces in our society to impose policies that are so harmful and unpopular that they are unable to impose them under normal circumstances.

I get my back up when people just say all we need to do is get people to understand we’re in a crisis. There are many ways of responding to a climate emergency, and a lot of them are very harmful. You could decide to dim the sun with solar radiation management. You could decide that you need a massive expansion of nuclear power and ignore the impact on the people whose lands are being poisoned. You could decide to fortress your borders. There are any number of emergency responses to climate change that could make our world much more unjust than it currently is.

That said, I’m not too bothered by the idea that there’s going to be a lot of people out there just screaming “fire!” For the first time since I’ve been involved in the climate movement, there’s now a critical mass of people out there who have a plan for putting out the fire that is robust, justice-based, science-based and has a movement behind it. That’s the movement for a Green New Deal. There are enough of us out there who can harness that energy and direct it in the right way. But we certainly have our work cut out for us.  SOURCE

Resistance in the Anthropocene

Should we turn to civil disobedience to avert looming ecological disaster?

Extinction Rebellion on the streets of London. Credit: Shutterstock.

People in the UK just experienced a weird, time-shifted summer — in the final two weeks of February.

In west London the temperature peaked at 21.2C. That’s the hottest February day ever recorded in the UK, and the first time a temperature above 20C has been seen in winter.

The February summer wasn’t limited to Britain. Amsterdam also recorded its hottest ever February day, with a peak temperature of 18.4C.

The sudden shift in temperatures was so extreme that climate scientists struggled to analyse it. Dutch scientist Geert Jan van Oldenborgh said that according to current models the probability of a 21C February day in London was close to zero:

‘This is an incredible jump in record temperatures. If you asked me a few months ago, I would have said it is ridiculous…It’s at least a one-in 200-year event, but it could be more because my statistical tools break down.’

Extinction Rebellion was founded in London in 2018. It is an international movement for direct, non-violent action to avert ecological collapse.

The movement was launched by a letter signed by a host of leading academics. It’s worth quoting from at length:

‘Humans cannot continue to violate the fundamental laws of nature or of science with impunity. If we continue on our current path, the future for our species is bleak…When a government wilfully abrogates its responsibility to protect its citizens from harm… it has failed in its most essential duty of stewardship. The ‘social contract’ has been broken, and it is therefore not only our right, but our moral duty to bypass the government’s inaction and flagrant dereliction of duty, and to rebel to defend life itself.’

Among the movement’s demands are ‘legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025’ and the establishment of a new national Citizens’ Assembly to oversee climate action.

Extinction Rebellion activists. Credit: Shutterstock

The movement held a Rebellion Day in London in November; more than 6,000 people turned out to block the five main bridges over the River Thames, causing disruption for several hours. There were over 70 arrests; many members of Extinction Rebellion say they are prepared to go to prison as a result of their action. Similar days of resistance are planned.

The movement is leading a new wave of direct action on the environment. Schools 4 Climate Action has seen tens of thousands of pupils in Germany, Sweden, Australia and the UK absent themselves from classrooms and march for action on climate change. Meanwhile, nascent group BirthStrike represents people who say they won’t have children in the face of what they believe is likely and imminent environmental and social breakdown.

When is rebellion against your own government justified? That question haunted the thinkers at the foundation of modern political philosophy.

In the dark masterpiece that is The Leviathan, published in 1651, Thomas Hobbes infamously told readers that direct action against the state can never be right. John Locke replied with Two Treatises of Government, which argued that citizens have a right to overthrow a government that fails to protect their life and liberty. It’s from Locke that people in the west indirectly take much of their understanding of how citizens stand in relation to the state.

The shadow that haunted Locke and his contemporaries was one familiar to any reader in the 17th-century. That is, tyranny: the frightening possibility of an unjust king who abuses his subjects.

Today, we live under a different shadow. The shadow of looming and self-inflicted ecological catastrophe. We are having to adjust ourselves to the weirding of the global climate. Unseasonable or downright freakish weather — and the otherworldly feeling it creates — is a part of our lives now. And there is no serious disagreement on the causes.

And yet we can’t stop. Burning petrol in our cars. Taking flights. Eating huge quantities of meat. And all the rest of it.

In the second decade of the 21st-century, citizens of the industrialised world are trapped inside a broken logic that makes two contradictory demands of us. We know we can’t go on with the carbon-fuelled lifestyles that are destroying the environment. Meanwhile, we know we have to go on with those lifestyles. Not because we want to wreck the planet. But because we want to be able get to work in the morning. To light our homes at night. To visit our sick aunt on the other side of town. To have a social life. To just exist.

Thomas Hobbes — The Leviathan

‘I can’t go on like this; I must go on like this’. That is an impossible predicament, and increasingly there’s a kind of psychic strain associated with it. People can live a contradiction for so long. But at some point it has to break.

For the rising numbers of people — still a tiny minority overall — committing to direct action on the climate, that breaking point has surely come. They’re motivated by a sense of urgency. And also by a growing fear that our democracies are not able properly to cognize or take action on looming ecological breakdown.

Underlying that fear is another: that for most people the contradiction that is ‘I can’t go on like this; I must go on like this’ will prove tolerable for decades to come. After all, modern living has abstracted people so far from the natural world that for long swathes of day-to-day life, this contradiction can be experienced as a kind of far-distant hum. One that’s possible, with hardly any effort at all, to push to the margins of your awareness.

What action do you take if you authentically believe the people around you are sleepwalking towards a disaster that will encompass them and you? What action is legitimate? Is it okay to block roads? To occupy government buildings? Is it okay to make people poorer? Is it okay to use violence?

Today, we urgently need new theories of legitimate direct action and resistance, centred on looming environmental catastrophe.

Indeed, we need a broader restatement of the relationship between government and its citizens. One that allows us to imagine new forms of government. Forms that are shaped not around the problems of the 17th-century but around those of the 21st: climate change, runaway technologies, porous borders and more.

For the last three decades, triumphant neoliberalism persuaded many that we could transcend the messy business of politics. Instead, all we had to do was let markets work. Politics, or even worse, ideology, would only hold us back. That idea helped shape Silicon Valley tech-utopianism, which saw questions of human collective life and organization as engineering problems to be solved. It’s even visible today in the absurd idea that there is no need for political action on climate change, and instead we should simply let techno-capitalism advance at maximum speed because it will inevitably find a solution soon.

In 2019, neoliberal, globalised capitalism is facing some challenges. Tech-utopianism isn’t in such great health, either. Those developments, along with ever-more visible climate weirding, have exposed the idea that we can transcend politics and shown it for what it really is. That is, an ideology in its own right, and one that fundamentally mistakes the nature of human collective life. In reality, there can be no escape from the political. From questions of how to live together, and how to parse between different accounts of ultimate values.

Ranglen, Shutterstock

The system we inhabit is now stuck. Its internal logic is one of perpetual, carbon-fuelled growth and rising affluence — a logic that demands we keep turning the wheels of techno-capitalism ever faster. Meanwhile, the external reality is one of a finite environment that makes perpetual growth impossible, and looming ecological breakdown that demands that we stop turning those wheels. Pulled in two different directions at once, our system is frozen, motionless, in danger of being ripped apart.

That stasis can’t hold for ever. Extinction Rebellion and other movements like it are the first, faint signals that change is coming. The consequences of their action— blocked roads, lost productivity — are more than just an inconvenient but necessary reminder of the damage we’re doing to the planet. They are a reflection of the deep contradiction that currently has our system locked in a death spiral. In them we can see the first glimmerings of something new — the beginnings of a search for a new vision of our collective life.

That is a journey we can no longer postpone, whatever the inconvenience. Indeed, inconvenience is going to have be part of the point.

The structural changes we need to make are vast. But we can’t hide from the truth any longer. The resistance is justified. SOURCE

 

 

 

A burning case for a radical future: Naomi Klein says UBC needs to get with the program


Naomi Klein wrapped up the final leg of her book tour on October 26 Chan Centre

Naomi Klein wrapped up the final leg of her book tour on October 26, presenting at UBC’s Chan Centre for a sold out venue as part of the Vancouver Writers Festival.

Klein opened the event with a discussion on her new book and was joined by Kanahus Manuel, an Indigenous land defender from the Secwepemc territories as well as event moderator, UBC School of Journalism Professor Kathryn Gretsinger.

Klein’s seventh book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, focuses on the interconnectedness of what she refers to as simultaneous planetary and political “fires.” These fires are both literal in reference to rising temperatures and climate crisis, as well as in a metaphorical sense; With references to global political crises and the rise of fascism under figures like Trump, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Modi in India and Kashmir, and Duterte in the Philippines, to name a few she touched on.

“A clear formula is emerging between many of these fascist figures who are trading tactics,” she said.

In her opening address Klein emphasized themes from her book, particularly that climate destruction systematically intensifies pre-existing societal inequalities and vulnerabilities. She cited the historic 2017 wildfires in BC as an example, sharing that while smoke hung over the entire Lower Mainland for weeks on end, it was Indigenous communities whose wellbeing was disproportionately affected, along with undocumented migrant workers working in BC’s interior.

Klein brought hope to the on-stage conversation by addressing that while political and planetary fires are raging, metaphorical ‘personal’ fires are also on the rise, and continue to spark global social movements, from Haiti to Chile to Lebanon and beyond.

From racism to colonialism, imperialism, neoliberalism, extractivism, eco-fascism, climate destruction, poverty and despair, in Klein’s words, these struggles can be tackled all at the same time rather than as single-voter issues.

“The fight for Indigenous rights and title is absolutely inseparable from the fight for a habitable planet. They are one and the same,” Klein stated emphatically in the two hour event.

Klein’s book is dedicated to the late Secwepemc leader and activist Arthur Manuel. His daughter, Kanahus Manuel — founder of the Tiny House Warriors movement in BC — joined her on stage for the event. Manuel reiterated the interconnectedness of Indigenous land rights as central to movements for climate justice, particularly as the Canadian government has repeatedly stated it’s intent to go on with Trans Mountain Pipeline construction despite a lack of Indigenous peoples’ consent.

Image result for kanahus manuelBearing a broken wrist and a defiantly raised fist, in a voice that was calm and contained, Manuel recounted a chilling incident of police violence from the week before.

“As I stand here today, I have this cast as proof of what Canada does to Indigenous people when they stand up for Indigenous land rights. There are mothers and children on the front lines.

“I don’t want anyone here to ever have to feel how this feels — for the RCMP to come and break your wrist at your home and take you away for three days without medical attention.”

Manuel was referring to her arrest the week before, when she and other Secwepemc land defenders had been resisting as federal pipeline developers encroached onto unceded Secwepemc territories.

“We expected them to deal with the matter in a diplomatic way; this is supposed to be a first world country,” said Manuel.

As Manuel handed the microphone back to Klein, she received a standing ovation from the packed Chan Centre audience, members of the audience joining her in standing with fists raised in unison with her own stance. MORE

Naomi Klein Knows a Green New Deal Is Our Only Hope Against Climate Catastrophe

In her new book, Klein argues that our current crisis cannot be separated from a long history and brutal present of human exploitation.

KLEIN-COVER SPLIT
Naomi Klein. (Photo by Kourosh Keshiri)

When I spoke with Naomi Klein in August, it was day 13 of Greta Thunberg’s transatlantic crossing on the Malizia II, a zero-emissions racing sailboat. Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who doesn’t fly because of the carbon impact, was making her way to Manhattan for the UN Climate Action summit. Klein’s new book, On Fire: The Burning Case for the Green New Deal, opens with a portrait of Thunberg and a discussion of the youth climate movement. For decades, Klein writes, children have been used as mere rhetorical devices in the discourse of climate change. We have been implored to act on climate change for the sake of “our children.” But, as Klein told me, it is “obvious that this has not worked to inspire decision-makers to do what was necessary.” Now, young people are no longer content to be treated as tropes. “They are speaking and striking and marching for themselves, and they are issuing the verdicts about the entire political class that has failed them.”

The essays collected in On Fire also come together around a central verdict: that the climate crisis cannot be separated from centuries of human exploitation. Colonialism, indigenous genocide, slavery, and climate disruption all share a history. Not only did these historical processes establish the extractive industries that have led to climate change, but they established an extractive mindset, “a way of viewing both the natural world and the majority of its inhabitants as resources to use up and then discard,” Klein writes. Climate activism must fight both. We need a “shift in worldview at every level.”

For Klein, the Green New Deal represents precisely this. Formulated by climate activists and proposed by representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey, the Green New Deal offers a way to transform our infrastructure at the scale and speed required by climate change while simultaneously transforming the economic model and underlying worldview that has caused it. Detractors may call it a random laundry list of progressive initiatives, but for Klein the brilliance of the Green New Deal lies in its supposition that its initiatives—from renewable energy to universal health care—are anything but unrelated. Ecological breakdown and economic injustice are inextricably linked. The solution must be holistic. The Green New Deal offers a way both to “get clean” and to “redress the founding crimes of our nations.”

We spoke about the politics of the climate crisis and the “almost unbearably high” stakes of the 2020 election. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

—Lynne Feeley

Lynne Feeley: Many of the essays in the book focus on what you call the “deep stories” that are interfering with people’s willingness to confront the climate crisis. Can you discuss what these stories are and how they are blocking climate action?

Naomi Klein: Some are the economic stories of neoliberalism—about how things go terribly wrong when people try to work together and how, if we just get out of the way of the market and let it do its magic, the benefits will trickle down to everyone else. I’ve written a lot over the years about how the orthodoxy of neoliberalism—privatization, deregulation, low taxes, cuts to social spending—conflicts very, very frontally with what we need to do in the face of the climate crisis. MORE

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On Fire Book Review: Naomi Klein Beckons Us to Look Behind the Burning Climate Curtain

Solving the ecological crisis requires a mass movement: system change, not climate change

“Solving the ecological crisis requires a mass movement to take on hugely powerful industries. Yet environmentalism’s base in the professional-managerial class and focus on consumption has little chance of attracting working-class support. This article argues for a program that tackles the ecological crisis by organizing around working-class interests.”

Image result for working-class interests Had it not been for working class movements, what would our society be like? We should ask: In Sweden and Norway, where the working class took power and set the direction for a democratic society, what were the results?

The climate and ecological crisis is dire and there’s little time to address it. In just over a generation (since 1988), we have emitted half of all historic emissions.1 In this same period the carbon load in the atmosphere has risen from around 350 parts per million to over 410 — the highest level in 800,000 years (the historic preindustrial average was around 278).2Human civilization only emerged in a rare 12,000 year period of climate stability — this period of stability is ending fast. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report suggests we have a mere twelve years to drastically lower emissions to avoid 1.5 C warming — a level that will only dramatically increase the spikes in extreme superstorms, droughts, wildfires, and deadly heat waves (to say nothing of sea-level rise).3 New studies show changing rainfall patterns will threaten grain production like wheat, corn, and rice within twenty years.4 A series of three studies suggest as early as 2070, half a billion people will, “experience humid heat waves that will kill even healthy people in the shade within 6 hours.”5You don’t have to be a socialist to believe the time frame of the required changes will necessitate a revolution of sorts. The IPCC flatly said we must immediately institute “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”6 The noted climate scientist Kevin Anderson said, “… when you really look at the numbers behind the report, look at the numbers the science comes out with, then we’re talking about a complete revolution in our energy system. And that is going to beg very fundamental questions about how we run our economies.”7

The radical climate movement has long coalesced around the slogan “system change, not climate change.” The movement has a good understanding that capitalism is the main barrier to solving the climate crisis. Yet sometimes the notion of “system change” is vague on howsystems change. The dilemma of the climate crisis is not as simple as just replacing one system with another — it requires a confrontation with some of the wealthiest and most powerful sectors of capital in world history. This includes a mere 100 companies responsible for 71 percent of the emissions since 1988.8 The fossil fuel industry and other carbon-intensive sectors of capital (steel, chemicals, cement, etc.) will not sit by and allow the revolutionary changes that make their business models obsolete. MORE

NOTES:

    1. Paul Griffin, The Carbon Majors Database: CDP Carbon Majors Report 2017(London: Carbon Disclosure Project, 2017), 5.
    2.  Elizabeth Gamillo, “Atmospheric carbon last year reached levels not seen in 800,000 years” Science.
    3.  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Global Warming of 1.5 °C.
    4.  Maisa Rojas, Fabrice Lambert, Julian Ramirez-Villegas, and Andrew J. Challinor, “Emergence of robust precipitation changes across crop production areas in the 21st century,” Proceedings of The National Academy Of Sciences (early view, 2019).
    5.  Climate Guide Blog: “Non-survivable humid heatwaves for over 500 million people,” March 9, 2019.
    6.  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC approved by governments,” October 8, 2018.
    7.  Democracy Now, “Climate Scientist: As U.N. Warns of Global Catastrophe, We Need a “Marshall Plan” for Climate Change,” October 9, 2018.
    8.  Griffin, 2017.

Naom Chomsky: “The Task Ahead Is Enormous, and There Is Not Much Time”

Now in his 90th year, Noam Chomsky is still blessing us with his insights. Here he is on climate change, US empire, antisemitism, Venezuela, and much more.

Noam Chomsky speaks during a program titled “Why Iraq?” attended by an overflow crowd at Harvard University November 4, 2002 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. William B. Plowman / Getty

Harrison Samphir recently spoke with the renowned dissident and philosopher about climate change, Venezuela, Iran, antisemitism, US empire, and more. Their conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Estimates from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) suggest that, if emissions remain unchanged, by 2100 sea levels could rise by more than eight feet. This would irreversibly affect many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Do you think there’s a chance we may avoid this?

If anything like that happens, the calamity will be on a scale that is almost imponderable, most severe as you say for the poorest and most vulnerable, but awful enough for the rest of society as well. And it is not the most threatening current projection. We are approaching ominously close to the level of global warming 125,000 years ago when sea levels were 6–9 meters higher than today, and the rapid melting of Antarctic sea ice threatens to narrow the gap, possibly by nonlinear acceleration, some recent studies suggest.

Is there a chance to avoid such catastrophes? No doubt. There are well-worked out and sound proposals; economist Robert Pollin’s work on a Green New Deal is the best I know. But the task ahead is enormous, and there is not much time. The challenge would be great even if states were committed to overcoming it. Some are. But it is impossible to overlook the fact that the most powerful state in human history is under the leadership of what can only be accurately described as a gang of arch-criminals who are dedicated to racing to the cliff with abandon.

…I don’t think we can count on market forces. The time scale is all wrong. Much more drastic action is needed. Those most responsible for destroying the environment can be curbed by regulatory mechanisms that are in principle available, and should be under democratic control. It’s not just a matter of curbing major polluters. Major structural changes are necessary to deal with what is in fact an existential crisis: efficient mass transportation to mention only one example. Far more substantial efforts in decarbonization, to mention another. Here the market is sending all the wrong signals, lethally in this case. Venture capital can make more profit with new apps for iPhones than in long-term investment for decarbonization, which is starved for funds.

It is well to recall the warning of Joseph Stiglitz thirty years ago in a World Bank Research Publication, before he became chief economist of the World Bank (and a Nobel laureate): we should beware of “the religion” that markets know best. “Religion” is not a bad term for the obsession with market solutions in the neoliberal age. And like other fanatic religious beliefs, it has led to not a few disasters.

It is hard even to find words to capture the scale of the crimes they are contemplating. A small but telling example is a 500-page environmental assessment produced by Trump’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calling for cancelling new automotive emissions standards. They have a sound argument. The study projects that by the end of the century temperatures will have risen 4 degrees Centigrade. Auto emissions don’t add that much, and since the game is pretty much over, why not have fun while we can — fiddling while the planet burns.

It’s hard to find the words to comment — and in fact it passed with little notice.

The attitudes of the leadership influence opinion in the Republican Party, whose members typically do not see global warming as a particularly serious problem. In fact it is ranked very low among crucial issues by the population in general (and the growing threat of nuclear war, the second existential issue, is not even listed in attitude surveys). MORE

 

Instead of squabbling over scarce jobs and incomes, we should jointly strive for a fair economic system

NYC ShutItDown People’s Monday march for Berta Cáceres in 2017. Photo: Alec Perkins/Wikimedia Commons

There’s an African proverb that is becoming uncomfortably apt to apply to many workers and citizens: “As the waterhole becomes smaller, the animals get meaner.”

In other words, as basic needs dwindle, so does the willingness to share what’s left. The merits of community and co-operation are superseded by a selfish survival-of-the-fittest mentality.

A big difference, however, exists between what happens at a shrinking waterhole in Africa and what happens in Canada when good-paying jobs are reduced, incomes fall or stagnate, and government services are cut back. The African waterhole gets smaller because of a drought. It’s a natural and unavoidable phenomenon. In Canadian society, however, the necessities of life for the most vulnerable among us are being deliberately restricted.

Our welfare “waterhole” is being siphoned away, its contents inequitably transferred from the pockets of the poor into the bulging bank accounts and stock portfolios of the rich and powerful.

There is no shortage of money in Canada. Our per-capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — the country’s entire financial output — has more than doubled over the past 50 years. But its dispersal has been ruthlessly skewed to favour the most opulent among us. Corporate executives, bankers, major investors and financiers wallow in wealth, much of it derived from taxpayer-funded billion-dollar bailouts of big corporations.

Maldistribution of income

That a barbaric maldistribution of income leaves millions of citizens, including hundreds of thousands of children, destitute and undernourished doesn’t bother the elite in the least. Their cherished capitalist system inevitably creates many more losers than winners, and always will. That’s its chief purpose. So the diversion of income from the needy to the wealthy is welcomed, and the wealthy can count on their right-wing political minions to block or minimize significant poverty reductions.

As long as progressive activists continue to accept the calamities of runaway capitalism as unpreventable, then their many protests, though admirable on their own, will be ineffectual.

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