By Apostolis Fotiadis (@Balkanizator)
After five years of research, the new book of Naomi Klein ‘This changes everything – Capitalism vs. the Climate’ hit bookstore shelves last month. First reactions, negative and positive, have been fierce – (meanwhile, it won the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust prize on Thursday). It was expected given that Klein is taking on the entire business model on which Capitalism’s driving force, the oil industry, operates. She also exposes the Big Green, the major environmental organizations, to their share of responsibility for the devaluation of Climate Change on the international political agenda. The global financial crisis, unfolding while Klein was preparing her book, has been a great opportunity to downgrade the emergency character of Climate Change according to Klein. Politicians and corporations have convinced people that we don't have the luxury to debate such eloquent issues while our economic system is facing an existential theat. But this is the biggest misconception of the last few years she believes. The real point is that we don't have the luxury not to discuss the issue, otherwise a collapse is imminent. Therefore, this is her mission: to attempt a total recall of the subject of climate change, placing it in the core of argumentation arsenal against neo-liberalism. Klein is not naive. She knows how difficult the task is and how limited time we are left with. But she is driven by immense determination and hope, and she is ready to fight. Last but not least she brings us a warning. Whatever we need to do, we will have to do it now. The problem is so acute that only radical change can alter the course of history…
-While researching your book you visited Greece during a turbulent time when the economic crisis there was at its peak. During this trip you delivered a speech and many people expected you to offer an argumentation against neo-liberalism but instead you focused on Climate Change, to the point that some complained that you were missing the point. Why do you think people appreciate the issue as a secondary one?
I believe there are always going to be people who have a set idea of what it means to talk about neo-liberalism. Similarly when I address audiences that are mostly interested in environmental issues people wonder why I focus so much on austerity and neo-liberalism and not the climate science. I try to bring these conversations together, because they need to be one conversation. If they do not the economy will keep being a priority over the environment and the environment will keep losing. I believe that the climate crisis can and must be an integral; part of the fight against neo-liberalism. I think it was the best argument we ever had against neo-liberalism. That was the argument I put forward in Athens and that's the argument I want to make in the book. And you know, people who just wanted to hear the same arguments that they hear all the time will be disappointed but I’m not worried about that.
-But how can people drop this kind of economist thinking or how they can reconsider the growth imperative on which our thinking about modern economy is based on and imagine progress in different terms?
You know it is hard for me to answer that question. Obviously the book is an attempt to do that and just came out yesterday and will see if it helps. Definitely I’m already seeing a shift. In the climate summit in New York people organized an event named ‘Flood the Wall Street’. It was a direct action bringing together the inequality crisis and the climate crisis. The people who organized it have been some of the people who were key organizers of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’. So just a few years ago they were in the same category just looking at economics and not looking at the connections.
-Has something changed since then?
Since ‘Occupy Wall Street’ New York was hit by a superstorm and a lot of people who saw climate change as an issue that was far abstract, something that didn't have time to talk about, so very clearly how urgent the climate crisis is and also the connections with austerity and deep inequality because of course the poorest and more vulnerable communities in New York were the ones that were hit hardest. So this is changing and the question is whether it will happen fast enough. But it is already shifting.
-Do you see a similar dynamic in Europe?
You see it in the rise of the de-growth movement there. I spoke recently to a de-growth conference in Germany and there were a couple of thousand people. I think more people who have been involved more in the economic side, are start seeing the connections and they are also see how fighting climate change and introducing progressive policies to fight it can bring an exciting agenda, richer than just saying no to austerity.
-How does this translate in practice?
An example is the energy transformation happening in Germany were it has brought in a lot of people fighting on the economic track because the way the German plan was designed it is that encouraged participation for small players so you have hundreds of energy cooperatives that have sprang out, you have hundreds of towns and cities that have taken back control over their electricity from private operators and are now keeping the profits from electricity in their communities. So you have a dual benefit, fighting emissions, fighting climate change and also fighting austerity because you have more resources in the community, you have more democracy, you have more control. I think as success stories like that start to spread they provide a model that helps more people making these connections.
-There is no doubt there are people reacting but you also mention often this feeling of urgency and you mention time. I wonder whether you believe we are reaching a tipping point or if you are afraid we have passed the point we should have reacted on Climate Change?
I try not to get into debates about what our changes are or not trying. If there is any chance we have to fight because the alternative is so bleak. If there is any chance of avoiding catastrophe then we have to fight for that chance and do whatever we can to increase the odds. I think if we are looking at this as if it were just a game of odds you would probably place your money on Capitalism winning, right?
Because there is still a slim chance that people could grab the will of history and swerve then that is where I choose to spend my time. I’m not going to argue with people who believe we are screw, you know. Obviously there is many, many examples we can look to bolster that very bleak prognosis but to me it’s really a moral question. If there is any chance that we might change course, then I think we have our responsibility to fight for this chance.
-So really, do you believe we stand a real chance to change things or not?
If we are looking at this in a cold way about what’s more likely then I think any rational person would say it’s most likely we won’t react in time. But because I think there is a slim chance and because there are historical precedents of humanity coming together in times of crisis, and popular movements emerging in amidst the crisis and really changing the script, i am choosing to devote my energy to this possibility.
-Do you expect the book to cause a reaction to people, like a wakeup call?
It’s interesting as I launched the book I was prepared for arguments about the science, and I was prepared about arguments on whether we need such a radical change but what I’m finding after talking for some time in the press is that really I’m spending most of my time doing therapy (laughs). What people want to say to me is there is no hope. They are not debating the science and they are not debating the need for radical change, they are debating my hope. It's a strange position to be in. The decision to hold out hope is a personal one; it is about how I want to live in the world and who I want to be. As somebody who has researched the gloomy side of things and knows that the crisis can also bring out the worst in humanity, that's why I wrote the Shock Doctrine, it is not that I am naive. The alternative is so, so awful that I believe we have a moral responsibility, those of us who have a platform, to try to augment the chances of a better outcome however slim the chances be seen. Political change is not linear, as climate change is not linear. You hit tipping points after which things change very rapidly. Well that's true for human history as well. You have this moments when things seem to be changing very rapidly and then they go backward and suddenly we all became hopeful and then disappointed, and we all have been disappointed before some of us have been disappointed so many times that we really have given up hope, but I really believe we don't have the luxury of that cynicism anymore.