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This Changes Everything: Naomi Klein & Avi Lewis Film Re-imagines Vast Challenge of Climate Change

StoryOctober 02, 2015
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As we mark the third anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, one of the most destructive storms in the nation’s history, are we prepared for another extreme weather event, which researchers say are becoming more frequent with the effects of climate change? 2015 is on track to be the hottest year in recorded history, and nine of the 10 hottest months since record keeping began in 1880 have occurred since 2005. We speak to the duo behind the new film, “This Changes Everything,” which re-imagines the vast challenge of climate change. The documentary is directed by filmmaker Avi Lewis and inspired by journalist Naomi Klein’s international best-selling book by the same name. Over the course of four years, the pair traveled to nine countries on five continents to profile communities on the front lines of the climate justice movement — from Montana’s Powder River Basin to the Alberta tar sands, from the coast of South India to Beijing and beyond.

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Web ExclusiveOct 02, 2015This Changes Everything: New Naomi Klein & Avi Lewis Film on the Fight for Climate Justice (Pt. 2)
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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The East Coast of the United States may have dodged a bullet this time, as forecasters say Hurricane Joaquin may not make landfall due to a northerly turn. The Category 4 storm is, however, hammering the Bahamas, and heavy rains have already caused massive flooding in Charleston, South Carolina.

But as we mark the third anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, one of the most destructive storms in the nation’s history, are we prepared for another extreme weather event, which researchers say are becoming more frequent with the effects of climate change? 2015 is on track to be the hottest year in recorded history. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released a report showing that July was the single warmest month in history, and nine of the 10 hottest months since record keeping began in 1880 have occurred since 2005.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we spend the remainder of the hour looking at a remarkable new film that re-imagines the vast challenge of climate change. The film is called This Changes Everything. It’s directed by Avi Lewis and inspired by Naomi Klein’s international best-selling book by the same title. Over the course of four years, the filmmakers traveled to nine countries on five continents to profile communities on the front lines of the climate justice movement—from Montana’s Powder River Basin to the Alberta tar sands, from the coast of South India to Beijing and beyond. This is the film’s trailer.

MARC MORANO: The majority of the human race does not see global warming as a serious threat. Celebrate! Climate legislation is dead.

ASAD REHMAN: We in the Global North, with less than 20 percent of the population, are responsible for over 70 percent of global emissions.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are drilling all over the place.

ASAD REHMAN: On the other side of the world, those people who are the most affected by climate change, most affected by environmental injustice, have the least responsibility for creating this crisis in the first place.

FISHERMAN: [translated] This is our livelihood. This is the water we drink.

ALICE BOWS-LARKIN: The amount of fossil fuel that we’re combusting year on year is growing. We’re going in completely the wrong direction.

NAOMI KLEIN: I’ve spent six years wandering through the wreckage caused by the carbon in the air and the economic system that put it there.

KEVIN ANDERSON: That old paradigm will be forced to change, either by the environment around us or by us.

PROTESTERS: We are all … part of this movement!

PROTESTER: [translated] This is our wetland.

ASAD REHMAN: When you see communities who are thrown into the front line, you see the incredible transformation. They become stronger. They stand up.

NAOMI KLEIN: So here’s the big question: What if global warming isn’t only a crisis? What if it’s the best chance we are ever going to get to build a better world? Change or be changed.

SUNITA NARAIN: There are limits. Let’s celebrate the limits, because we could reinvent a different future.

AMY GOODMAN: The trailer for the epic new documentary, This Changes Everything. The film opens tonight at the IFC Center here in New York City. Last month, it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in Canada.

For more, we’re joined by Avi Lewis, the film’s director and producer. He was previously a host for Al Jazeera’s show Fault Lines. And we’re also joined by the film’s narrator, Naomi Klein, and writer. She’s a journalist and best-selling author of the book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Her past books include No Logo and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, it’s great to have you with us today together on the U.S. premiere of the film. So, talk about this film. You have been on this journey, Naomi, writing the book, and now to have the cameras following you, and in places you hadn’t even gone, but that you have extensively written about and analyzed. Talk about what you’re doing with the film?

NAOMI KLEIN: So the idea for the film was to do things a little bit differently. Usually what happens is, you write a book, and then a film is made maybe after. That’s what happened with The Shock Doctrine: The [book] was completed, and then it was optioned, and Michael Winterbottom made a film about it. In this—and there’s something kind of inherently flawed about that process, because you’re retracing your steps. You’re going back to places. And, in a way, you’re sort of—you know, you’re mimicking this process of discovery, because, you know, as anyone who’s read the book knows, you’ve already come to those conclusions. So what we wanted to do with this project was Avi and I wanted to work on it together really from the beginning. So we started while—working together on it, actually, while Avi was still working at Al Jazeera. We went to cover the BP disaster together. We went to Bolivia together to cover the Peoples Conference on Climate Change. And then Avi left Al Jazeera to work on this full-time. And so, people who have read the book or skimmed the book, are familiar with it, will see things that are very recognizable. You know, there’s a chapter in the book about my trip to the Heartland conference on—you know, the climate change denier kind of ground zero. And Avi and his crew were filming on that trip, so there are scenes that will be familiar. But it’s very different to be in the room to see the people who are quoted, to see a whole new dimension. Same with reporting that is in the book on geoengineering. But I think the thing that a film can do so much better than a book, frankly, is really bring us into the heart of the social movements that are the final section of the book. And, you know, it’s one thing to read about it—”Oh, these movements are rising up”—but it’s something very different to be immersed in the energy of social movements that are fighting and winning these epic struggles against fossil fuel companies. And, you know, I’m so grateful to Avi and the whole crew for having stuck with this project for now five years to bring that to people.

AVI LEWIS: There’s another thing in the film—there’s another thing that film can do that books just can’t: The look on Naomi’s face in the cutaway in the climate deniers’ conference is pretty unforgettable. That alone was worth the experience.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the other thing a film can do, obviously, is capture, in a way that a book really can’t, the actual beauty of the planet that is being violated by this rampant industrialization, and the haunting pictures that you have are unbelievable. I wanted to ask you about the challenge of being able to put the content of the book into a film.

AVI LEWIS: Well, you know, luckily, I wasn’t trying to take 500 pages of Naomi Klein and force it into a film, because those 500 pages weren’t written when we started shooting. But the kernel of the idea was there. And I think, you know, we talked a lot at the beginning of the process of making nature a character in the film. And I think it’s true that when you see communities who are defending their land and their air and their water, defining rights for communities, and actually challenging the economic logic behind the exploitation of nature, and enacting community-scale alternatives at the same time—the “no” against extraction and the “yes,” as well—you know, you see the people, but you also need to know what they’re protecting. And one of the reasons that we shot around the world and made the decision to go epic, as Amy said, is because the scope of Naomi’s argument is vast. The scope of this challenge is global. And the scope of the resistance rising up is global, too. And you need to get that feeling that really these things are happening around the world, and they’re happening in beautiful places that people love. And film has a unique way of touching the heart and the mind at the same time, so we tried to like, you know, bring people to the places.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get a quick question in on AP’s change in their Stylebook, if you’ve heard about this. It was just issued, a staff memo from AP Stylebook editor Sally Jacobsen, David Minthorn and Paula Froke. “We have reviewed our entry on global warming as part of our efforts to continually update the Stylebook to reflect language usage and accuracy. We are adding a brief description of those who don’t accept climate science or dispute the world is warming from man-made forces: Our guidance is to use climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science and to avoid the use of skeptics or deniers.” Your response, Naomi Klein? Clearly, Heartland and others weighing in here.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s good that they are not using “skeptic,” because “skeptic” actually has a positive connotation. We should all be skeptical. We should all be skeptical about science, you know, any scientific claim. And we should be rigorous about it. And, you know, indeed, it’s a phrase that’s celebrated in the scientific community. So, you know, I agree with them about no longer using “skeptic.”

But these are climate change deniers. They are denying the overwhelming scientific evidence. They are denying the real human impacts. And, you know, that look on my face at the Heartland conference, I mean, I think—and I tried to capture this in the book—what I found most disturbing about immersing myself in that context was the real lightheartedness, you know, and you see that in the film. They’re sort of laughing in the face of the problem. And what I took away from that experience and the extraordinary contradictory scientific claims being made, with no attempt to resolve them—this is not a rigorous scientific conference. You know, one person is blaming sunspots. One person is saying it’s not happening. One person is saying it is happening, but we shouldn’t worry about it. The overwhelming feeling, though, is that we are going to be fine. Right? And so, I think the most disturbing denial is the reality of the massive human costs that we are already seeing. We are coming close to the end of what looks to be the hottest year on record. We saw thousands of people die in heat waves in India. You know, this is not about people dying in the future, though it is about that, too. It’s about a massive death toll in the present. We’re seeing climate change act as an accelerant for conflicts. This is true for Syria. It’s fueling the refugee crisis. So, I think people should be held accountable for that, and I disagree with not calling it “climate change denial.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: One of the other powerful aspects of the film is when you actually chronicle the people who are benefiting from the rampant industrialization, especially in the Alberta tar sands—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —where you interview the people who are making $100,000, $300,000, $400,000 a year, and you realize that there is a constituency—I mean, classical Marxists would call it labor aristocracy—that is actually benefiting from this enormous—and they provide a political support for the continued, unbridled expansion.

AVI LEWIS: You know, Juan—

NAOMI KLEIN: It’s complicated.

AVI LEWIS: It is complicated. And people in Alberta, who live next to that biggest industrial project on Earth, have been very anxious about the pace of development and the costs of that project for a long time. And, you know, the oil and gas industry is a very conformist culture. And if you speak about renewable energy, you really get slapped down. It’s like a—there’s a bit of a locker room thing happening there. But the number of workers who told us off camera that they would rather be building wind turbines and putting up—installing solar panels was remarkable. They wouldn’t say it on camera, except for this one amazing guy in the film who’s a boilermaker named Lliam Hildebrand, who started an organization called Iron and Earth, where he’s organizing tar sands workers in support of renewable energy. And he’s building support fast. And there’s a huge constituency up there, especially now that the oil industry is laying off thousands and thousands of people, of workers in that industry who would rather go home and tell their kids what they did that day and feel proud of it.

NAOMI KLEIN: And there was actually a poll that just came out a couple of days ago in Canada, polling Albertans, where the tar sands are, showing that Albertans support a carbon tax. They overwhelmingly support more investments in renewable energy. There’s an exhaustion in Alberta just about the boom-and-bust cycle, the roller coaster of that boom that we chronicle. I mean, we were there during the peak of the boom. The money was just flowing in. We were interviewing these kids going, “This is nuts. I’m making way too much money.” That’s what they were saying.

AVI LEWIS: It’s true.

NAOMI KLEIN: They were kind of laughing, but you know. These are like 24-year-old kids, you know? Sorry, I mean young men. But we also interviewed a lot of workers who just talked about the kind of sadness of the place, right? Almost nobody who you meet in Fort McMurray is from Fort McMurray or has any intention of staying in Fort McMurray. People talk about their time there as, you know, “I’m on the four-month plan,” “I’m on the six-month plan,” “I’m on, you know, maybe the five-year plan,” which is all—and the plan is always the same: Go in, work as hard as you possibly can, get as much money as you can, and get the hell out. Right? So in the film—

AMY GOODMAN: And see if you have a family to come back to.

NAOMI KLEIN: Exactly. I mean, this is hardly heaven. It’s that there aren’t better choices out there for a lot of people.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to another clip from This Changes Everything. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we go to a clip of the new film that’s just premiered in the United States, that’s directed by Avi Lewis and written by Naomi Klein, based on her best-selling book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, the film This Changes Everything.

NAOMI KLEIN: Can I be honest with you? I’ve always kind of hated films about climate change. What is it about those vanishing glaciers and desperate polar bears that makes me want to click away? Is it really possible to be bored by the end of the world? It’s not that I don’t care what happens to polar bears; it’s just that we’re told that the cause isn’t out there, it’s in us. It’s human nature. We’re innately greedy and shortsighted. And if that’s true, there is no hope.

But when I finally stopped looking away, traveled into the heart of the crisis, met people on the front lines, I discovered so much of what I thought I knew was wrong. And I began to wonder: What if human nature isn’t the problem? What if even greenhouse gases aren’t the problem? What if the real problem is a story, one we’ve been telling ourselves for 400 years?

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Naomi Klein in the new film, This Changes Everything. Now we’re going to the segment in the film that looks at the smog crisis in China.

UNIDENTIFIED: Previously, the environment issues are just peanuts: We can deal with it when we become rich enough. And then, we had this historical moment of a smog disaster. It totally changed the landscape of environment discussion in China.

CHAI JING: [translated] Have you ever seen a star in the sky?

DAUGHTER: [translated] No.

CHAI JING: [translated] What about a blue sky?

DAUGHTER: [translated] I’ve seen one that’s a little blue.

CHAI JING: [translated] What about clouds?

DAUGHTER: [translated] No.

NARRATION: Chai Jing’s film, Under the Dome, was online for just one week before the Chinese government took it down. In that week, it was viewed in China more than 200 million times.

CHAI JING: [translated] This is every day of 2014 in Beijing. I couldn’t take my daughter outside when it was smoggy. How often was that? One hundred seventy-five days were polluted.

CHEE YOKE LING: You know, when you wake up in the morning and you walk—you cannot walk out in the street, cannot walk out, because you can’t breathe. People are saying, “No, this cannot be. This cannot be the way society and the world is supposed to be about.”

NARRATION: Lanzhou, 112 polluted days in 2014. Chengdu, 125 polluted days. Shenyang, 152 polluted days. Tianjin, 197 polluted days.

AILUN YANG: Air pollution has really become a very big topic in China. And the rising middle-class people in China, you know, after their living standards in many ways have improved a lot, now start to ask, “When can we buy clean air?”

AMY GOODMAN: From the film This Changes Everything. Avi Lewis is the director. Avi, China?

AVI LEWIS: Yeah, I mean, you know, I felt that it’s—

AMY GOODMAN: The images are unbelievable of the smog.

AVI LEWIS: It’s so striking. And, you know, but this is the model of galloping economic growth, and now people are literally choking on that growth. And it’s the number one issue in China. I mean, we like to sort of let ourselves off the hook. It’s not—you know, “We can’t do anything about it now. China is the biggest emitter. They consume half the world’s coal. And it’s all about China. They’re building a coal plant every week.” Those figures aren’t entirely true anymore. China is curtailing its coal use dramatically. This year, the last coal-fired power plant in Beijing will be retired. Last year was the first time this century that coal use in China declined. And yet they have this—they’re choking on this crisis of pollution, and the environment is the number one issue for people in China. The government knows it.

And there’s a growing movement, right at the grassroots level, of protest and activism in China. You know, it’s not easy to be an activist in China, but there are huge pushbacks from local communities around all sorts of pollution disasters and industrial plants. And so, there’s things happening in China, and the government is responding with really tough climate policies, much, much more than countries like the United States. The explosion of renewable energy in China is—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That’s what I wanted to ask you about, the response of the government now to actually be almost in the forefront now of attempting to make changes at the world level, in terms of emissions.

AVI LEWIS: No question. I mean, the price of solar panels has dropped 75 percent in the last six years, largely because China has supported that industry so massively.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, and, I mean, this is—the days of the Chinese government being able to say, “Well, it’s our turn to pollute,” you know, at U.N. conferences, that’s over. And it’s not because of anything that’s happened at United Nations. It’s because of what’s happening inside China and that internal pressure. So, you know, I think one of the things that the film does very, very well—and, you know, I give Avi full credit for this, because it’s sort of less present in the book—is the two big shoots that they did in India and China, and, you know, very deliberately, because we know—first, not just because this is where emission growth is coming, but also because this is our excuse, in countries like Canada and the U.S., to say, “Well, you know, we can’t do anything because of what’s going on there.” So what the film really does is explode any kind of claim that these are monolithic trends. And in India, there’s a very powerful story about the amount of resistance to building new coal-fired power plants. It’s really some of the most—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And India is on track to surpass China in population, not too far—

AVI LEWIS: [inaudible]

NAOMI KLEIN: And is surpassing China in air pollution. But the point is, there’s huge grassroots resistance, and we often don’t hear about the resistance in China and India to—you know, the same kind of resistance that we have here against new extractive projects, like the Keystone XL pipeline or coal export terminals or building new dirty projects. People are rising up here. They’re rising up there, too, and those two forces are really supporting each other. There’s—an Indian company has been trying to build the world’s largest coal mine in Australia. Adani has been trying to build the Carmichael mine, which would be the largest—if built, the largest coal mine in the world. But they are facing this pincer of resistance in India, where the coal would go, and huge resistance in Australia. And now it looks like that mine will never be built.

AMY GOODMAN: And that resistance is what you both convey so well in This Changes Everything, the whole notion of Blockadia. Let’s go back to the film.

PROTESTER: Thank you, guys! We have completely encircled the White House!

NAOMI KLEIN: All around the world, people aren’t just writing to their politicians, politely asking them to do the right thing. They are taking direct action, demanding it. On the front lines, they call it Blockadia. The idea behind it is simple: We are in a hole, and before anything new can grow, we have to stop digging. As the drilling rigs and pipelines crisscross the Earth, so does Blockadia, connecting communities along the way, the metal pathways of dirty energy confronted by this new web of resistance. And I’ve noticed something else: At the forefront are the people from the sacrifice zones, the very ones who have been written off for hundreds of years, the keepers of that other story.

CRYSTAL LAMEMAN: If this pipeline goes through, your government will further assist in the raping and pillaging of the lands of my ancestors. Then they’ll promise to give us back what was never theirs in the first place. Don’t be fooled by their ideology of what reclamation is. Reclamation is me standing here with the 99 percent. We’re here today to say we never went anywhere, and nor do we plan to!

ASAD REHMAN: When you see communities who are thrown into the front line because an environmental or political or economic issue is imposed on them, you see the incredible transformation that happens. They become stronger. They stand up. They’re like, “Isn’t this incredible? Isn’t this the society we want?”

AMY GOODMAN: A clip from This Changes Everything, directed by Avi Lewis, narrated and written by Naomi Klein, based on Naomi’s book, This Changes Everything. Sacrifice zones, Naomi, explain.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, sacrifice zones, yeah, it’s a theme that comes up again and again, and it’s a phrase that actually used to be a sort of an acceptable phrase used by the U.S. government about how there might have to be some areas which would just be sacrifice areas, energy sacrifice areas. And, in fact, the Powder River Basin was discussed as one, in Montana. But, you know, the argument we make in the film is that fossil fuels have always, since the very beginning of powering our economies on an industrial scale with coal, caused—required sacrifice zones, because this is an inherently dirty and polluting energy process. So, the first sacrifice zones were the black lungs of the coal miners and the soot over cities like Manchester and London. We told ourselves some sort of story that there’s this natural cleaning-up process as capitalism evolves: It naturally cleans itself up, and look at the air in London now, and look at L.A.

The argument we make in the film is, you know, we didn’t move beyond pollution, we just moved the pollution, and now it is in China, and now it is in India, and there’s way more of it. And we are all in the sacrifice zone now. And that idea that there are some places that just have to be sacrificed in order for industrial progress to continue is an idea that just keeps growing and growing and growing, until the people who thought they were safe are no longer safe. And in the film, I guess we make the argument that Hurricane Sandy hitting New York City was the ultimate example of that, because this sacrifice zone mentality is often about talking about the middle of nowhere. And indeed—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, let’s go—

NAOMI KLEIN: —it hit the center of everywhere.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Let’s go, if we can—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —to a clip from This Changes Everything about Hurricane Sandy—

NAOMI KLEIN: I may have just scooped it a little. I didn’t realize you were going to do that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —filmed seven days after—filmed seven days after the storm in the Rockaways in New York.

SHAKIM: When the weather hit, it was a wake-up call. It was really like, “Wow!” you know, holding on dear for life, holding onto the poles, the gates, you know, people—the water pushing them out their houses. The walls cave in. It’s really, really crazy.

AGNES: I put everything in the first floor. Nobody ever told me that the flood insurance go from the second floor up. The whole first floor went. Everything. I don’t have even one penny in my pocket.

SOFÍA GALLISÁ MURIENTE: We are doing everything that we can, and it’s not enough, because the size of this problem is too huge. We’re not supposed to be here. I’m not supposed to be trying to rescue people that are stuck in apartment buildings dying because of lack of medication.

MICHAEL PREMO: Areas that are the hardest hit are the most marginalized, are the poorest communities, some of the poorest communities in New York City. Right? There’s like hundreds and hundreds of people that are trapped up in these buildings. And there’s no—there’s no attention for them. There’s no clinics, there’s no care.

NASTARAN MOHIT: We have a disaster, where we’re supposed to have agencies tasked with addressing these needs. Just like Katrina, it’s not woefully inadequate, it’s a travesty. FEMA, useless. Red Cross, useless.


AVI LEWIS: Well, you know, you see what happened in New York. We had this economic justice movement called Occupy. And when the storm hit, where was the government? Just like in Katrina, people who were already focused on the core of the economic system and the need for system change showed up to be the best disaster first responders. Those people were from Occupy Sandy. They were already organizing in the communities, most marginalized communities, that were hit, that are going to be on the front lines of the climate crisis, that already are. So, you really see people filling in the gaps for the retreat of government, this ideological project of the last three, four decades, and people naming and shaming the core logic of our economic system. We got to change everything.

AMY GOODMAN: That does it for our show, but we’re going to do a post-show, and we’ll post it online at Avi Lewis, director, Naomi Klein, writer, and on whom the film is based. She is the narrator of the film, This Changes Everything. It’s opening in New York tonight at the IFC theater, and then all over the country.

WATCH NEXT: This Changes Everything: New Naomi Klein & Avi Lewis Film on the Fight for Climate Justice

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