Reposted by TVO, Jan 23, 2017
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Reposted by TVO, Jan 23, 2017
By Bert Oliver, reposted from ThoughtLeader, Sept 8, 2016
One of the most revealing threads running through Canadian investigative journalist and tireless anti-capitalism activist, Naomi Klein’s rivetting book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), concerns what she terms the “new climate warriors”, or in one word, “Blockadia”. This unlikely-sounding word names a movement which has arisen in the shape of a diverse array of groups of people who share one thing: to save what’s left of life on the planet from the tireless onslaught of agents representing the dominant economic system, neoliberal capitalism. This is how Klein describes it, specifically as far as corporate attempts at extracting fossil fuels are concerned (p. 254-255):
“Blockadia is not a specific location on a map but rather a roving transnational conflict zone that is cropping up with increasing frequency and intensity wherever extractive projects are attempting to dig and drill, whether for open-pit mines, or gas fracking, or tar sands oil pipelines.
“What unites these increasingly interconnected pockets of resistance is the sheer ambition of the mining and fossil fuel companies: the fact that in their quest for high-priced commodities and higher-risk ‘unconventional’ fuels, they are pushing relentlessly into countless new territories, regardless of the impact on the local ecology (in particular, local water systems), as well as the fact that many of the industrial activities in question have neither been adequately tested nor regulated, yet have already shown themselves to be extraordinarily accident-prone.
“What unites Blockadia too is the fact the people at the forefront — packing local council meetings, marching in capital cities, being hauled off in police vans, even putting their bodies between the earth-movers and earth — do not look much like your typical activist, nor do the people in one Blockadia site resemble those in another. Rather, they each look like the places where they live, and they look like everyone: the local shop owners, the university professors, the high school students, the grandmothers…
“Resistance to high-risk extreme extraction is building a global, grassroots, and broad-based network the likes of which the environmental movement has rarely seen. And perhaps this phenomenon shouldn’t even be referred to as an environmental movement at all, since it is primarily driven by a desire for a deeper form of democracy, one that provides communities with real control over those resources that are most critical to collective survival — the health of the water, air, and soil. In the process, these place-based stands are stopping real climate crimes in progress.”
For make no mistake – these extreme extraction activities are nothing less than “climate crimes”, or crimes against life on the planet, even if they are protected by laws which are designed to benefit oil companies, among others. The aim of such companies’ “lobbying” of lawmakers in the legislative assemblies of many nations is well-known. And the time is coming when such “climate criminals” will face a reckoning of sorts.
In the meantime the “deeper form of democracy” that Klein is talking about will expand apace – her further discussion of its growth leaves one in no doubt that people, including the young, are increasingly fed-up by the inability or unwillingness (or both) of so-called world leaders to tackle the bull by the horns, the recent news that China and the US have ratified the latest climate agreement notwithstanding. Whatever international agreements are arrived at, it remains business as usual for “climate criminals” like the oil companies. Here in South Africa, too, indications are that fracking will be going ahead in the beautiful and fragile Karoo. Who knows, maybe Blockadia will show itself there, too.
People who are uninformed about all of this might wonder what all the fuss is about. If you are one of those, allow me to enlighten you (and I would advise you to read Klein’s book, referred to above – it is freely available online). This is where the other part of this post’s title comes in, namely: “Is Earth F**ked”? In the concluding chapter of the book Klein emphasises how serious the current situation on the planet is (although one might be forgiven for not knowing this, if all you take note of is mainstream news media such as the daily television news) by informing her readers as follows (p. 388-389):
“In December 2012, Brad Werner — a complex systems researcher with pink hair and a serious expression — made his way through the throng of 24,000 earth and space scientists at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. That year’s conference had some big-name participants, from Ed Stone of NASA’s Voyager project, explaining a new milestone on the path to interstellar space, to the filmmaker James Cameron, discussing his adventures in deep-sea submersibles. But it was Werner’s own session that was attracting much of the buzz. It was titled ‘Is Earth F**ked?’ (full title: ‘Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism’).
“Standing at the front of the conference room, the University of California, San Diego professor took the crowd through the advanced computer model he was using to answer that rather direct question. He talked about system boundaries, perturbations, dissipation, attractors, bifurcations, and a whole bunch of other stuff largely incomprehensible to those of us uninitiated in complex systems theory. But the bottom line was clear enough: global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient, and barrier-free that ‘earth-human systems’ are becoming dangerously unstable in response. When a journalist pressed Werner for a clear answer on the ‘Is Earth f**ked’ question, he set the jargon aside and replied, ‘More or less’.”
This rather depressing answer from a complexity theorist, no less, who is in a position to understand the interactions among thousands of planetary processes that escape the attention of most of the rest of us, to arrive at his unsettling prognosis, was mitigated by the fact that he did note the possibility – if not probability – that the entropic process might just encounter a certain resistance along its trajectory (p. 389):
“…movements of ‘people or groups of people’ who ‘adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture.’ According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes ‘environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by Indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups.’ Such mass uprisings of people — along the lines of the abolition movement and the civil rights movement — represent the likeliest source of ‘friction’ to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control”.
The time is overdue for ordinary people to take note of this, and to resist the daily anaesthetic dished out by television sports, soapies and the like, which function to divert their attention from what is really the most attention-worthy process happening under their very noses. It beggars the imagination that, every time one witnesses a report on economic matters, or listens to a discussion of the daily economic indicators, there is no indication at all that economic “growth” is actually a life-threatening problem: the more capitalist economic growth is encouraged and valorised, the less people are made aware of the fact that this is the biggest problem threatening their and their descendants’ very existence. (Governments would do better if they set up training courses for people to learn permaculture, which would teach them how to feed themselves.) Even a primary school pupil is able to understand the statement that: “Infinite economic growth is impossible in a finite eco-system”.
This Changes Everything, based largely on Klein’s 2014 book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism v. the Climate. As it happened, the film’s release coincided with the publication of another book by a Nation contributor, Wen Stephenson’s What We’re Fighting for Now Is Each Other: Dispatches From the Front Lines of Climate Justice (much of which originated in The Nation, and which was excerpted in the October 26 issue). With two projects so closely related, and so closely connected to The Nation, appearing at the same moment, it seemed like an occasion for a dialogue. Stephenson exchanged e-mail with Lewis and Klein last week, and what follows here is their correspondence.Earlier this month, Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein released their new documentary film about the global struggle for climate justice,
* * *
Dear Avi and Naomi,
You’ve given the world a precious gift with This Changes Everything, a remarkably beautiful film, because you’ve not only given us the stories and words but also the faces and the living, breathing voices of people organizing and fighting for survival, and for some hope of justice, on this careening planet—people fighting not only for the earth, or for themselves, but for each other. As someone engaged in that struggle, and as a parent of two young children who face a deeply uncertain future of climate disruption, I can’t thank you enough for this. It has stirred and fortified my will to fight, and I’m certain it will do the same for many others.
There’s a moment in the film which took my breath away. In a sequence of images from Blockadia—that borderless and entirely real country, stretching across this continent, where people have laid their bodies on the line, in some cases risking everything, to confront and resist the fossil-fuel industry—I saw one of those faces, and it was a face I knew. It belongs to a young man named Matt Almonte, who grew up in New Jersey and Florida, and at the age of 21, after spending some time with Occupy Tampa, lit out for the territories and joined the Tar Sands Blockade in East Texas. I write at length about TSB, and briefly about Matt, in What We’re Fighting for Now Is Each Other, exploring what was learned in TSB’s dramatic yet failed campaign of nonviolent direct action, part of a genuine grassroots uprising, to stop the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline—which went operational in January 2014.
When Matt appears on the screen, he’s inside part of that pipeline in the predawn hours as it awaits construction. Matt and another activist named Glen Collins locked their arms to concrete-filled barrels placed inside the pipe, and to one another, in order to prevent construction of that section from going forward. When law enforcement proceeded to use heavy machinery to pull the pipe sections apart, Matt and Glen were almost gruesomely injured, possibly even killed. Basically, their arms could have been torn off. But their screams, and those of their support team, finally convinced the police to stop. Matt spent a month in jail.
Matt told me that he believes the lasting impact of Tar Sands Blockade “was to show ‘ordinary people’ that it’s absolutely vital to take direct action, and that even in a community like East Texas, people are rising against the fossil-fuel industry.” Matt said he identifies more with anarchism than environmentalism, and that the Keystone XL pipeline “isn’t just an environmental issue, it’s a human issue, a social issue.”
To me, one of the most important roles of a radical social movement, in this case the climate-justice movement, is to bear moral witness—to force the issue. It’s to say to politicians, and really the whole mainstream society, “If this is what it’s come to—if I have to risk my life inside a pipe in order to get your attention, and force you to acknowledge the insanity of business as usual—then so be it. Here I stand.” Matt Almonte and Glen Collins are only two such witnesses. There have been countless other examples.
What is it going to take for this country, and for yours, to have an honest debate about the situation we’re in? Here in the US, the Democratic candidates for president are falling over themselves trying to sound serious about the climate—and yet not a single one has actually spelled out for the American people the true scale and urgency of the crisis, what the science tells us is actually necessary to address it, and what the human consequences of failing to address it are likely to be. What will it take to force an honest debate? And what, to your mind, would that debate sound like?
With much gratitude,
* * *
First things first: thanks right back at you for your moving and inspiring book. They have so much in common that it’s tempting to call the overlap in subject and analysis a remarkable coincidence. Except it’s not. These movements really are rising, and people around the world are coming to the same conclusions for a reason.
One of the things we love about What We’re Fighting for Now Is Each Other is that it takes readers inside the pipe—right there on the front lines with the brave and passionate people of Blockadia. And then it discovers that the real battle line is within ourselves. We need more work that zooms in on the point around which this crisis and our very fates will turn: the moment we decide to fight.
In shooting This Changes Everything, we traveled around the world for five years, and met people on the frontlines, from Andhra Pradesh, India, and Tianjin, China, to the Tar Sands of Alberta and the Powder River Basin in Montana. And we tried to capture that same galvanizing moment, when people in communities connect the dots between a proximate threat to their air, land, and water, and the economic logic of endless extraction and consumption that is driving us all over the climate cliff. It is that connection—that you describe so well as not just political, but spiritual—that leads to action, the urge to get off the couch, to put bodies on the line.
In trying to show this moment in film, we shot hundreds of hours of footage, of course, but we also reached out to more than 100 activist filmmakers over these years, seeking footage that would show the breadth as well as the depth of resistance. That’s how we came across the shots of Matt.
Our co-editor Shane Hofeldt spotted a film online called Blockadia Rising, which drew mainly on the Tar Sands Blockade in Texas. As tireless as he is ingenious, Shane reached out the only way he could find, with an email to the “donate” page of TSB’s website. Eventually he connected with the filmmakers, who were incredibly helpful, even as they continued their work of documenting and participating in more direct actions themselves. But connecting was only the first step of an odyssey through corrupted hard drives, repairs, filesharing services with suspended accounts, renewed subscriptions that turned up…the wrong files! The usual unseen and anything-but-glamorous work of documentary filmmaking. A year later, we finally had the high-res files of Matt’s courageous act. And Shane went on to follow a hundred other circuitous routes to documenting Blockadia.
Of course we don’t mean to equate the struggles of storytellers with the infinitely higher-stakes actions of activists on the frontlines. But we share this backstory in the hopes that Matt one day reads it—so that he and Glen and all the other fighters out there know that their courageous actions continue to reverberate, are reaching and changing countless other lives.
This is particularly important because as we’ve learned on our journey through Blockadia, not every action feels like a victory. Matt and Glen’s certainly didn’t. So it’s critical to tell these stories with a longer arc, where you can see the momentum and ripples of these individual acts. Yes, the southern leg of Keystone was built. But the northern leg has not—in fact, in these critical recent years, not a single new major export pipeline from the Tar Sands has broken ground. The kayaktivists in Portland and Seattle didn’t stop Shell from sending its icebreaker and drilling rig to the Arctic. But the delays they created clearly had an impact on the company’s decision to pull out, and the Obama administration’s decision to put up further regulatory barriers to Arctic drilling (of course we still need a clear moratorium).
But to begin to answer your big question: we don’t think these victories in keeping fossil fuels in the ground are enough—on their own—to create the debate about transformative change that this crisis requires. They are buying us time and creating a movement that is beginning to move from the No (keep it in the ground!) to the Yes—what the transition to a post-carbon world must look like.
Which is why we helped launch the Leap Manifesto in Canada, where we live. Emerging from an historic coalition of movement groups across sectors and silos—endorsed by First Nations leaders from the Tar Sands and Black Lives Matter Toronto, migrant rights and anti-poverty groups, big Labor and small business—the manifesto argues that to respond to this crisis we need to move from small-scale solutions to big, ambitious policies. And we outline them: not just moving to 100 percent renewable energy within two decades, not just massive investments in zero-carbon housing and transit, but a vast expansion of the entire existing low-carbon economy—the caregiving economy. Healthcare, education, daycare, the arts, and public interest media.
This is the policy expression of the ringing slogan of the People’s Climate March: to change everything, we need everyone. We’re convinced that to build a movement big enough to take on both austerity and extractivism, we need to lead with an inspiring vision of the world we want—one that will deliver huge benefits to the majority of people, that will solve multiple crises at once.
Can this work? Can we build a movement big and powerful enough to take on the richest industry in history and all the political clout it wields? Well, the odds don’t seem great. But we have no time to wonder and doubt, only just enough time to act. We all have to take a stand where we are. Matt and Glen tried to use their bodies to stop a pipe. As storytellers, we owe it to them to try to change the story.
Avi and Naomi
Basta! : We seem to be heading straight toward climate disaster. We know what will happen if we do nothing about climate change, yet nothing really changes. Why is it so?
Naomi Klein: It’s not that we’re doing nothing – we’re actually actively doing exactly the wrong things. We have an economic system that defines success and progress as infinite economic expansion. Any kind of expansion is deemed good. Our emissions are going up much faster than they were in the 1990s.
In the past decade, we had very high oil prices, which has created huge economic incentives for fossil fuel companies to push into new, more expensive, higher-emitting forms of extraction, such as tar sands and fracking.
We also have a system that allows multinationals to seek out the cheapest means of producing their products, with cheap labour and cheap energy – which has lead to the deregulated burning of coal. All this is making the problem much worse.
You say that transnational corporations such as ExxonMobil, BP and Shell have declared war on the planet…
The business model of these companies is to find new fossil fuel reserves, which is the exact opposite of what we need to do in order to fight climate change. Research from the Carbon Tracker, three years ago, showed that the global fossil fuel industry has five times more carbon in their proven reserves than is compatible with keeping temperatures below 2 degrees warming… That’s the target our governments agreed to in Copenhagen, and that’s a target that is already a very dangerous one for many communities. But it provides us with a global carbon budget.
We know how much carbon can be burned while still giving ourselves a 50-50 chance or better of meeting that target, and these companies have five times more carbon in their reserves than that amount. That explains why fossil fuel companies so actively fight the very dissemination of honest, climate science, why they fund politicians and organisations that deny the science of climate change, and why they fight every serious attempt to respond to climate change, whether it is a carbon tax or whether it is support for renewable energy.
Why such impunity?
Fossil fuel companies, particularly oil companies, are the most powerful companies in the world. Wars have been waged by our governments to protect their interests. It’s in the nature of fossil fuels that they’re concentrated in specific geographical locations, very expensive to get out of the ground, to transport, and to process. And so it lends itself to concentration of wealth and power, with a fairly small number of huge players , both state-run and privately owned, and that kind of concentration of power also lends itself to political corruption, both of the legal kind and the illegal kind. Hence the impunity.
Does this mean the first step of climate action should be to dismantle the power of transnational corporations?
This can mean a lot of different things. One thing we definitely need to do is not increase their power. This is why, more and more, the climate movement is taking an active part in blocking new free-trade deals, like the free-trade deal between Europe and the United States, like the TransPacific Partnership (TPP), like the deal between the EU and Canada, my own country. What these deals do is give new powers to multinational corporations to challenge governments through investors rights clauses, and in particular to challenge sensible climate policies. We already have more than enough evidence of this.
For instance, the Swedish company Vattenfall is challenging the German phaseout of nuclear energy, claiming that it has lost 4.7 billion euros, whereas we might want the German energy transition to be a model for other countries, because it is one of the boldest attempts to transition towards renewable energy. That is sort of ringing out like a warning to governments: “If you do this, then you’ll be prosecuted.”
There are other examples of this in my country, where the province of Quebec banned fracking, which is another example of what we want more governments to do. But under the North American Free Trade Agreement, a US company is challenging this ban on fracking, saying it violates its rights to drill for gas.
So we also need to strip away powers that corporations already have through deals like this. But it depends where you live. In the United States, it’s clear that there needs to be a challenge to corporate personhood, and to the idea that their campaign spending can be treated as free speech. There needs to be much stricter regulations on campaign financing or lobbying by corporations. This is certainly true in the European Union as well.
We need this kind of approach, but we also need more of a grassroots strategy, such as we’re seeing with the fossil fuel divestment movement, which is about delegitimising these companies. It isn’t just about getting a university or a city like Paris to divest from fossil fuels. It’s about making the argument that these are companies that have a business model that is profoundly immoral and that the profits that are gained from this business model are odious profits. And that governments have a right to lay claim to those profits, to pay for the transition away from fossil fuels. That’s where we really need to get to, that will really weaken their power, because what makes them powerful is their massive surplus of profits.
What kind of conversation can we have with the employees of these polluting companies? Can there ever be an alliance with them?
We need a justice-based response to climate change. That’s something that needs to be first codified in policy: we need to define what a just transition looks like and we need to fight for it. Concretely, that means that the workers who would lose their jobs in the fossil fuel sector should be retrained and get new jobs. There would be more jobs to get in renewable energy, because renewable energy, energy efficiency, public transport, etc. create six to eight times more jobs than the extractive sector.
In recent years there were big investments in the extractive sector, a big push for fracking for gas, for offshore drilling. And at the same time, there’s been a huge contraction in the willingness of governments to invest in their energy transitions. All over Europe we’ve seen governments cut their support for renewable energy. If jobs in the extractive sector are the only jobs on the table, of course the trade union movement is going to fight for those jobs.
So it’s the role of an alliance between the labour movement and the climate movement to fight for a vision of bold climate justice job creation. And that’s starting to happen: for instance, a trade union alliance in the UK calling for the creation of a million climate jobs, and articulating what that will look like.
We have to remember that it is not environmentalists who are stealing the jobs away from workers in the fossil fuel sector. Just in the past few months, since the price of oil has dropped so dramatically, in the United States more than 100,000 jobs have been lost in the oil and gas sector. That’s not because of climate activism or environmentalists, that’s because it’s extremely dangerous and volatile to pin your hopes on a commodity like oil and gas, whose price goes up and down.
One of the nice things about wind and solar is that they’re free, they’re the same price all the time and they’re not subject to these boom and bust cycles in the same way. This is actually a key moment to be building that type of alliance, because the deal between workers, trade unions and these multinational corporations has been severed by the companies.
You say that climate change can be seen as an opportunity, and that this transition can also be very exciting. How can we make climate action attractive for people who may think it is a very difficult process?
I don’t think it should be nearly as hard as it seems. What we’re dealing with is the legacy of climate policies of the past two decades, which were not justice based, and which passed the bill for the transition onto consumers, onto working-class people. So there came to be an association between doing something about climate change and increasing the cost of living. It meant paying extra for those green products or for renewable energy. For a little while, there seemed to be a willingness for people to accept that logic, but then the economic crisis hit. People realised that they were already paying to bail out the banks, and started wondering why they should also bail out big polluters, by paying more. At the same time they were seeing that these companies were not penalised, and kept on winning super profits. The injustice of it created a backlash.
We need a very clear and bold vision that explains what a justice-based transition means. It means not passing the bill on to the people who can least afford it, and insisting that the people most responsible for this crisis should pay the bulk of the bill. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be sacrifices across the board, but people are much more willing to make those changes if they see that the costs are distributed justly.
You write in your book that past mobilisations have demonstrated that saying no is not enough, that we need a comprehensive understanding of what is expected to replace this system. Who will lay out this vision?
There needs to be a democratic process to build that vision. I don’t think there’s one vision that will work in France, or even in every part of France, and that the same vision will also work in Canada or India. What we need to do is disseminate examples that are working at every level, whether it’s city level, the regional level or nationally, where groups are coming together to define what a just transition looks like for them.
As part of my work and travels I hear a lot of really good ideas. For instance, there is a big fight on the west Ccoast of the United States, near a place called Bellingham, Washington. It is a very green city, but there is a proposal to build a huge coal export terminal nearby. Initially, it’s been a very ugly fight that has pitted environmentalists against workers. But then a coalition was convened by the city government and the movement against the coal mine, which was also very much led by a local indigenous people, the Lummi nation. The unions came up with a plan to redevelop the waterfront in a different way. It will create jobs for the same workers that would get the jobs in the coal export port, but it would be green development and it would not be about exporting fossil fuels to Asia.
That’s just one example and one project. The key thing is to really get these conversations going, because I’m continually amazed by the extent to which we fail to make connections between, for instance, a fight for affordable public transport and climate change. Or you’ll have a strike of rail workers fighting privatisation, but they will never mention climate change. So there’s this really basic failure to get in the same mode together, and use the power of these arguments to stand up to the pressure of austerity.
You talk about the “new territory”, Blockadia. What is Blockadia ?
Blockadia is sometimes called the fossil fuel resistance movement, and it comes from the movement in the United States against the Keystone XL pipeline. It is is a huge pipeline that a company called TransCanada wants to build from the tar sands region in Alberta down to the Gulf of Mexico. Tar sands oil is one of the dirtiest, highest carbon oils on the planet. When they started to build the pipeline, there was a protest camp that was constructed, people chained themselves to fences and they moved into trees. They called their camp Blockadia.
That word somehow took off and it started to be used wherever people were fighting these extractive projects, whether it was a mine, an export terminal, or fracking. Even though the word itself was born in the US, the tactics of Blockadia are much bolder and really come from the global South. Oil Watch International and EJOLT have done a really great job of mapping this transnational space.
If we want to choose a somewhat arbitrary date for when Blockadia began, it would be the struggle of the Ogoni people against Shell in the 1990s: a successful struggle to kick Shell out of their territory in the Niger delta – Shell has never been able to return.
You seem to expect nothing from the international climate conference in Paris in December 2015. What can be expected from the process of international negotiation?
We have to be very realistic about the fact that it is not going to save the world, that it’s not going to produce an agreement that’s in line with what scientists are telling us we need to do. Scientists are telling us we need to cut our emissions by 8 to 10 per cent a year, starting now. Our governments are talking about cutting emissions by 2 to 3 per cent starting next decade. It’s just not in the same ballpark.
It’s a big mistake to reinforce this narrative that we just have to convince our leaders and suddenly they’re going to become totally different people between now and eight months from now. That’s a recipe for disappointment. That’s what happened with Copenhagen in 2009. A lot of people got deeply depressed afterwards. We need to see Paris as a stop along the road in a long process. The significance of Paris is that, particularly in Europe, there’s been this huge avoidance of the climate issue since the economic crisis hit.
I started the book by saying that it is not only elites that can declare a crisis: regular people or social movements can declare a crisis as well. As we get closer and closer to the summit, there’ll be more and more talk about climate change. So it’s a chance to change the conversation, and to talk about what we should be talking about.
We need to get away from this completely meaningless discourse around “we’re going to be cutting emissions by 20 per cent of the 1990 levels by 2030’” and say, “no, we need to be cutting emissions dramatically now’”. And we need to start by closing off fossil fuel frontiers. I think there’s huge momentum towards a ’keep it in the ground” message. And it might just be possible. A lot can happen in eight months.
Some of it depends on whether the price of oil stays down, because, for instance, in the Alberta tar sands, we’ve been fighting an uphill battle, because it was so incredibly profitable for companies to go into Alberta and dig up that oil. But right now investors are fleeing Alberta. So that context makes it more possible to win a structural victory.
For instance, calling for a ban on Arctic drilling, or for a moratorium on tar sands extraction and a process of winding down that project, which is the largest industrial project on Earth. I have no idea whether it’s possible to get that on the agenda for Paris. It’s not in the negotiation document right now, but I don’t think we should give up on getting that on the agenda.
What would you say to people who want to do something “in their daily lives” to make a difference?
We know the things we can be doing in our daily life to reduce our carbon footprint. A lot of us have already done those things. And we should do them, because it makes us saner and healthier and have less dissonance in our lives. But I also think some of the discouragement people feel is a result of the fact that they have made individual changes and seen that it doesn’t result in structural changes.
That’s why I’m really encouraged by movements like the fossil fuel divestment movement where people are demanding that their universities, their pension funds or their cities divest from fossil fuels. Because it’s important to get the argument out and delegitimise the profits of the sector, but it’s also working at a scale that is more than the individual and less than everything; it’s significant but not completely overwhelming. And it’s part of realizing that we are more powerful when we act together.
Would you say degrowth is a solution?
It’s useful as a diagnostic: we do need to move away from an economic system that has growth as its sole measure of success and of progress. Overall, we need an economic system that does contract our use of resources, particularly fossil fuels. But adopting the banner of degrowth as the goal is a mistake: just because growth is the heart of the problem, it doesn’t follow that degrowth is be the solution. If the problem is measuring success through growth, then the solution, I think, is having another measure of success. Every context is different, but in a lot of contexts – particularly when people are experiencing relentless austerity – using the term degrowth is not a smart communication strategy.
Is there a way to deal with climate change by way of a technical solution, or is everything political?
It’s a combination. Renewable energy is about technology. There have been brilliant advances in all kinds of technologies. Agro-ecological farming is not just a return to traditional farming methods. It’s a combination of ancient knowledge and modern technology. But we can’t get around the fact that there has to be a contraction in our consumption and our use of resources, so only focusing on technology gives a false impression that we don’t have to change anything except for our source of energy.
There also needs to be a strategy to reduce demand, so that we actually use less energy. That’s why just focusing on technology is dangerous. And it’s worse for other technical fixes like geo-engineering, that are more sci-fi: this idea that there’s going to be some magic bullet that will allow us to dim the sun so that we’ll stop warming the planet… That’s an expression of precisely the type of hubristic world view that actually created the problem in the first place.
So is there no way to fight climate change without fighting capitalism?
No, I don’t think there is a way. We’ve been trying that for a long time. But there’s still a really strong strain of the green movement that thinks that it’s going to find a way to move forward that doesn’t offend those in power. I frankly think it’s just a bad strategy. If capitalism was working really well for the majority for people except for this problem of climate change, then we’d really need some kind of a strategy that protected that capitalist system, if such a strategy existed, which I don’t think it does. The fact is, that’s not where we are at. We’re at a point where there is a widespread popular understanding that this economic system is failing even on its own terms, more widespread than there ever has been in my lifetime.
There is a huge debate about the neoliberal legacy of massive inequality. People understand that these policies that were supposed to create more efficiency actually created less. So the need for another economic model is urgent, and if the climate justice movement can show that responding to climate change is the best chance for a more just economic system, that creates more and better jobs, greater social equality, more and better social services, public transport, all these things that improve peoples daily lives, people will be ready to fight for those policies.
The problem is that we have enemies: fossil fuel companies, who fight like hell to protect their interests. They fight like they mean it, they fight with creativity, they fight dirty, they do whatever it takes to win. And opposite them you have this sort of mushy middle that doesn’t really fight, because its not sure what the results will be. But if you can marry an economic justice agenda with climate action, then you create a constituency of people that will fight for that future, because they will directly benefit from it.
Are you optimistic?
I don’t see this as a question of optimism or pessimism. We all feel pessimistic. Anyone who tells you they’re sure we’ll win is either lying or crazy. But giving in to our despair is a morally reprehensible position right now. Too many lives are at stake. So if there’s any chance that there is another way out, so then there’s a moral responsibility to fight to increase those chances. I don’t use the language of optimism to describe that position, I see it as a moral responsibility.
The urgency of the climate crisis, the fact that it tells us we have no more time to waste, we can’t lose this battle, we are on a tight deadline, can be a catalyst to win battles that many of us have been fighting for many, many years.
By Will Johnson, reposted from the Nelson Star, Apr 13, 2015
Hours before author Naomi Klein took the stage at the Brilliant Cultural Centre on Saturday evening, six Greenpeace activists camped out atop a Seattle-bound Shell drilling rig near Hawaii were forced to climb down after a week-long demonstration.
“Shell has been trying to get them off using the courts, but what brought them down was the weather. The winds were too high and rough and they were worried about safety, which is something they can’t expect from Shell,” said the 44-year-old bestselling author, who recently won the Hilary Weston Writer’s Trust Prize for Nonfiction.
Klein went on to praise the protesters, who are emblematic of the transnational environmental movement she has dubbed Blockadia, and encouraged those present to find their own individual ways to stand up to the current “merger of oil and state”.
“The Obama administration has refused to stop Shell, so people have taken it into their own hands.”
Klein praised 21-year-old activist Zoe Buckley Lennox, one of the six who climbed the rig.
“She’s like a real world action hero. She scaled up this rig and then gave amazing interviews informed by her science education. She pointed out the insanity of taking advantage of melting Arctic ice. It’s only possible to drill because of climate change, and you’re digging it up to cause more climate change,” she said.
“She describes it as psychopathic and she’s right.”
‘This is why we fight’
Klein’s talk, which was brought to the Kootenays as part of the Mir Centre for Peace lecture series, primarily focused on the thesis of her latest book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate.
But she also took the opportunity to share her personal reflections on recent events, such as the recent oil spill in Vancouver’s English Bay.
She wrote both Everything and The Shock Doctrine while living in the area.
“I deeply believe I could not have written those books without the solace of the beauty of the Sunshine Coast, where my family is,” she said, going on to express her shock and anger at the devastation.
She said people often question whether she feels daunted by the climate crisis.
“The only thing that kept me going was the beauty of that place. Seeing those beaches coated in oil and knowing that the marine life that has given me so much pleasure, inspiration, sustenance and solace is now in grave danger, and the government wants nothing more than to up the ante many times over and turn BC into an ever-larger portal to transport the toxic stuff…Sometimes it’s simply too much to bear.”
She encouraged those present to look at the photos of the disaster.
“If you haven’t yet, look at those images of people in Vancouver cleaning up their beaches with their own hands while the government is nowhere to be found. This is what happens when you systematically attack the public sphere. This is why we fight. We can’t just feel the love, we also have to feel the threat.”
She said the old model of putting aside land as a sacrifice zone is no longer feasible.
“We’re all in the sacrifice zone now.”
Welcome to Blockadia
Much of Klein’s book is devoted to detailing the way the forces of global capitalism are intrinsically at odds with the natural world, and at the event she encouraged those present to help dismantle the current system before it’s too late.
In Everything, Klein asserts that “Resistance to high-risk extreme extraction is building a global, grassroots, and broad-based network the likes of which the environmental movement has never seen”.
Pointing out that we’re heading for 4 to 6 degrees of worldwide warming, and that a 2 degree bump would already be problematic, she said the time for action is now.
“This is a profound spiritual crisis. This is the atmospheric version of class warfare,” she said.
In order to adjust, she said humans need to realize, “You were never in charge. We can think of it as a terrible demotion, or as a gift.”
And though many social movements are dominated by young radicals, she said systematic change will only come when the older generations and established institutions start throwing their weight and money behind renewable energies and transitioning into a post-extractive economy.
“Nature speaks, man must listen,” she told the crowd. “It’s time for old people to start getting arrested.”
And though she encourages people to continue living in an environmentally friendly fashion, the issue is no longer about individual choice.
“So many of you have been doing the right thing, but the temperatures continue to rise. This has become a much bigger issue.”
The future is radical
Klein received a number of standing ovations over the course of the night, and the facility was full to capacity. Cars were parked for kilometers down the highway.
“I really am incredibly moved by this warm welcome. This is a part of unceded Turtle Island I’ve been to before, and it feels particularly overwhelming to be greeted in this way.”
Klein said she’d received offers of meditation retreats, massages and yoga classes. But she was most excited to hear about a local meeting that had been set to explore a potential coalition of the federal NDP and the Greens in the Kootenay-Columbia riding.
“I hope to be hearing more about that soon,” she said, noting that “the idea that Harper might get back in horrifies me.”
She encouraged those present to start engaging aggressively with the climate change issue, and to consider the environmental implications of who you vote for. Though she lambasted Harper, she was not keen on the Liberals or NDP either.
“Mulcair and Trudeau have each picked their pipeline.”
Klein is part of a group convening a coalition of social movements. She encouraged everyone present to become involved, and to encourage their employers and governments to divest from the fossil fuel industry.
And though that may sound extreme to some, she’s convinced it will become the new normal.
“The future is radical,” she said.
Keep it in the ground!
The unsung heroes of the fight against climate change are the entrepreneurs and politicians applying themselves to the task of changing our energy consumption
There is a quiet revolution underway in the way we produce and consume energy.
This revolution has been kickstarted by laws, regulations and the arrival of new technologies. It’s been influenced by people – no less passionate than those protesting on the streets – who’ve chosen to engage in the existing economic system to divert it toward more sustainable ends.
It’s not glamorous, and can be slow and technical, but more people are applying themselves to the task internationally – and it is producing results.
This quiet revolution began in the UK in 1990 with the first regulations supporting renewable electricity. The rules obliging energy companies to support non-fossil-fuel-based electricity were originally conceived to support nuclear power after privatisation, with renewable sources such as wind power added subsequently. Twenty-five years and a couple of policy re-designs later, including significantly the Climate Change Act passed by Ed Miliband, the UK has a renewables sector which, though still dependent on subsidies, is starting to make serious in-roads into conventional energy systems.
The renewables sector contains many big players using the capitalist system to increase their market share and push out incumbents. It is attracting criticism from those with vested interests and is thwarted on occasion by members of what author Naomi Klein refers to as “blockadia” – people stopping things – but on the whole its continued growth looks certain. Costs have tumbled and the need for subsidies is receding.
In the UK, the Conservative party may bark about closing the door on renewables but even David Cameron and his chancellor, George Osborne, can see that any private entities prepared to pour hard cash into concrete and steel, whatever its purpose, are incredibly valuable. If Labour wins the election in May we will set a target to almost fully decarbonise electricity generation by 2030.
Policies in support of renewables and energy efficiency, together with policies that make fossil fuels more expensive – such as applying air quality standards – are bringing emissions down fast in Europe. Of course two other factors – the financial crisis and warmer weather – have also contributed, but the signs are that as economic growth recovers, emissions are not returning.
Many of the regulations driving emissions down here are EU-wide, though in the UK our Climate Change Act and carbon taxation policy keep us slightly ahead.
The new European parliament and commission are embarking on a programme to create an “energy union” that has decarbonisation at its heart. The penny has finally dropped that low carbon can also mean low import dependency and increased security.
Different approaches are being tried in different countries with the UK looking to also invest in carbon capture and storage (CCS), and nuclear energy. Europe has always gained strength from countries diversely applying themselves to shared endeavours and this next industrial revolution will be no exception.
Outside Europe too, progress is being made in quiet, steady ways.
In China, pro-environment policymaking is on the increase and, for the first time last year, demand for coal appeared to have peaked as a result. A massive planned rollout of renewables, gas and nuclear energy looks very likely to continue the trend.
Realising renewable energy is the fastest technology to deploy, bar none, Narendra Modi is determined to electrify his nation using a policy to double India’s coal tax and support renewables.
In Chile a new carbon tax is imminent but high energy prices and enormous amounts of sun are already making solar power profitable. South Korea has a cap and trade scheme that is a match for the EU’s.
Even in the Middle East huge sums are being invested in all forms of zero carbon technology, nuclear and CCS included. A recent tender for new capacity in Dubai saw solar power undercutting conventional sources by a wide margin.
In North America, where the hijacking and paralysis of federal governments has led many to all but give up on national policy, state-level innovative policies continue to be introduced. The US Environmental Protection Agency is also overseeing a nationwide process to control emissions that stands a reasonable chance of being enacted if it can dodge the lawsuits. And for once the president is seriously engaged in trying to find a global solution.
It is these improved national conditions that give hope that a deal can be reached in Paris this year. It is easy to criticise the UN climate negotiations process and it is certainly far from perfect, but if there were a magic bullet it would have been discovered.
Climate change is a unique challenge and international politics is messy. The negotiations will only codify what countries believe to be possible today but, over time, ambitions will increase as confidence grows. What really needs to be achieved is an inclusive deal that boosts confidence in the revolution already underway.
A huge proportion of fossil fuels will remain unburned because many of the tools we need to make this happen have been created and are being improved.
They need to be applied more widely and with more ambition but it is already clear that we can, and do, drive capitalism in the directions we choose. Public pressure helps make this happen but so too do individuals working within the current system to divert its course.
It’s been said that human beings are somehow wired to ignore climate change, but the human brain is the ultimate problem-solving device. Like a brain, as more people are added to the network, with quicker connections between them, the solution-seeking parts of society will become more effective. A few will ignore the signs of harm and pursue profits unencumbered by a conscience, but they will be outnumbered.
Those wanting to help increase the pace of change can take to the streets demanding action but, in between the protests, they can dedicate their time, skills and money to improving the tools of change: laws and technology. SOURCE
Lady Worthington is a Labour peer and an architect of the UK’s Climate Change Act. She wrote the first report in the UK calling for the introduction of ‘carbon budgets’, was the brains behind the Friends of the Earth ‘Big Ask’ campaign, and helped the UK government launch its first public awareness campaign
As a sneak peek into Earth Island Journal’s Winter 2015 print issue, we are unlocking Tom Athanasiou’s review of Naomi Klein’s latest book This Changes Everything
The first thing to say about Naomi’s Klein’s latest book is that its title makes a grand promise, This Changes Everything – and that’s before you even get to the subtitle, which sets up a face-off between capitalism on one side and the climate on the other. The second thing to say is that no single book could ever meet such a promise. Klein, with careful aplomb, does not attempt to do so. Rather, she offers a tour of the horizon upon which we will meet our fates. Or, rather, the horizon upon which we will attempt to change them.
In the face of such huge topics, Klein’s strategy is a practical one. She defers the problem of capitalism-in-itself (as German philosophers used to call it) and focuses instead on our era’s particular type of capitalism – the neoliberal capitalism of boundless privatization and deregulation, of markets-über-alles ideology and oligarchic billionaires. Her central argument is not (as some have insisted) that capitalism has to go before we can begin to save ourselves, but rather that we’re going to have to get past neoliberalism if we want to face the greater challenges. Klein writes:
Some say there is no time for this transformation; the crisis is too pressing and the clock is ticking. I agree that it would be reckless to claim that the only solution to this crisis is to revolutionize our economy and revamp our worldview from the bottom up – and anything short of that is not worth doing. There are all kinds of measures that would lower emissions substantively that could and should be done right now. But we aren’t taking those measures, are we?
At the outset Klein asks the obvious question: Why haven’t we, in the face of existential danger, mobilized to lower emissions? There are lots of reasons, but one stands above all others. We have not mobilized because “market fundamentalism has, from the very first moments, systematically sabotaged our collective response to climate change, a threat that came knocking just as this ideology was reaching its zenith.” In other words the climate crisis came with spectacularly “bad timing.” The severity of the danger became clear at the very time when “there-is-no-alternative” capitalism was rising to ideological triumph, foreclosing the exact remedies (long-term planning, stricter government regulation, collective action) that could address the crisis. It’s a crucial insight, and it alone justifies the price of admission.
Klein reports that her “environmentalist friends” constantly ask her, “Do you have to say ‘capitalism’?” It’s a great laugh line, but it’s important to acknowledge that the question is a fair one. Because if capitalism – the hard core of our woe-begotten economy – is the problem, then our near-impossible task becomes even more difficult. Given her animus against neoliberalism (see her previous bestsellers, No Logo and The Shock Doctrine), you might expect her to agree that vocal anti-capitalism is unnecessary; neoliberalism is quite enough to fear all by itself. But Klein is playing another game, and it requires her to call things by their proper names. In this sense she may not even be an environmentalist, at least not in the old sense of the word. The modern American green movement has so long strained to avoid charges of anti-capitalism that you could write its history in terms of this avoidance. Such a history would recount endless screeds against “industrialism,” “technology,” “reductionism,” “patriarchy,” “overpopulation,” and, lately, even agriculture. All of these, no doubt, have something to teach us, but absent a coherent understanding of political economy, they shade together into noise and confusion.
So yes, she had to say “capitalism.” And so do the rest of us. For there is no greater priority than to bring the economy under effective democratic control, and if we imagine that we can do such a thing without, for example, learning to speak about growth in a coherent way, we are mistaken. Indeed, if we imagine that we can understand the problem of growth without understanding the problem of capitalism, then we ourselves are part of the problem. Klein knows this, and touches on the relevant debates, but – interestingly – she doesn’t press them very hard. Rather, and this is the same move she makes when it comes to climate science, she gives the reader a few choice entry points and then returns to her chosen strategy: “Think big, go deep, and move the ideological pole far away from the stifling market fundamentalism that has become the greatest enemy to planetary health.”
Speaking of climate science, there’s a point I cannot omit. As Klein briefly explains, the global “carbon budget” is all but exhausted, and in consequence global emissions have to drop very far and very quickly if we’re to have any real chance of stabilizing the climate system. Her discussion of these issues is organized around key numbers provided by Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin at the UK’s Tyndall Centre, scientists who argue that if we’re to stabilize the climate, the citizens of the wealthy world will have to reduce their emissions even faster than the global average, by 8 to 10 percent a year.
It’s quite an ask, and Klein does not pretend otherwise. Rather than retreat from the difficulties, she emphasizes that the necessary rate of emissions reduction is not beyond our powers, though it is without historical precedent. We have the money and the technology to save ourselves. The problem is that it’s too late for incremental strategies, and that the “great transition” we need will not come because, as in the old environmentalism, people rally to protect nature alone. Our only real hope is to put the problem of justice at center stage.
Greens like to speak of “renewal,” “reinvention,” and “restoration.” Increasingly, they speak of “resistance” as well. Klein has planted her flag on this hill, and her exploration of the global resistance to “extractivism” that she calls “Blockadia” is the heart of her book. There’s a lot to say about the politics of Blockadia – its potential and its limits – but the point I wish to emphasize is that when she looks at this resistance, she does not see a small and blinkered thing. She sees a movement that is learning by doing, and as fast as it possibly can. She wants to speed the process along, and to that end she continues down the list of “re” words, past even “resistance,” to arrive, finally, at “redistribution.” Her book’s excellent conclusion is framed by an extensive discussion in which the abolition of slavery – rather than, say, the moon shot or the Manhattan Project or even the New Deal – is taken as the archetype of the global mobilization that we now need.
Another topic that Klein takes head-on is the deadlock in the international climate negotiations. How are we to understand the problem of development in a climate-constrained world? What are the obligations of the wealthy countries to the developing ones? Here again are questions that the green mainstream fears to explore in anything like a serious manner, but she puts them on the agenda, and for this she deserves a great deal of credit. (Full disclosure: She cites my own work with EcoEquity and the Stockholm Environmental Institute).
Can This Changes Everything be taken as a marker of change? My sense is that it can. For one thing, it comes just after the People’s Climate March, which was itself a milestone in the climate justice movement, and it was clearly written as an expression of that movement’s ethos and priorities. The question is not if Klein has written a very good climate book – she has – but if it’s the breakthrough book we need, the one that lays out the stakes in a manner that makes them comprehensible. There’s no question it will help.
The novelist Nathanial Rich, in his New York Times review of This Changes Everything, struck an interesting note when he compared it to The Collapse of Western Civilization, a grim “view from the future” just published by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. Although Rich generally approves of Klein’s “robust new polemic,” he’s less sure about her optimism. He grants her the movement’s progress, but differs when it comes to its adequacy in the face of the danger. Where Klein sees that danger as reason for an all-hands-on-deck mobilization, Rich recalls her admission that it will be extremely difficult to restrict the rise in global temperatures to an average of 4°C. Given that four degrees “is the premise for the nightmarish future described by Dr. Oreskes and Dr. Conway,” he concludes that The Collapse of Western Civilization “appears to be the book that is furthest from fiction.”
The point? Only that The New York Times, a bastion of realist moderation, chose to grace This Changes Everything with a reviewer who believes that the collapse of civilization is more likely than the transformational renewal that is the keystone of Klein’s book.
In closing a recent talk, Klein said that most climate activists are haunted by despair, for they know that while everyone cares about the climate, their concern is thin. Her conclusion is that “only justice will fuel a movement that is truly fighting to win.” This is exactly right. Were we all to admit it, this really would change everything. SOURCE