She may not fit the media stereotype of a radical, but Naomi Klein’s solution to the climate crisis is far from mainstream.
Speaking at the MWF session: Capitalism & The Climate, Klein began by welcoming activists from various parts of Australia, recognising the actions they’d taken to keep carbon in the ground and protect the environment. Tony Abbott was in her crosshairs for repealing the carbon and mining taxes, setting low emission reduction targets, and being in the pockets of fossil fuel companies.
But this shouldn’t be surprising, considering the fundamental argument of her book This Changes Everything is that the necessary measures to address climate change are incompatible with the dominant neoliberal ideology, which prescribes deregulation, privatisation of the public sphere, and market solutions for all of society’s problems.
During her talk, she noted that the climate crisis came about at precisely the wrong time. While the evidence of global warming had been mounting for decades, it entered the public consciousness at the same time that neoliberalism was winning the ideological battle. The International Panel on Climate Change was formed in 1988, and United Nations member states began meeting in 1992 to discuss reducing their emissions. This corresponded with the rule of Ronald Reagan in the United States, and Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom, the two leaders who arguably did the most to forward the neoliberal cause.
Klein argued that had we acted to address climate change fifteen years ago, a more gradual economic shift may have been possible, but because world leaders squandered all that time, the only remaining solutions are radical changes to our societies and current economic systems. Politicians in the developed world have set a target to keep warming below 2 degrees, though some scientists warn warming of 4 degrees is likely if we continue to delay. It should go without saying that were such a thing to happen, the consequences would be devastating.
Talk of the effects of runaway warming can cause despair, but Klein presented an overall hopeful message. This is why she pointed out the victories of climate activists in Australia and around the world at the beginning of her talk, and why she kept returning to a more concrete example while she spoke.
In 2000, Germany introduced a feed-in tariff to accelerate the transition to decentralised renewable energy, and the results have been very positive. Germans can install solar panels or wind turbines on their property, and get paid for the excess energy they produce. This has led to a huge growth in energy cooperatives in Germany, now standing at , as well as a push to roll back the privatisation of the country’s energy grid. 31% of now comes from renewables. This program is just one example of how rapid change can occur if it’s made a priority.
Climate change is a pressing global issue, and Klein identified the dominant neoliberal ideology as the primary obstacle in addressing it.Though Klein made sure not to leave us in despair, and gave constant examples of victories that will help us to build a better, sustainable future, the longer we wait to act, the more dire the consequences.