Naomi Klein on Capitalism, Climate Change and the Possibility of “Armageddon”

Journalist, environmental advocate and every corporate executive’s worst nightmare, Naomi Klein isn’t just an author—she’s an icon. Her book No Logo made alternative globalization activists the way The Ramones made punk rockers. This Changes Everything, her latest book, examines the relationship between capitalism and climate change.

Klein sat down with The Link before the official book launch to talk about corporate power, indigenous resistance and the divestment campaigns in the context of climate change.

Do you think humanity will undergo the drastic ideological shift you describe as necessary to combat climate change, and if so, when do you think it will take place?

[Laughs] Hmm, at exactly 3 p.m. You know, I don’t engage in that kind of speculation. There is a path that we can choose. I have no idea if we’re going to choose that path. I think the odds are pretty strong that we won’t.

In the face of that, we could despair, or we could fight really hard to try and convince other people that we should make that turn, and try to make that path as enticing as we can and as exciting as we can.

But [no one] could predict this. Human behaviour is non-linear, just like the climates, and I find that since publishing the book, I’m having an argument about whether or not change is possible. And to me, that’s not really a question that we answer rationally, it’s a choice that we make as human beings about whether we’re going to have hope or not.

There seems to be a huge amount of consensus that we are just heading towards Armageddon, and the argument is whether there’s any reason to lose hope at all.

A problem you highlight in the book is the power multinational corporations hold through investor protection provisions of free-trade agreements. What do you think the average person, the average consumer, can do in their daily life to combat the all-invasive power of corporations?

I found after I wrote [No Logo] that the first question people would ask after the speech would be, ‘What kind of sneakers should I buy?’ What I’m documenting in this book is the triumph of the sociological project designed to make us see ourselves only as consumers and tell us that all we are are these self-interested, gratification-seeking units. I think what people need to understand is that we were born into the rubble of that model.

So, part of what responding to that model means is changing how we think of ourselves. It means shaking off that lie; we are not just consumers. If our first question is, ‘How do we respond to this as individuals?’ We’ve already lost.

We cannot respond to multimillion-dollar corporations as individuals. We have to respond to them collectively, it’s our only hope. The only thing we have going for us is that there are many more of us than there are of them.

You also highlight the power of indigenous communities that challenge the legal rights of multinationals through their treaty agreements. Do you see any alternative methods of enforcing indigenous land claims, and what can non-native environmental groups do to help that combat?

I think one of the ways in which this debate has shifted in Canada is that, in recent years, more and more Canadians have come to understand that First Nations land rights are probably the most robust legal barrier in the face of a government that seems determined to ram through with extractive projects despite the will of the local population. And so that calls for genuine solidarity.

I think the underlying issue is that Canada and, by extension, all non-indigenous Canadians have broken again and again promises made.

In so many First Nations communities, the choices are impossible. Do you want running water, which will supposedly come if you sign a deal with an extractive industry, or do you want your water poisoned by the said extractive industries?

These are impossible choices, and nobody should be forced to have only bad choices in front of them. There have to be good choices! And I think that that’s a deeper form of solidarity and that’s the discussion we need to be having.

“There seems to be a huge amount of consensus that we are just heading towards Armageddon, and the argument is whether there’s any reason to lose hope at all.”

—Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything

At McGill and Concordia, divestment campaigns have sprung up in the last couple of years. Concordia is considering the creation of a responsible investment fund as an alternative to investments in fossil fuel industries. However, nothing has thus far been solidified. To what extent do you find these tactics effective?

Well look, it’s early days. It’s pretty stunning how quickly this movement has spread. It’s only been a couple of years.

I understand, from a student perspective. You’re only at the university for three or four years and you want to get things done, and I think that sense of urgency is entirely appropriate, but it is happening quickly, and we’re seeing movement at schools that originally said no, now they’re starting to say maybe, they’re starting to say okay maybe just coal, and so there’s movement.

You began your career at a student paper at the University of Toronto. In light of this, how do you view the role of independent media and their corporate counterparts in shaping the public’s views and actions on climate change, and do you relate that at all to the fight against the corporate influence and greater neoliberal ideology?

I think that it’s one of the many things that I don’t devote enough attention to in the book. That is sort of the issue that is underneath all the other issues. Anyone fighting for any type of shared-interest justice-based platform has an interest in reducing the power of corporate money in politics.

The same is true for having media that is genuinely accountable to its users. It’s a bit depressing, being on this tour and seeing how embattled the CBC is, because I do believe in alternative media but I also believe in public-sector media, which is under tremendous attack in this country.

How do you think Big Green can be prevented from forming ties with the fossil fuel industry?

Honestly, I think that there is such a strong and growing climate justice movement that a lot of these groups that have made these dirty deals are going to become irrelevant because people are moving to another phase and they know that this is not where the answers lie.

Video by Shaun Michaud