Why Naomi Klein wants to thank Tony Abbott

September 3, 2015
Naomi Klein in Sydney. Photo: Peter Boyle

Visiting Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein believes she owes PM Tony Abbott “a debt of thanks”.

In Sydney to promote her new book Capitalism versus the Climate: This Changes Everything, Klein said the conflict between what the planet needs and what capitalism needs is exemplified in Australia.

“This is a government that shows — more than any other — what that conflict looks like and what the costs actually are. Every time Abbott tells you to choose between the economy and climate action, he’s proving the thesis.

“The ideology of market fundamentalism simply cannot accommodate what humans need to do in the face of the climate crisis. Capitalism is waging war on the regulation of corporations, on the idea of collective action and it is constantly trying to liberate corporations from taxation and regulations.

“That is not compatible with what we need to do in the face of a civilization crisis like climate change.”

Klein puts a convincing argument the only way to stop runaway climate change is to regulate corporations and allow society to plan and manage its own energy systems and economies.

“This is the only way we can get off fossil fuels — the basis of modern capitalism”, Klein said.

“It takes an enormous amount of resources and planning to change a country’s electricity grid and change the way we move around so that we use public transport and rail more than we fly. It takes money, so we have to tax those with the most to pay for this transition. What’s happening in Australia is the exact opposite.”

The repeal of the carbon and mining taxes and the privatisation of essential services — key to the transition — as well as the government’s attacks on environmental regulations are all designed to help the fossil fuel corporations.

“We can have a much stronger, fairer and more stable economic system and still act on climate change.
“We can create six to eight times more well-paying jobs if we invest in renewable energy, energy efficiency and public transport than if we invest the same amount of money in the extractive sectors. The problem is that right now only those jobs are on the table.”

Germany, by contrast, has created about 400,000 jobs in its transition to sustainable energy. Germany now sources 30% of its electricity from renewables (much of it decentralised wind and solar) and on a sunny day that figure jumps to 80%.

Klein said the fight was not about flipping the switch from one energy model to another. Rather, it is about a struggle to make the economy fairer.

She is aware of the enormous power of those resisting change: “Fossil fuel companies have five times more carbon in proven reserves than is compatible with life on earth ... Keeping fossil fuels in the ground represents [the potential loss of] trillions of dollars, and those companies are fighting hard to protect their future profits.”

But Klein said, on balance, those trying to get us on to a “safer path” are winning, despite Australia being “a tough place to be an environmental activist”.

“Australia is filled with climate heroes,” Klein said. “This is a country with a powerful Indigenous rights movement committed to protecting land, air and water.

“You are really seeing a movement on a roll,” she said, pointing to the fight against the proposed mega thermal coal Adani-Carmichael mine in Queensland and the global anti-fracking movement.

“The problem is that the movement has a firm and unyielding science-based deadline. We don’t have several decades to turn this around: we have to do this very, very quickly.”

Klein, a 350.org board member, played down the expected results of the United Nations climate summit in Paris in late November. “Based on the emission pledges already made — and setting aside Australia’s egregious ones — there’s still a huge carbon gap. A key demand has to be ‘leave carbon in the ground’.

“Leadership [of the climate movement] is not just about saying ‘yes’ to renewable energy, although this is part of it. It has to be accompanied by a ‘no’ to handing out new leases for fossil fuel extraction.

“The Pacific Islands have put out a call for no new coal mines. That’s critical because we need justice for those people who did so little to create the climate crisis, but who are on the front line of climate disaster.

“We need justice to help pay for, and deal with, the impacts and help them protect themselves as best they can from climate change.

“We also need to help them leapfrog over fossil fuels and go straight to renewables.”

To do all this, building a diverse alliance, including unions, is absolutely critical in Klein’s opinion.

Just months from the global People’s Climate marches from November 27 to 29, Klein’s insistence on pointing to the elephant in the room — capitalism — is a welcome boost to the debate over strategy for the next important phase in the struggle for a safe climate.

[Naomi Klein is speaking at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at 11.30am—12.30pm AEST on September 5. Her talk will be livestreamed here.]

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