It’s hard to believe that Naomi Klein has been chronicling the exploitation of people and our planet for over 20 years. As a 24-year-old, her voice emerged around the same time I was born, but I have only discovered her genius in recent months. The author of No Logo, This Changes Everything and The Shock Doctrine — among many others — has gathered writings and key speeches from the last decade for her latest work emphasising the imperativeness of the Green New Deal. The urgency of her work has only increased with the steady stream of heartbreaking environmental statistics leaking through the cracks of our social media feeds.
On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal takes place from numerous vantage points; the Vatican under Pope Francis’ “ecological conversion”, measuring environmental damages from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, choking on smoke from wildfires in British Columbia, Vancouver and witnessing the die-off in the Great Barrier Reef. Her voice is as accessible as ever while she dissects the scientific and economic jargon for her whole audience to grasp, simultaneously injecting empathy and passion in her fight to hold corporations and fossil fuel companies accountable for the endless hurt they’ve caused.
Klein examines the worrying resurgence of narratives regarding the right of supposedly superior white colonisers to inflict violence on those they classify as beneath them in the hierarchy of humans. Her consistent elevation of Indigenous voices is a priority for the climate justice movement, as minorities are the most vulnerable people with the lowest carbon footprint but bear the brunt of climate breakdown’s disastrous effects. From dozens of Indigenous tribes in the Amazon facing prejudice and stripped of land rights under President Bolsonaro and Justin Trudeau’s use of First Nations land for tar sands pipelines to the storms ravaging Puerto Rico and droughts in Africa and East Asia; Klein uses her platform to highlight how horrifically unfair the ecological destruction of our planet is.
Using a rake of data, historical sources and referencing studies, research and interviews, the activist disproves claims that climate change is simply a result of “flawed human behaviour”. The greed of a small but elite group of neoliberal capitalists and 100 corporate fossil fuel companies saw the natural wealth of stolen lands as something to dominate and use up. The idea that the earth’s resources are boundless are reminiscent of capitalism’s grab and pull behaviour, the consistent consumption habits of the planet’s richest inhabitants to the detriment of the systematically unheard. Black and brown lives are being betrayed, while Western, wealthy countries build higher and higher walls.
The Canadian author tries to maintain a pragmatic and optimistic tone throughout the novel while making sure to put political leaders blocking climate action on blast. The opening chapter makes sure to reference the shining light of Greta Thunberg, declaring that young people are “cracking open the heart of the climate crisis”. Democratic eco-socialism is the backbone of the Green New Deal resolution, put forward by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey. By the final chapters of Klein’s book, it’s impossible to deny that this plan is the only way forward, which is why she endorses Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination in 2020.
The Green New Deal has its roots in Indigenous communities and tribes who have a compassionate and respectful relationship to the land, rather than seeing it as something worth draining of all life for the profit of a small few. It makes sure to illustrate that the economic strain of the plan should not be on the poorest people in our society. The plan works to eliminate the racial wealth gap and gender wealth gap while guaranteeing job security, free education, free healthcare, funded art projects and protection of wildlife and nature reserves, transport and childcare as well as 100% renewable energy.
The vicious cycle of placing certain lives above ‘the Other’ has led to a dehumanising effect, with the rise of far-right, authoritarian movements globally and a shutdown of freedom of movement being called for in post-Brexit UK. The irony of anti-immigration sentiment rings hollow, Klein writes, once it dawns on them that Britain invented the coal-burning steam engine and has been burning fossil fuels on an industrial scale longer than any nation on earth. Their anger at the thought of paying for flood defences abroad while ignoring their role in climate-related weather storms in the Global South is peak white privilege.
The writer stresses that the core crises of fake news, election tampering, data harvesting, violent wars over resources, racism, massive wealth inequality, white supremacy, poverty and sexual violence are all interconnected and must be tackled head-on as a collective social mass movement. The Green New Deal has strong plans in place in terms of financing the plan, simply by treating the crisis like the emergency it is; cutting military spending, shutting down tax havens and taxing the billionaires 1%. Funnel the funds back into the public sphere, decentralise power into local communities, keep carbon in the ground, raise the voices of those who were tramped on in society, and there you have it: democratic eco-socialism. Lifestyle changes, of course, are included. Mainly so that disposable income from our green job salary doesn’t go towards “buying crap from China that will inevitably end up in landfill”, as the author eloquently puts. The paradigm of equating personal prosperity with quality of life leads to wealth hoarding, and can’t possibly fulfil us.
“Climate change acts as an accelerant to many of our social ills (inequality, wars, racism, sexual violence) but it can also be an accelerant for the opposite, for the forces working for economic and social justice against militarism,” Klein says, instilling a sense of purpose within the reader. “It is not the job of a transformative social movement to reassure members of a panicked, megalomaniacal elite that they are still masters of the universe, nor is it necessary.” We must abandon the extractive, consumerist mindset and repair our relationship with each other as well as with the planet, the era of endless expansion is over.
With her usual elegance, humility and logic, Naomi Klein has gifted us with the tools to unite the movement once again and makes sure to assure us that we’re not alone. The issue demands us to act on a scale that humanity has never accomplished before. As Ursula K. Le Guin once said, “We live in capitalism, it’s power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings.” Capitalism is not some stoic system that is built into our DNA with no alternative. Human empathy can still triumph, despite the men in the White House, 10 Downing Street and the Kremlin. We could cause the sixth great mass extinction event in Earth’s history, or we could create a prosperous civilisation: it’s our choice.
Photo by Joe Mabel
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