[Music: “Silver Lanyard” by Blue Dot Sessions]
Podcast intro: This is Berkeley Talks, a Berkeley News podcast from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs that features lectures and conversations at UC Berkeley. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen. Also, check out our other podcast, Fiat Vox, about the people and research at Berkeley. You can find all of our podcast episodes with transcripts and photos at news.berkeley.edu/podcasts.
Ed Wasserman: Good evening and welcome. My name is Ed Wasserman. I’m the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism. And it’s an honor and a pleasure to welcome you here tonight. A couple notes. Please if you have phones, turn them off. We may ask you to take them out later if the lights go off, but we’re hopeful we’ll be able to get through this evening. We have a quite an event for you tonight. Our guest of honor is Naomi Klein. I am sure that I don’t need to give you much of an introduction and her interlocutor will provide some details if I don’t. But I think it’s fair to say, I mean she’s obviously a bestselling writer and she is probably among the foremost thought leaders of the progressive left. And it’s a pleasure to have her here.
Her latest book is On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal. And I have to say that I’ve been reading it and it’s terrific. I also have to applaud her publicity department having arrange this special effects, sweeping in from the north and the east later. Well done. Her interlocutor tonight will be one of our own Mark Schapiro who has been a lecturer at the Graduate School of Journalism for seven years. He’s a writer of books in his own right. Having written Carbon Shock, which will make you feel bad and Seeds of Resistance, which will make you feel better since it’s about the efforts that people are making now, to provide the human race with a seed store that will enable us to cope with the climate crisis that’s upon us.
Our protocol here is I’m going to call Naomi and Mark up in a moment. These cards for those of you who have questions, we ask that you fill out a card or you put up your hand and someone will give you a card and fill them out. We will screen the cards for penmanship and coherence, and then we will pass along those that are illegible and baffling and I’ll let Mark deal with them when the time comes. So thank you very much for coming tonight. And with pleasure, I yield the floor to Naomi Klein.
Naomi Klein: Thank you so much, Dean Wasserman. I am delighted to be here at this storied journalism school with so many of my own journalistic heroes in our midst, and I’m delighted to be in conversation with Mark Schapiro who first invited me here and whose work has really informed my own, and been a tremendous source in my reporting on the climate crisis. So I’ve been touring with this book now for just about five weeks, and today for the first time as your Dean just implied the title feels just a little bit too literal. So what I want to do first of all is ask all of us to think about, the communities in Sonoma County that are currently under evacuation, people whose fates are extremely uncertain, people whose traumas are being triggered all over the state.
There are some very strange winds blowing out there and I don’t usually do this, but I thought what I would do today is start with a short reading, from a chapter of the book that is called Season of Smoke. And it’s about a holiday that I took with my family in British Columbia two summers ago. My parents and extended family live in British Columbia and we went out there and the holiday didn’t pan out as planned. Yeah, that’s the way we felt. “A week into the whiteout the world begins to feel small. Life beyond the smoke starts to seem like a rumor. At the ocean’s edge, we can usually look across the sailor’s sea to Vancouver Island. Now we strain to see an outcropping of rock a few hundred feet from shore. I’ve been on this coast for whole winters when we barely saw the sun. I’ve learned to love the steely beauty, the infinite shades of gray, chiseled in the mountains, the low sky and the movement of the midst, but this is different. There’s a lifeless quality to the smoke. It just sits there, motionless and monotone. I decide that the animals are depressed.
The seals seem to pop their heads up in a purely utilitarian fashion, just to take a breath and then disappear again beneath the gray surface. They do not play. The eagles I’m convinced are flying for function. Not fun, no soaring or wind surfing. There’s little doubt, I’m imagining all of this. Projecting, anthropomorphizing, it’s a bad habit. I email a friend in Seattle, a prominent environmentalist to ask him how he’s fairing in the smoke. He reports that the birds have stopped singing and he is mad all the time. At least I’m not the only one. It begins to strike me how precarious it all is. This business of not being on fire. So far this summer, less than half an inch of rain has fallen in this temperate rain forest. The forest ground cover usually moist and squishy, crunches underfoot. You can smell the flammability. It’s almost a week into the smoke out and the moon is nearing full, but when the almost full moon rises, I mistake it at first for the sun.
It’s the same shape and almost the same strange fiery color. For about four days, it’s as if we are on a different planet, one with two red suns and no moon at all. “Looks like snow is coming,” my son Toma, just five years old declared solemnly. His face is pressed up to the window and the white thick air on the other side. “Not snow, smoke,” I explain again. His response goes through phases. Nightmares wake him up at night. He writes songs with lyrics like, “Why is everything going wrong?” At first he’s excited about the idea of wildfires, confusing them with campfires and angling for s’mores. Then his grandfather explained that the sun had turned into that weird glowing dot, because the forest itself was on fire. He was stricken. “What about the animals?” We talk in half truths. The animals know how to escape from the fires, they run to rivers and streams and other forests. We talk about how we need to plant more trees for the animals to come home to. It helps a little. It’s week two of the smoke out and the blackberries are finally ripe.
We set out to collect them. It feels strange to be going through with this carefree summer ritual with the air so thick and the news so grim, but we do it anyway. Combining hiking with nonstop eating is one of Toma’s all time favorite activities. It’s pretty much a bust. With so little rain and such a weak sun to warm them, even the ripest berries are sour. Toma quickly loses interest and refuses to try anymore. We come home with shin scratches and an empty bucket. We don’t stop hiking though. We spend hours a day walking through the stands of moss covered cedars and Douglas firs, breathing in the super oxygenated air. I love these forests and I’ve never taken their primordial beauty for granted. Now I find myself in near worship, thanking them not just for scrubbing the air and for the shade and the carbon sequestration they provide, ecosystem services and the lingo of business environmentalism, but thanking them for their sheer stamina.
For not joining their burning brethren, for sticking with us, despite our failings, at least so far. These fires are just one snapshot of a much larger season of fire. At summer’s end, large parts of the American West, were on fire. A fire in Los Angeles was the largest ever recorded within city limits. A fire-related state of emergency was declared for every single county in Washington state. The area of Europe that has burned this fire season, has been triple the average. In June, more than 60 people died in Portugal. Hundreds of homes have burned in Siberia. Even Greenland, that icy place, saw large and unusual wildfires this summer. And yes, it’s climate change. It’s not the only factor, of course. There’s poor forest management and thoughtless development and pine beetles, but overlaying it all is the uncomplicated fact that hotter, drier weather, directly linked to climate disruption, creates the optimal condition for wildfires.
It’s as if the land has been transformed into perfectly laid campfires, with a dry earth acting like balled up newspaper, the dead trees from the pine beetles serving as kindling and the added heat providing the match. The soft focus quality the smoke casts over life here, seems to make our collective denial more acute. We all look like sleepwalkers, stumbling around, doing our work and errands, having vacations in a thick cloud of smoke, pretending we don’t hear the alarm clanging in the background. Smoke after all is not fire, it’s not a flood, it doesn’t command your immediate attention or force you to flee. You can live with it, if less well, you get used to it and that’s what we do. We paddleboard in the smoke like it’s an act like it’s missed. We bring beers insiders to the beach and remark that on the upside, you barely need any sunscreen at all.
Sitting on the beach under that fake milky sky, I suddenly flashed to those images of families sunning themselves on oil soaked beaches in the midst of the BP deep water horizon disaster and it hits me, we are them. Refusing to let a wildfire interfere with our family vacation. During disasters, you hear a lot of praise for human resilience. And we are remarkably resilient species, but that’s not always good. It seems we can get used to almost anything. Even the steady annihilation of our own habitat. Our collective houses are on fire with every alarm going off simultaneously, clanging desperately for our attention. Will we keep stumbling and wheezing through the low light, acting as if the emergency is not already upon us? Or will the warnings be enough to force many more of us to listen? Those the questions still hanging in the air at the end of the summer of smoke.” Okay.
So I just want to offer a few sort of framing thoughts before going into the conversation with Mark. And I guess the main sentiment I want to share with you is… The main thing that I feel about the moment that we are in, which is just the heavyweight of our historical moment, of what it means to be alive in 2019 when what we do will determine the fates of so many hundreds of millions of people. Their fates rest on what we do or don’t do, in just this handful of years. A year ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came out with their now fateful report, on the need to keep warming levels below 1.5 degrees Celsius. They strongly urge that we do this. It is in the Paris accord. Governments agreed to make best attempts to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. And they said that if we were to do this, we would need to cut global emissions by 45%, in 12 years. And completely decarbonize the global economy by 2050.
They said that this was not something that was going to be possible to accomplish through a narrow carbon-based policy. And in the summary of the report, they spoke in very, very plain language, climate scientists have learned to do that of late. They understand that this is what it will take and they said that it is technically possible to achieve these steep emission reductions, but it would require “unprecedented transformations in virtually every aspect of society.” So, that’s what a green new deal is about. And we’re going to talk about that and dig into it more. But the point is that we have this very short window, to change everything and if every ounce of our energy was focused on that structural transformation, it will be hard enough to pull off. It would be a truly epic task, but possible.
And yet at this very moment in our history, the men rising to the highest office in country after country, are not only refusing to douse the plates, they are full-fledged planetary arsonists. They are pouring fuels on these fires with defiance. We have Trump rolling back every environmental law conceivable cracking open public lands to unrestricted drilling and fracking, trolling Greta on Twitter, ogling Greenland for the fossil fuels now available under the melting ice. But this is not just about Trump, this is a global phenomenon. It looks different in different contexts, but there are some common threads and I want to talk a little bit about those common threads. We have Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. He should not be president. Lula da Silva should be president of Brazil, remains the most popular politician in Brazil and he was railroaded in a very corrupt trial, which we now know was rife with collusion because of leaked text messages, we know this.
But Lula was unable to run. Every poll showed he would have beat Bolsonaro, but Bolsonaro ran. He ran a campaign filled with hate, with open attacks on the rights of indigenous people, promising to roll back land rights to crack open the Amazon, to unrestricted extraction and of course to monocrop soy farming and cattle ranching and all of the deforestation that goes along with that. And this is just one of the areas in which Jair Bolsonaro is a tremendous threat. But we have many of these planetary arsonists in power around the world. This is just a true fact about this window that we are in. In Australia, there’s Scott Morrison who is the head of state. This is a man who came to many people’s attention when he walked into their house of government holding a giant hunk of coal, declaring it good for humanity and explaining that this is why his government was bound and determined to dig the world’s largest coal mine, the Adani coal mine, which interestingly a group of engineers just declared that they would not work on.
And this is as I know, the first time that engineers have stepped forward and said that they would not… I mean they’re not the most notoriously progressive bunch, let’s be honest here. And step forward and said they would not work on the Adani mine. And by the way, that is the kind of moral action that we need in absolutely every profession, including the journalism profession, where we need our own fossil fuel divestment movement. We can not allow the publications that we write for, that we broadcast for, to continue to run ads from the fossil fuel companies that are responsible for the deception and the decades of lost action. Decades that we will never get back. Natural wonders that we will never get back. Lives that we will never get back because of the lies that they spread through our media system, through our public ecologies. And now they are rightly on trial for having done the research and suppress that research and misleading their shareholders. But more importantly, misleading the public. And we cannot have our media institutions complicit in this any longer.
That was just a tangent. So we have Morrison, we have Modi in India, we have Duterte in the Philippines, and we have all of these strong men figures in power around the world and they are different and there is no one size fits all model. But there are a few common threads that we can identify, that these men really share in common. And one of them is that they are all very, very good at identifying an ingroup within their countries. A sort of circle of protected people. The real right? The real Americans or the real Brazilians or the real Indians. And then of course the outgroups, the criminal, the illegal, the drug dealer, the frightening other, the terrorists, the diseased, the invader. And all of this supposedly makes it acceptable to wage war on these out-groups to tear children from their parents, to warehouse people in concentration camps, to seal borders to tens of thousands in need. We see this around the world. We obviously see it here, but we also see it in Europe. We see it in the toxic rhetoric of people like Matteo Salvini, Marine Le Pen.
Now obviously in the United States, this is animated by white supremacy. The definition of who is an ingroup and who is an outgroup. And this is also true in Europe, and in what is happening with allowing thousands of people to drown in the Mediterranean. But it looks different in different countries. This defining of the ingroup and the outgroup, and the way this is being weaponized, right? For Modi, it is the Hindus who are the protected right? And the exiled are the Muslims and tribal people. And for Bolsonaro, racial hierarchy is a force as well, but he’s also animated by this powerful hatred, of what they call cultural Marxism, which of course has terrifying resonances with the history of military dictatorship all over Latin America. Netanyahu, Jewish supremacy. We have different formulas around the world, but we have these supremacists logics, that are surging in this moment.
And the way I understand this and explain this in the book is that, these are the two fires. We have the fires of climate disruption, often literal fires like the ones so near here. But we also have these political fires, the fires of hate that are also raging out of control, that are also jumping from country to country. And what I’m arguing is that it is not a coincidence that these two fires, the planetary one and the political one, are raging at the same time. That it is not a coincidence that as the climate crisis really becomes impossible to deny and honestly I don’t care what they claim to believe, they all know it is real. I mean Trump has had to redesign his golf courses to deal with sea level rise. Mar-a-Lago is intensely threatened by sea level rise. They all know that this is happening, what they believe is that, they and their children and the people around them will be safe, that their wealth will insulate them. Right? In the same way that they are replicating this logic with the fortressing of their countries.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that this hate is surging in this moment, that the climate crisis ceases to be this hazy crisis off in the distance and becomes this banging down the door, present day crisis. What all of these demagogues understand, is the power of fear. They are tapping into feelings of profound unease and scarcity, in their respective countries. Some of that scarcity flows from decades of neoliberal economic policies, the attacks on labor protections, the shredded social safety nets, the opened chasms of economic inequality. An economy where you have to be a winner, because if you are not a winner, then of course you are a loser. There is nothing in the middle. This is what it means to live in a highly unequal society. And this idea of just doing everything possible to be a winner. That was the plot line of Trump’s one and only successful business, The Apprentice, right? Becoming a winner, not a loser.
So they’re tapping into that economic and security, which is not to say that they are representing the most economically, precarious people in their respective countries. That’s not true, right? But under neoliberal economics, everybody is feeling the sense of, that the ground can fall out at any moment, right? And this what this culture of precarity has brought. But I believe that they’re also tapping into the reality of our moment of planetary insecurity. We all know on some cellular level that life on this planet is in crisis. That our one and only home is unraveling. No one, no matter how much Fox News they watch, is protected from the feeling of existential terror that flows from that. And that is what men like Trump and Bolsonaro know. Their one true skill is how to make other people’s fear work for them. And so they rile up hatred and they weaponize desperation and they run campaigns on building walls and stopping pending invasions. And most of all they sell their respective in groups the illusion that they will finally be secure in our age of rampant insecurity.
Here, the slogan of the Brexit campaign in the UK was “take back control,” right? It was an illusion of control, but it is a control that’s so many people long for in this moment. And of course all of this leaves them free to get on with a real business at hand, which is plundering the last protected wildernesses on this planet, from the Amazon to the Arctic. Which of course fuels those planetary files that deforestation, digging up all those fossil fuels, and that fuels the droughts and the super-storms and the floods, the fires that force millions to flee their arid lands, the fires that intensify armed conflict, which also fuels migration, which in turn is used to fuel the fires of hate. So I’m just going to read another short extract from the introduction of On Fire. “The rapidly escalating cruelty of our present moment cannot be overstated, nor can the longterm damage to the collective psyche should this go on challenged. Beneath the theater of some governments denying climate change and others claiming to be doing something about it while they fortress their borders from its effects. There is one overarching question facing us.
In the rough and rocky future that has already begun, what kind of people are we going to be? Will we share what’s left and try to look after one another? Or are we instead going to attempt to hoard what’s left, look after our own and lock everyone else out. In this time of rising seas and rising fascism, these are the stark choices before us. There are options besides full-blown climate barbarism, but given how far down the road we are, there is no point pretending that they are easy. It’s going to take a lot more than a carbon tax or carbon-trade. It’s going to take an all out war on pollution and poverty and racism and colonialism and despair all at once. So here is why all of that does not have me curled up in the fetal position, in a state of raw terror. And listen closely because I think it is important. I don’t believe that we are living in a time of just two fires. I believe that we are living in a time of three fires, that there is a third fire out there.
And it is also spreading around the world, and it is also incredibly powerful and that is our fires. It is the fires of the climate justice movement. It is the fires of millions of people waking up from that slumber at last, no longer willing to sleepwalk in the dim light, into the future that has so often been foretold. These are the fires of the youth climate strikers. Seven million people participated in climate strikes a month ago, over eight days. These are the fires of the indigenous rights movements, putting their bodies on the line as they have always done to stop new oil and gas pipelines on both sides of the border, and to stop deforestation in the Amazon. Ours are the fires of the fossil fuel divestment, which I understand after seven long years finally came to the UC system.”
And the Green New Deal, to me represents the most hopeful development in this. And this is a political framework that builds on the work of the climate justice movement, over many decades. The principles that the frontline communities need to design. The response that the people who got worst deal under the current extractive projects, need to be first to benefit from our transition to the next economy, that no worker can be left behind. That as workers transition from high carbon jobs to low carbon jobs, their salaries and benefits need to be protected. They need to have democratically participate, in that transformation. These are core principles. Another core principle is that the polluters need to pay for this transition. It cannot be working people because what we are seeing, again and again is that when we have unjust responses to climate disruption, when we try to respond to this crisis within the logic of neoliberalism, because people are so frightened because people are living lives that are so insecure and so precarious,` that there will just simply be a backlash.
And we saw this in France, right? When Emmanuel Macron sort of poster boy, neoliberal slashes labor protections, impose economic austerity, gives tax breaks to millionaires and says, “Oh, by the way, my response to climate change is you’re all going to pay more for gas.” Well, you end up with Paris on fire, right? But now we’re seeing this, we’ve seen resistance to this kind of approach to the climate crisis that offloads the entire burden, onto the people who are at least responsible. This is at the heart of what the uprising in Ecuador recently, which was sparked by cutting fossil fuels subsidies and rising energy in petroleum costs. And there are many examples of this. This is why when people say… and you hear this within the climate movement, “Well, why can’t we just save the planet first? Because we have this very, very narrow window and then we’ll deal with racism and economic inequality, right? Can we just do this sequentially?”
We can’t because things are just too bad right now. And if we try to do it without embracing those kinds of systemic changes, then our responses to the climate crisis will be unjust and people will reject them. And this is happening globally around the world. So we can talk more about this. I’m out of time for my opening remarks. I do believe we should embrace the power of fire. That’s what I will leave you with. “Because we are up against some powerful forces. We need to be willing to fight fire with fire. That means we need to be in this with both feet and with everything we have. And we are in the state we are in because we have used fire in a way that it was never meant to be used. We have dug up interred sunlight and we have put it into the sky and we have upset the balance of the elements in our earth.
But the truth is that, fire is a life giving force and fire is a cleansing force and fire clears away the debris. It makes way for new growth. It fertilizes the soil. And so we need to remember that fire has that power and we need to clear away the debris of whatever is standing in our path, in order for us to rise to the historical moment of what it means to be alive and breathing, in 2019. We have to clear away the debris of those fossil fuels soak deniers. We have to clear away the debris of those chronic distractors, who are constantly telling us to look at the latest shiny object and latest outrageous tweets so that we don’t focus on the work at hand. We have to also clear away the debris of the doomers. These very serious people who tell us that it’s all too late, writing important articles in the New Yorker and telling us we should all just throw in the towel.
We have to clear away the debris of the doomers and we most of all need to clear away the debris of the dividers because we need a more united force than we’ve ever had before. Thank you very much folks.
Mark Schapiro: Okay, well, you’ve covered a lot of ground now.
Naomi Klein: But superficially.
Mark Schapiro: Just on the ground. Yeah. So, all right, well I just wanted to say it’s an honor to be here with you Naomi. Your work has influenced me in so many different ways and I’ve really appreciated journalistically, how you follow a thread of evidence and somehow get to the heart of the big picture, which is about the systems that are at play. And I think that’s what her mastery is in all the books, No Logo and Shock Doctrine.
And now here we are with On Fire. It’s a fantastic book. It’s an eyeopening read. It gives you insights every step of the way, to dimensions of the climate challenge, that made complete sense when you see them, but very powerful insights. So I want to start with one thing that really struck me in how you articulated it. In fact you set the book up really with the children, the movement of kids with teenagers basically around the world who are actually protesting. And the interesting thing about Greta Thunberg, which I hadn’t really thought through and I wanted to ask you about this. Here we are in Berkeley, where the university most… the mark of sophistication when you were coming up and growing up and going to college and everything, was your ability to grapple with multiple realities at the same time, right?
You’re open to multiple realities and you can actually balance them and handle them and maybe even their contradictory realities. And that is in a sense the mark of “sophistication” in a way. That’s one mark anyway. Well, it’s good taste in music and a few other things. And so what was interesting was what you said about Greta Thunberg and I just want to say two sentences from your book, which I think are really eye opening because as all of you have probably been following, the incredible saga of Greta Thunberg. And of course you met with her and have some deep observations about her. Two sentences and I want to ask you to explain this. As we know, Greta Thunberg is on the spectrum of autism and you’re very open about that as she is. These are your words. “People with autism tend to be extremely literal and as a result often have trouble coping with cognitive dissonance. Those gaps between what we know intellectually and what we do that are so pervasive in modern life. She, Greta Thunberg saw and felt the full implications of the crisis and could not be distracted from it.”
That is a pretty powerful idea. So are you suggesting that we lose our defense mechanisms to the reality around us or how would you like to kind of extrapolate on that insight?
Naomi Klein: Well I think the main thing is, there is… So the problem is we are social animals, we take our social cues from each other. As Greta says, “I am not interested in your social games.” And she like many people on a spectrum, she doesn’t really look to other people to figure out how she should behave. And that is something that is really hard for people on the spectrum. And as she’s talked about, she also faced intense bullying as so many people, neuroatypical people do because they get called weird, right? Because they’re not acting like everybody else. Now people with typical neurological wiring do that sort of monkey-see thing. And that’s how we find out how to fit in. Right? And that’s how you build cohesive community. And it’s not a bad instinct to have to look to each other to figure out how to act. The problem is if you live in a culture, of late capitalism, you’re getting some pretty confusing signals.
You’re looking on your phone and it’s like, “Whoa, there’s walruses jumping to their death on Netflix is really scary.” And now somebody telling me that I should really care about what the Royal family wore on their trip to Pakistan and I need to watch more videos about facial contouring and none of my politicians are talking about this. And so, I mean, I think the problem is we live in a culture that is pretty not well and does not have its priorities, right? And so if we are looking to our culture to get our signals of how we should behave, we are getting some pretty wrong signals. And so I think because Greta wasn’t looking for those signals and she just trusted her first instinct, the first thing that happened is she got incredibly depressed, right?
Because she just couldn’t cope with the fact that what she was understanding intellectually about the state of our world and the fact that all the adults in her life seemed to be saying, well, this is not a priority, right? Her parents, her teachers, the politicians on television. And so she just felt that there was nothing she could do about that and became very depressed. She stopped eating. I mean, she’s talked to a lot about this and what pulled her out of it was having some sense of agency that she could close that cognitive dissonance first in her life and her family, they became vegans, stopped flying. But then in launching this activism, her lonely climate strike that now is not so lonely anymore. And so, yeah. I mean, I think that being neuro atypical. Yeah.
Mark Schapiro: How should we, those of us who might not be…
Naomi Klein: Well, we need to send out different signals. This is why things like people deciding to take action in line with their morals matters. It matters when engineers say, “We’re not going to help dig the Adani mine.” It matters when trusted institutions say, “We’re not going to take fossil fuel money,” because we are aligning our actions with our values. Right now, our actions are not aligned with our values. And that’s creating a huge amount of cognitive dissonance. And that’s, more or less unbearable for different people, but it’s not bearable for our planet. Right. And so we need to send different social signals.
I would say we have to figure out different ways of doing it. I even struggle with this as you know, myself as a speaker, I realized when I was launching this book, I have spent 20 years in the public eye as a sort of public intellectual or whatever you want to call it, troublemaker.
But as a woman who has been writing that economics and being in fields that are incredibly male dominated and putting out anticapitalist ideas, I have sort of felt like if I’m going to be taken seriously, I need to be very, very calm and I’m going to put these radical ideas out there and I’m going to be really calm about it. Right. And I’ve got a lot of praise for that. Like, “Wow, she’s very calm what she’s saying.” And I was like, I sort of felt good about it. I’m like, “Yeah, I’m the calm one.” But now I don’t know if it’s a good thing to just be calm in public when you’re talking about stakes as high as this. And I think whatever… I’m not saying we all need to be screaming all the time, but I think we need to be thinking about how we line up our emotional affect with what we are actually saying. Just an example.
Mark Schapiro: That is very interesting. What we could learn. I just hate to hear that from you. It makes you look at Greta Thunberg differently. It just so enrich I think. So just to deal with the consequences of what we’re living in now, we’re living through, I wanted to ask if there was something that was on… I talked to Governor Brown a couple of years ago, the previous governor and he’s forged these kind of new COP climate policies in the United States and California that are kind of leading the country and one of his arguments-
Naomi Klein: Except fracking.
Mark Schapiro: Except fracking. I’m not saying he’s the perfect dude whatever. But he said something that was really interesting, which surprised me and resonated with your book. And he said, basically what underlie his concerned about climate change. “We’re trying to avoid a Hobbesian situation,” is what he told me. And I thought, “Wow.” For those of you… I’m sure you all know who Thomas Hobbes is, but if you don’t, it was 17th century political philosopher who talked about how life is brutish and short and it’s a nonstop competition for resources. So, which was interesting to come out of a governor’s mouth, which was his rationale for the kind of climate policies he’s pursued in California. You talk about the rising of what you term is climate barbarism, which is first of all very Hobbesian concept. And maybe you can explain the multiple ways in which you mean that kind of image in terms of what we are going through now and how to understand the multiple dimensions of the climate crisis.
Naomi Klein: Right. So aren’t going to come back to Hobbes.
Mark Schapiro: Okay.
Naomi Klein: Because, I mean I do… I guess I just want to say that I think that this idea that the only way that humans can confront hardship and scarcity is through nasty Britishness, I don’t think it’s true. I’ve actually seen people confront a hardship and scarcity with tremendous solidarity and beauty and I think that this sort of essential list idea, that whenever things get tough for humans, we do this. It is an essentialist idea that I reject and I think it’s a bit of a dangerous one. I mean I think there’s no doubt that within capitalism, like within a system that pits people against each other by its very nature, right? When you have scarcity within a very late stage of that system, right? Where this logic has entered every aspect of life, then when you layer climate disruption on top of that, then people do turn on each other and when you have not confronted the white supremacy in the culture of the misogyny, in the culture, all of that gets worse. Like whatever is bad in your culture, if you layer climate disruption on top of it, it all gets worse.
Mark Schapiro: Draw those links a little more clear.
Naomi Klein: Yeah.
Mark Schapiro: You talk about the rise of white supremacy and eco-facism.
Naomi Klein: I means when I say climate barbarism, what I’m saying is that what the policies of this government are, I think they should be understood is as a barbaric form of climate change adaptation. So this is why I say I don’t care whether they say they deny it, they all know it is real. And if you look at what Trump has done, right, how central the fortressing of the border is, how systematically he has gone after temporary protected status for Haitians, for Salvadorans, and understanding that temporary protected status is the only way in which people who have had their lives destroyed by natural disaster can claim a status in this country because there’s no such thing as a climate refugee under international law.
When the climate convention was written, climate change wasn’t understood. So you can’t become a climate refugee because there’s been a natural disaster. So there’s a loophole and it’s called TPS. TPS provides protected temporary status for people after Hurricane Mitch, after the Haitian earthquake and look at how systematically Trump has gone after TPS and after Dorian hit The Bahamas they were right away, said no TPS for people from The Bahamas, they’re drug dealers. So I think we are seeing a really, really frightening shift where if we understand that we are seeing a surging… we are seeing a willingness to rank human life, right, as supremacists logic, as I said, it looks different in different countries. I think what this is doing is these ideas surge when they are needed to justify barbaric actions, right? Like scientific racism emerges to justify the transatlantic slave trade and to justify colonial land theft.
It’s not like suddenly people have like an idea. We want to rank human life and say some people are more like animals than humans. No. If you’re going to be barbaric, you need a system that explains why it is okay to treat certain people like that. And so if we are going to fail to change our systems in response to the climate crisis and we understand that the space in which humans can live on this planet is contracting and we are in a time of absolutely unprecedented human migration and it isn’t going to change then this is what is already happening. This is what you have to do to allow people to drown in the Mediterranean, in the numbers that they’re drowning. And this offshoring that we’re seeing with Australia, the European Union, and now the U.S., right? Where they’re making deals, these majority white countries and continents are making deals with poorer countries and saying, “Your new role in the global economy is to warehouse our migrants.”
So you intercept the boats on the way to Australia. You take people to privatized detention camps and Madison now or the European Union has now done the same with Libya, right? Libya intercepts the boats, it becomes illegal to save people. They’re prosecuting people who have actually saved lives in the Mediterranean and Libya is running these concentration camps. What is Trump doing now? He’s going to Guatemala and El Salvador, the very countries that the U.S. has cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, including as aid that was going to farmers to keep them on their lands and says, “Now we have a new deal for you. The deal is you have to keep migrants from ever reaching the United States.” So this is what I’m calling climate barbarism. But I think there’s something else which is like outright eco-fascism, which is an explicit acknowledgement that we are in an age of climate disruption.
And then like there are people who are out there arguing that climate change is like a corrective, that there’s going to be mass death. And that’s okay because the people who are going to die are not white. I mean this is really happening. The El Paso shooter went into a Walmart, he wrote in his manifesto that he was an eco-fascist, that he had been inspired by the Christchurch killer who identified as an ethnonationalist eco-fascist. He went to a Walmart. Why a Walmart? Why a Walmart that was frequented by Mexicans, he wrote in his manifesto that it was because Americans will never change their way of life, their lifestyle. And so you have to keep Mexicans from adopting that way of life.
Mark Schapiro: So it’s very interesting the way you characterize this, which is a new way of actually understanding this behavior, which is we have the wall going up and Mexico, the crazy immigration policies both in the United States and in the European Union and elsewhere as climate adaptation. So that’s first of all, that’s kind of a new way to understand that, which is a kind of a powerful idea. We think there are climate deniers who are pursuing these kind of racist policies, but in fact they’re adapting to the changes being wrought by climate change, which is interesting. And if that was the case…
Naomi Klein: Trump is a very casual climate denier because he doesn’t really talk about much. He just does it just enough to sort of have a cover for why he’s pulled out of the Paris accord.
Mark Schapiro: And how would it be if, yeah… And some of the richest fossil fuel guys are buying resorts in New Zealand to escape the effects of climate change. But if you were to characterize immigration policies, ethnic disparities of pollution in as forms of climate adaptation, how would that change the debate? Because we’re engaged in this idea of we think climate adaptation is about new green energy sources that maybe higher walls at the sea level but if you were to characterize it in this way, it would actually shift quite a lot of the public discussion if you had one form of climate adaptation, which is to build more walls and to keep people out because you don’t want them disrupting the status quo. And then another kind of climate adaptation that would look like what?
Naomi Klein: Taking down the wall? No, I mean I think it looks like attaching rights to the person and not to citizenship. I mean, there’s going to have to be huge shifts. And I think a big part of the reason why I argue this in the book that I think the right has long understood the deep implications, the justice implications of climate change in that we know that this is a crisis that was created in the wealthy world, right? And there’s been a big fear and an explicit fear that it would lead to transfers of wealth from the north to the south. And like talking about another mass killer, on just Breivik and his manifesto. He called climate change, like the new redistribution of wealth. And it was that it was a conspiracy to weaken Europe and the United States by moving money from north to south.
But it is true that within the UN framework, wealthy countries who created this crisis do owe debts. And I don’t think those debts are just financial. I think there are also debts that are owed to migrants who have been forced off their lands through our actions. So yeah, I think the alternative is deep internationalism.
Mark Schapiro: Yes. And if you were to apply, what’s interesting is how broad your thinking is on climate change or what’s in… So I’ve been approached in the past, I’m sure you have too about like… I want to do a climate story, but it just seems so big. I don’t quite know how to get a handle on it.
Naomi Klein: Let’s make it bigger.
Mark Schapiro: Let’s make it bigger. Yeah. Or make it smaller or kind of like bring it on home. So we are here in a group of journalists and scientist and I want to acknowledge our mixture here tonight. And I have a scientific question for you in a minute, but basically for the journalists… So, if they’re thinking about climate stories, how would you character… what would you say to a journalist who wants to go pursue stories on this big climate thing? And excluding, they don’t have to describe all the shifts in the atmospheric. Yes. What would you say they become knowledgeable about? Just give us a quick litany you have, some journalist who may actually listen to what you’re talking about.
Naomi Klein: Well, I don’t think that there’s… I mean, we talked about this in the class earlier, but I think that there is no… I can’t think of an issue that is untouched by the reality that our infrastructure, the infrastructure that we are all inside, that the natural systems on which life depends, are that these systems are in crisis. So I don’t think that there’s any issue that we’re passionate about that whatever that is, that there isn’t an angle on, right? For better and worse. So I think it’s a question of finding out what those connections are rather than saying like, we all need to be on the climate beat and it’s the same beat. It’s like, if you’re passionate about violence against women look into the fact that there’s apparently been a spike in domestic violence.
In Chico, California, where you had 20,000 new people in a fairly small community after the paradise fire. And you know what happens when communities are under stress is like I said, whatever the preexisting inequalities they’re going to get worse. And we really aren’t telling this story because we’ve had to narrow a lens on it. So I would just say whatever something that you know about, try to push yourself to find out what the intersection is with climate because the climate movement has all kinds of blind spots like that. Like the domestic violence piece is really not been understood. It has also been a big issue in Puerto Rico after Maria. In fact, there’s been a spike in femicides and that was what sparked the huge protest in Puerto Rico. And not just those texts, feminists were already camped outside on the mansion demanding action about violence against women in the aftermath of Maria and that part of the story is really barely been told. Yeah. It is not just a science story.
Mark Schapiro: So, you want to do business. You want to do law, you want to a science…
Naomi Klein: Whatever it is. Yeah. Business law, human rights, psychology. I mean it’s all of it. And I think we’ve had to narrow a lens and I think in journalism school it would be a wonderful service if everybody went through a sort of basic climate literacy where it just enough to sort of shake off the sense of, “This is too complicated. I don’t have the expertise to write about that.” Which I think for a while a lot of people felt about climate. Like this is too technical and I’m going to leave that to the science writers. And so I think we all need to sort of to get up to a level where we aren’t staying away from this from some weird math phobia and just so that we have everybody’s particular expertise and passions brought to bear, right? Because it’s been a really pretty homogenous group of people who’ve been talking about climate for a long time and that’s why it’s been as homogenous as it is, I think. Yeah.
Mark Schapiro: And we have a lot of questions coming in from the audience. I have one final question which I have wanted to ask you and this is also, one was for the journalist, the other was for the scientists and actually for everybody, it’s all for everybody is when it comes to principles, the ecology which a lot of people in this room study and at this university and around the world, the ecology, which is the interconnect and it’s of all the organisms and the interconnections of all the elements on this planet. In the process of your reporting, what have you learned about ecology that the ecological processes on the earth that both give you hope and send you into despair? Let’s take both just to hear your observations on that fundamental.
Naomi Klein: What a good question. I guess I think a lot about salmon. It’s kind of an obsession. And I think that the life cycle of the salmon more than any other creature I know just speaks to this beautiful web that you could have this one fish that is so incredibly generous in its life that all of its stages and fresh water and ocean life, it feeds insects, and orcas, and seals, and sea lions, and eagles, and bears, and trees, and soil, and just like this one fish just does all that. So that, I’m obsessed with salmon and many indigenous cultures have salmon, coastal cultures have salmon at the center, right. And huge respect for salmon and it scares me. It terrifies me because salmon are amazing. They’re resilient and they can get through a lot, but they don’t like hot water.
And so there’s so many things we’ve done to salmon that we can undo. Like you can take down a dam that’s blocking them and you can clear out a stream where they’re not able to go upstream. But if we just… It seems that we are warming our rivers and streams and oceans just too much. And this past summer we saw some runs collapse and it was just the heat. And that’s the thing that scares me the most. I was in the great barrier reef where it was just like, it was just a half a degree and it just all collapsed, right? So, yeah.
Mark Schapiro: All right, well thank you for that. That’s maybe, we’ll return to the hope of the question.
Naomi Klein: Sorry.
Mark Schapiro: That’s okay.
Naomi Klein: I mean, we’re in farming countries so I thought you’d understand.
Mark Schapiro: Yeah, we get it, we get it. That’s okay. And because now we want to open it to the audience here for questions.
Naomi Klein: Also fish farms, we can take down fish farms.
Mark Schapiro: Oh, the first one as an activist.
Naomi Klein: Salmon farms anyway.
Mark Schapiro: Okay, good. So personally, we’re going to open it off, all these thank you for sending these cards up here. And I want to start with the first question from a cosponsor this event, which is the energy and resources group right here on campus. Dan Kammen, who’s the chair of that group that does very important research and teaching on questions of energy here at the university as a professor at the Goldman School and the co-winner of the Nobel prize in 2007 which went to the IPCC. Yay.
Naomi Klein: That makes me think it’s going to be a very hard question.
Mark Schapiro: I’m serious, it’s going to be tough. They’ll throw you off your balance and we want to acknowledge cool that you’re bringing together the science departments and the journalism departments right here at this place. So thank you Dan. And so Dan gets the first question. Okay, Naomi, I’m just reading it literally. I’ve never seen this before. “First, bravo, eloquently put. You lay bare the needed linkages of social injustice and climate barbarism. California has made social justice central to its climate policy as now has New York, 100. They talk about 100% green energy. What is next needed to make climate smart finance the banking standard?”
Naomi Klein: Climate smart finance. Good question.
Naomi Klein: Yes. Oh okay, so beyond… And when I say carbon price isn’t enough, I’m not saying we don’t need a carbon price, I think we need to progressive carbon tax. We absolutely need one. The problem is in terms of actually lowering emissions in line with what the IPCC is telling us, whether we’re talking about 1.5 or two degrees, it would have to be $75 right? Like it’s too high to get the job done and so… But by finance you mean banking or pricing? Yeah. I think a progressive carbon tax within the context of other policies. And this is where this issue… a lot of the sort of liberal pushback against the green new deal has been this thing of like what’s healthcare doing in there? What’s childcare doing in there? And I think that, I hope that the French experience sort of answers that in that sense that we have shredded our social safety net.
We have shredded labor security and look at what is happening just near here in Oakland, right? I mean with the school system and if there was police storming a school board meeting a few miles from here, right? And attacking the librarian, right, because they want to close schools. So these communities are under intense stress. So I think that if we’re going to introduce carbon pricing that is going to make polluting more expensive, which we have to do, there has to be an offer about how we’re going to make life easier for people. Right? And I think that is why the green new deal framework, which links emission reduction with Medicare for All, treating housing as a right, in massive investments in public transit and in having a jobs guarantee all of this is… It makes life less stressful for people and possible to imagine those increases in costs.
That said, I think there’s a whole portion of people who should not experience an increase in cost, which is why we need to have a carbon tax, but it can’t be a revenue neutral carbon tax because we need money. We do need to generate revenue to pay for this. So it to be a bold and progressive plan. But I just don’t think that we can lead with carbon pricing the way the sort of scientific consensus has been for a long time that we just think that the magic bullet is carbon pricing because this is what I think we’re starting to see. If you also look at… We’ve got some Chileans in the audience and I just want to say I’m so sorry for what is happening in your country. There’s been flashbacks to the Pinochet dictatorship crowds fired on with live ammunition and water cannons.
What sparked this was an increase in transit, right? But the thing is that it wasn’t… So, public transit fares increased, but it was actually linked to climate action because in preparing for the COP, my understanding is they electrified public transit, which they should have done, but they offloaded the costs onto working people who are incredibly stressed. So I hope that what we are seeing with the yellow vest movement, what is happening in Chile, what happened in Ecuador is that people are pushed beyond the breaking point. So what climate justice means is that we’re marrying this together. We also need to like bankrupt chase and black rock.
Mark Schapiro: All right. Let me pick up on it.
Naomi Klein: All right. And everyone should just read Bill McKibben’s New Yorker article and just do what he says.
Mark Schapiro: So there’s a good question here that actually comes right off of this, which is that you say polluters should pay, right? But isn’t that what President Macron tried to do with his gas tax? Was that unjust and be clear about what the problem was and how he could have adapted that tax to be more just, I mean or, well, answer that quite I don’t want to… Yeah, you had a strong.
Naomi Klein: Well, we have to go after the polluters in a really aggressive way. And I think some of this is happening in the courts because it isn’t happening with regulation. We need to be… The days of fossil fuels are numbered, if we are serious about climate action, there are still some profits being made. In fact, there are a lot of profits being made and I believe that given the decades of obstruction and lies, that have come from this industry that we have a right to those remaining profits from the dying days of fossil fuels. So I’m not just talking about taxing them and increasing their royalties, like I’m not even sure they have a right to be in business. I mean, the whole point of the fossil fuel divestment movement is that this is an illegitimate business model and they have more carbon in their reserves than is compatible with life on earth and they’re continuing to expand what they are exploring for.
And so, as they are continuing to fund misinformation campaigns. So what does that mean? What rights do we have to those profits? So no, that polluter pays is not asking overstress working people to pay more for gas. Fossil fuels is going after Exxon and Shell and BP and the over consumers. 70% of global emissions are produced by the 20% wealthiest people and…
And the military too. We need to move money from military to the green new deal. And this is one of the things that really sets Bernie’s Green New Deal apart.
Mark Schapiro: That was a question, which presidential candidate best reflects your perspective. You can answer that now.
Naomi Klein: Well, obviously, Biden. No. So, yeah. All right. So did I answer the polluter pays one enough? I think so.
Mark Schapiro: We have one more I’d like to add and if you want to address the presidential…
Naomi Klein: We need to take all their money.
Mark Schapiro: Okay.
Naomi Klein: All right. Okay.
Mark Schapiro: You don’t have to commit to a presidential candidate.
Naomi Klein: No. I think that Bernie’s Green New Deal plan is head and shoulders the best plan. And I think a lot of the ways in which we are talking about climate justice right now in the context of the Green New Deal, are way to nationalist and we really have to recognize that even just within the UN framework, climate justice does not stop at national borders. And there’s been a lot of talk of like the U.S. can lead by example. Well, yeah, the U.S. can be a good example, but it’s not going to lead unless it puts some money on the table because we are required to do that under the UN Convention. Bernie’s met with the leading experts on what the U.S. is true share is. And that’s where he came up with the $200 billion figure. And so he’s the only one who’s talking about putting that international financing piece, which would allow a country like Ecuador to leave its forest intact and not have to cut them down in order to get the oil underneath.
And this is the whole concept of ecological debt. So yeah, I support Bernie. I think we need to push Warren to do better on military and I’m financing the really important pieces so I do not saying like a Bernie or Bust, but I think this is a really, really important piece that we need to work on. And I think that I’m really scared by this latest polling that’s showing that Biden is somehow doing better. We can’t have a candidate who is running against Trump who has his hands tied behind his back on one of Trump’s most vulnerable points, which is the outrageous corruption that his own family is engaged in and the profiteering off the presidency. How is Biden’s supposed to take him on about this? When his own son was being paid tens of thousands of dollars a month to sit on the board of a fossil company in the Ukraine, while his father was vice president and an administration that was pushing natural gas as a bridge fuel.
And of course it was a natural gas company, right? That may be legal, but as the kind of fossil fuel nepotism that we need none of. And most importantly, we don’t need a candidate who can’t fight with both hands. Okay. So please, we can’t have Biden. This is the main thing I’m focused on.
Mark Schapiro: All right. Well we have one? Yeah. So great. Well that does lead us to the last question here just naturally evolves towards this question. I’m going to try to… I’ll shorten this a little bit and I know you actually talk about this in your book, so it actually be interesting for you to consider this. Which is essentially, you mentioned aligning our actions with our values. However, when the focus is on individual responsibility, essentially, how does that relate…? I’m going to try to shorten this question. Thank you for the question, whoever this is, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, but essentially you mentioned aligning our actions with our values. What is the role of the individual in trying to move climate policies forward and how do you respond to that idea of individual responsibility basically, I think that’s fair rendering, whoever did that.
Naomi Klein: All right. Yeah, no, it’s a really good question. And I think that we should be doing what we can, but we also shouldn’t be beating ourselves up because the whole point is that we need to change the building blocks of our economy and that are built on fossil fuels. We are all within the system, right? So, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do things to lower our personal carbon footprint. One of the things that happens when we do those things is we realize that in a lot of cases it improves quality of life and it makes our bodies healthier. But we should also recognize that a lot of people don’t have good options available to them. They don’t have access to public transit, they have to drive. They live in food deserts, they can’t all be vegans and organic all the time.
So I think while it is important to… I want to make a distinction between our consumer actions and our individual actions because our power as individuals is not only our power as consumers because as individuals we can join with other individuals and be part of movements and organize our professional associations and we can organize our neighborhoods and we can organize our workplaces and we can find greater mass action power. And I think one of the big mistakes we have made, and one of the symptoms of living in a neoliberal culture is that we’ve really been trained to first and foremost see our powers as consumers. And this problem is just too big for that, right?
But I also feel like there is a danger of like focusing too much on those individual actions and sort of sending out a message that you can’t really be part of a climate movement if you’re going to be a hypocrite and you have to have already kind of rid your life of fossil fuels before you can even be part of this movement. And then you’re going to have a really small movement and you’re also going to have a really middle-class movement and a really privileged movement in lots of ways. So it’s a balance, I guess is what I would say. But first and foremost we need to stop being such individuals and start working with each other and finding our strength in communities. Because the Green New Deal, which we haven’t talked all that much about, but I think people understand the basic concept.
And I guess one of the most important things to remember about the Green New Deal is that it takes inspiration from the original New Deal. It takes inspiration and warnings, right? It takes warnings from who was excluded from the original New Deal, agricultural workers, domestic workers, which was a way of taking in directly at African American workers. There was built in discrimination in the New Deal, particularly the way relief was allocated, particularly in the South. What it teaches us is that if we don’t center justice, and if we don’t say that the people who got the worst deal and in the old system need to be at the center of this transformation, then we’re going to replicate those injustices again. So we need to make sure that everybody is at the table. But what the original new deal tells us is that we can do amazing things together and that we can change things really, really, really quickly.
And this is why I find studying the New Deal so incredible, particularly the Civilian Conservation Corps, which planted 2.3 billion trees and built 800 state parks or the hundreds of thousands of works of art that were created under multiple programs that created a renaissance of publicly funded art in this country. And the kind of infrastructure rollouts, but also that it was a change in spirit in the country and so… But one of the things that’s most important to remember is that this was not, even though often the history is like FDR waved his magic wand and made it so, no, this was born in struggle and it was a push and pull with highly organized social movements, labor movements who were pushing all the time for more and more and more.
And as he was rolling out these most progressive policies in U.S. history workers were staging general strikes and setting down entire cities in 1934, ’35, ’36, ’37, every year of the New Deal, there were more strikes. Okay. And it got better and better and stronger and stronger as it went on. So, it wasn’t because people were like wringing their hands about what they were buying or not buying, right? They were finding their collective power and their collective strength and we need to recapture that kind of fire again.
Mark Schapiro: Wow. Thank you, Naomi.
Ed Wasserman: Well, thank you. Thank you Naomi Klein, Mark Schapiro and Naomi will be selling and signing books outside. I want to thank the Berkeley Energy Resources Group, our partners in this event, and especially want to thank the Graduate School of Journalism and the people, and the staff who set this up. Thank you all for coming and good luck and Godspeed. Thank you all.
[Music: “Silver Lanyard” by Blue Dot Sessions]
Podcast outro: You’ve been listening to Berkeley Talks, a Berkeley News podcast from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs that features lectures and conversations at UC Berkeley. You can find more talks with transcripts at news.berkeley.edu/podcasts.