In New Book, Naomi Klein Confronts Climate Change (video)

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Naomi Kline speaks in Berkeley California
Naomi Kline tells a packed crowd at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley that she believes averting drastic climate change will take a fundamental and immediate shift in our economic system. Photo by Kelly Johnson.

By Yael Chanoff

“System change, not climate change.” It was a rallying cry of last week’s People’s Climate March on New York City, and it’s also the thesis of Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything.

Klein spoke in Berkeley Sept. 29, hosted by the First Congregational Church and KPFA. And her message was clear -- systemic change is needed to adequately address the climate crisis.

“It is not too late to give ourselves a really good shot at preventing catastrophic climate change,” Klein told the packed event. “But these also involve radical changes. Radical changes to our political and economic system.”

Those changes, she says, won’t come from “big green” organizations like Friends of the Earth and the National Resources Defense Council, which Klein critiques in her book.

And they definitely won’t come from billionaires who pay lip service to environmentalism like Richard Branson, whose ill-fated Virgin Earth Challenge Klein eviscerates in the chapter “No Messiahs: The Green Billionaires Won’t Save Us.”

If anyone can save us, Klein says, its frontline communities. People who live where fossil fuels are extracted, refined and transported. In This Changes Everything, Klein argues that frontline resistance efforts have enjoyed a recent swell of support.

One story she tells is that of the Elsipogtog First Nation, a band of Mi'kmaq in New Brunswick, Canada who in Oct. 2013 formed a protest camp to block seismic testing for fracking on their land. Mi'kmaq had been the target of racist violence in 2000 during a previous campaign to assert land rights, but Klein argues that the local support they saw in 2013 is part of a “true sea change over a very short period of time.”

“Many in the province had come to understand that the Mi’kmaq’s right to use their traditional lands and water to hunt and fish-- the same rights that had sparked race riots a dozen years earlier-- represented the best hope for the majority of New Brunswickers who opposed fracking,” Klein writes in the chapter “You and What Army? Indigenous Rights and the Power of Keeping our Word.”

Extracting fossil fuels destroys land, and it’s the people who have had their lands rights trampled, their family, friends and neighbors displaced, who must lead the climate justice movement if it to be successful, Klein says.

In the words of Quinton Sankofa, a member of the environmental group Movement Generation who shared the stage with Klein, “there is no hydrofracking, or mountain top removal, or hydro damming, or coal mining without the violent removal of people from place and the ensuing subjugation and/or enslavement of their labor.”

He also talked about frontline communities opposing the fossil fuel industry.

“You need look no further than California’s Central Valley, to see that transition is inevitable, but justice is not,” Sankofa said.

In order to avoid surpassing the two degree limit set in 2009, wealthy countries like the US would need to reduce emissions by 10 percent per year.

“That is not compatible with an economic system built on perpetual growth,” Klein said at her talk Sept. 29.

She recalled a hopeful moment for the climate movement, when Time magazine made the “endangered earth” its “planet of the year” in 1988. But that hopefulness turned to frustration as even top-down solutions promoted as business friendly, like cap-and-trade, were abandoned.

Now, Klein said, the time for “small tweaks” is passed. Now, she says, we have only radical options.

“We need to start our discussions from this point, instead of pretending that it’s still 1992,” Klein said.

Cinthya Muñoz Ramos, regional lead organizer on immigrants rights for Causa Justa::Just Cause and co-chair of the Alameda County immigrants rights group ACUDIR, connected the local fight for immigrants rights with the growing number of climate refugees world over.

“Our work around immigrant rights is also an important frontline issue here in the Bay as well as globally, with climate change, as rapidly as it’s happening,” she said.

Experts predict between 50 and 300 million people could be displaced due to climate change by 2050. Estimates about the extent of the climate refugee crisis vary widely but all agree displacement will take place. In some areas people are already facing bleak futures in their homes affected by extreme weather disasters, dwindling resources, and rising sea levels.

But Klein sees some hope. This Changes Everything describes many community-led approaches to environmental justice are challenging the fossil fuel driven world order; the book’s website profiles even more such projects.

Klein’s book tour continues through the end of the month; she’ll be back in California, speaking at the Santa Rosa Veterans Building, October 17.

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