Tackling inequality – Naomi Klein joins the dots, tackling climate change and inequality at the same time

IdeasGroupHeaderwritten by Anne Bunning

Naomi Klein has a big reputation for her research, writing and speaking about the unethical, immoral and unscrupulous operations of big business, globalisation and capitalism. Her bestselling books No Logo: taking aim at the brand bullies (in 2000) and The Shock Doctrine: the rise of disaster capitalism (in 2007) exposed the downside of capitalism – the human exploitation, injustice and inequality. Her follow up films and analysis in elite international publications, as well as speeches at public demonstrations such as the 2011 Occupy Wall Street, inspired a generation of young activists.

Following publication of The Shock Doctrine, the New Yorker judged Klein “the most visible and influential figure on the American left—what Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky were thirty years ago.” Klein sits on the board of directors of campaign group 350.org and took part in their “Do the Math” tour in 2013, encouraging the divestment movement.

Klein now describes herself as a recent convert to climate change, belatedly realising the close link between inequality and environmental destruction. Klein’s most recent book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism v The Climate (in 2014), argues that we need a more robust and honest discussion about how the predominant economic system has created deep inequalities and global environmental calamity.

Klein has turned much of her research into film, from short to feature length.

The feature length documentary This Changes Everything, directed by her husband Avi Lewis, will be completed and launched later this year.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rqw99rJYq8Q&w=560&h=315]

The challenge
Climate change recognises that we share a common atmospheric space and that the relentless pursuit of fossil fuel based economic growth must stop.

The quest for ever more economic development as the solution to every global economic crisis – or hiccup – has been continually pursued as if there is no climate crisis; as if we can continue to fill up our common atmospheric space with more and more emissions.

The June 2015 meeting of the G7 group of industrial nations has pledged to phase out the world’s use of fossil fuels by the end of the 21st century and reaffirmed the goal of limiting global warming this century to 2 degrees C from pre-industrial levels. The G7 stressed that “deep cuts in global greenhouse emissions” were required “with a decarbonisation of the global economy”.

But how optimistic can we be that these good words will turn into real deeds. Climate change has been on the G8 (when Russia was invited) Agenda every year since 2005. Hard evidence of a real commitment to phase out fossil fuels remains elusive. Especially, now, in Australia. Evidence of progress seems to turn into a mirage on further inspection. Economic power continues to be concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. The rich and the powerful continue to exert undue influence on political leaders – 37 of the world’s 100 largest economies are corporations, and most of them are oil companies or banks. (makewealthhistory.org/2014/02/03/the-corporations-bigger-than-nations/)

In 2014, when Oxfam travelled to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to lobby on behalf of the world’s poor, it came bearing the (then) shocking news that just 85 individuals controlled as much wealth as half of the world’s population combined. In January 2015, that number went down to 80 individuals.

Klein’s theory
Klein sees a future where climate change can be the catalyst we need to address inequality – but warns that we need to get together and get the momentum going sooner rather than later.

“What if we realised that real disaster response means fighting inequality and building a just economy; that everyone working for a healthy food system is already a climate warrior. So too are people fighting for public transit in Brazil, housing and immigrant rights in the US. There are movements battling austerity in Europe, extraction in Australia, pollution in China and India, environmental crime in Africa and the bad trade deals that lock in all of these ills everywhere. I believe the movement we need is already in the streets, in the courts, in the classrooms, even in the halls of power. We just need to find each other. One way or another, everything is going to change. And for a brief time, the nature of that change is still up to us.”

The recent austerity marches in the UK, the Recognise Movement in Australia, the divestment campaign, are all linked in Klein’s analysis; they are all part of the same story, that there is a causal link between free market economics and the social and economic inequalities and global environmental calamity that we live with today; that if participants in these campaigns link up, the momentum for change will be unstoppable.

Klein is optimistic – because she believes that placing justice at the centre of the climate movement will engage large new communities of active people who have not in the past been invited to the table: make the argument about climate justice rather than climate action. If the inequalities are not dealt with, then it will not be possible to deal with climate change.

Klein is saying we need to connect the dots among movements around the world which tackle climate change and inequality; we need to tackle both at the same time because they are one and the same thing.

Klein sees a future where under the umbrella of climate justice, communities are rising up to take direct action in the face of government intransigence.

And the implications for us as SCSA members
For SCSA members, the message could be:

  • our individual and group actions need to be promoted in the broader community
  • we need to engage with a broad cross section of action and interest groups and individuals in our local community – organisations such as Homelessness SA, domestic violence services, People for Public Transport, Aboriginal legal services, OzHarvest, Bicycle Institute SA, church based community justice services … – and collaborate in achieving our shared vision for the future
  • we need to be constantly on the alert to noticing when and how we can let our elected officials know how we are linking up, what we are doing and why we are doing it.

And for the sake of our future we need to trust in Klein’s theory!

Further reading:

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