“My Fear is that Climate Change is the Biggest Crisis of All”
Naomi Klein Warns Global Warming Could Be Exploited by Capitalism and Militarism
AMY GOODMAN: Rallies for workers’ rights are spreading across the country. In Michigan, over a thousand people rallied at the State Capitol in Lansing to oppose a measure allowing the breaking of labor contracts by placing schools and districts under emergency management. In a scene reminiscent of Wisconsin, hundreds of demonstrators packed the Capitol Rotunda chanting slogans. Protests were also held against anti-union bills Tuesday in Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Florida and Tennessee.
Meanwhile, in Idaho, the state legislature has given final approval to a measure restricting the collective bargaining of public school teachers. The bill would limit teachers’ collective bargaining to salaries and benefits. It also ends teacher tenure, limits teacher contracts to one year, and removes seniority as a factor in determining layoffs.
As a wave of anti-union bills are introduced across the country in the wake of the Great Recession, many analysts are picking up on the theory that award-winning journalist and author Naomi Klein first argued in her bestselling book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. In it, she reveals how those in power use times of crisis to push through undemocratic, radical, free market economic policies.
Nobel Prize-winning economist, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, recently referenced the book in his column called "Shock Doctrine, U.S.A." He wrote, quote, "The story of the privatization-obsessed Coalition Provisional Authority [in Iraq] was the centerpiece of Naomi Klein’s best-selling book 'The Shock Doctrine,' which argued that it was part of a broader pattern. From Chile in the 1970s onward, she suggested, right-wing ideologues have exploited crises to push through an agenda that has nothing to do with resolving those crises, and everything to do with imposing their vision of a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society.
"Which brings us to Wisconsin 2011, where the shock doctrine is on full display," Krugman wrote.
Well, Naomi Klein joins us today in our studio for the hour. In addition to The Shock Doctrine, she’s the author of two previous books: No Logo: Taking Aim at Brand Bullies and Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate. She’s currently writing a new book which focuses on the public relations campaign distorting climate change facts.
Naomi Klein, welcome to Democracy Now!
NAOMI KLEIN: Hi, Amy. Great to see you.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. Let’s talk Wisconsin. What do you see is happening in this uprising?
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, first of all, it’s such an incredible example of how to resist the shock doctrine. And it should not be in any way surprising that we are seeing right-wing ideologues across the country using economic crisis as a pretext to really wage a kind of a final battle in a 50-year war against trade unions, where we’ve seen membership in trade unions drop precipitously. And public sector unions are the last labor stronghold, and they’re going after it. And these governors did not run elections promising to do these radical actions, but they are using the pretext of crisis to do things that they couldn’t get elected promising to do.
And, you know, that’s the core argument of and the thesis of the book, is not that there’s something wrong with responding to a crisis decisively. Crises demand decisive responses. The issue is this backhanded attempt to use a crisis to centralize power, to subvert democracy, to avoid public debate, to say, "We have no time for democracy. It’s just too messy. It doesn’t matter what you want. We have no choice. We just have to ram it through." And we’re seeing this in 16 states. I mean, it’s impossible to keep track of it. It’s happening on such a huge scale.
Teachers’ unions are getting the worst of it. Yesterday was International Women’s Day. This is—you know, as you pointed out on your show, it’s overwhelmingly women who are providing the services that are under attack. It’s not just labor that’s under attack; it’s the services that the labor is providing that’s under attack: it’s healthcare, it’s education, it’s those fundamental care-giving services across the country, which could be profitable if they were privatized.
AMY GOODMAN: In Ohio, more than 20,000 people marched to oppose the Republican Governor John Kasich’s attempted anti-union legislative putsch. Kasich recently defended his policy proposals on Fox & Friends.
GOV. JOHN KASICH: It’s part of a big piece of reform. Come March the 15th, we will be reforming Medicaid, K-through-12, higher ed, prisons. It is going to be a reform agenda in Ohio like no one has ever seen, all designed to get us in a good position. In terms of unions? I respect unions. I come from a union family. I mean, the idea that we’re attacking anybody is—look, what we’re attacking: poverty, joblessness. OK, that’s what I’m attacking. And all I’m doing is saying to everybody, participate. Everybody jump in this. Together, we can make Ohio stronger. If we do not do that, you know, then we’ll continue to lose jobs, and that means misery for everybody. That’s not going to happen. We are going to be successful here.
AMY GOODMAN: Republican Governor John Kasich, going back to his old haunt. He was a commentator for a long time for Fox and, before that, a conservative congressman.
NAOMI KLEIN: You know, the reason why this isn’t working and why people are so outraged by it and why they’re in the streets and we’re finally seeing the resistance in this country that we have seen in Europe, with this chant, "We won’t pay for your crisis," that really started in 2008 in Greece and spread to Italy and France and England—and, you know, the rest of the world has been waiting for the United States to—you know, how much are Americans going to take of this? It seems that Americans were willing to say, you know, "We will pay for your crisis, and would you like a tax break with that?" Right? And finally, they went too far. And so, that resistance is finally happening.
And this attack on collective bargaining, the reason why people won’t take it is precisely because they understand that this is not shared pain. It is not being shared equally. The people who created the crisis in the first place are not sharing the pain. And the injustice of this response is so blatant. This isn’t just any economic crisis. This tactic has worked. And this is, you know, what I’ve tracked over a 30-year period, that it is really easy to use an economic crisis—people panic, hyperinflation, issues like that. In the '90s, when Newt Gingrich was Speaker, it was possible for him to argue that the source of the budget crisis really was so-called entitlement programs. You cannot do that in this moment in history because everybody understands that the crisis was created on Wall Street, it was created through speculation and greed, and a decision was made to bail out the bankers with public money and to pass the bill on to the public. And they're seeing the bonuses back. They’re seeing the outrageous salaries. They’re seeing corporations not paying their taxes. And it’s just too unjust. It’s just so morally outrageous. And then to turn on the television and talk about everybody sharing the pain? I mean, people are just not that stupid. Thankfully.
AMY GOODMAN: And where does the Obama administration fit into this?
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: We have played that clip of President Obama when he was running for president, saying, "If anyone challenges your collective union rights, I will be walking with you."
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. Well, I mean, this is the irony of this moment, and this is—it really is about democracies. Scott Walker was not elected with a mandate to bust unions and to strip collective bargaining rights. He did not mention that in his campaign. He talked about balancing the budget. He made some vague statements, you know, about shared sacrifice. But he absolutely did not campaign promising to do what he is now doing. Obama, on the other hand, campaigned promising to strengthen union rights. He promised, again and again, whenever he had a labor audience, that he was going to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, and he promised to stand with them.
And, you know, one of the things that’s so important for us to understand about why—you know, there are many reasons why the resistance is so strong in Wisconsin and why they’ve become this beacon for not just the rest of the country, but the world, and so much of it, I think—you know, my colleague at The Nation, John Nichols, has written beautifully about it this week in a cover story where he talks about the rich sense of collective history, of collective memory, and the fact that people know their progressive history in Wisconsin, so they’re harder to exploit. You know, they’re not going to fall for the latest Fox News messaging, because they know their history. But, you know, this is—there’s something else that’s going on here. And, well, I mean, I’ll just let you take it from there.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask you about Michigan.
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And then we’re going to go to a break.
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: About a thousand people rallied in Michigan—
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN:—reminiscent of Wisconsin. Talk about the proposal there.
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I just found out about this last night, and like I said, there’s so much going on that these extraordinary measures are just getting lost in the shuffle. But in Michigan, there is a bill that’s already passed the House. It’s on the verge of passing the Senate. And I’ll just read you some excerpts from it. It says that in the case of an economic crisis, that the governor has the authority to authorize the emergency manager—this is somebody who would be appointed—to reject, modify or terminate the terms of an existing contract or collective bargaining agreement, authorize the emergency manager for a municipal government—OK, so we’re not—we’re talking about towns, municipalities across the state—to disincorporate. So, an appointed official with the ability to dissolve an elected body, when they want to.
AMY GOODMAN: A municipal government.
NAOMI KLEIN: A municipal government. And it says specifically, "or dissolve the municipal government." So we’ve seen this happening with school boards, saying, "OK, this is a failing school board. We’re taking over. We’re dissolving it. We’re canceling the contracts." You know, what this reminds me of is New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, when the teachers were fired en masse and then it became a laboratory for charter schools. You know, people in New Orleans—and you know this, Amy—warned us. They said, "What’s happening to us is going to happen to you." And I included in the book a quote saying, "Every city has their Lower Ninth Ward." And what we’re seeing with the pretext of the flood is going to be used with the pretext of an economic crisis. And this is precisely what’s happening. So it starts with the school boards, and then it’s whole towns, whole cities, that could be subject to just being dissolved because there’s an economic crisis breaking collective bargaining agreements. It also specifies that—this bill specifies that an emergency manager can be an individual or a firm. Or a firm. So, the person who would be put in charge of this so-called failing town or municipality could actually be a corporation.
AMY GOODMAN: Whose government they dissolve, a company takes over.
NAOMI KLEIN: A company takes over. So, they have created, if this passes, the possibility for privatization of a whole town by fiat. And this is actually a trend in the contracting out of public services, where you do now have whole towns, like Sandy Springs in Georgia, run by private companies. It’s very lucrative. Why not? You start with just the water contract or the electricity contract, but eventually, why not privatize the whole town? So—
AMY GOODMAN: And what happens then? Where does democracy fit into that picture?
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, this is an assault on democracy. It’s a frontal assault on democracy. It’s a kind of a corporate coup d’état at the municipal level.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest for the hour is Naomi Klein—yes, the journalist and author. Her latest book is called Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. You can go to our Facebook page, and you can post questions there for her and just continue to participate in the dialogue. Let me ask you a question that came to us from Facebook. This is a question about the Madison protest for you, posted on our Facebook page. Kevin Williams—Kelvin Williams asks, "Are there any specific ways that Wisconsin workers can use the ideas in [your book] 'The Shock Doctrine' to go on the offensive and force true fiscal responsibility, perhaps even rolling back the compromise contract?"
NAOMI KLEIN: Mm-hmm. It’s a great question. I think what’s finally starting to happen, and this is—Wisconsin has really been going from one victory after another. This started off with an attack, but people have been—have just found such incredible reserves of resolve and dignity and collective history that the ground is shifting. So, the situation under which those compromises were made, those concessions were made, it’s changed. You know, people are feeling their power and their possibility.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s amazing now. The Governor, who was just elected, Scott Walker, a few months ago, is now—his popularity has dipped to the 30s.
NAOMI KLEIN: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: And even the conservative newspapers are asking serious questions.
NAOMI KLEIN: Mm-hmm, yeah. I mean, he clearly made a real miscalculation. I mean, what was obvious is that he was really playing to the national stage. He’s clearly a very ambitious guy. He’s got real national political aspirations. I think that’s clear. You know, in that conversation with fake David Koch, the prank call, he compares himself to Reagan. He compares his actions to Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers, that sort of "shot heard around the world" moment. That’s what he wanted, you know? And he is not getting that.
AMY GOODMAN: And then he said, first he fired the PATCO strikers, and then the Berlin Wall came down. He made that link.
NAOMI KLEIN: He said it. And it’s not a crazy link, in the sense that it was part of a frontal assault on labor and the left, and it continued for many, many years. But, you know, it’s not the ’80s anymore, and people are on to these tactics.
And I do think—you know, just coming back to that question—that it is possible. But the real key is that we have to be having the debate about where the money should be coming from. I mean, if there is a fiscal crisis—and in Wisconsin, there’s a crisis that was created by tax cuts, and this is why there’s so much outrage, because it comes back to that false claim that there’s shared sacrifice here. There isn’t shared sacrifice here. There are gifts that are being handed out to the elites. Scott Walker is governing based on this radical free market ideology that if we just create the perfect, most hospitable, most gentle, less demanding conditions for corporations to do business, then we’ll have a booming economy, and it will trickle down, and everyone will benefit. And that is exactly the ideology that Obama campaigned against—and won—saying we can’t keep giving more and more to the people at the top and waiting for it to trickle down. And that was a message that really resonated with voters.
One thing I wanted to come back to that I was starting to get at earlier about why what’s happening in Wisconsin is happening in Wisconsin and what we need to take from it is that when bad things are happening, it’s helpful to have a bad guy. And Scott Walker is a good bad guy. And he has galvanized progressives. And people have, you know, an enemy to organize around and to point out these disparities. It hasn’t happened at the federal level, despite the fact that Obama is also involved in attacking labor rights with his pushing of charter schools and draconian budget cuts. He’s not a good bad guy for progressives. So, we’re still in a situation where Obama is getting away with, in my opinion, shock doctrine-style tactics, because people don’t—still don’t want to believe that Obama is doing it, too. So, when you have an easy bad guy, a Republican governor who’s obviously trying to be the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan, you can mobilize the left. But it won’t just work if we are only going after the Republicans and if this is fought along just partisan lines, as opposed to being fought based on principle. No matter who is doing it, we need to be mobilizing, if it’s Obama, if it’s Scott Walker.
AMY GOODMAN: And the people that President Obama surrounds himself with, especially when it comes to the Wall Street insiders, especially as we move into the 2012 election, when it’s said Obama will raise more than a billion dollars for the presidential election?
NAOMI KLEIN: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of denial, still, about who Obama is and who he surrounds himself with. And, you know, we’re going to talk a little bit later about Tim DeChristopher, but I’ve said it many times: Obama is fundamentally a centrist. And I do think that when there is a mobilized progressive movement in the United States that is putting pressure on him, on Democrats in Congress, they will respond.
And that’s another lesson that we can take from Wisconsin. You know, I was talking, once again, to John Nichols the other day, and he said, "What’s really working here is that we have the inside-outside pincer." Right? You’ve got people in the streets, but you also have Democrat—Democratic lawmakers willing to put themselves on the line, being surprisingly courageous, leaving the state, and blocking it. So it isn’t just the people in the Rotunda. It isn’t just the protesters at the rally. It’s a kind of a partnership that’s going on. Why is that happening? Well, they looked out the window, and they saw their voters in the streets really committed and really mobilized, and that gave them courage.
And that’s something really important to remember about how—you know, so many liberal groups are involved in this gentle backroom lobbying, a token protest here and there, which says, "I’m willing to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday, but I’m not really willing to fight to win." And what’s going on in Wisconsin is something very different. It’s not just a rally on a Saturday afternoon. It is people really upending their lives for weeks and weeks and weeks on end. That sends a message to politicians who want to get re-elected that this is a big issue, a top priority. And they hear that.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, as we turn now to Tim DeChristopher.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, as we turn now to Tim DeChristopher. Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher was convicted last week of two felony counts for disrupting the auction of more than 100,000 acres of federal land for oil and gas drilling. He spoke to us from Salt Lake City the day after the verdict came down and explained why he, well, got involved in this auction.
TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: Well, I saw this auction as, first off, a fraud against the American people, that the government wasn’t following their own rules and was locking the public out of the decision-making process for public property. I also saw it as a real threat to my future, because of the impact on climate change that this kind of "drill now, think later" mentality was having, and an attack on our public lands, on our natural heritage, in pretty pristine and irreplaceable areas in southern Utah.
AMY GOODMAN: Tim DeChristopher faces up to 10 years in jail. When I asked him if he regretted what he did, well, this is what he said.
TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: I have no regrets at all, I mean, especially seeing the show of support outside of the courthouse this week. There were people out there all day long, all week, and they were singing. You know, they were showing their joy and resolve in the face of intimidation. And I think that’s the really important thing that came out of this, is that people showed that regardless of what happens to me, they’re not going to be intimidated into being obedient to an unjust status quo.
AMY GOODMAN: So, there’s Tim DeChristopher, December 2008. He finishes a graduate school exam about the environment. He goes off to this auction. People are protesting outside. And he thinks, "Do protests really matter?" And he goes inside to check it out, not knowing that people weren’t being bonded who were bidding, so he picks up this paddle, paddle 70, and he starts bidding and ends up getting 100,000 acres of land, public land, that he didn’t plan to privatize or drill on like the oil companies and gas companies that were bidding on the other land. Naomi Klein, you’ve written a letter on his behalf.
NAOMI KLEIN: Mm-hmm, yeah, with a group of others. It was Terry Tempest Williams, Bill McKibben, James Hansen, Robert Redford, a letter supporting Tim DeChristopher. We all have just a tremendous amount of respect for him. And in terms of what we were talking about earlier, in—you know, what should progressives be doing in this political moment to avoid these strategies—what’s so interesting about Tim is the timing, that you just pointed out. December 2008. So, Obama had already been elected. Bush was on his way out. And this was this last-minute land grab, a resource grab. They were handing out these leases in very irregular ways. There was all kinds of dodgy things going on with the way these leases were being handed out, how quickly, the lack of process. And, in fact, Ken Salazar has agreed with Tim DeChristopher, and—
AMY GOODMAN: The Interior Secretary.
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah—and found that process was not followed. And I think most of the leases, if not all of the leases, are not actually being sold now because of this. So it turns out that Tim was right, but he’s still being prosecuted for taking a stand.
But coming back to the timing, you know, so many of the big environmental groups in that moment were just waiting, waiting to see what Obama was going to do. And there was so much waiting, waiting to see what Obama was going to do. You know, maybe he’s really going to fix this for us, right? So let’s just give the guy a chance, right? And here’s Tim DeChristopher. Obama hasn’t taken office yet, and he’s going, "I’m just going to be loyal to my issue, to the issues that I care about. I’m not going to play politics at all. I’ll leave that to other people. And there have to be some people out there who are loyal to the science and are not playing politics." And that is something that I found so moving about his actions, the timing of those actions, that he wasn’t waiting.
But there’s something else—you know, when I was reading the conviction, which is just so shocking—is that, what did Tim DeChristopher do wrong? They said that he participated in an auction, and he had—without the intention to pay. He participated in an auction without the intention to pay. And I remember hearing Tim describe why he had gone from taking that test, going straight to that auction, and I remember that he said that part of what outraged him about what the oil and gas companies were doing is that they were externalizing all of their costs. He’s an economics student, and he had been studying the way in which oil and gas companies privatize the profits from their resource extraction but externalize the costs, being the pollution and the cleanup. We see this over and over again. I mean, look at Chevron refusing to pay the cost of the disaster in Ecuador despite the court ruling. But look at climate change, the biggest disaster of all and the highest price tag of all—this, created by the fossil fuel industries. They’ve known it for decades. They have no intention of paying that cost. So I think about this incredible double standard, where—
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, interestingly, Tim DeChristopher said, right after he did this, not intending to do this, but then buying the land, he was able to raise the money to buy the land—
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN:—but he wasn’t allowed to introduce that into the court. The jury never knew that he was able to raise that money.
NAOMI KLEIN: There were so many things. There were so many things he wasn’t allowed to introduce. I mean, it could have been such a different trial.
But my point is simply that everything these oil and gas companies are doing, they’re doing without the intention to pay the costs, but with such a spectacular price tag. I mean, we’re talking about hundreds of billions of dollars, if not trillions of dollars, that have been offloaded onto the public. Those actions are supposedly legal and—supposedly legal, or, in some cases, they’re—as in the case in Ecuador, the courts are finding that they weren’t legal, but they don’t intend to pay anyway. So, the injustice of this young man, who took this principled position, going to jail because he did not intend to pay for leases that Ken Salazar has said were irregular, and all these oil and gas companies getting away with actions that are so damaging to our world, to the ecology, to our economy, and they have absolutely no intention of paying. So we have to somehow switch this discussion.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how the economic crisis has been used as a justification to attack the Environmental Protection Agency?
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I mean, since 2008, we’ve seen an incredible attack on climate science. The project that I’m working on isn’t just about this; it’s a broader project about climate justice. But what we’re seeing now is another example of how an economic crisis is being used to push every issue off the agenda. So, it isn’t just that the economic crisis is used as the pretext to attack unions, to attack public education, to privatize services—all of that’s true; but another way in which it’s been used consistently is to say, "OK, well, you know, back in 2008, 2009, we were all focused on climate change, and there were polar bears on the cover of Newsweek, but we just can’t afford that now, because there is an economic crisis. And taking action on climate change would simply be too costly to our economy. We can’t afford that. We certainly can’t afford that in a recession."
So there’s been this explicit pitting of the economy against the environment, which is why I think it’s so important for us to connect how we could both address climate change and fix our economy at the same time, which we can do with the right climate justice agenda, because separating the environment out from the economy, which is—you know, we live in a time of single-issue politics, where NGOs have their issues, they stick to their issues, and it can be—it can be really problematic, because if you’re just talking about the environment, but you don’t talk about the economy, then you are open to these attempts to pit these issues against each other as if they’re separate. But it’s interesting. You know, 350.org has launched their campaign against the Chamber of Commerce, which is starting to make these connections and realizing that we’re not going to get any kind of climate action unless we get to the root of the problem, which is the corrosive power of corporate money over politics. So we’re starting to see a lot of the environmental groups realizing that they’ve got to get out of their green silos and start engaging with economics, or we’re going to keep losing.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk about climate change denial, but we have to go to break, and then we’ll be back. Our guest is Naomi Klein. Her latest book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest for the hour is Naomi Klein, journalist and author. Her latest book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She’s writing a new book on climate change and the climate change deniers. Naomi, take it from there.
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, I mean, the book is not about the deniers, but it does get into it, because I started trying to understand these dramatic drops in belief that climate change is real. I mean, we’ve just ended the hottest decade on record. There’s overwhelming evidence that climate change is real now. It’s not just about reading the science. It’s about people’s daily experience. And yet, we’ve seen this remarkable drop, where, in 2007, 71—this is a Harris poll—71 percent of Americans believed climate change was real, and two years later, 51 percent of Americans believed it. So, a 20 percent drop. And we’ve seen a similar dramatic just the floor falling out in the same period in Australia, in the U.K. It’s not happening everywhere. It’s happening in countries that have very polarized political debates, where they have very strong culture wars.
And there are some people who have been doing some really interesting analysis of these numbers, where you see—like there’s a political scientist named Clive Hamilton in Australia who’s done some really terrific writing on this, where what he shows is that climate change didn’t used to be a partisan political issue. You couldn’t—you wouldn’t know whether somebody believed in climate change or not just by asking if they were Republican or Democrat. That’s completely changed. Democrats overwhelmingly believe in climate change. That hasn’t—their position hasn’t changed. Republicans now don’t—overwhelmingly do not believe in climate change. So that drop has been split along partisan lines. Now, it seems kind of obvious that that would be the case, but still it’s remarkable, because what it means is that it no longer really has anything to do with the science. And the environmental movement has just been shocked by how it would be possible to lose so much ground so quickly when there is so much more scientific evidence, so that, you know, there’s all kinds of attempts to respond to this, to get climate scientists out there explaining things better, to popularize the science, and none of it seems to be working. And the reason is that climate change is now seen as an identity issue on the right. It’s—people are defining themselves, like they’re against abortion, they don’t believe in climate change. It’s part of who they are.
AMY GOODMAN: And what does it say, you don’t believe in climate change?
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, some people believe in climate change, but the main thing is they don’t believe that humans have anything to do with climate change. And it isn’t about the science, because when you delve deeper into it and ask why people don’t believe in it, they say that it’s because they think it’s a socialist plot to redistribute wealth. And a lot of—it’s easy to make fun of, you know, and there’s all this language, like "watermelons," that they say, you know, the green groups are watermelons: they’re green on the outside, but they’re red on the inside. Or George Will once said it’s a green tree with red roots. And the idea is that it’s some sort of a communist plot. And this is, as I was saying earlier, actually not at all true. And in fact, most of the big green groups are loath to talk about economics and often don’t want to see themselves as being part of a left at all, see climate change as an issue that transcends politics entirely.
But something very different is going on on the right, and I think we need to understand what that is. Why is climate change seen as such a threat? I don’t believe it’s an unreasonable fear. I think it is—it’s unreasonable to believe that scientists are making up the science. They’re not. It’s not a hoax. But actually, climate change really is a profound threat to a great many things that right-wing ideologues believe in. So, in fact, if you really wrestle with the implications of the science and what real climate action would mean, here’s just a few examples what it would mean.
Well, it would mean upending the whole free trade agenda, because it would mean that we would have to localize our economies, because we have the most energy-inefficient trade system that you could imagine. And this is the legacy of the free trade era. So, this has been a signature policy of the right, pushing globalization and free trade. That would have to be reversed.
You would have to deal with inequality. You would have to redistribute wealth, because this is a crisis that was created in the North, and the effects are being felt in the South. So, on the most basic, basic, "you broke it, you bought it," polluter pays, you would have to redistribute wealth, which is also against their ideology.
You would have to regulate corporations. You simply would have to. I mean, any serious climate action has to intervene in the economy. You would have to subsidize renewable energy, which also breaks their worldview.
You would have to have a really strong United Nations, because individual countries can’t do this alone. You absolutely have to have a strong international architecture.
So when you go through this, you see, it challenges everything that they believe in. So they’re choosing to disbelieve it, because it’s easier to deny the science than to say, "OK, I accept that my whole worldview is going to fall apart," that we have to have massive investments in public infrastructure, that we have to reverse free trade deals, that we have to have huge transfers of wealth from the North to the South. Imagine actually contending with that. It’s a lot easier to deny it.
But what I see is that the green groups, a lot of the big green groups, are also in a kind of denial, because they want to pretend that this isn’t about politics and economics, and say, "Well, you can just change your light bulb. And no, it won’t really disrupt. You can have green capitalism." And they’re not really wrestling with the fact that this is about economic growth. This is about an economic model that needs constant and infinite growth on a finite planet. So we really are talking about some deep transformations of our economy if we’re going to deal with climate change. And we need to talk about it.
AMY GOODMAN: And the reason that we have to go through those deep transformations? What is the threat of climate change? What is happening today?
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, it’s—we’re already seeing it on so many levels. I was just at the World Social Forum in Dakar.
AMY GOODMAN: In Senegal.
NAOMI KLEIN: In Senegal. And it’s—you know, climate change is still spoken of here as something, you know, that if you care about your grandchildren, you care about climate change. That is not the way climate change is being spoken of in Africa. This is a now issue. This is the desertification—rivers are drying up—water shortages, food shortages.
And then, layered on top of that is the fact that many of the "solutions" to climate change—and I put "solutions" in quote—that have been championed by an agenda that accepts the premise that we can’t really ask North Americans, Europeans, to really sacrifice, really change their way of life, our way of life. We can’t be talking about really drastically cutting our emissions here and now. So we have to play shell games, right? We have to have carbon offsets there. We have to—we can keep polluting, but we’ll plant—you know, we’ll protect a forest in the Congo, or we will have huge agrifuel crops in Africa. And so, all of these solutions are actually deepening the climate crisis in Africa, because people are being displaced from their land, not just because of climate, but because of the solutions to climate change, because they’re losing access to forests, which are used for subsistence agriculture, they’re losing access to land that had been farmed for food and is now being farmed for fuel. And so, the theme of—the sort of unofficial theme of the World Social Forum, it came up in many of the seminars—
AMY GOODMAN: And this is a gathering of thousands of people—
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, 40,000 people.
AMY GOODMAN:—that sort of moves each year, and this year it was in Senegal.
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, this year it was in Senegal. And it was global, it was international, but most of the people were from across Africa. And the theme that came up again and again was "the new scramble for Africa, the new scramble for Africa." And this, a lot of it, had to do with these so-called "solutions" to climate change—the agrifuels, the REDD—I mean, not to get too technical, but you’ve talked about this on the show, which is the forest protection plan, the U.N. forest protection plan, which is very controversial in Africa, because people—like I said, people are losing access to forests, which they are using for subsistence, and also because it’s not—forests are being protected instead of cutting emissions in the North. And that’s not seen as a solution to climate change in Africa, because it doesn’t get at the core of the issue.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you have climate change. We also have the issue of the incredible environmental disaster that was BP.
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: You just wrote a piece in The Nation, "The Search for BP’s Oil."
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I mean, this is related, in that we often hear, "Well, we’re not doing anything about climate change. It’s just business as usual." But it’s not true that it’s just business as usual, because we are now in the era of extreme energy. The easy-to-get fossil fuels have pretty much been gotten, and now it’s the harder-to-get stuff, the more-expensive-to-get stuff and the riskier stuff. And that means deepwater drilling, which puts whole ecologies at risk, as we’ve seen on the Gulf Coast. And it means the tar sands in Canada. There’s a proposal to have a tar sands project in Utah. It means fracking for natural gas, and you’ve covered that a lot on the show. I mean, these are methods that are a lot riskier, and it’s affecting many, many more people. And so, I think we need to get away from this idea that we’re just going on as we’ve always gone on. No, we aren’t. If we don’t get off fossil fuels, we are accepting a much, much higher-risk energy trajectory.
And we need to really be aware of this, because with the oil prices increasing, now we’re already starting to get the "drill here, drill now" chorus reemerging, the energy security line that, you know, the real problem is the dependence on fossil fuels—not the dependence on fossil fuels, period—that’s the real problem—but the dependence on foreign fossil fuels. And now this oil shock, the shocking oil prices are being used to push more aggressively for opening up Anwar, for more offshore oil drilling in the Arctic. And if we’re not careful, this crisis will be used to push for some disastrous resource policies.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the trip that you took in the Gulf, and talk about how everything from Exxon Valdez to the spill, as we begin to wrap up, how to understand the effects of this, what you call "extreme drilling" in search for fuel.
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I went on a boat—I think you have some footage of it—with a team from the University of South Florida. The chief scientist was David Hollander, who’s been one of the most outspoken scientists claiming—challenging claims, really from day one, that were coming from BP and federal agencies, originally saying, "Oh, there are no—there are no underwater plumes." They found one of the underwater plumes, along with Samantha Joye—her team also found one—and at every stage, you know, challenging the claims about how much oil was coming out of the well, and now challenging the claim that the oil has magically disappeared.
And that’s why I went out with David Hollander and his team searching for BP’s oil, because I think a lot of people have heard this message that, yeah, Mother Nature took care of it, you know, just like we heard in the early days of the spill: you know, the ocean is big, and the amount of oil is relatively small. And this is a really, really dangerous message, because we can’t see it anymore. And this is one of the advantages of using huge amounts of dispersant, is it disappears the crime scene. But so, I wanted to see it for myself.
And you can see the equipment that they’re using goes to the bottom of the ocean and extracts cores from the sediment. And what they found again and again around the well site is that there is a very thick layer of—not pure oil. It’s eroded. It’s mixed in with sand, and it’s mixed in with dead crustaceans. But there’s definitely oil covering a very large area. And the other thing that Dr. Hollander found, because he’s been going back every few months, is that that layer is getting thicker.
And we really don’t know what this is going to mean to the ecology, because—this is one of the things I was really struck by, working with these scientists, is that—even the most expert of the bunch, this is still a mystery to them. The deep ocean is so under-studied. They don’t have baselines to compare the areas that they’re studying to, because so little research was done about the deep ocean, in the deep ocean, before the spill. So, even to assess the damage is extremely difficult.
The other thing that they’re very worried about—and you asked about the Valdez disaster—is that it’s really far too early for anybody to be giving the Gulf a clean bill of health, because the really, really worrisome event that happened—and here, I’m only talking about the ecology; I’m not talking about the other huge issue, which is the effects of the dispersants on people. And other people have done fantastic reporting on that. I was just out with a research team in the ocean, so we were looking at microorganisms and—
AMY GOODMAN: Phytoplankton.
NAOMI KLEIN: Exactly. But the point of studying the effect of the oil on these microorganisms is that when—before the oil sunk to the bottom, before some of it evaporated, before it was skimmed, there was a great deal of oil and dispersants in plumes in the open ocean. These are—the key months were April, June—yeah, and this is spawning season in the Gulf of Mexico. And there were microorganisms, there were larvae, there was zooplankton that would grow up to be commercial fishing stocks, just floating in the open ocean in the same vicinity as the plumes, as the toxic oil and dispersants. And we won’t know what effect that had, those encounters of these very, very vulnerable microorganisms and the oil and dispersants. We won’t know that for years, because that’s what happened—that’s what we learned from the Valdez spill.
AMY GOODMAN: We only have 30 seconds. You published Shock Doctrine in 2007. So much of what you’ve predicted has come to pass. Final words?
NAOMI KLEIN: Look, my fear is that climate change is the crisis, the biggest crisis of all, and that if we aren’t careful, if we don’t come up with a positive vision of how climate change can make our economies and our world more just, more livable, cleaner, fairer, then this crisis will be exploited to militarize our societies, to create fortress continents. And we’re really facing a choice. And, you know, I think what we really need now is for the people fighting for economic justice and environmental justice to come together.
AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, I want to thank you for being with us. Her book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She’s writing a new one.