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Author & Journalist Naomi Klein: Fate of Planet Rests on Mass Movement for Climate Justice

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Hundreds of activists from across the globe are gathering every day in downtown Copenhagen for the people’s climate summit, the Klimaforum. On Thursday night, Shock Doctrine author and journalist Naomi Klein addressed a packed hall at a panel on ecological debt and climate justice. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryDec 09, 2009Naomi Klein and Martin Khor on the Growing North-South Divide in Copenhagen over Kyoto, Climate Debt and Emission Targets
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In this exclusive broadcast, we are the only daily global news hour that is broadcasting on television, radio and the internet daily from the Bella Center, from inside the COP15, the climate change summit.

But we’re going to go right now to the People’s Climate Summit, the Klimaforum, that’s taking place in the heart of Copenhagen, where activists from across the globe are gathering every day. Concerns being raised at the people’s climate summit include reparations, justice, models of alternative development, sustainable consumption, non-market solutions, climate refugees, indigenous rights.

On Thursday night, Shock Doctrine author and journalist Naomi Klein addressed a packed hall at a panel on ecological debt and climate justice.

    NAOMI KLEIN: Over at the Bella Center, a particular model of dealing with climate change is dying. It is revealing itself before the world as nothing more than a final scramble for the remaining resources of a planet in peril. That’s what’s going on at the Bella Center. And when you’re in there, you can feel it. It feels really ugly.

    There was a protest yesterday of people from Tuvalu, and they were making themselves visible. They were — I see all you nodding, because it’s been very odd in there. They were talking about the absence of their future, the disappearance of their country, which is a form of genocide. It meets the UN definition of genocide, which is the acts that lead to the disappearance of a people. And as they were staging this protest, you watched people in business suits file by and look at their shoes and try not to meet their eyes, in the way that you see people in the streets avert their eyes in the face of a homeless person. But this was a country that was disappearing. And that’s what it feels like over there.

    Here, another model is finding its voice. And this is a historic gathering. It is a historic gathering, because Jubilee South has been organizing these types of gatherings in the South. There was a climate debt tribunal in Bangkok during the negotiations. This discussion has been happening. But I don’t think there’s ever been an event this large in the Global North.

    We are seeing a redefinition of environmentalism, which has always been a bit of a kind of, sort of touchy-feely movement here in the North. “We’re all in it together. Let’s hold hands,” right? There’s nothing wrong with holding hands, but the fact is, we’re not all in it together in the same way. There is an inverse relationship between the people who created the problem and where the effects of those problems are being felt. There’s an inverse relationship between who created the problem and who can afford to save themselves from the problem, and it isn’t only in the Global South. Think about New Orleans. Right? It’s also the South in the North. The people who had resources could drive out of the disaster zone; the people who depended on the state were left on their roofs, a kind of a climate apartheid, in the United States.

    So we have this discussion of reparations. In the United States, when you talk about reparations, it’s not about the stealing of resources as much as it is about the stealing of people. So this movement that we are talking about today is part of that movement, as well. In fact, at a conference in 2001 in Durban, South Africa, the Conference on Racism, the issue of ecological debt was one of the issues on the agenda, but so was reparations for slavery. And I think there are some people here from N’COBRA from the United States, which is the national coalition calling for reparations for slavery. And they deserve to be acknowledged, because this movement is building on their work, as well.

    I want to tell a little story about how — what we’re up against in terms of reparations. I’ll try to be brief. The other people, of course, who are owed reparations in the Global North are First Nations people, or indigenous people, whose land has been stolen. And I had this experience a few years ago. It was 2004. I remember because it was a presidential election in the United States, and I was in New York for protests against the Republican convention, where George Bush was being reelected. And a couple of First Nations activists from Canada were also in town for those protests.

    And as part of that, they — we went on a side mission to Moody’s. Moody’s is, as you know, a credit agency. It gives countries their credit ratings. And I was with the very powerful First Nations spokesperson for the Haida, named Gujao, and Arthur Manuel, who is a former chief for the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation in British Columbia. And Arthur had decided that one way to get Canada to acknowledge the debts that it owed to First Nations people was to meet with the credit agencies that give Canada its triple-A credit rating, which is the highest possible credit rating, and explain to Moody’s that actually Canada carries a huge unpaid debt in the form of the lands that it stole, without treaties, from First Nations peoples. So Arthur managed to get a meeting between him and Gujao — and they let me tag along — with the person at Moody’s who issues Canada’s credit rating. So we went on up to like the thirty-fifth floor, and we got the meeting with this guy and one of his colleagues, who was from Argentina and fell asleep in the meeting.

    But what was interesting — so Arthur and Gujao presented all the documents, the writs, the legal rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada, that proved their case that this land was stolen and that they were owed billions in unpaid — in unpaid debts. And they said, “Canada is not a great place to do investment, because what if we called in these debts?” And it was very interesting, because the guy from Moody’s nodded, and he said, “You’re right. We’ve been following these court rulings, but we have decided that you are not going to collect on these debts. So it is not affecting our credit rating.”

    And that’s a very important thing for us to remember, because debt is political. Right? You can make your argument. And when we make these arguments, frankly, no one even bothers arguing with us, because it’s so obvious. The science is there. The legal treaties are there. But really what they’re saying is, “You and what army? How are you going to get this money out of us? You are not powerful enough to get the money out of us.” And this is where social movements come in, because, you know, we can talk as much as we want about debt, and we can talk as much as we want about reparations, but they’re going to laugh at us, until there is some movement muscle behind those concerns, behind those demands. And that’s our task.

    Now, I think there’s all kinds of things we can do. You know, as the only person from a debtor nation on this panel, I have to acknowledge that Canada, boy, we owe a lot. We are the climate criminal of all climate criminals here in Copenhagen, because we signed the Kyoto Protocol, unlike the United States. They didn’t sign. Canada, we signed, so we are actively breaking a legally binding agreement when we increase emissions by 26 percent. Now, we know when people break their WTO commitments, they sure as hell hear about it. We know when Bolivia decided that they didn’t want Bechtel to steal their water and make it illegal to collect rainwater and threw Bechtel out, that they were sued by Bechtel for $26 million for breaking a contract. What happens when Canada breaks its contract with the world, with Kyoto? So we need to start putting pressure on governments that say that they do care about these issues to do things like launch trade retaliation, kick Canada out of the Commonwealth, things like that. There has to be some muscle. There has to be some consequences. And so, these ideas are on the table.

    We can’t get to all of that right away, but I just want to talk a little bit about what we can do this week. Angelica asked us to make our voices heard, and I think we really do need to do that. We need to really show the face of this counter-movement here before this summit is done.

    I said at the opening of Klimaforum that there’s a place for rage and there’s a place for civil disobedience. I was not saying, as some news reports claimed, that Copenhagen should be trashed. I really don’t think so. I think that’s a very bad idea. And I’m going to say that explicitly, even though people are always telling me, “Don’t say it’s bad. Don’t say it’s bad.” Listen, the reason why it’s bad is precisely because of what we’re seeing here. This conversation that has started here about the real face of environmentalism, as a class war that is being waged by the rich against the poor, has never happened before. There has never been global media attention on this discussion. If we allow the media to change the discussion into broken windows in Copenhagen — which is the boringest discussion in the world, OK? — we have truly failed.

    But I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be direct action. There should be direct action. And I want to call on all of you to support, participate in the terrific action that is being designed for December 16th. There is going to be a march to the Bella Center. And hopefully there’s going to be a march out of the Bella Center. And it’s an opportunity for the groups that are inside the Bella Center who are so frustrated, who want to say no to all of these market mechanisms, who know that there isn’t going to be a deal that is actually going to solve the climate crisis, to not just issue a press release after the fact to say, “Actually, we really don’t like this,” but to go out, sit in the streets with the people who have come to the Bella Center, and make our voices heard together.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, and also tenth anniversary edition of her No Logo is just out. She was speaking at the Klimaforum. She’s also blogging from Copenhagen at thenation.com.

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Ahead of Major Climate Protests, a Rare Glimpse at Activist Preparations in Copenhagen

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