Naomi Klein: Changing the climate conversation

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.