Naomi Klein controversially called Tony Abbott a “climate villain” before arriving in Australia to promote her latest book, This Changes Everything.
Now she’s arrived on our shores she hasn’t backed down, and she’s not mincing words.
“One of the things I think is important about Pope Francis’s intervention in the climate debate is it reminds us that climate change is a moral crisis, that there are huge numbers of lives at stake,” Klein told media gathered at Sydney Opera House ahead of Saturday’s talk at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas.
“He calls destabilising the planet’s life support system a sin. That’s not language I use. I call it a crime. But too often we use this bloodless language, this very bureaucratic language that glosses over the huge moral crisis that we are in the midst of. So I stand by saying that these are villainous acts; they are I believe criminal acts.”
It is Klein’s first time back to Australia in 14 years, and she doesn’t want to waste the carbon she used to get here being polite.
She said she asked tough questions before getting on a plane to decide whether the impact of her presence outweighed the negative carbon impacts.
At this time in Australia’s history, she said, talking about the core message of her book was worth the trip.
That core message is about exposing the direct conflict between what our planet needs in order to be hospitable and what our current economic system needs – “short term growth and profits above all else”, she said.
“Talking about that in Tony Abbott’s Australia seemed to make a good amount of sense, because this is a government that shows – perhaps more than any other government on Earth – what that conflict looks like and what the costs of that conflict actually are.”
Klein said market fundamentalism waged war on the taxing and regulating of corporations, but that we had to tax those who had the most in order to pay for the transition to a low carbon economy, including moves to mass transit and renewables.
“What we see in Australia is the exact opposite,” she said.
“Despite the fact that there’s a global boom right now in renewable energy, your government has overseen a precipitous decline in investment in renewable energy.”
Klein said she owed Mr Abbott a debt of thanks, because he was her book’s best marketer in Australia.
“He’s proving the thesis every day, every time he tells Australians that they need to choose between the economy and climate action. That is a lie. We can have a much stronger, fairer, more stable economic system and still act on climate change.
“It’s just that we do have to change the kind of economy that we have. We can create many more well-paying jobs if we invest in renewables, energy efficiency, public transit. The latest studies show we’d create six to eight times more jobs in those sectors than if we invested the same amount of money in the extractive sectors.”
The problem is that in countries like Australia, it is extractive jobs that are commonly the only ones put on the table.
“When we look at a country like Germany that is taking this transition seriously, what we see is that it is a huge job creator.”
“They have created 400,000 jobs in this transition. They’ve also deepened their democracy because they’ve taken back control over their energy grids in hundreds of cities and towns.
“We can have a better economy than we have now if we take climate change seriously.”
Abbott and Harper’s toxic bond
Klein spoke of the relationship her Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper had with Mr Abbott.
“Stephen Harper has acted as this sort of malevolent older brother offering tips on how to vilify indigenous people and grassroots activists and people who dare to use their country’s laws to defend their land as some sort of security threat, and how to market planet destabilising carbon as something ethical and good for humanity.”
She said she hoped Abbott was still taking notes, because the Conservative Party was in dire straits.
In Canada, Alberta, which has had 44 years of conservative rule, the left-wing NDP party was voted in in May because Albertans were “sick of the boom-bust rollercoaster”.
“And now we have a federal election coming up in October. Stephen Harper is not doing well in the polls, so I hope that Tony Abbott is still taking notes from Canada,” Klein said.
Hope and some kind words for Australia
Klein believes that those trying to get us onto a safer path are winning.
Victories in Australia, she said, included wins against Adani’s Carmichael mine and Newcastle voting to divest from banks invested in fossil fuels.
On that note she said Australia had the fastest-growing divestment movement in the world.
Other positive signs included groups not typically associated with the environmental movement coming aboard, including faith groups and even unions associated with the extractive industries.
“It’s been hard to build alliances with workers in the extractive sectors and in some of the construction trades,” she said. “But what we’re showing in Canada is that it is possible, and the other thing we’re showing in Canada is that this is the moment to do it, because for countries like Canada and Australia that have governments that have gambled their economies on volatile commodities like oil and coal, that model is really collapsing right now.
“We are no longer in that commodity boom, so the unions are seeing their workers lose their jobs, and realising that rather than fighting for a few dwindling jobs it makes much more sense to fight for the next economy.”
Klein finished by saying she recognised that while the political situation was less than ideal, Australia was full of “climate heroes”, with one of the most powerful indigenous rights movements in the world, and vibrant and innovative campaigns.
“The world is watching and cheering every victory.”
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