Izida Zorde: This Changes Everything has made a big impact on the climate justice movement. Can you tell me what the book is about and what the impetus for writing it was?
Naomi Klein: The book is about climate change, more specifically how our response to the crisis of climate change, on the deadline we are on if we’re to avert catastrophic warming, can be a catalyst to transform our economies and societies in ways that will make people’s lives better. I was trying to reframe the issue. Very often it is seen as all about sacrifice; if we respond to climate change, we will lose things. The oil industry has been very good at scaring people into believing it is responsible for all that is good and comfortable in people’s lives and, without fossil fuels, we’d all be suffering and shivering in the dark. The argument I make in This Changes Everything is that we have an economic system that is failing the vast majority of people on the planet. We’re seeing untenable levels of economic inequality, racial injustice, gender injustice. People are suffering because of their isolation from one another and from their communities. Given that climate change demands radical change from us, why don’t we seize this opportunity to address multiple crises at once.
IZ: Activists and scientists were scrambling to record American environmental data before President Donald Trump took office and many have raised concerns about tighter control around environmental and other information. What does this mean for getting facts about climate change out to the public?
NK: For Canadians, a lot of this is familiar and went on under Stephen Harper when scientists who received any kind of government funding were under tight controls. As a journalist writing This Changes Everything , it was incredible how difficult it was to get Canadian scientists on the record talking not only about a controversial subject like the impact of tar sands mining on water in Northern Alberta, but also less controversial issues like what’s happening with polar bears in Manitoba. I couldn’t get scientists to talk to me. Or somebody would agree to talk and then say that they couldn’t be quoted. What is happening in the United States is not unfamiliar territory, but it is frightening when a government sees facts as their enemy, and bullies and attacks the media. The Trump administration knows facts are not its friend and there are people in the administration who are expert information manipulators – Steve Bannon from Breitbart is his chief strategist, Roger Ailes, formerly of Fox News, a major advisor, and, if Trump himself is good at anything, it’s media spectacle. These men want to control the narrative and know that the facts can get in the way.
IZ: I read an article recently where you refer to the shock doctrine and say that recent announcements by the Trump administration are a series of shocks that will bring with them broad institutional and systemic change. Can you talk about that?
NK: When I wrote The Shock Doctrine, I spent a lot of time researching a strategy called “Shock Therapy,” a term used by economists to describe a way of changing a society very quickly. It came into popular use when the Soviet Union collapsed and American economists and advisors went into the former Soviet states and changed them from communist to capitalist very quickly. The idea was to change so many things at once that people would be confused and their resistance broken. In my research, I found that shock therapy was being used in the early 1970s in Chile when Milton Friedman was advising Augusto Pinochet. The idea is to go fast and hard and do everything at once.
This is what we’re seeing in the early days of the Trump administration. People are feeling totally overwhelmed and scrambling to keep up. What worries me most about this administration is what will happen when it has an actual shock to exploit, whether that’s a terrorist attack or a major natural or economic meltdown, anything that would allow it to declare a state of emergency or implement extraordinary policies. We have seen many governments use shock therapy, including the centre-left government in France after the attacks in Paris. It declared a state of emergency and banned public assembly and protests. Originally, it was going to last a month, and then it was three months, then it was extended to six months, and it has continued to be extended and extended. States of exception that violate democratic rights are created in moments of crises but they can become the status quo. We need to be very on guard when dealing with Trump and Pence.
IZ: Everyone is focussed on the US right now, while Canada continues to make major fossil fuel infrastructure decisions. In Calgary recently, Trudeau said “the responsibility of any Canadian prime minister is to get our resources to market and yes, that includes our oil-sands fossil fuels,” He said, “You cannot separate what’s good for the environment and what’s good for the economy.”
NK: Before the Trump administration came to power we were already seeing some very disturbing signs from Trudeau, and it’s only gotten worse since the US election. We knew at least one pipeline was going be approved because Trudeau was clear about that during the election, but a series of major fossil-fuel infrastructure projects have been approved. We’ve had the Kinder Morgan expansion through BC approved. Now, with Trump giving the okay for Keystone XL, the Trudeau government is celebrating three major new tar sands pipelines all linked to a large expansion of production in the tar sands. An LNG terminal has been approved with the support of the federal government in British Columbia. This will massively increase emissions in BC.
It is interesting to compare that to what is going on with renewables. We hear from Trudeau that we need these fossil-fuel projects to pay for the transition to a green economy, but I don’t think Canadians can point to any tangible investments that offset these expansions of fossil fuels. There has been some progress on climate policy with the carbon tax, but this small step forward is accompanied by three steps backward, the massive emissions from new fossil-fuel megaprojects. Because investors are counting on these projects to stay in production for decades to come, we are locked into a dirty model of production.