Naomi Klein: The Climate Crisis Demands Radical Change. Paper Straws Are a Distraction, Not Solution

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Renowned climate activist and author Naomi Klein says responses to the climate crisis have for too long focused on individual consumer choices rather than the collective action needed to save the planet. In a new video for The Intercept, Klein argues, “So many environmental responses have just been minor tweaks to an economy based on endless consumption — take your electric car to the drive-thru for an Impossible Burger and a Coke with a paper straw. Look, of course it’s better than the alternative. But it’s nowhere close to the depth of change required if we hope to actually pull our planet back from the brink.” Klein joins us for the hour to discuss her new book, “On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal.”

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Millions of students are expected to walk out of class on Friday in a Global Climate Strike. Here in New York, school authorities have announced students will be allowed to miss classes without facing any penalties in order to participate in the protest. With 1.1 million students, New York City has the largest school system in the country. The student climate strike is taking place three days before the United Nations Climate Action Summit.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, today we spend the rest of the hour with Naomi Klein, who is just out with a new book. It’s called On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal. Naomi Klein is senior correspondent at The Intercept and the inaugural Gloria Steinem chair of media, culture and feminist studies at Rutgers University. In a moment, she’ll join us here in our studio, but first we turn to a new video featuring Naomi Klein. It was just released by The Intercept. It’s titled What’s in a Trump Straw?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I do think we have bigger problems than plastic straws.

NAOMI KLEIN: Even a busted clock is right twice a day. And so it is with the Trump straw.

GREG GUTFELD: While most political campaigns sell tacky T-shirts that nobody wants, what is Trump campaign selling? An attitude, in the form of recyclable plastic straws.

NAOMI KLEIN: The president of the United States is a terrible businessman, but it’s time to admit that, for once, he has a certifiable hit on his hands.

GREG GUTFELD: The first batch of 140,000 sold out. That’s 200 grand in sales.

NAOMI KLEIN: Sales of these bits of plastic, proudly advertised on his campaign website as nine inches long and modeled in the mouth of an adorable young girl — eww — show no signs of slowing down. The marketing approach is not exactly mysterious.

SEBASTIAN GORKA: Liberal paper straws don’t work; plastic ones do, especially when they’ve got “Trump” written on the side.

ANDY SURABIAN: It’s true! It’s true!

NAOMI KLEIN: The fast-food president, for his part —

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have pizzas. We have 300 hamburgers, many, many French fries.

NAOMI KLEIN: — seems generally confused.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You have a little straw. But what about the plates, the wrappers and everything else, that are much bigger?

NAOMI KLEIN: But I think there’s more that the success of the Trump straw can tell us. In fact, if you squint, it’s kind of a portal, a long, skinny one. These overpriced bits of pre-landfill actually tell us a whole lot about why our planet is on fire.

REPORTER: The Amazon is burning. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, encouraged deforestation of the Amazon.

NAOMI KLEIN: And why, in country after country, it’s the arsonists who are in charge.

SCOTT MORRISON: This is coal. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have ended the war on American energy, and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal.

NAOMI KLEIN: They might even tell us something about how we can put out the flames. Bear with me. I’ve spent the past 15 years trying to figure out why so many of us aren’t acting like our house is on fire, when it clearly is. And I’ve looked at all the theories: Our brains aren’t wired for distant threats, stopping climate change is too expensive, the technology just isn’t there yet, politicians only think short-term. You’ve heard all the theories. But I think it’s actually the Trump straw that does the best job of explaining this. What we are witnessing is a temper tantrum against the merest suggestion that there are limits to what we can consume, to what we can extract from nature and to the garbage we can dump back into it.

It’s no surprise that the backlash is strongest in places like the U.S. and Brazil. Just think of how they were founded. Europe was hitting up against nature’s limits. They had overfished their rivers, felled their great forests and hunted their big game. When European conquerors stumbled upon the so-called New World, they thought they had hit the jackpot. They saw in the Americas a kind of supersized Europe that would never run out of fish, trees, gold, fur or any of that bounty. Here were whole spare countries: New England, New France, New Spain, New Amsterdam. They weren’t very imaginative.

CHEVROLET MOTOR COMPANY VIDEO: America! Industrial miracle of the century! From all the states flow bounteously the products of forest, mine and field.

NAOMI KLEIN: The point is that the very promise, the official story of our countries, is a story of endless nature, wilderness to be devoured without limits. And the indigenous people who stood in the way, who had very different ideas about land and nature? They had to be removed, at all costs. And so now, when an ecological crisis comes along and says, “Whoa, actually, we filled our oceans with plastic, our skies with heat-trapping gases, and we actually have to live within limits,” it’s not just hard for the people most invested in these stories. It’s seen as an existential attack.

SEBASTIAN GORKA: They want to take your pickup truck. They want to rebuild your home. They want to take away your hamburgers.

NAOMI KLEIN: It’s how a paper straw can become a threat to an entire way of life.

LAURA INGRAHAM: The ultimate trigger sculpture. It has everything the Democrats hate: steak, plastic straws and light bulbs.

NAOMI KLEIN: Look, it’s easy to dismiss all this as the infantile worldview of Trump supporters who just can’t wrap their heads around the climate crisis. But the truth is that a lot of liberals are trapped in a pretty similar ideology, one that can imagine anything except limits to growth and consumption. Which might be why some of them feel an overwhelming need to publicly express their fealty to cheeseburgers.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG: First of all, I’m from Indiana. And secondly, I love cheeseburgers.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: Just to be very honest with you, I love cheeseburgers.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: I am hopeful that we’re going to be able to do this in a way, especially when I’m president, that we can continue to have hamburgers and cheese.

NAOMI KLEIN: And in a way, the straw wars offer a portal into that mindset, as well. So many environmental responses have just been minor tweaks to an economy based on endless consumption — take your electric car to the drive-thru for an Impossible Burger and a Coke with a paper straw. Look, of course it’s better than the alternative. But it’s nowhere close to the depth of change required if we hope to actually pull our planet back from the brink. Restricting plastic straws is great, but we also need a ban on those significantly larger cylindrical sucking things. And electric cars? They’re nice if you can afford them, but what we really need is free, zero-emissions public transit, with energy-efficient, nonmarket housing and healthcare steps away.

But those policies would mean tossing out the market-friendly, centrist religion of the past half-century and massively investing in the public sphere to create millions of good union jobs. In other words, a Green New Deal. Because we are limited by the laws of nature, by what our planet can and cannot take. But when it comes to the laws that we make, the rules governing our economy and our society, there can be no limits to what we’re willing to do to save our future. We need new ways of thinking beyond Trumpian temper tantrums or the dangerous incrementalism of the supposedly serious center, because our house is on fire, and straws aren’t going to cut it. It’s time to grab a [bleep] fire hose.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, the renowned author, award-winning journalist and activist, speaking in a new video from The Intercept. When we come back, Naomi will join us to talk about her new book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal. Stay with us.

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“On Fire”: In New Book, Naomi Klein Makes the Case for a Green New Deal to Save the Planet

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