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Naomi Klein's Message to the Media Covering Houston: Now is the Time to Talk About Climate Change

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The World Meteorological Organization on Tuesday announced that Hurricane Harvey’s devastation is linked to climate change. All past U.S. rainfall records have been shattered, and the devastating storm is expected to bring even more rainfall to Louisiana and Texas in the coming days. And yet, the corporate networks have avoided linking the record-breaking storm to climate change. We examine storm coverage with Naomi Klein, best-selling author of several books, including "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate."

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Renée Feltz, who, well, is from Houston, Texas. Renée?

RENÉE FELTZ: Thanks, Amy. As we continue our coverage of the devastating floods in Texas, we’re joined now by Naomi Klein, the best-selling author of several books, including This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Her latest piece for The Intercept is titled "Harvey Didn’t Come Out of the Blue. Now is the Time to Talk About Climate Change."

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein writes, "Now is exactly the time to talk about climate change, and all the other systemic injustices—from racial profiling to economic austerity—that turn disasters like Harvey into human catastrophes." Naomi Klein joins us now from her home in Toronto.

Naomi, welcome to Democracy Now! You have a message to the media.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. Hi, Amy, and hi, Renée. It’s really good to be with you. And I want to thank your earlier guest, Bryan, for all of the tremendous work he’s been doing for so many years in exposing the toxic risks and the unequal burdens of this extremely toxic industry.

So, you know, my message is, this is not a time for some misguided idea of what is polite and what is appropriate about what we can talk about in the midst of a disaster. You hear this from a lot of journalists, that they don’t want to politicize a human catastrophe by talking about climate change, which they know is a controversial subject, although it really should not be, especially in the midst of a storm that they’re saying, over and over and over again, is unprecedented. I mean, you turn on any coverage, and you hear that word over and over again, but what you don’t hear, or you hear very, very rarely, is an explanation for why the word "unprecedented," "record-breaking"—why these words have become, you know, meteorological clichés. We hear them all the time, because we’re breaking heat records year after year. We’re seeing record-breaking wildfires, record-breaking droughts, record-breaking storms, because the baseline is higher.

So, nobody is saying that climate change caused this storm. What we’re talking about are what are the superchargers of this storm, the accelerants that took what would have been a disaster, in any situation, and turned it into this human catastrophe. One of those chargers, one of those accelerants, is climate change. Another, as we heard from Bryan, is the presence of this highly unregulated, toxic industry that is so unevenly distributed, with communities of color bearing the greatest risks. Another accelerant is poverty. I mean, if you don’t have the ability to organize your own evacuation because you don’t have a car, then you’re stuck. Another one is racism. If you are an immigrant and you want to get to dry land, but you’re hearing that the border checkpoints are staying open everywhere where the highway isn’t flooded, as we showed at The Intercept, then you are not—you are less likely to seek safety. So these are accelerants to a disaster that would have happened anyway.

And it’s the job of journalism, Amy, to provide key facts and context for people to understand their world. And without these contexts, particularly without a fulsome discussion of climate change, without hearing from people like James Hansen, who we’re about to hear from here, then it seems like an act of God. It seems like it came from nowhere. And if that’s the case, well, then we’re going to avoid a discussion of who—what could have been done to prevent this, which is a very important discussion to have. And we’re also not going to talk about what we can still do to lower emissions very, very rapidly to prevent a future filled with many more such megastorms and other climate-accelerated disasters.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s very interesting. Certainly the media, a lot of the media, is extremely critical of President Trump. He flew in to Texas yesterday. Yes, there was a lot of criticism, but also they praised him for going there. But there was almost no discussion of him being a climate denier. If you watch the media—and I’m not even talking about Fox, I’m talking about MSNBC, and I’m talking about CNN—almost 24 hours a day, on Texas and on the tropical storm, the hurricane, almost no mention—almost no mention of climate change, although they are devoting all of their time to this. You know, we don’t have state media in the United States, but if we did, you have to ask how it would be any different. We know that the Trump administration has cleansed websites of the words "climate change" and "global warming." But what about the media? Have they done the same, Naomi?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, effectively, they have. We are seeing this cleansing that is happening at the White House filter down to the media. And it is not just about federal politicians. It’s also about state politicians, who—in Texas and Louisiana, who systematically deny climate change. Now, if you are denying the reality that the Earth is warming, then you are not going to prepare in the same way for what we are seeing now, for these unprecedented events. They will take you by surprise. If you deny the reality that the Earth is warming and that humans are a major contributor in this, then you will just go ahead and rebuild the oil capital of the United States exactly how it was, as if there’s no connection between this very industry that is being hit right now, as we heard from Bryan, and the storm itself.

If we did talk about it, we’d be having a very different discussion, Amy. We’d be having a discussion about what financial responsibility companies like ExxonMobil have for a storm like this, a company like Exxon that was doing its own research into climate change in the 1970s and publishing peer-reviewed papers saying it is happening, forecasting unprecedented events just like this, and then, when the world got serious about lowering emissions, Exxon was a leader in spreading misinformation, doubt, lies about the reality of climate change. There is a legal discussion to be having here, and that’s the kind of discussion that we need to have.

The other thing that is so—you know, you mentioned the fact that, of course, this disaster is being seen through a political lens, right? I mean, there’s endless debate about Melania’s ridiculous shoes. There is a lot of talk of the double standards between how various congresspeople have voted to deny aid to Sandy-struck New York and New Jersey and how they have their hands out now for Texas. This is all a kind of politics that fits inside this conventional partisan lens. So it is all—it is being politicized. It’s just being politicized in a way that doesn’t challenge the fact that the failure to take climate change seriously, the creation of an economy that is so profoundly unequal—and we see this exposed in a moment like this—has been a profoundly bipartisan affair. So that’s a much more complicated discussion to have.

But, you know, think about what happens in the aftermath of a terror attack. These same politicians aren’t worried about manners. They don’t wait to get all the information before they blame an entire religion for a single bombing. They have no qualms about that. And I think, frankly, Amy, what we’re seeing is a little bit similar to what used to happen after school shootings, when you would hear from the NRA crowd right away, "Don’t talk about gun control. Don’t talk about guns. You’re politicizing the disaster." And finally, you know, about five years ago, people had just had it and said, "You know what? This is exactly the time when we have to talk about guns. Don’t tell us we can’t talk about it when people are seeing the tremendous human cost. That’s when we need to talk about it." And the same is true now about climate change, which is why now, you know, we—forget manners. This is about reality.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Naomi Klein, I want to thank you for being with us. Naomi Klein, we will link to your piece at The Intercept, as you give this message to the media: Talk about climate change. Best-selling author, journalist, senior correspondent for The Intercept. Her most recent book, No is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. And we’ll link to your piece at The Intercept, "Harvey Didn’t Come Out of the Blue. Now is the Time to Talk About Climate Change."

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