Naomi Klein

Only a reverse shock doctrine can save our world



Who: Naomi Klein
When: 7:30pm Sun., Sept. 28
Where: Town Hall Seattle, 1119 Eighth Avenue, Seattle

Info: www,naomiklein.org

Who: Eric de Place, Sightline policy director
What: Thin Green Line
When: 12pm, Weds., Oct, 1
Where: World Issues Forum, Fairhaven College WWU
More: The region stands between big energy companies’ inland fossil fuel stores and large Asian markets primed to burn these dirty fuels.
Cost: Free
Info: http://www.sighline.org

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Half a million people crowded into the streets of mid-town Manhattan over the weekend in a call to action to curb carbon emissions and to protest stalled policy on a climate treaty. Crowds threaded through canyons of stone and steel to the United Nations to protest the sluggishness of world leaders, but on their way they passed through the camp of an even more determined opponent to climate change—Wall Street.

“We been told the market will save us, when in fact the addiction to profit and growth is digging us in deeper every day,” argues author Naomi Klein in her new book, which traces the rise of global capitalism in tandem with the devastation of global climate change. “We have been told it’s impossible to get off fossil fuels when in fact we know exactly how to do it—it just requires breaking ever rule in the ‘free-market’ playbook: Reigning in corporate power, rebuilding local economies, and reclaiming our democracy.” Solving the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, Klein suggests, is also our best chance to achieve social justice in an increasingly inequitable world.

“What if,” a listener complains at a climate summit, “it’s all a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?”

In This Changes Everything, the award-winning journalist and columnist lays out a compelling argument, not only about what we have to do to save ourselves, but also—perhaps more essentially—about why it’s reasonable to believe that we might in fact actually do these things. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we might even be doing them right now.

Right off, Klein concedes that climate change deniers may have a better grasp of the political implications of the science of climate change than they’re credited with—the reduction of greenhouse gases may well entail a shattering of their world view, the grafting of a new set of values on to their values, and the destruction of a cycle they’ve come to understand is synonymous with the “American Dream.” The likely arc of climate change policy will subvert everything this cohort has aggressively fought for—low taxes, nonexistent or toothless regulation, a world in which low, low prices trump even the most baseline attention to the natural world or human rights.

It’s the centrist green groups that are naive or evasive, Klein notes, trying to sell climate action as something entirely reconcilable—indeed painlessly solvable—with a booming capitalist economy.

“What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources,” she argues. “What our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.”

In August, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—preparing for their summit this fall—released their most dire warning to date on the scientific consensus of dangers caused by the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas.

Projections of average global temperature increases of even 4ºC, noted one author of the report, “are incompatible with any reasonable characterization of an organized, equitable and civilized global community. Yet the report suggests we may well be on our way to an average global temperature increase of 6ºC and beyond.

“These various projections are the equivalent of every alarm in your house going off simultaneously,” Klein notes. “And then every alarm on your street going off as well, one by one. They mean, quite simply, that climate change has become an existential crisis for the human species.”

We’ve slid well past the point where our peculiar strain of “ravage capitalism” can claw back the inevitability of global climate change, she argues. Indeed, one grew in the soil of the other.

“When historians look back on the past quarter century of international negotiations, two defining processes will stand out,” Klein predicts. “There will be the climate process: struggling, sputtering, failing utterly to achieve its goals. And there will be the corporate globalization process, zooming from victory to victory. ...Granting this corporate wishlist, we were told, would fuel economic growth, which would trickle down to the rest of us, eventually. The trade deals mattered only in so far as they stood in for, and plainly articulated, this far broader policy agenda.”

They were rammed through as solutions, she’s persuasively argued, to a series of engineered crises that made them seem necessary, a shock doctrine.

“The three pillars of this new era are familiar to us all,” she writes. “Privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector, and lower corporate taxation, paid for with cuts to public spending. Much has been written of the real-world costs of these policies—the instability of financial markets, the excesses of the super-rich, and the desperation of the increasingly disposable poor, as well as the failing state of public infrastructure and services. Very little, however, has been written about how market fundamentalism has, from the very first moments, systematically sabotaged our collective response to climate change, a threat that came knocking just as this ideology was reaching its zenith.

“The core problem,” she asserts, ‘was that the stranglehold that market logic secured over public life in this period made the most direct and obvious climate responses seem politically heretical.

“A different kind of climate movement would have tried to challenge the extreme ideology that was blocking so much sensible action,” Klein writes. “Instead, large parts of the climate movement wasted precious decades attempting to make the square peg of the climate crisis fit into the round hole deregulated capitalism, forever touting ways for the problem to be solved by the market itself.”

Decoupling this expectation may create a better world in other ways, too, she notes.

“The past 30 years have been a steady process of getting less and less in the public sphere,” she writes. “This is all defended in the name of austerity, the current justification for these never-ending demands for collective sacrifice.

“We sacrifice our pensions, our hard-won labor rights, our arts and after-school programs. We send our kids to learn in ever more crowded classrooms, led by ever more harried teachers. We accept that we have to pay dramatically more for the destructive energy sources that power our transportation and lives. We accept that bus and subway fares go up and up while service fails to improve or degenerates. We accept that a public university education should result in a debt that will take half a lifetime to pay off when such a thing was unheard of a generation ago.”

Klein calls for a new kind shock doctrine, one that operates from the ground up and uses crisis not to grab resources and foreclose on options as the corporate model does, but a People’s Shock that can “disperse power into the hands of the many rather than consolidating it into the hands of the few, and radically expand the commons, rather than auctioning it off in pieces.” And where right-wing shock doctors exploit emergencies (both real and imagined) in order to push through policies that make us even more prone to crisis, these transformations would do the opposite and leave us with a more habitable climate and a more fair and equitable economy.

The seeds of this model Klein finds right here.


Environmental writer Bill McKibben, addressing a large audience in Fairhaven in 2011, predicted that Bellingham and the Pacific Northwest would be ground zero for a pitched battle on the expansion of the carbon fuel economy through exports. Recapping in 2014, Naomi Klein finds evidence he may be correct.

Writing with insight on the coal debate unfolding in the Pacific Northwest, Klein observes, “This is the Catch-22 of the fossil fuel economy: precisely because these activities are so dirty and disruptive, they tend to weaken or even destroy other economic drivers: fish stocks are hurt by pollution, the scarred landscape becomes less attractive to tourists, and farmland becomes unhealthy. But rather than spark a popular backlash. this slow poisoning can end up strengthening the power of the fossil fuel companies because they end up being virtually the only game in town.”

Klein finds promise in the struggle taking place in the Pacific Northwest, organized and even embodied by the Coast Salish tribes, with their treaty rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution seemingly the only groups with sufficient standing to appeal directly to federal policy. In particular, she has high praise for the regional organizing and awareness raised by Lummi Nation carvers through their totem pole journeys.

“The coal and oil industries are no doubt cursing the day that they ever encountered the Pacific Northwest,” she writes. “There the sector had to confront a powerful combination of indigenous nations, farmers and fishers whose livelihoods depend on clean water and soil, and a great many newcomers who have chose to live in that part of the world because of its natural beauty. It is also, significantly, a region where the environmental movement never fully succumbed to the temptations of the corporate partnership model, and where there is a long and radical history of land-based direct action to stop clear-cut logging and dirty mining.

“We’re the last place on Earth that should settle for a tired old retread of the false choices between jobs and the environment,” she quotes KC Golden, a senior policy advisor on climate change and renewable energy. “Coal export is fundamentally inconsistent with our vision and values. It’s not just a slap in the cace to ‘green’ groups. It’s a moral disaster and our affront to our identity as a community” seeking alternatives to fossil fuel dependence.

“One battle doesn’t rob from another,” she notes, “but rather causes battles to multiply, with each act of courage and each victory, inspiring others to strengthen their resolve.”

Echoing poet Wendell Berry, Klein observes, “If each of us loved our homeplace enough to defend it, there would be no ecological crisis, no place could ever be written off as a sacrifice zone. We would simply have no choice but to adopt nonpoisonous methods of meeting our needs.

“This sense of moral clarity,” she writes of our struggle, “after so many decades of chummy green partnerships, is the real shock for the extractive industries. The climate movement has found its nonnegotiables. This fortitude is not just building a large and militant resistance to the companies most responsible for the climate crisis. It is also delivering some of the most significant victories the environmental movement has seen in decades.”

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