Naomi Klein on Paris Summit: Leaders' Inaction on Climate Crisis is "Violence" Against the Planet

StoryNovember 30, 2015
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Naomi Klein

journalist and best-selling author. Her most recent book is This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. She is hosting a workshop on Wednesday here in Paris called "The Leap Manifesto: A Justice-Based Energy Transition."

Ahead of the 21st U.N. climate change conference in Paris, more than 170 nations submitted plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But experts say the proposed targets end up falling far short of what is needed to mitigate against drastic heating of the planet and that the agreements during the negotiations are not likely to be binding. We discuss what’s at stake in Paris and how activists are responding with best-selling author Naomi Klein, author of "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate."

NEXTWATCH: Naomi Klein Extended Interview on Role of Obama, Trudeau & Austerity at U.N. Climate Summit
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by best-selling author Naomi Klein. She’s author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Naomi, welcome back to Democracy Now!

NAOMI KLEIN: Thank you, Amy. It’s great to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: You are a leading climate activist, for many years. Among your actions, the first time you were arrested was protesting the Keystone XL. That right?


AMY GOODMAN: Now we’re here in Paris, and this is the first day of the climate summit. Yesterday, major actions on the streets, although protests were banned.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the banning of protests and what it means?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, first of all, you know, I think yesterday was a really important show of defiance against that ban on protests and marches, which I think we have to remember is really quite extraordinary. You know, for North Americans, there are strong resonances with the way in which the French government has behaved. We’ve seen a discourse that is reminiscent of September 11th under George W. Bush. But one thing that’s worth remembering, Amy, is that even George W. Bush and Dick Cheney didn’t ban marches and protests after September 11, and that is what François Hollande has done. So people took to the streets and just said no. I mean, the human chain, which I thought that was a very moving demonstration that thousands of people participated in. And it clearly was a demonstration, and people didn’t know what—how the state would respond, and they did it anyway.

You know, the stakes are incredibly high, because here we are in this conference center, and this is a summit that is sponsored by all kinds of polluters. There’s a big pavilion, the Solutions 21 section of the summit, which is put on by big energy companies, private water companies, agribusiness companies. And they are saying, "We have the solution," right? The solution is private water, is genetically modified seeds, is nuclear power. And we’re here in France, which is a huge nuclear power-powered country.

And what was planned for the streets was not just opposition and a demand for action, but also a celebration of people’s alternatives, of climate justice, and articulating and showing what that looks like in real terms. There are people who have come to Paris to demonstrate what it is that they’re doing in their communities, community-controlled renewable energy, as well as agroecological farming methods. And so, my concern is that as this—as protest is suppressed, these corporate solutions that are being elevated within the conference center become more powerful. So there’s a real tension about what do we mean by climate action, and who is going to define that?

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts about the Place de la République, which has become world-famous as the symbol around the world, with people putting flowers and candles, paying respects to those who died on November 13, and what happened yesterday?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, you know, I have seen the memorial. I wasn’t there, as you guys were there, Democracy Now! was there. I was in the human chain, and we were doing some filming there. But I was relying on media reports to understand what happened in the Place de la République. And I must say that it’s incredibly important, what you just reported, that it was police who disturbed that memorial, because the way it’s being reported and what—a lot of what I saw was that that was blaming that on climate protesters, and, in fact, they were the ones who were protecting it. I don’t know exactly what happened, but you have some very, very important footage to set the record straight on that crucial point.

But, you know, the other thing that I think is important to understand about why protests are important—you know, you mentioned that I was one of the more than 1,200 people who were arrested in an act of civil disobedience to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. Obama gave a speech, just now, to this summit, in which he talked about how he had canceled big projects that would have extracted some of the dirtiest fossil fuels—a clear reference to Keystone. But let’s remember, he did that under enormous pressure, Amy. It took him four years to reject that pipeline, and he did so because of the incredible organization of the climate justice movement, led by indigenous movements, picked up by groups like Bold Nebraska and 350 and so many other groups. So, to the extent to which we have some kind of action here from leaders—and it’s not nearly enough—it’s because they’re under pressure from their populations. That’s true for Obama. It’s also true for countries like China, who are under pressure because of air pollution. So they’re coming here because their movements have—their people have mobilized, and yet we are meeting under a state of emergency, and climate protesters are being told to just be quiet.

AMY GOODMAN: And it’s not only about protests. The different events, the side events, that take place, not everyone can come into this highly guarded site. This is an old airport, where Charles Lindbergh landed his plane after doing his transatlantic flight. But to say the least, it is extremely well guarded, keeping a lot of people out. So what are they doing outside?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, there’s all kinds of—there’s all kinds of events. I mean, this—and a lot of them are going on. So there’s going to be—there’s one configuration called the Alternatiba, which is this celebration of community-controlled solutions, whether agriculture or energy. There are concerts going on. There’s, you know, a lot of—there’s a big divestment event that’s going to be going on in a couple of days.

We’re organizing an event about justice-based transition and The Leap Manifesto that we were a part of in Canada and talking about this as a model to bring together the anti-austerity movement, the refugee rights movement, the climate movement, the anti-police violence movement, because this is a moment where there’s a huge amount of mobilization around the world, and also in Europe, but it’s still very much compartmentalized in, you know, what we sometimes call silos. So, a lot of what’s going to be happening is—you know, is people coming out of their silos and strategizing. But, of course, it’s happening under a situation where we don’t exactly know what is going to attract repression and what isn’t.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what’s at stake in these talks.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, yeah. Well, everything’s at stake. I mean, we hear this from the leaders themselves, right? And this is—one of the key themes from the protests yesterday was that we are in a state of emergency, right? And the French government has declared a state of emergency after those horrific attacks of November 13th. But that’s not the only emergency. Security isn’t the only emergency. And there’s also a connection. I mean, John Kerry has talked explicitly several times about how climate change was one of the key drivers of the outbreak of civil war in Syria. We know that climate change is already fueling conflict. We know that it’s already fueling mass migration. So, it was interesting, because François Hollande talked about, we don’t—we’re not choosing between fighting terrorism and acting on climate, we’re going to do both.

But we actually have to do more than that. We have to expand our definition of security to put climate action at the very center of that, because there’s no possibility for human security in a world that is headed towards 3-degree Celsius warming, and that’s what these governments are bringing to the table. So, you know, Michael Klare, the energy analyst, has talked about how we should really be thinking about this summit as the most critical peace convention in the world. I mean, our only hope for peace, really, is a truly ambitious and binding climate agreement.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how can that be achieved? You have all sorts of people, voices in today’s broadcast, people we’ve spoken to, like Pablo Solón, who is the former climate negotiator for Bolivia—


AMY GOODMAN: —and ambassador to the U.S., saying that this treaty will burn the Earth. You have Tom Goldtooth, leading indigenous activist, saying that what may come out of Paris is a crime against humanity.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, look, even the 2-degree target, which they’re blowing through, when they announced that target in Copenhagen—and, Amy, you were there—the delegates from African nations walked, marched through the hallways of that convention center and said that it was a death sentence for Africa. The Pacific Island nations chanted "1.5 to survive!" One thing that I do think was positive in those opening statements today is that both François Hollande and Ban Ki-moon talked about 1.5. They said—they said, you know, the words. They didn’t say we’re committed to 1.5, but they acknowledged that this is a reality. So, you know, the stakes could not be higher.

And this is violence, inaction in the face of such an existential threat, and at a moment when engineers, like Mark Jacobson at Stanford University, are saying, actually, with existing technologies, we could get to 100 percent renewable economies within three decades, we could have entirely clean economies by midcentury, and yet our governments are talking about waiting until the end of the century. So that’s a decision that’s being made, and it’s a decision that will lead to the disappearance of entire nations, entire—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain, Naomi Klein, how this two-week summit works, why it’s different from past ones, and why, for example, President Obama, the president of China, all the world leaders are here in the first two days—


AMY GOODMAN: —rather than, in Copenhagen, at the end. How much is already set in stone?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, there are some big questions, right? The question of financing, you know, all leaders pay lip service to it. They all said the right things. We have to provide financing for the impacts of climate change and also for poorer countries to leapfrog over fossil fuels and go directly to renewables. So, the question—you know, at this point, the real issue is, how much money? Is the money going to be real? Is it just going to be reshuffled aid. That has yet to be decided. So that’s something that people are going to be fighting very strongly over, also going to be fighting over this issue of 1.5 versus 2 degrees.

And then the other issue is enforceability, you know, whether these commitments are binding. And then there’s going to be all kinds of complicated word play around how we define "binding," "enforceable." What does this mean? The U.S. has made it clear that it can’t be a binding treaty, because that means it has to bring it to the U.S. Senate, and they can’t do that. So now they’re saying, well, what will be binding is that you have to come back to the table. But what does "binding" mean if there are no penalties? So these are the things that are going to be wrangled over in the coming days.

But one thing I would say is that it is true that countries are coming to the table with more than they came to in Copenhagen. And that is because of the pressure they’ve been under. And so, you know, movements are going to keep pressuring their governments so that the next time they gather, they will bring more to the table. So, I’m on the board of, and we’ve never talked—a lot of groups were talking about the road to Paris. And we always make sure that we talk about the road through Paris. Everything does not end at the end of this summit.

What we do know is that governments come to the table at summits like this with what they consider to be politically possible. What social movements do is they exist to change what is politically possible. You know, we move the bar, so that the next time they come to the table, what is politically possible is aligned with what is physically necessary, because right now what is considered politically possible is deeply out of alignment with what is physically necessary.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, I want to thank you for joining us. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this conversation at Naomi Klein is the best-selling author, activist. Her most recent book is This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate." She is hosting a workshop on Wednesday here in Paris called "The Leap Manifesto: A Justice-Based Energy Transition." Oh, and she and Avi Lewis have made a remarkable film called This Changes Everything, that’s traveling the planet.

You can follow Democracy Now! on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for photos and video of the protests Sunday and all of the events here at the U.N. climate summit in Paris. And tune in for the next two weeks as we broadcast live from inside and outside the climate summit.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.


WATCH: Naomi Klein Extended Interview on Role of Obama, Trudeau & Austerity at U.N. Climate Summit

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