“My great-great-grandchildren ask me in dreams, ‘What did you do when the planet was plundered?'”
On the eve of the publication of her new book, Naomi Klein talks about the things that give her hope in a world that can sometimes feel very bleak.Naomi Klein rose to international acclaim in 1999 by explaining how big corporations were exploiting our insecurities to convince us to spend money we didn’t have, on stuff we didn’t need No Logo. In 2007 she masterfully dissected the ways those steering the global economy use moments of social and environmental crisis to justify transferring public wealth into the hands of the ultra-rich The Shock Doctrine. Less-known though are the alternatives Klein spends much of her time witnessing, documenting, and digging into, from the spread of fossil fuel divestment, to community-owned energy projects and resistance to tar sands pipelines.On the eve of the publication of her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, Klein sat down with Liam Barrington-Bush at the Peoples Social Forum in Ottawa, to talk about where she finds hope in a world that can sometimes feel very bleak. She reminds us that in a culture that treats people as consumers and relationships as transactions, ‘we’re not who we were told we were.’::::::::::::::::::::::LBB: In a recent piece in the Nation, you wrote: “Because of the way our daily lives have been altered by both market and technological triumphalism, we lack many of the observational tools necessary to convince ourselves that climate change is real — let alone the confidence to believe that a different way of living is possible.” What has helped you to believe that a different way of living is possible?NK: I think part of it is just having been lucky enough to have seen other ways of living and to have lived differently myself. To know that not only is living differently not the end of the world, but in many cases, it has enabled some of the happiest times of my life.I think the truth is that we spend a lot of time being afraid of what we would lose if we ever took this crisis seriously. I had this experience when I had been living in Argentina for a couple of years; I came back to the US because I had agreed to do this speech at an American university. It was in Colorado and I went directly from Buenos Aires, which was just on fire at that moment; the culture was so rich, the sense of community was so strong. It was the most transformative experience of my life to be able to be part of that.So I end up staying at a Holiday Inn, looking out at a parking lot, and it’s just so incredibly grim. I go to this class and I do my spiel. I was talking about Argentina and the economic crisis. At this point the US economy’s booming and nobody thinks anything like this could ever happen to them. And this young woman says, “I hear what you’re saying, but why should I care?”
This is the story of how a three-minute film watched by over 120 world leaders at the United Nations this morning was produced by a newly empty nested mother of three who had never produced a minute of film before.It began 26 years ago when my friend, Cindy Horn, and I were pregnant with our first born and concerned about what the scientific community was telling us about the man-made threat to the planet that was soon to welcome our innocent babies.Our concern soon translated into the start of the Environmental Media Association, whose mission was to get writers, producers and directors to include environmental issues into the content of their stories. We are proud of founding and nurturing EMA, with our husbands, over so many years and of the leadership, now led by President Debbie Levin that made it so successful.Three years ago, my husband and I had Bill McKibben to our home. I had known Bill, the founder of 350.org, for years. Bill was just starting to tour colleges and universities to inform students about the serious nature of the climate crisis and its impact on their future.I will never forget our home being filled to the brim that day with electric conversation. This was a turning point in my life. Of course, I knew our climate problems were serious, but like most, I chose to keep from acknowledging the degree of the crisis. We gave a lot of money every year to different environmental causes — we had even founded an NGO. However, once that “ah ha” moment comes and you get how critical this crisis is, you cant turn back.This was the most exciting time to be alive, but also the most frightening. Every week there seemed to be new evidence of global warming from methane ice melting in Siberia, to new irreversible glacier melting in Antarctica. The situation seemed so dire. The media wouldnt pay attention to the issue, and no one seemed to care about climate change. Even the movement seemed depressed.But then, a little over a year ago, there seemed to be a sea change in the air. It was as though everything lightened up. Everyone in our movement, including Al Gore, felt a tipping point had begun. Solar, wind and organic products were becoming less expensive. We had reasons to feel optimistic. Even as extreme weather events began to worsen, we felt there was a way forward.
September 9, 2013 — We used to call it nature: forests, lakes, foxes, butterflies, mosquitoes, dandelions. Soils and oceans. Seasonal cycles. Also floods and heat waves and the occasional hurricane. But no more: as Bill McKibben, the environmental writer and activist founder of 350.org, put it back in 1989, climate change implies the end of nature. Nature, McKibben argued, meant a realm separate from human agency, at least for the modern American society of the last two centuries. Anthropogenic climate change, by transforming even places where no human has yet set foot, even atmospheric processes and ocean depths, leaves no particle of the planet untouched and therefore puts it all under the sway of human action. Nature as we used to know it, as the other of human society, is no more.
with thanks to Jeremy Schmidt @ the anthropo.scene
“I write this as an open letter to environmentalists, but to be honest, it isn’t truly an open letter. Many of you (probably most) will continue to call for these unsustainable forms of energy, despite knowing that to do so is to beg murder upon the migratory birds, the (very few remaining) unpolluted streams, rural Chinese farmers, and ultimately upon what remains of the living world. Many of you don’t want a truly sustainable way of life, but to sustain a functionally unsustainable civilization. Many of your salaries and personal identities depend on “clean energy,” and you won’t dare challenge it. And for me, this is incredibly saddening and disheartening, as I know many such people. So this letter is not written to you.”
Here is a wakeup call. One that insists we strip off the blinders and face our own delusions in order to survive.
I had heard some of these statistics, some of these uncomfortable truths, yet allowed myself to cling to the fantasy (is it? really?) of solar cells painted onto rooftops, of wind power made small scale and affordable and powering local homes in local grids .. while worrying underneath about rare minerals (yes, I own a cellphone) and migratory birds and hoping technological advances would quickly resolve these anomalies. The kicker, though, is that the same argument is used by the industrial giants against whom I want to (and often do) rail… the Enridges, the BPs, the Shells, of this world. They, too, rely on technology to ‘solve the problem’ of carbon emissions and climate change and those billions of gallons of spilled and leaked oil contaminating our world. and so for now they continue, comfortable in their conviction that one day, some day, technology will clean it up and resolve it all.
Yes, there’s food for thought here and more research to be done. Here may be a very good starting place. But I warn you, it may make you deeply, even frighteningly, uncomfortable.
“Today there is much less to sustain than when the term was coined in the 1980s. We’ve exceeded the limits to growth on nearly every aspect of development. Sustainable development will not dig us out of the hole we find ourselves in. We have to start thinking in terms of regenerative development. This means working towards giving back to nature as much we take.
If we harvest crops from fields in the hinterlands of a city, we must return compost from organic waste. We must make regenerative energies into the main source of power supply. And as long as we carry on burning fossil fuels we must ensure that trees and soils absorb our C02 emissions. In hot countries we must capture the rainfall from city roofs to recharge groundwater tables. We must create living landscapes to create habitats for natural pollinators and predators.
If we think along these lines – trying to be as generous to nature as nature is to us – then we may have a chance of harmonising our relationship to our planetary home.”
Paris, 1 July 2013 — The International Council for Science (ICSU), on behalf of the Science and Technology Alliance for Global Sustainability, announced today that Professor Frans Berkhout will be the new Interim Director of Future Earth, a major new interdisciplinary research programme on global sustainability.
Professor Berkhout will lead the implementation of Future Earth – bringing existing and new research communities and stakeholders together to deliver solutions-oriented knowledge for global sustainability.
He will take up his 18 month role on July 1, 2013. By the time he completes his mandate, Future Earth will be fully operational, with a permanent, regionally-distributed programme secretariat in place.
“Making transitions to sustainability is one of the biggest challenges humanity faces today,” said Berkhout. “Delivering the scientific knowledge to make that transition is a complex and challenging task. Future Earth offers unprecedented opportunities to rally scientists and other stakeholders around this common goal. I look forward to working closely with the scientific community to make that a reality and am honoured by the trust the Alliance has placed in me,” he added.