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portrait of author and activist Naomi Klein
Author Naomi Klein

Facing Climate Crisis: An Interview with Naomi Klein

Izida Zorde

If we’re building new infrastructure, why aren’t we investing in new transit or light rail projects or new clean energy projects? In Germany, they are getting 30 percent of their electricity from renewables, much of it wind co-ops and small-scale decentralized rooftop solar. We don’t have any equivalent rapid clean transition happening in Canada. The argument we’ve made in the Leap Manifesto is that if we did this, we could design the policies to bring justice and resources to Indigenous communities that would close the inequality gap on multiple fronts. Trudeau is getting attacked on his listening tour because the policies the Liberals have introduced will not tangibly improve people’s lives. People don’t see it. They see a carbon tax that is not progressive; people who have the most money and emit the most should pay the most, but they don’t. You can design a carbon tax to be just, so that the people who are already having trouble paying their utility bills don’t have an added burden. That is why we came up with the Leap Manifesto in the first place. We need to be pushing our governments to design policies that people will defend because they’re making their lives better.

IZ: That is my next question. Can you talk about the Leap Manifesto and the organizations that have signed onto it? What was it meant to do?

NK: The intention of the manifesto was to meet the crisis of climate change with the sense of urgency it demands. When we drafted it, Canada was in the middle of an election campaign. Even though people care deeply about climate change, it cannot compete for attention with bread and butter issues like jobs or basic services like healthcare. The Leap Manifesto was a roadmap for how we can respond to the climate crisis in a way that it is intersectional; people wouldn’t be asked to choose between jobs and climate action or healthcare or education and climate action. Our goal was to demonstrate that responding to climate change by radically lowering our emissions can be the impetus for massive investment in the caring economy – including healthcare, education and the arts – because these are already low carbon sectors and under siege by austerity. We wanted to connect the dots and reframe the issues. As we switch from fossil fuels to renewables, we change how power is generated so that we can have an economy where ownership stays in public control and communities keep the benefits. The Leap Manifesto calls for energy justice, which means that the communities that are owed a debt because they have borne the heaviest burdens, First Nations and frontline communities that have dirty refineries in their backyards, should be first in line to receive public money to own and control their own renewable-energy projects.

Tens of thousands of Canadians along with two hundred and twenty organizations from grassroots ones, like Black Lives Matter Toronto, to large NGOs, like Oxfam and Greenpeace, to unions, such as CUPE, have signed on. The way our movements are structured is very siloed. Even when we can agree on an intersectional vision, we work in silos. We need to think about how to keep this coalition together. Trudeau needs to be pushed hard, especially with a bully in office in the United States. In Canada, the Conservative Party is moving to the right, and toying with electing a Canadian version of Donald Trump, Kevin O’Leary. Conservatives will push Trudeau to drop climate initiatives to compete with Trump. At the same time, the NDP has been in disarray since the election. Who’s going to push Trudeau from the other side?

IZ: Given that, what advice do you have for Ontario elementary teachers who want to make the systemic connections necessary to address climate change in intersectional ways with their students?

NK: There is tremendous respect in Canadian society for the people we entrust our children to all day. As an organization, teachers can and should be part of this movement of shifting the economy. The extraction economy is dangerous; it is dangerous for students who will live longest into climate change projections. I protect my son as much as I can from the frightening aspects of the work I do. I feel my role while he’s still very young is to connect him to nature. I don’t protect him completely from the dangers and risks, but I don’t want his relationship with nature to be formed in anxiety. I want it to be formed in love, because love is the foundation of the future protection that he will undertake. Parents and teachers have to defend the future for young children. Older students have their own voices. It is our responsibility to amplify their voices and not be afraid to politicize an issue as important as the right to a safe future.

IZ: You’ve said that climate change isn’t just a disaster. It’s also a chance for us to demand and build a better world. I just want you to expand a little bit on that, to talk about strategies and opportunities for action.

NK: There are all kinds of signs of an awakening, a desire for more justice in the economy and the society. People felt so much pride when Trudeau welcomed refugees, when our leaders showed in Paris what Canada can do on the international stage. The danger is that people become cynical when they vote for change, and it’s too slow or too compromised. This is a moment when we need to educate people about what civic engagement means. It’s not just about voting every few years. It is about everyday engagement, making our voices heard all the time. The fossil fuels’ interests don’t just make their voices heard during elections; they do it day in and day out.

We have to defend the earth with joy and creativity and art and fun. This will be a long struggle. We have to make sure that we engage in social justice movements in ways that sustain us and don’t burn us out and make us angry. We have to treat each other well and build a nurturing movement. We are building community.


very young students showing recycling projects with green and white balloons in the foreground

Teachers  and  schools  have  a  key role to play in our planet’s future.

Student working in garden. Photo courtesy of Generation Nutrition

Carmen Oliveira reflects on teaching her students about food security, sustainability and health through her school garden.