On climate, ‘leadership must come from below’
The Canadian journalist and activist Naomi Klein is most recently the author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. We met with her after the approval of the intergovernmental agreement, signed at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change COP21.
How do you rate the results of two weeks of negotiations?
I believe that today we have reached a clarifying moment. We did not come here to pray leaders would save the world, because we have our eyes wide open and we know that what they have brought to the negotiating table will not lead to any permanent solution. There is still a huge gap between what everyone says should be done to lower emissions and to maintain temperatures below the increase of a degree and a half, on the one hand what they are actually willing to do and the way they intend to proceed. Version after version, until the final text of the agreement, there is nothing decisive on fossil fuels and the need to leave in the ground most of the existing reserves of coal, oil and natural gas. But the people who filled the streets here in Paris are not crying out loud. It’s not hopeless. Instead, we are well aware that we have to work even harder. And we must be the ones to do what politicians do not want to do.
Despite the situation created following the terrorist attacks of Nov. 13, tens of thousands of people, from France and Northern Europe, with a significant presence from the global South and North America, have made it clear on Saturday that there is a global movement for “climate justice,” perhaps today the only social movement of global scale. How can it be really incisive?
We have to increase our strength. And we are able to influence the choices of multinational companies. We have already seen it in the streets, in the forests, on the seas. As activists in kayaks surrounding the Shell oil platforms, forcing them to stop drilling in the Arctic and Alaska, so as not to hurt their public image. Or in the case of the Keystone XL pipeline and all the pipeline projects related to the mining of tar sands, each section has had to contend with the strong protests of each local community. From these experiences, we must be able to create ever larger coalitions, to change the way activism is perceived, to express the same variety and diversity that we see in our cities and territories. We knew it before, but now it’s clear: We do not have leaders who will act for the environment, we must do it ourselves.
The leadership must come from below, from the community. Doing direct actions.
Actions that need to be visible, in the financial markets and in the courts: divest from companies that extract fossil fuels, make them appear risky investments, denounce the lies and deceit of corporations like Exxon, bring them to the courts, proving that they knew the effects of climate change and that they lied on purpose. We have to change the dynamics, weakening the power of those interests we are fighting.
Paris was a scenario where the political choices of national governments confronted the role played by large companies involved, with several sponsorship initiatives to make up a “green” image, and the action of the movements. What was the outcome?
In the last two weeks, we have had the opportunity to confront the “solutions” offered by multinational companies, which are not solutions. And those will have no real effect on emissions. They would continue to enrich the existing elite, the same that are trading genetically modified crops, the nuclear industry, oil. And here, they have also used Le Bourget as their megaphone, while the French government tried to gag those who proposed different solutions, such as those who fight for energy justice, ecological agriculture and public transportation, community ownership and control of renewable energy sources. Instead, we heard Bill Gates and Richard Branson talking, while putting a gag in the protests.
It did not do anything, because the people were determined to take to the streets anyway. The French government realized that it could not support this choice politically. And that clashes with the police in the last day of COP21 would be a disaster for its image. Therefore, here in Paris, they have had to suspend, against their will, the ban on demonstrations. And, probably, closing traffic on a street full of shops on a Saturday afternoon before Christmas has done more to reduce emissions than all they have done in the conference.
We are told that we are in a “state of war.” Perhaps we are entering a period of wars caused by climate?
Climate change has already partly triggered the civil war in Syria, which had just experienced the most severe drought in its modern history, resulting in famine which then caused internal migrations, involving nearly 2 million people. And when there is scarcity of resources, new tensions are inevitably created that are going to add up to the existing conflicts in the region, caused in turn by the historical struggle to gain control of energy resources. It therefore creates a pincer effect: on the one hand the destabilizing effect of the hunt for fossil fuels, on the other hand the destabilizing effects produced by the use of these same fuels.
When we talk about climate change, it causes not only a warmer climate and rising sea levels: It causes an even crueler era. A situation of shortage like this can only create more conflict. So always remember that. If we allow the continued growth of temperature, we will have to deal not only with an extreme climate, but also with a more extreme world.
We thank Niccolo Milanese of European Alternatives, Marica Di Pierri di A Sud and Barbara del Mercato of “Venezia in comune” for their cooperation.
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