The movement demanding that public interest institutions divest their holdings from fossil fuels is on a serious roll. At last count, there were active divestment campaigns on 305 campuses and in more than 100 US cities and states. The demand has spread to Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and Britain. And though officially launched just six months ago, the movement can already claim some provisional victories: four US colleges have announced their intention to divest their endowments from fossil fuel stocks and bonds, and in late April ten US cities made similar commitments, including San Francisco (Seattle came on board months ago).
In December 2012, the Indigenous protests known as Idle No More exploded onto the Canadian political scene, with huge round dances taking place in shopping malls, busy intersections, and public spaces across North America, as well as solidarity actions as far away as New Zealand and Gaza. Though sparked by a series of legislative attacks on indigenous sovereignty and environmental protections by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, the movement quickly became about much more: Canada’s ongoing colonial policies, a transformative vision of decolonization, and the possibilities for a genuine alliance between natives and non-natives, one capable of re-imagining nationhood.
I woke up just past midnight with a bolt. My six-month-old son was crying. He has a cold – the second of his short life–and his blocked nose frightens him. I was about to get up when he started snoring again. I, on the other hand, was wide awake.
A single thought entered my head: Chief Theresa Spence is hungry. Actually it wasn’t a thought. It was a feeling. The feeling of hunger. Lying in my dark room, I pictured the chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation lying on a pile of blankets in her teepee across from Parliament Hill, entering day 14 of her hunger strike.
This week in the Phoenix, Wen Stephenson profiles Naomi Klein -- "black-clad and sharp-tongued mistress of the global anti-corporate left, friend to Occupiers and scourge of oil barons" -- as she turns her attention to the cause of climate justice. Below is a longer excerpt from their conversation -- about Klein's alliance with 350.org's Bill McKibben, her views on the environmental movement, and the ways in which her struggles to become a parent informed her views on climate (and vice versa). This interview took place on November 8, 2012. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Wen Stephenson: How did your collaboration with Bill McKibben and 350.org come about? What led you personally into this?
Naomi Klein: My first engagement with the climate issue was around the issue of climate debt. I was actually doing research about reparations for slavery, writing a long piece for Harper's, in 2008. I've always been very interested in the Durban anti-racism conference [in Durban, South Africa]. In the lead-up to that UN conference in September 2001, the reparations movement in the United States and in Africa really took off. It was becoming incredibly mainstream. Manning Marable was having pieces published in Time magazine, it was on the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.
Naomi Klein, black-clad and sharp-tongued mistress of the global anti-corporate left, friend to Occupiers and scourge of oil barons, stood outside a dressing room backstage at Boston's Orpheum Theatre one night last month, a clear-eyed baby boy on her hip.
"I'm really trying not to play the Earth Mother card," Klein told me over the phone the week before, as she talked about bringing Toma, her first child, into the world. But she didn't need to worry.
Inside the dressing room, she'd been fielding questions from a small gaggle of young reporters alongside 350.org's Bill McKibben, who had invited her to play a key role in the 21-city "Do the Math" climate-movement roadshow that arrived at the sold-out Orpheum that night. With a laugh, Klein noted to the reporters that McKibben's devastatingRolling Stone article last summer, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math" — revealing that the fossil-fuel industry has five times more carbon in its proven reserves, which it intends to extract, than the science says can be burned if we want to avoid climate catastrophe — had received no industry pushback.
Less than three days after Sandy made landfall on the East Coast of the United States, Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute blamed New Yorkers’ resistance to big-box stores for the misery they were about to endure. Writing on Forbes.com, he explained that the city’s refusal to embrace Walmart will likely make the recovery much harder: “Mom-and-pop stores simply can’t do what big stores can in these circumstances,” he wrote.
And the preemptive scapegoating didn’t stop there. He also warned that if the pace of reconstruction turned out to be sluggish (as it so often is) then “pro-union rules such as the Davis-Bacon Act” would be to blame, a reference to the statute that requires workers on public-works projects to be paid not the minimum wage, but the prevailing wage in the region.
For almost 20 years, I’ve been spending time on a craggy stretch of British Columbia’s shoreline called the Sunshine Coast. This summer, I had an experience that reminded me why I love this place, and why I chose to have a child in this sparsely populated part of the world.
It was 5 a.m. and my husband and I were up with our 3-week-old son. Looking out at the ocean, we spotted two towering, black dorsal fins: orcas, or killer whales. Then two more. We had never seen an orca on the coast, and never heard of their coming so close to shore. In our sleep-deprived state, it felt like a miracle, as if the baby had wakened us to make sure we didn’t miss this rare visit.
The possibility that the sighting may have resulted from something less serendipitous did not occur to me until two weeks ago, when I read reports of a bizarre ocean experiment off the islands of Haida Gwaii, several hundred miles from where we spotted the orcas swimming.
"In the Western hemisphere, in Haiti and elsewhere, we live under the shadow of your great and prosperous country. Much patience and courage is needed to keep one´s head" -- Doctor Maigot to Mrs Smith in Graham Greene's The Comedians
In the middle of Port-au-Prince, along a dusty road and behind some imposing metal gates, sits the E-Power electricity plant. In a capital city where electricity blackouts are a nightly occurrence, E-Power is the kind of company the international financial institutions (IFIs) running Haiti believe will lead "reform" - by taking power away from the state-run company, and running it for profit. The company was founded in 2004 by a group of Haitian venture capitalists excited by the departure of social-democratic president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The aim, it said, was to "offer a solution to power generation in Haiti". Sure enough, two years later, in 2006, the new United States-backed president, René Préval, launched an open bid for a contract to provide electricity to Haiti's capital city. Seven companies took part: E-Power won.
A version of this article originally appeared on TruthOut.org.
Seven years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has become a national laboratory for government reforms. But the process through which those experiments have been carried out rarely has been transparent or democratic. The results have been divisive, pitting new residents against those who grew up here, rich against poor, and white against Black.
Education, housing, criminal justice, health care, urban planning, even our media; systemic changes have touched every aspect life in New Orleans, often creating a template used in other cities. A few examples:
When I first read Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine a few years ago, I had no idea how prescient the book was. It was a polemic about "disaster capitalism", arguing that sudden crises are intentionally manipulated to push through extreme free market policies that were otherwise not politically possible. But early 2008 was a completely different era: although Northern Rock had just suffered the first bank run for 150 years, it seemed like a bizarre blip. The US sub-prime crisis was rumbling away, but it was like sheet lightning from a distant storm. "The deficit" was not an everyday term of political debate. It was not at all clear that the world was about to be utterly transformed.
The following conversation between Naomi and Yotam Marom was recently recorded in New York City. Yotam is a political organizer, educator, and writer based in New York. He has been active in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and is a member of the Organization for a Free Society.
Naomi Klein: One of the things that’s most mysterious about this moment is “Why now?” People have been fighting austerity measures and calling out abuses by the banks for a couple of years, with basically the same analysis: “We won’t pay for your crisis.” But it just didn’t seem to take off, at least in the US. There were marches and there were political projects and there were protests like Bloombergville, but they were largely ignored. There really was not anything on a mass scale, nothing that really struck a nerve. And now suddenly, this group of people in a park set off something extraordinary. So how do you account for that, having been involved in Occupy Wall Street since the beginning, but also in earlier anti-austerity actions?
Naomi Klein, the author of a string of provocative and popular books including “The Shock Doctrine,” recently took on global warming policy and campaigns in “Capitalism vs. the Climate,” a much-discussed cover story for The Nation that has been mentioned by readers here more than once in the last few weeks.
The piece begins with Klein’s conclusion, reached after she spent time at a conclave on climate sponsored by the libertarian Heartland Institute, that passionate corporate and conservative foes of curbs on greenhouse gases are right in asserting that a meaningful response to global warming would be a fatal blow to free markets and capitalism.
There is a question from a gentleman in the fourth row.
He introduces himself as Richard Rothschild. He tells the crowd that he ran for county commissioner in Maryland’s Carroll County because he had come to the conclusion that policies to combat global warming were actually “an attack on middle-class American capitalism.” His question for the panelists, gathered in a Washington, DC, Marriott Hotel in late June, is this: “To what extent is this entire movement simply a green Trojan horse, whose belly is full with red Marxist socioeconomic doctrine?”
Here at the Heartland Institute’s Sixth International Conference on Climate Change, the premier gathering for those dedicated to denying the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet, this qualifies as a rhetorical question. Like asking a meeting of German central bankers if Greeks are untrustworthy. Still, the panelists aren’t going to pass up an opportunity to tell the questioner just how right he is.