Naomi Klein: Changing the climate conversation

Greta Rossi

Our economy is shooting itself in the foot, author and activist Naomi Klein warned an audience in Westminster this month, and a radical change in the way we approach the climate conversation is the only way to turn things around

“Our economic model has declared war on life on Earth,” warns Naomi Klein. But alongside this disheartening prophecy, delivered to the 2,000 people gathered at the Guardian Live event in Westminster on 6 October, the Canadian author and social activist also offered words of encouragement.

If we start the conversation about climate change in the right place, Klein claims, we can transform the “most existential threat to humanity” into a great opportunity.

Her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs the Climate, outlines the conversation – which we need to have now – and it’s a radical one. Klein suggests that our procrastination has left no other options on the table.

It’s not too late to stay below a 2C rise in temperature agreed by the international community, she reassures the audience, but continuing with ‘business as usual’ will take us on a trajectory towards an unrecognisable world.

Klein points out where our conversation has been preventing collective action on climate change. The language of climate change that has been used by the scientific and international political communities is too complicated and dry, she says; we need simpler, more appealing and accessible language.

A more welcoming conversation succeeded in gathering together diverse communities for the recent People’s Climate March on 21 September. Such an initiative raised awareness about climate change and inspired individual citizens to act on behalf of the planet.

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“The only way to win against a huge amount of people who have a lot to lose,” declares Klein, “is to gather a huge amount of people with a lot to gain.”

The conversation has also so far been dominated by the neoliberal project. Klein has spent years writing about the consequences of an ideology of “privatised profit and socialised losses.” She warns that elites have prioritised certain crises over others, such as bailing out the banks, which have left states and their citizens broke. The climate crisis has provoked only a limited response, and initiatives such as exporting carbon emissions to developing countries do not solve the problem. As Klein reminds us, “the atmosphere doesn’t distinguish between here and China”.

Climate change deniers continue to avoid any conversation to prevent a shift in our entire economic model, a shift that would enable the state to intervene more substantially. A low carbon economy driven by renewable energy would shift us away from the fossil fuels economy that has created uneven concentrations of wealth. “Climate change is the strongest argument against austerity,” Klein believes. It has the potential to encourage states to invest in green jobs for their citizens that would make climate change an issue not exclusive to the middle class.

As Klein concludes, the climate conversation must now focus on radical solutions to cut our carbon emissions by 8-10% every year. A “great transition” places action on climate change within a broader agenda to “liberate ourselves from austerity and reclaim the commons”. Climate change will impact all of our lives so we must work together to promote a new economy that protects the environment.

Photo title: Naomi Klein argues that the language of climate change needs to be simpler, more appealing and accessible if we are to enact the changes needed to avoid its worst impacts

Photo credit: © Peoples' Social Forum

  • Kayla Roy

    This article makes a very good point that it is not up to the scientists of each individual country to come up with the solution to climate change. Each and every person from all over the world must come together to make a worldwide change in the energy and waste that we produce and which is contributing to climate change. Gathering people from around the world and synchronizing our conservation efforts is no easy task, but our modern age of technology and knowledge has made connecting worldwide and creating innovative solutions a very possible feat. Creating a more eco-friendly and sustainable world requires the participation of all populations and the conversation of conservation must no longer be in complicated scientific terms, but instead must be in the language of the people.

  • Pingback: Capitialism VS. Climate | YOU Effect()

  • David Tootill

    I agree with Naomi Klein that the climate change discussion allows us to move towards an unlimited supply of energy through the abundance of renewable resources and the creation of many new jobs in the green sector. The inertia of current wasteful destructive practices is based on the oil companies profits enabling them to lobby government and hold sway with their share of tax. How can we encourage these existing global businesses to use their surplus for the greater good? Can they become part of the change or are they doomed to be dinosaurs?

  • Elizabeth Aronoff

    There’s no question that our current economy is all too dependent on fossil fuels. The only constant on earth is change, and the environment is changing rapidly. It only makes sense that our economy will have to change as well. Individuals that make a profit off of fossil fuels would fight climate change, derailing the search for solutions by calling it a myth. This is simply irresponsible. Capitalism could work to create a new era of energy. There is space for competition here, between wind, solar, and hydro-power, where we can use renewable resources to renew both the planet and the economy. It’s just a question of how much damage will be done before everyone gets onboard.
    Klein offers a refreshingly honest take on this incredibly important issue.

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