September 16, 2014
by Joshua Holland
Young girls protest in front of the Polish Ministry of Economy, where a coal industry meeting took place in Warsaw, Poland, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
In her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, Naomi Klein argues that if we had taken action years ago when scientists first established that human activities were changing our climate, we might have been able to deal with the problem of global warming with only minimal disruption to our economic system. But as we approach a tipping point, and the consequences of climate change come into sharper focus, that time has passed, and we now have to acknowledge that preserving humans’ habitat requires a paradigm change.
But Klein doesn’t just offer us a depressing litany of the damage we’ve already done. She calls on us to seriously rethink the way our economy is structured to address not only climate change, but also other longstanding social problems like persistent global poverty and rising inequality.
BillMoyers.com spoke with Klein about the fundamental challenges – and opportunities – that come from dealing with a warming planet at this stage of the game. Below is a transcript of our discussion that’s been edited for length and clarity.
Joshua Holland: Please briefly lay out the thesis of the book and then we can drill down into a few points.
Naomi Klein: The thesis of the book is that by responding robustly to climate change — in line with what scientists tell us we have to do — we have a once-in-a-century opportunity to solve some of the biggest and most intractable problems facing our economy. I’m talking about creating countless good jobs, rebuilding ailing infrastructure to help protect us from the heavy weather that we’ve already locked in, and lowering our emissions so it doesn’t get markedly worse.
We also have an incredible opportunity to address our most intransigent economic problem, which is inequality within our countries, and also between our countries. We can also have safer, more livable cities and cleaner air. So there is a lot of potentially good news.
The bad news is that we can’t do any of this by just changing our light bulbs or politely lobbying governments behind the scenes. We need to have a robust public debate about what values we want to have govern our society. The argument I make in the first part of the book is that the reason we’ve failed so spectacularly to rise to this existential crisis — and by failed I mean our emissions are up 61 percent since we started working on this issue in the early 1990s — is because the things we have to do clash fundamentally with the core ideology that has reigned in this same period, which is market fundamentalism.
This is a crisis with spectacularly bad timing because it fell in our laps at the very moment that history was being declared over and liberals around the world were exporting this market fundamentalism. They’re telling us we can’t regulate just when we need to regulate and that we can’t invest in the public sphere just when we need to do exactly that. They say there’s no such thing as society, when what we need more than anything is to come together and act collectively.