When I think of Naomi Klein the word courageous always springs to mind. For those who don’t know she is Canadian author who fearlessly highlighted how globalisation has created a race to the bottom, less jobs, less security, less rights for workers around the world in her blockbuster ‘No Logo’.
In 2007 she then followed up that book up with ‘The Shock Doctrine’, a book that for me totally blew my mind and helped me find my path in life as it laid bare the disaster capitalism economics behind the neoliberal governments of the world, highlighting how the elites of the world seize on natural disasters and create wars to drive economic growth. After reading this for me nothing would ever look the same again, I had taken the red pill, I knew that my path was to side with people not corporations and to help reclaim our commons and support those who wanted to redistribute wealth and protect our environment.
So I was pretty excited see Naomi speak this Monday at the first Guardian Live talk to celebrate the launch of her new book on climate change, ‘This Changes Everything’. It was a bit of a who’s who of the environmental movement in the UK as 2000 of us packed into Westminster Central Hall to hear keynote speech and witness her conversation with the amazing (and hopefully one day to be Prime Minister) Owen Jones.
In her new book ‘This Changes Everything’, Klein makes the case that we are now at the point where radical political and economic action is the only option to keep us below the much talked about 2 degrees temperature increase on pre-industrial levels.
Currently the IPPCC and conservative organisations like the World Bank and Price Waterhouse Coopers predicting we are heading for 4-6 degrees temperature increases on pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. Put bluntly this means a world unrecognisable from that which we live in today, collapsed life support systems, millions of displaced people as land becomes covered by water or inhabitable because of drought and famine, conflict and destruction as part of everyday life, the rich will retreat further into gated communities as those with wealth scramble to retain any assets remaining. Basically Mad Max meets Water World, it isn’t a pretty thought.
Ok enough with the apocalyptic warning… I have to confess I am only a fifth of the way through the book so far but after hearing her speech tonight and from what I have read so far and experienced over the past 5 years of being interested and involved in environmental activism I believe things can get better.
Well from a climate perspective they will struggle to get any worse. And all around the world we are starting to see movements of resilience and hope spring up. Just a few weeks ago, I was part of the biggest global march on climate change. The atmosphere here in London was electric and 400,000 people took to the streets of New York to demand politicians and business act on cutting our greenhouse gases.
I feel revolution is in the air… I believe there is an arising of consciousness in the world. After the economic crisis caused by the de-regulated markets and neoliberal agenda, we were served up a double helping of disaster capitalism with fear heaped on top. We swallowed the shock doctrine economics of cuts and austerity as right wing governments swept into power across Europe, 2009/2010/2011 they were dark days. But in those dark times my generation became politically aware armed with the Shock Doctrine and new tools like Twitter revolution after revolution sprung up around the world. For Occupy to the Arab Spring and now in Hong Kong the Umbrella Revolution continues at pace.
Klein also touched on the successes of the no tar sands movement in Canada and the US and the anti fracking movement across the globe oppose the as she called it ‘extreme energy frenzy’, as energy companies look to access the last of the remaining fossil fuels at all costs. It was over 3 years ago that I first wrote about fracking, I remember at the time trying to find articles for my research and I could only find one in the UK.
That in itself shows how quickly governments funded by the fossil fuel industry have ramped up fracking exploration by offering tax breaks and incentives to those who want to pursue extreme energy extraction. As Owen Jones beautifully reminded the audience today, Cameron wants “less of this green crap”. And more of business as usual, the neoliberal orthodoxy that accelerated us towards this mess. Klein also reminded us of the incredibly close links between this government and the fossil fuel industry with the fact that 50 employees of the fossil fuel industry are on secondment to government. All a bit too cosy I would suggest.
Naomi’s new book ‘This Changes Everything’, calls for the free market fundamentalists worst nightmare; unilateral, cross border efforts to de-carbonise our energy system. The reversal of decades of privatisation in the energy and transport systems. As Klein said; “We don’t want a great depression but a great transition”, to a new kind of economics where no oil company can declare a 45 billion pound profit like Exxon Mobil have in the past.
Who decided to give these cowboys permission to go and dig up what is under our feet, under our sea? We need to leave 80% of the fossil fuels in the ground if we’re going to have any chance of avoiding a very bad situation for the planet.
I am totally on board with the message Klein presents that we need to reform our economy so that it respects the finite resources of the planet. Get over our obsession with growth and redistribute wealth through higher taxation of the rich and re-nationalisation of the high emissions emitting energy and transport sectors.
So we have to reform capitalism, banish the neoliberal political dogma, re-nationalise our energy systems, halt globalisation and agree a legally binding deal to cut global carbon emissions.
Not an easy task but I definitely feel an achievable one, if we join together with hope in our hearts and fire in our bellies. It is the political project of our generation. As Klein put it last night getting fossil fuel money out of politics is a great place to start. The Green Party and even the Labour party are pushing for this here in the UK.
A funding level playing field for political parties would mean that politicians will be more inclined to make the right decisions for nature and humanity. As oppose to the current situation where the leaders of political parties live in fear or reprisal from big business if they step out of line and propose something that doesn’t appease their paymasters.
I really feel we are entering the end game for the current political economic dogma. Here in the UK the government are busy whipping up another housing bubble and groups like the E15 Mum’s on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford are starting to say no, this isn’t acceptable, treat us like humans give us somewhere humane to live. People from all ages are coming together to say what we have isn’t working so lets create this. Reading in Klein’s book and hearing last night about cities in Germany taking back control of their energy grids gets me excited. I hope we can see more and more communities here taking control of their energy production.
The era of being a spectator is over, we all need to be active citizens in this journey to create a better world. Klein mentioned a couple of things that stuck with me, one was “We need to end the era of extractivism” another was “we need places to grieve together”, by this she means grieve what the neoliberal project has done to our planet but also the cohesion and social interaction in our communities. Klein “Talked about how we can use the climate crisis as a message that our current economic system isn’t working”.
Another thing that stuck with me was the discussion around ‘popular education’, film screenings, gatherings like last night but also using tools like YouTube to share our views and what is in our hearts, like how Russell Brand is doing with his Trews (True news).
We can create our own media, we can be the counterstrike, we have proven we can organise and I think we (The political left) are getting better at putting aside our differences to offer a real alternative. Climate change affects rich and poor, right or left, it doesn’t discriminate. Money may protect us for awhile but do we want to live in a distopian police state where millions of our fellow citizens die? If not wide spread political reform, a massive re-nationalisation of our energy system, rapid transition a renewable driven transport system needs to happen now. Not next year, not in 5 years. Now! Klein said we need to cut our emission rates at about 8% annually to have any chance of staying below 2 degrees, whilst curbing the growth of India and China’s emissions which is partly fuelled by our increasing demand for consumer goods, the production of which we have shifted to those countries.
On the way home I read this passage in a book called ‘The Manuel of the Warrior of Light’, I felt it summed up how we as citizens have to be as we confront the climate change reality we are presented with:
The warrior of light sometimes behaves like water, flowing around the obstacles he encounters.
Occasionally, resisting might mean being destroyed, and so he adapts to the circumstances. He accepts without complaint that the stones along the path hinder his way across the mountains.
Therein in lies the strength of the water; it cannot be shattered by a hammer or wounded by a knife. The strongest sword in the world cannot scar its surface.
The water of a river adapt themselves to whatever route proves possible, but the river never forgets its one objective; the sea. So fragile at its source, it gradually gathers the strength of the other river it encounters.
And, after a certain point, its power is absolute.
Friends we are that river we must overcome many obstacles along the way but together our power will drive change and create a better future.