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Home > English > NEWS AND ANALYSIS > Naomi Klein on 30 March 2015 in Paris

Naomi Klein on 30 March 2015 in Paris

Thursday 7 May 2015

“I wanted to start by talking a little bit about the title that I chose for this book, which was actually quite difficult, we went through many titles and changes. It wasn’t like my first book No Logo, for which I had a title before I’d even written a word. This one was hard. What I end up with in English, This Changes Everything and similar, but slightly more hopeful title in French Tout Peut Changer is really a decision about where to start the conversation about climate change in 2015. Because, when we talk about climate change today, we need to start from the premise that there are no non-radical options left on the table because we have waited so long, because we have allowed to crisis to deepen and worsen for two and a half decades. That changes the nature of the discussion. If we stay on the road we are on, a road that is sometimes called “business as usual”, then that changes everything about our physical word.

That is what our most conservative institutions tell us. This is not a wild conspiracy, this is what we’re being told by the World Bank, by the International Energy Agency, by Price Waterhouse Cooper, what they say, is that the road we are on leads to 4 to 6 degrees Celsius warming above three industrial levels. Our own governments defined dangerous climate change as 2 degrees Celsius, and that was an extremely controversial target when it was adopted in Copenhagen. That level of warming that we’re heading towards will make our world unrecognizable, and climate scientists are not able to predict with any certainty what a 4-degree warming world looks like, but they say things like they’re ‘not sure that it is compatible with organized life’. It’s not too late to avoid that catastrophic outcome, but because we have waited so long, and because we have let our emissions rise for so long, achieving that change requires so much change to our political and economic system, that it’s really revolutionary. We face radical change one way or another. This is obviously very difficult for our political and economic elites to accept, which is why they’re kind of in a time warp when they talk about climate change, and their discourse hasn’t changed as the problem has worsened. What we still hear from our elites is this still this language of gradual change that you’ll barely notice, and that is what is so worrying about the climate summit in Paris in the coming months, because it is locked within that framework of denial.

This is not an apocalyptic book, this is not a book filled with bad news and scary statistics. The reason for that is that this political and economic system that we must change in the face of climate change is failing us on multiple levels, with or without climate change. What I’m arguing is that climate change can and must be the catalyst to introduce changes that we should introduce anyways, because we have a system of grotesque inequality and social injustice within our countries and between our countries.

But, the question our politicians continue to ask is ’how can we change without changing’? I think maybe one of the best examples of that question comes from your Foreign Minister who explained that there was going to be an agreement in Paris, but an agreement that hampers growth will not be accepted. There is an echo of a statement made by George Bush Sr., father of George Bush, in 1992 during the Rio Earth Summit. When Bush Sr. went to Rio and the government signed the original UN Climate Convention, but George Bush Sr. said “I will go to Rio, but the American way of life is not up for negotiation.” And indeed, it was not up for negotiation, and that way of life was protected, and in the years since the Rio Earth Summit, it has been systematically exported to every corner of the earth, including the most populous nations, the result of which is an increase in emissions of more that 60 percent.

The argument I make in the book is, that if we want to understand why we have failed so catastrophically to rise to the challenge presented by climate change, the best explanation really is this fact of historical bad timing, by which I mean that this challenge landed on the laps of our governments at the worst possible moment in human evolution, that moment being the late 1980s and 1990s, the ascendant moment of the neoliberal project. It’s not only that this American way of life was being exported under the banner of globalization, this very, very wasteful model of both consumption and production, because of course in globalization model what’s really at its heart is the liberalization of capital, to seek out the cheapest possible means of production, to devalue production s much as possible, and we knew at the time that that meant seeking out the cheapest labour, the most exploitable labour on the planet. But, I think what we understood less was that it meant seeking out the cheapest everything on the planet, and the cheapest energy is dirty, deregulated coal. So, when we see images of people in Beijing choking on their version of economic growth, children of four or six years old going to schools and preschool with masks over their faces decorated with cartoon characters, this is the direct result of this economic project, this is not something we can separate our selves from, we are intimately connected to that project.

In the book, I quote a Swedish academic named Andreas Malm, and he just wrote an essay in which he described climate change as "the atmospheric expression of a class war." So, on the one hand, emissions rise. On the other hand, this ideology which, in France, was sometimes described as "la pensée unique" advanced a set of policies that were uniquely incompatible with the things that our politicians should have been doing in the face of the climate crisis. Now, we all know what these policies are, its boring to even list them, but they are: privatization, deregulation, cuts to the public sphere (sometimes called austerity), low taxes for the rich and corporations, all locked in under corporate free trade deals.

What I do in the book is go through how each of these pillars of the ideological project present a direct barrier to the kinds of actions we need in the face of the climate crisis, and together form this kind of immovable wall, and this has been masked by the depoliticized discourse around climate change that has been championed for far too long by large green groups that say this is not about the left and right, not about ideologies, we’re all in this together. No, we’re up against the logic, we’re up against a system, it has a name, we need to name it, and we need to unmask it, and we need to confront it.

I’m going to very quickly go through these policies, but think about it: privatization, in these very years, the 1990s, these key years when our governments are negotiating the Kyoto protocol, or negotiating a path towards emission reduction, they’re selling our energy systems, our airlines, our rail systems, our public transit, all these sectors have fossil fuels at their heart. If you’re going to have an energy transition, it’s very useful to actually maintain power over those sectors. It doesn’t mean they’re going to be low carbon, but at least it gives the tools to change. And interestingly the most clear example of this is Germany. And, its slightly, or very, ironic, because Germany has been prescribing brutal austerity on the countries of southern Europe, which is forcing privatization of rail systems and energy systems on countries like Greece and Spain, and Portugal, not just countries of Southern Europe. But meanwhile, in Germany, there has been this quite amazing process called Energiewende, where Germany has been transitioning its energy system very quickly towards renewable energy. But this has only been possible because in hundreds of cities and towns residents have voted in movements from below tot make back their energy grants from the companies that took them over in the 1990s.

You also have an obvious conflict with the logic of deregulation that in this era, the political fashion was to cut back government regulations, to liberate the capital, and that is why when it came time to develop the mechanism for regulating carbon, instead of actually regulating carbon, putting clear caps and imposing clear penalties, the United States pushed this model of emission trading, creating a carbon market. Interestingly, when the Kyoto protocol was being negotiated, European governments, including the French government, strongly resisted the idea of creating a carbon market, and said this would be akin to leaving the climate crisis to the call of the jungle. Now, Europe lost this power struggle because they wanted the United States to sign the Kyoto protocol, so they gave up, the United States didn’t sign the Kyoto protocol, and Europe became the laboratory of rate disaster that tis emission trading.

Now, obviously what the pillar of the neoliberal project that is the endless attack on the public sphere, that you of course experienced here so directly in France, even here so directly in your public universities, that is incompatible with the sorts of huge

investments that we need to make in the face of this existential crisis. Obviously, if we are going to take this crisis seriously, we need to invest in the public sphere, to transform our energy systems, but also, we need to invest massively in public transit, and if we want people to use it, it should be free. Now, this is something that we see very clearly in Paris, where facing their pollution crisis, suddenly public transit is free and people, use it a lot more. Obviously, this is an expensive process, and that’s where the pillar that tells us that we can’t increase taxes on the rich, that we can’t take the profits of industries that are waging war on life on earth, that we can’t increase taxes on speculation, and the rest of it, becomes a huge problem, because we have to raise the capital for this project, and we’re told that’s impossible.

The other pillar that I mentioned is free trade, these free trade deals. And this is very important to focus on right now, because there are a couple of very big and very dangerous free trade deals on the table, TTIP being the largest one, but also the free trade deal with Canada and the European Union, and we’re fortunate to have people from Attac who are at the forefront of this fight, and we’re going to hear more about it.

So, I have a chapter in the book about how these deals, the ones that have already been signed, are being actively used against precisely the type of policies we would want our governments to adopt. I’ll give you one very concrete example that I think is very relevant to this country, which is that in Canada, the province of Quebec passed a moratorium on fracking. This was a huge popular victory, it was a hard one, It was a movement victory. And now, that victory is being challenged, under NAFTA, by an American company that says it violates its right to frack under the St. Lawrence river, because NAFTA contains this investor-rights provision and this is precisely the provision that groups like Attac have been focusing on in these new agreements.

But this is not the only problem, we’ve had cases at the WTO where governments that are subsidizing their renewable energy industries in ways that we should actually celebrate, especially countries like India and China, because we want these countries to leap over fossil fuels, are being challenged at the WTO and this is basically being called protectionism and illegal.

The irony of course is that these same governments go to summits like the ones that will take place in Paris in a few months and they will accuse each other of not being ambitious enough and not cutting emissions enough, but then much more powerful wings of those same governments will use free trade deals to essentially knock down each others’ windmills, which is insane and why we can’t have any more of these deals.

So from what I’ve said so far, you might conclude that we really we have a conflict

between neoliberalism and the climate, and all we need to do is get back to the form of capitalism that we had before the neoliberal period and everything would be fine. Because what scientists are telling us, what leading scientists are telling us, is that if we want to keep temperatures below 2 degrees, we need to be cutting our emissions by 10% a year, starting yesterday. That kind of cut is possible, but it is not compatible with an economic system that has the growth imperative at its center. So, we are facing a direct conflict between capitalism and the climate, between the capitalism and the natural systems that support life on earth.

My friends in environmental movements sometimes take me aside and say, you know Naomi, "this climate problem was big enough, did you have to make it about capitalism?” But, here’s the thing, if everything was working fine with capitalism except for the small matter of rising sea levels, we would be well and truly cooked. But, that is not the case, that economic system is waging war on life on every front. We know it. Our problem is not that we don’t know it, our problem is that we aren’t connecting the dots, we aren’t building a coherent movement that brings together all of these different fronts of the same struggle, the same battle.

So, what gives me hope is that there’ a new kind of climate movement on the rise, it is a movement that understands the stakes in this struggle, and is willing to fight. We see this in the rise of the fossil fuel divestment movement which is gaining ground here in Paris, we see again the global rise of what in the book I call Blockadia, all of these fronts where people are resisting extreme extraction, whether its fracking or tar sands or mountain top removal coal mining, these are movements that are really going after the source of the problem, and at the same time are advancing alternative ways of living, alternative ways of being on this planet. One of the best quotes in the book comes from my friend John Jordan who is here tonight, the incredible activist and theorist and dear friend, who talks about resistance and alternatives being the twin strands of DNA, and more and more our movements are realizing this in acting. So, at the same time, as this new climate movement is on the rise, and we saw it on the streets of New York this past September when 400,000 thousand people marched, you’re going to have to do better than that.

But also, the movements against austerity are on the rise. Particularly here in Europe, with the electoral victory of Syriza, the rise of Podemos in Spain, and Blockupy across Europe. This is a moment, and the fact that the Climate Change Conference is happening here in Paris is a huge opportunity for all of these movements to come together and for us to have a single conversation about the world we so desperately need.

Since Wall Street collapsed eight years ago, you have been told, we have all been

told, that climate change is an issue that we can no longer afford to care about. That first we have to deal with the crisis, and then we can deal with the environment. That has it exactly backwards. Responding to the climate crisis, rising to our historical movement and our profound historical responsibility, is the way out of the economic crisis, is the only way out. It lights the pathway for us and shows us how we can create millions of well-paying jobs. I’m not just talking about green jobs in the traditional sense of putting up solar panels, I’m talking about all of these parts of our economy that are already low carbon and are under systematic attack. These are sectors like all of the care-giving professions, overwhelmingly dominated by women and immigrants, low-paid work, unpaid work that needs to be recognized, including recognized through a mechanism like a basic income.

In responding to the climate crisis, we can also see how we can revolutionize our public and privatized sectors. Not just by resisting privatization, but by building a radically more decentralized, cooperatively owned energy system, transit system, and redefine democracy for a new age. We obviously need to do the same in our agriculture system, and the movements in France, which France has one of the most vibrant local food movements in the world, needs to be at the center of this conversation of what a grassroots, democratic, empowering response to climate change looks like.

We can talk more about the details later on. There is a group in the United States called "Movement Generation", and they are in the bay area of San Francisco, and they’ve organized communities of color, people of colour, and engaged them with the climate issue. And they have a slogan: “transition is inevitable, justice is not.” So in 9 months, we’re going to have a conference here in Paris, and there’s going be a vision for change that is imposed from on high: a vision of transition, that is going to be about nuclear energy, that is going to be about privatized water, about GMOs, and it is absolutely critical that we spend the months between now and then getting extremely clear on what justice looks like. Because it doesn’t look anything like that. Thank you.”