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Sunday 26 May 2013

Naomi Klein @ Radiobubble: Climate change is our best argument against free trade

Naomi Klein spoke today to Radiobubble's @JaquoUtopie about the economic and environmental crisis and how climate change affects economic and political transformation, but also about her upcoming work, gold mining and the movement opposing it in Skouries, the tar sands and the Idle No More movement in Canada. 

The way that in a moment of economic desperation governments and corporations use the crisis as a pretext to destroy the environment by convincing people that this is the easier way to “get money”, the scare tactics, the lack of a clear and inspiring articulation of a radically different vision are some of the issues they discussed, as well as the cost that people will have to pay if capitalism continues down that destructive road. 

But also about emerging peoples’ movements, the turning point in history when it’s time to create our own alternative, the failure of the media and the time for new models to develop and change the landscape, the hope, the future and her very young, beautiful son Tom.

You can listen to the interview above and/or read the transcript after the jump.  

JaquoUtopie: The first time I came across your work was with the documentary "The Take", years and years ago. For me it was like it something I never thought anyone else was talking about and Argentina was a surprise and after that it came the books and watching you working in journalism so the news that you came to Athens spread very fast along the activists but the media as well, so everyone knows… 

Naomi Κlein: Including some really stupid stuff. Yes

JaquoUtopie: Yes I think you have seen.. 

Naomi Κlein: The Naomi Campbell thing. 

JaquoUtopie: Yeah I know… And I am sure that you experienced that the "Shock doctrine" is not only a best seller, but it's something everyone is talking about in different ways in Athens, so what brought you here? 

Naomi Κlein: Well..

JaquoUtopie: Its a common question.

Naomi Κlein: It's funny. Someone said to me, whom I met at a free health clinic the other day, she actually said "what took you so long?" 

JaquoUtopie: I don't think that it you so long, because of the books you working on 

Naomi Κlein: The truth is that I've been wanting to come to Greece for several years now, you know, since the crisis hit so hard and the resistance is so strong, and B-Fest actually has been inviting me to come for a few years now. I am coming now because I've been working now for 4 years on another book which why I didn't come earlier, and the book is actually about climate change and the ecological crisis; and I am making the argument in the new book that the solutions to the ecological crisis, in particular to the climate crisis, are also our solutions to our economic crisis, that they hold the solutions to a new economic model. If we begin with ecological limits, if we begin with the way we are pushing Earth's limits too far and we think about how we build an economy that respects natural limits, we would also build an economy that respects people and our limits.

So it's really an integrative approach, it's an argument that the left needs to put the environment centrally in its announcements which it really has never done, and it's always either ignored or it's an add-on that gets dropped off whenever there is something more important. And I think what is happening to Greece right now shows very dramatically why that is such a problem because in the name of the economic crisis, as part of what I call the Shock Doctrine, we're seeing not only people attacked but also the natural world, also the environment and so I've been following the conflict in Skouries... you know it is a Canadian gold mining company

JU: Yes, I know

NΚ: You know, we try to follow all the repression that surrounds the Canadian extractive industries around the world, not just gold mining, copper mining, all kinds of mining. This is the largest export industry in Canada for an investment industry, and then I started to see it was not only the mines, it was also the oil, the gas, the water and really there is a race on, to extract and privatize Greece's natural resources in a way that is very destructive to the environment and disastrous for climate change because we are talking about fossil fuels, we are talking about lignite coal, gas, oil, all the worst stuff. So... and deforestation, which accompanies mining.

And I know this is not what the Greek debate is focused on right now, I know people are expecting me to be talking only just about the economic policies but I really think we need to be looking at these connections much more closely so that is what I am doing here. I am doing research for my next book and looking at the attacks on the environment here under the guise of the economic crisis.

JU: I could argue that in Greece the environmental problem is part of the argument in two ways. The one way that it appears [is that] we have a major movement in Skouries, an activists' and citizens' movement that spread across Greece partly or mostly through the alternative media of course to be honest, and when the oppression came, it made its appearance in the big mass media. In the other part is that Greek politicians use what they think is the richness of Greece's soil, so like the extraction of oil or gas, and use it as the biggest way, they present to us as the biggest way to get out of the crisis or one of the biggest ways, the investments in that areas. How do you think we should answer to that? 

NΚ: Those arguments are to me the textbook example of how crisis is used to attack the environment to deepen in the climate crisis. This is the way in which the Greek people are explicitlly been told: "if you drill for oil and gas in the Ionian Sea and in the Aegean then you will somehow escape austerity" and I read articles where this was made very explicit. I read one piece, a Reuters' piece, most of it is not translated into English, it was one writer's piece that exclusively said the amount that Greece imports in oil and gas, and the amount it spends importing oil and gas is the same amount the foreign creditors want, so if you drill oil and gas then you don't need the austerity. So obviously this is a tremendously seductive argument for people who are suffering so profoundly and I think it's, to be honest, massively immoral to make that argument because it is a lie. I mean its a complete …

JU: No one talks about the corporations 

NΚ: Greece's creditors want to be paid back in the short term, not the long term. It takes a long time before you actually get the revenues from oil and gas. I mean, it's not in the same time scale. It's not either/or, Greece is getting austerity and privatization *and* its going to get its environment destroyed. It's not... one isn't going to escape from the other. It's just that people understand that in a moment of desperation, you can lie like that and it's a lie. It's a really deeply manipulative lie, because it's a moment when people are so desperate for hope and escape from crisis that they will believe something that implausible. Yeah, you gonna have an oil rush, and suddenly everything will be fine. But you know in my country, in Canada, it is true that we have largely escaped the economic crisis compared to other countries, not completely, but the economic crisis, the global economic crisis didn't hit Canada nearly as hard as Europe and the United States, in large part because in this period there has been a massive expansion of oil extraction in Canada. So in Canada we already had this going so it could be ramped up very quickly. And this is the tar sands in Alberta, which is the dirtiest form of oil, it produces three times more carbon than a conventional barrel of oil because the oil is in solid form in the sand. So this argument has been used very effectively in my country, we have been told the same thing Greeks have been told. You cannot afford to care about the environment in an economic crisis. So my country, we are one of the signatories of the Kyoto protocol, we just abandoned the Kyoto protocol, our government just abandoned the Kyoto protocol so that it could keep drilling for dirty oil, keep increasing our emissions. We've increased our emissions more than 30% in the Kyoto period.

So this is happening. This is not a unique issue in Greece, that the economic crisis is used as a pretext to destroy the environment, but I think in addition to it not being true for Greece because the time frames don't work, don't match up [I know this is noisy for you - JU: it's OK], in addition to that the economic costs for Greece of climate change are tremendously high, on other sectors. (...) The Greek economy is tremendously dependent on tourism, on fishery, these are two industries that are very very vulnerable to climate change, not to mention the fact that this is a coastal country, so you are very vulnerable to sea level rise, you are also very vulnerable to ocean acidification and the impact of ocean acidification on the coral reefs that obviously impacts both both the tourism and the fishery.

JU: And if I add earthquakes, I don't want to think what will probably happen in the future... 

NΚ: And forest fires, that we already have seen in Greece recently.

JU: And very big forest fires. So, would you argue that since you are approaching the Shock Doctrine, this might be a change that is happening in the global economy, the way that global economy approaches the crisis or do you see other change than that. 

NΚ: Well. The truth is that the way in which the economic crisis has been used to impose austerity is kind of a textbook example of Shock Doctrine. I mean I get so many emails and tweets of people asking why don't you add a chapter on Greece, or why don't add a chapter on Spain, and it is like because it would be very repetitive.

JU: Its already there. 

NΚ: And I mean, the truth is that I wrote the book so that it could serve as a tool for societies in the midst of crisis to look at the various different ways in which Shock is used. You know, each country that I profile is not the same, what happened in South Africa is not the same as what happened in Poland, is not the same as what happened in Russia, but there are these common themes. I end the book with climate change because... I show how natural disasters including hurricane Katrina which... you can never say that this disaster was caused by climate change but we know that increasingly intense hurricanes are one of the impacts of climate change because the oceans are warmer and it traps heat more and brings more force to storms. So what happened in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina was a combination of the effects of warmer weather and weak infrastructure because of 30 years of neo-liberalism colliding, so the levies collapse, the state is non-functional, it can't get people out, it's so weak that it cannot perform the basic functions of a state. You remember those crazy moments when it seemed that the Federal disaster agency, FEMA, in the United States, it couldn't find New Orleans for five days. So, this is the fear that climate change is the biggest disaster we have ever faced as humanity, affecting everybody on the planet, and that if we don't radically change course with the values that govern our society, then climate change will be used as the ultimate disaster capitalism opportunity. And it already is with carbon trading, with land grabs all over Latin America, Africa, Asia where huge tracks of fertile farm land are being used for richer countries for their food, also for agrifuels, also for carbon credits through various schemes. So we're already seeing how capitalism is turning climate change into a profit-generating opportunity while not dealing with the crisis, while not actually bringing the emission reductions that we need to respond to the crisis.

So the question is, could it be something else? I mean this is, I don't want to write a book that is just saying, you know, this is another disaster, because I believe there's something else at work with climate change, which is that the science is so clear. We know, we have the targets, and the truth is, we cannot do what the science tells us we need to do in terms of cutting our emissions as dramatically as we need, to cut our emissions in this clear time frame we have. Between now and 2020, we need to have a U turn, by 2050 we need to decarbotize our economies. That is incompatible with capitalism, it cannot be done within capitalism. We have all these green groups that have tried to sell us on this idea of green capitalism and green growth and consumer solutions, market solutions, but in the time that they've had, they had their chance, they had 22 years. Which is true, that's how long we have been negotiating on climate solution: for 22 years. In that time frame our emissions have gone up by 54%, the global emissions have gone up 54%, so I think fair to say market solutions have failed, carbon markets have failed. So now it’s time to cut the emissions in a serious way, at the source, it’s about leaving the carbon in the ground in the first place. Can that be done in a way that is compatible with what capitalism demands of the economy, which is continuous growth and expansion? It simply can't. The numbers don't add up. The only way that economists like Nicholas Stern have been able to claim that you can have climate action and economic growth is if you only cut emissions by 3% a year, but now scientists are saying we need to cut emissions by 9% to 10% a year. And that means contraction.

So now, that forces a discussion which says: “OK, if we want to survive as a species, if we want to protect the habitability of the planet, we need a different economic model, we need to think completely differently” and I think that that is... in some ways it’s a gift because it means that we have a tremendous moral authority. The right is always saying to us “what’s your alternative, what’s your alternative, there is no alternative”, but really there is no alternative to addressing this crisis profoundly. And this is why I think there is something very strange that’s happened on the left, where... obviously there are exceptions, there are people in the radical left who are engaged with the climate issue but it is a very small percentage of the left, and what I've been trying to communicate is that this is the best argument we ever had against capitalism and that the deep solutions, the real solutions to the climate crisis are ones where we take real control back of the economy.

We've been fighting against the free trade agreements now for decades. This is the best argument we've ever had against free trade, about the need to localize our economies, to democratize our economies, and somehow we are not making these connections. I understand why the old school, sort of state socialists can’t get their heads around it because state socialism was a disaster for the economy as well. But I think for those of us who have been fighting for more decentralized economy, for a different agricultural system, a different manufacturing system, all of these principles of local control and decentralization are entirely compatible with real climate solutions. Think about what is happening in this country around energy, when people can’t afford to heat their homes and this is …

JU: Or to move their cars to be honest the last year...

NΚ: Yeah, but that's really key, because it creates the context where we need to be talking about public transit, a revolution in public transit, and public transit that is genuinely controlled by the people, not controlled by the state but by the riders or the users and the workers. And then another issue which I think is very much of a problem in southern Europe is that renewable energy was sold very aggressively by big corporations, with these huge wind farms, huge solar farms that were not accountable to the community, were not controlled by the community, people felt very out of control. Where renewable energy has been most successful is in countries where you have real movements for community-controlled renewable energy. And maybe people's views are changed but they have a sense of agency, they have a sense of control, they're making the decisions and you don't have nearly the kind of backlash against renewable energy that you have seen here in Greece or in Spain.

So, I mean that's another example, we talked about the ways in which the environment is being attacked in midst of economic crisis in Greece, it's not just the pushing of for more oil, gas, coal and mining, it's is also that feeding terrace for solar energy being cut and environmental [inaudible] that were working are being done away with. 

JU: Though in the last years, during the crisis, the movements that emerged around the world, the Tahrir movement or the Indignados in Spain or even the Occupy movement and of course the Syntagma square movement... in the beginning or in the core of their argument they never really got into the environmental problem, though I know that in the United States, and in Canada also there are movements dealing with this, like the Idle No More movement or campaigns that they do in the United States. Do you think that these movements can connect between them around the world and become like major global movements. We have seen it happening during the anti-globalization movement but right now its like they are apart. And also [can they] take a step further to address the climate problem. 

NΚ: I think it is happening, it already starting to happen and I think, you know, this is a moment, someone described it to me like a low tide in the resistance movements here in Europe. But I think this low tide is more than just cyclical, I think we are hitting the wall of just resistance politics, of just saying no to austerity. And I think this is a low tide moment but I think it’s more than just a low tide moment for the movements in Europe, I think it’s also that people are really wondering what’s next, what’s the next strategy, and feeling the limits of just resistance politics, of just saying NO, which is not to say that saying NO is unimportant.

We have to say NO, because the NO is what gives us the breathing room to build the alternative in the first place. But I think what we are seeing is that the scare tactics are so strong. You can see this so clearly in the Greek media, of what does saying NO mean, it mean the end of the world. It means the destruction of what’s left of the economy, and I think it’s clear that people are not going to go along with that no unless they see a path that they feel genuinely hopeful about, that feels true to them. And I know there’s debate about that but I think it’s clear from the results, the election results, where people are at, is they’re afraid to follow the NO. They are afraid of the consequences, so there has to be a clear articulation of YES, it has to be inspiring. It really has to be inspiring and that’s where I think bringing in the environmental crisis, the ecological crisis, you’re really articulating another vision, a radically different vision for the economy.

The energy system is broken in the country, that’s a very good time to talk about a completely different energy system, not just talking about nationalization or resisting privatizations. You do need to resist privatization because if all the energy resources are sold off to corporations, you have much less power to remake the energy system. So the NO is important but the NO is just the beginning, the NO is the beginning of the alternative, not the alternative. And so I think that the people are wanting to start articulating these alternatives. I think they do need to be interlinked and global. There is need to be a sense that this is something happening everywhere or else the alternatives feel too small. This is the problem. We know that our problems are so big and so interlinked that it doesn't feel credible when we only talk about a little local alternative here. How this local farmer, local energy product can make any dent in this huge system, whether it’s the banking system, or whether its climate system. You know, what is this one little thing gonna matter. So we have to work with each other and present a vision where, yes, these are small, locally controlled alternatives but they are happening everywhere.

So I see that as a task ahead; it’s very difficult but definitely... with Occupy it was really interesting because the environment, the climate crisis was not even mentioned in the first documents, you know, there was a first manifesto that came out, and then somebody added something about genetically modified food, something like that, but that was it. And from the beginning I sort of saw my role a little bit just pushing this question in a speech that I gave in the square, sort of linking these issues – and it was there organically, in the sense that the food was all locally produced, there were connections being made with local farmers to bring the food in and there was... they were using permaculture and a grey water system to wash the dishes and when the police took the generators, people came with bicycles generators. It’s not there was no ecological consciousness, there was, but it wasn't in the critique of the system, it was not central.

I had a discussion with a group of core organizers about why that was and the answer was similar to what you hear from people in Greece right now. We are focused on the emergency, we’re focused on people losing their houses and food and we just... this is too far off, it’s too abstract. Well, you know, a few months ago, a huge hurricane hit New York City and Occupy Wall Street was reinvented as Occupy Sandy which was an amazing relief organization where Occupy Wall Street reincarnated into this sort of solidarity, mutual aid for people who had lost power, electricity, didn't have food, they were setting up health clinics, and yes, people where talking about climate change and suddenly it didn't seem all that abstract. The truth is, this idea that climate change is some faraway thing, that we don't have time to talk about this , it's a fantasy. It goes away in an instant when the disaster strikes, so we may as well get ready and not just wait for that to happen because it certainly changed Occupy Wall Street when Sandy hit the New York City. People are certainly engaged in the climate issue. 

JU: We have a similar example here in Skouries and had several similar examples but it was always local issues and never something in general, to be honest. But I think, I hope it will change, maybe Skouries is a step towards changing the narrative in Greece on the environment. 

NK: Also hopefully the oil and gas drilling will... You know, I think it still hasn't, it hasn't become a popular discussion yet, it's like the experts talking about the different scenarios, but they’re not drilling yet. But now, when the seismic studies come back, maybe there will be more of a discussion about whether this is the way to go. 

JU: Well, this is always the problem about democracy in Greece, you always have experts or politicians talking about everything, and you never have the people talking about it. And this is something you always see in the Greek media, you never have, let’s say, vox pops in the Greek media, and it really makes me curious on why.

NK: I've noticed that, but I wanted to just say one more thing. You mentioned Idle No More, and I think that ... for me, Idle No More is an evolution of these movements, in that it takes, it builds on some of the tactics, but it’s very different, and I think the thing that makes it most exciting is that the alternatives are much more central than in the resistance movements and the squares’ movements, because it’s really an assertion of another world view, another relationship to land, and it was, it’s very much an environmental movement, because it was sparked by a law that my government pushed through, it was a budget that was passed, it’s called an omnibus bill, you know, one of those super-bills which has... bundling everything together. And it included a tax on indigenous sovereignty, and a tax on environmental standards. And the Idle No More movement rose up in response to this law but really was a response to this vision of how you build an economy based on extraction. Because my government has one idea, and that’s dig lots of holes. I was joking, somebody was saying in Greece “we have to dig ourselves out of the hole”, so they think you can get yourself out of the hole by digging lots of holes, that’s their vision, it’s very clear, it’s very simple. So what’s our vision, what’s our alternative? Nationalize the holes? I don’t think that’s gonna cut it. So with Idle No More, because it’s an indigenous movement, because it’s a women-led movement, it wasn't just saying NO to that, it was asserting, in many different ways, on many different levels, an entirely different relationship with nature, and an entirely different vision of an economy. And what would be most exciting for me is if we would really listen to that vision, not just in my country but around the world, because this is being asserted by indigenous people everywhere – and use that as part of the basis of what our economies should look like. 

JU: I understood that you chose not to talk to very big media in Greece, and that you’re giving a press conference to alternative media tomorrow. So I would like you to comment on why you made that choice. You know that we in radiobubble are trying to organize citizen journalism, and we think that people should take in their hands, or participate more, in how to inform each other, so I’d like to hear what you think on the idea, and also why do you promote alternative media in this way. 

NK: You know, I wanted to meet you guys and support your work. The truth is, I think doing very confrontational media, it doesn't really accomplish very much. People are being failed by their institutions in this moment, they’re being failed by the banks, they’re being failed by government, they’re being failed by the courts but they’re also being failed by the media. And in these moments of failure – and that’s what we've been talking about – it is a moment when alternatives can emerge. If your energy system isn't working and people are burning firewood, that’s a good time to talk about another way to produce energy. If your media system is lying to you all the time and printing gossip instead of news and spreading fear and racism, that’s a good time, that’s a good moment when alternative media can become the dominant media, precisely because you’re filling that gap. So to me, it’s less about, sort of, supporting alternative media and thinking about, in these moments, that’s a moment when we can really change the media landscape, and be the place where people go to, to get real information. I've seen that happen, it happened in Argentina with Indymedia, in that moment it was kind of amazing, Indymedia was, like, the place to go to find what was going on in the country, because the big media corporations had let down the country so much.

So that’s happened with you guys, and in many cases it’s just a question of finding a funding model that’s sustainable. It’s not that people aren't interested, it’s that, you know, if you’re not doing corporate advertising, it’s very hard to sustain. So I guess that was my thinking, but you know, the reason I’m not doing lots of media is that I’m truly not here, I’m not here on a book tour, I’m here actually primarily to do research, I've been in Athens for a week doing research and we’re going up to the north and we’ll be going to Halkidiki for a week and doing research there, so I’m just doing very little and I just didn't want it to be a complete nightmare. When the book first comes out, you have to do whatever your publisher tells you, but when it’s been out for a few years... [laughs] But in terms of the alternative media, that was my idea, because it’s my experience that it can get a little bit hectic, because, sort of, everyone’s alternative media, you know, everyone with an iPhone, so it’s easier for me. That’s just self-preservation, to just say “everybody come to this one room, we’re going to do it all at once.”

JU: I was looking at your timeline, and of course there’s a lot about the environment and what you do and your articles, but then there’s a picture on your Twitter account, you have a very young son, and he’s very cute, and I could not not comment. And it made me think if maybe your son has maybe changed the way you want to act – not only the way you see, you have already been an activist, but the way you want to act from now on in changing things. 

NK: I think he’s just changed me, he’s made me much more tired [laughs] It’s funny, you know, it’s a funny thing, for me having a child was an act of hope, for sure, and I’m old to be having my first child, and part of that is that I couldn't, you know, when I was writing the Shock Doctrine, I couldn't see how I could do that work with a child, and I also felt very hopeless, I guess, even though I was trying to be hopeful. But it was really the environmental stuff that was my biggest block, where I just, I would read the climate science and I just didn't see how you have a future for a child that isn't like Mad Max. 

JU: It’s like you’re sitting with me and my friends talking, Mad Max is a constant example. 

NK: That’s definitely still possible, but I feel like... I mean, there’s so much going on, the last few years have made me a lot more hopeful. I found out I was pregnant when I was at Occupy Wall Street, actually, which is why I named him Toma, ‘cause I was occupied, my little occupation one. But obviously, it changes you, the whole process has changed me, but I also think, you know, lots of women choose not to have kids, and when I didn't have kids, and I wasn't able to have kids for a long time, I wasn't able to conceive, it ended up just kind of a miracle that I got pregnant, it used to really piss me off hearing this sort of narrative, “now I care about the future because I have a kid”, ‘cause I felt like “are you saying I don’t care about the future because I don’t have a kid?”, so I really promised myself, if I have a kid, I’m never going to do that to other women ‘cause I think it’s horrible. [laughs]

JU: That’s why I asked you if it’s changed the way you act, not the way you think about it. 

NK: The way I act is... It’s definitely changed the way I act, I've never been away from him for even a night, so he’s with us. He loves Greece, this is the funniest thing, he’s just having the best time, he’s just in heaven, so that’s been fun. This is the first time we've taken him on a big trip, it was kind of a test to see if he... if we could all do it, and he’s happier than he’s ever been, so it means anything’s possible. (...) This will be his first experience with the sea, so that’s exciting. 

JU: Thank you very much. I’m sure that I speak on behalf of the entire radiobubble community when I say that we’re really glad and very honoured that you’d talk with us. 

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