What does peace have to do with climate change? Naomi Klein wins Sydney Peace Prize

October 29, 2016
Naomi Klein.

Canadian author, journalist and activist Naomi Klein has been selected as the recipient of the 2016 Sydney Peace Prize for, as the Sydney Peace Prize Jury put it, “exposing the structural causes and responsibility for the climate crisis, for inspiring us to stand up locally, nationally and internationally to promote a new agenda for sharing the planet that respects human rights and equality, and for reminding us of the power of authentic democracy to achieve transformative change and justice.”

Climate change is not only a threat to the planet, but also to any hope of achieving a lasting peace. In her latest book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, Klein skilfully articulates how today’s economic system preserves devastating forms of structural violence.

Attitudes ingrained throughout history have caused certain communities to be disproportionately impacted by out of control carbon emissions and the destruction of extractive industries. Klein refers to these communities as “sacrificial zones.” These remote places are generally home to residents without a great deal of political power and who lack the resources to prepare for and withstand the impacts bestowed upon them by the developed world.

Klein also points out that as extreme weather events will cause resource scarcity, they will also intensify conflict and socio-economic inequalities. 

Between 2008 and 2014 alone, more than 150 million people were displaced as a result of climate change, moving within countries and across international borders. If we are horrified by reactions to the current waves of people seeking asylum in Australia and elsewhere, just imagine what this response would look like in the future, when weather patterns become increasingly erratic and patches of land become less and less inhabitable.

It is not difficult to imagine that the impacts of climate change will exacerbate existing tensions and injustices, such as inequality and racism. “Make no mistake about it,” Klein says, “it’s not just about things getting hotter and wetter, it’s about things getting a lot meaner.”

Although this outlook might sound bleak, Klein’s message is inspiring. She positions climate change as the great unifier, an opportunity to right the wrongs that have been committed in the name of the economy.

She inspires people power and encourages everyone to stand up and work together to promote a new agenda for sharing the planet. Klein argues we must “change or be changed”, because science gives us a firm deadline, the climate crisis forces us to decide what kind of societies we want. This movement is not just about climate change, it is about climate justice and it is powerful.

Through awarding Klein the 2016 Sydney Peace Prize, the Sydney Peace Foundation hopes to make clear the links between climate change and peace with justice, and offers Sydney a platform from which to start discussions about systemic injustice.

Although our elected representatives would have you think differently, climate change is real, it is happening and it has broader implications than just a bit of a warmer summer this year.

Like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand, denying the indiscriminate nature of climate change will only result in more widespread and more severe damage; not only to the planet, but also to community cohesion, human rights and any semblance of social justice.

[Lisa Fennis is the director of the Sydney Peace Foundation. Katie Gabriel is the executive officer of the Sydney Peace Foundation.]

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