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Lecture by Naomi Klein, Granada Theater, May 17, 2017
By ISB staff writer

“Our Environmental Future: Connection, Collaboration, and Creation,” was the title of environmental activist Naomi Klein’s lecture at the Granada Theater on May 17. The lecture, sponsored by UCSB’s Arts and Lectures, and Pacific Standard Magazine, was the kick-off event for the Women and the Environment conference held in Santa Barbara May 17-18, and was attended by a very enthusiastic audience.

Ms. Klein’s soon to be released book No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need expands themes from her previous two books, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate (2014) and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007).] Not surprisingly she has no kind words for the Trump administration and its dismantling of environmental protection acts, but takes her criticism beyond Trump and the US.

She looked historically at the effect of crisis – events or stages that can happen before and after a disaster or shock that ultimately have led to social change:

Stage 1. A feeling that things aren’t right–ideas in the air, “political foment”
Stage 2. A crisis or shock that makes clear that the system is broken, dysfunction on a basic level. Something needs to be done
Stage 3. The “shock” is harnessed by agents of change: radical ideas that would have been considered out of hand are given a hearing, explored
Stage 4. Reform: legislative action is taken that incorporates/compromises radical approaches to address the problems.

Two examples she gave of this paradigm were:

  • The 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, which occurred in a time of nationwide political unrest; the spill/disaster provided evidence and motivation for environmental activists, which in turn led to important environmental protection legislation (ironically passed by Richard Nixon!).
  • The 1929 stock market crash, which came during a period of “Utopian imagining” (labor movements, capitalist critiques, Marxism, etc.). The crash resulted in the Great Depression but also strikes and radical worker demands, which in turn led to the New Deal (the birth of Social Security, public housing, etc.). She notes that the New Deal was imperfect in who was left out (women, minorities) but showed significant progress and willingness to act for social change.

In her view (going back to The Shock Doctrine) this paradigm has been co-opted by the Right/corporate interests into a self-serving exploitation. After recent major disasters (e.g. the Flint water crisis, the 2008 economic crash, Hurricane Katrina) there has been government exploitation of the resulting dislocation and confusion to push through a harmful conservative agenda, sold with language such as “no other alternative”. One example she uses is, post 9/11, the “revelation” of weapons of mass destruction and the quick push into the US invasion of Iraq, the passage of the Patriot Act legislation, the formation of the Department of Homeland Security, and so on.

She notes that shocks no longer seem to serve as a wake-up call, probably because there are so many. They no longer have the same effect, as we don’t have time to recalibrate from the last one before there is a new crisis.

She outlined an experiment she’s been part of in her native Canada, using the case of the Alberta Tar Sands. (Quick refresher: extraction of oil from the tar sands in northern Alberta is extremely labor-intensive and expensive, but when oil was $100/barrel it became feasible and production ramped up. When oil dropped to $50/barrel investors fled, production faltered, unemployment rose.) Klein and representatives from labor movements and social justice groups, indigenous leaders, and others met for 2 days in 2015 to talk about the tar sands, other environmental issues in Canada, and the environment in general. This meeting resulted in The Leap Manifesto, which is a plan to reverse the damage being done, and shift from a culture of endless extraction and overuse to one of environmental caretaking. She talked about “Energy Democracy” which is putting the focus on the frontlines first, e.g. Standing Rock, and Flint.

One of the outcomes of the Leap Manifesto is the redefinition of “Green jobs” to mean low-carbon jobs, e.g. caretaking, teaching – essentially a new way of looking at what this means. She noted that Germany has already done this in tandem with a larger commitment to carbon reduction, with great economic benefits.

Klein emphasized the need to coordinate and be sensitive to and aware of the different constituencies involved in progressive causes (she used the example of solutions that may help reduce carbon emissions but impact poor communities negatively). She noted the importance of connecting with various groups (out of the silos!) and to be aware of issues from less represented groups – unite in a coherent, collaborative, community-centered fashion (a lot can be done locally) . We need to focus on getting to Yes, not just getting good at protesting!

Other points she discussed:

  • We need to fight for the end of fossil fuel subsidies and move toward a progressive carbon tax
  • A powerful form of resistance is through banks: we have to put pressure on institutions to divest from fossil fuel investments (this is an ongoing discussion within the UC system, with students putting pressure on the Regents to agree to full divestment)
  • We need to connect with those on the frontlines of struggle, e.g. resisters at Standing Rock – be protectors of the cause
  • Instead of emphasizing what we’re against, emphasize what we’re for: Clean Air, Clean Water
  • Trump is pushing a larger population to turn against greed – we are reaching a breaking point. We must confront the culture, not just policies.
  • She emphasized several times that we all need to get out of our silos – it is of utmost importance to come together in resistance [Note: a key principle of Indivisble!]
  • In a reference to Michelle Obama’s call “When they go low, we go high”, Klein said when the Right goes low/rogue in deeds we need to fight back with bigger counter-actions.
  • In addition to the national fight, we need to focus on areas not controlled by the federal government: cities, states, universities, etc. – this can be a good way to ‘cross the aisle’
  • When asked 2 degrees is still a realistic goal in controlling climate change she had good news (if oil stays around $50/barrel this will keep exploration at bay) and bad news (wars with oil supplying countries drives up the price and exploration, and with the Trump administration war is not hard to imagine)

The Women and the Environment conference:
Naomi Klein’s website:
The Leap Manifesto: