This Changes Everything: Naomi Klein & Avi Lewis Film Re-imagines Vast Challenge of Climate Change
As we mark the third anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, one of the most destructive storms in the nation’s history, are we prepared for another extreme weather event, which researchers say are becoming more frequent with the effects of climate change? 2015 is on track to be the hottest year in recorded history, and nine of the 10 hottest months since record keeping began in 1880 have occurred since 2005. We speak to the duo behind the new film, "This Changes Everything," which re-imagines the vast challenge of climate change. The documentary is directed by filmmaker Avi Lewis and inspired by journalist Naomi Klein’s international best-selling book by the same name. Over the course of four years, the pair traveled to nine countries on five continents to profile communities on the front lines of the climate justice movement — from Montana’s Powder River Basin to the Alberta tar sands, from the coast of South India to Beijing and beyond.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The East Coast of the United States may have dodged a bullet this time, as forecasters say Hurricane Joaquin may not make landfall due to a northerly turn. The Category 4 storm is, however, hammering the Bahamas, and heavy rains have already caused massive flooding in Charleston, South Carolina.
But as we mark the third anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, one of the most destructive storms in the nation’s history, are we prepared for another extreme weather event, which researchers say are becoming more frequent with the effects of climate change? 2015 is on track to be the hottest year in recorded history. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released a report showing that July was the single warmest month in history, and nine of the 10 hottest months since record keeping began in 1880 have occurred since 2005.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we spend the remainder of the hour looking at a remarkable new film that re-imagines the vast challenge of climate change. The film is called This Changes Everything. It’s directed by Avi Lewis and inspired by Naomi Klein’s international best-selling book by the same title. Over the course of four years, the filmmakers traveled to nine countries on five continents to profile communities on the front lines of the climate justice movement—from Montana’s Powder River Basin to the Alberta tar sands, from the coast of South India to Beijing and beyond. This is the film’s trailer.
MARC MORANO: The majority of the human race does not see global warming as a serious threat. Celebrate! Climate legislation is dead.
ASAD REHMAN: We in the Global North, with less than 20 percent of the population, are responsible for over 70 percent of global emissions.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are drilling all over the place.
ASAD REHMAN: On the other side of the world, those people who are the most affected by climate change, most affected by environmental injustice, have the least responsibility for creating this crisis in the first place.
FISHERMAN: [translated] This is our livelihood. This is the water we drink.
ALICE BOWS-LARKIN: The amount of fossil fuel that we’re combusting year on year is growing. We’re going in completely the wrong direction.
NAOMI KLEIN: I’ve spent six years wandering through the wreckage caused by the carbon in the air and the economic system that put it there.
KEVIN ANDERSON: That old paradigm will be forced to change, either by the environment around us or by us.
PROTESTERS: We are all ... part of this movement!
PROTESTER: [translated] This is our wetland.
ASAD REHMAN: When you see communities who are thrown into the front line, you see the incredible transformation. They become stronger. They stand up.
NAOMI KLEIN: So here’s the big question: What if global warming isn’t only a crisis? What if it’s the best chance we are ever going to get to build a better world? Change or be changed.
SUNITA NARAIN: There are limits. Let’s celebrate the limits, because we could reinvent a different future.
AMY GOODMAN: The trailer for the epic new documentary, This Changes Everything. The film opens tonight at the IFC Center here in New York City. Last month, it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in Canada.
For more, we’re joined by Avi Lewis, the film’s director and producer. He was previously a host for Al Jazeera’s show Fault Lines. And we’re also joined by the film’s narrator, Naomi Klein, and writer. She’s a journalist and best-selling author of the book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Her past books include No Logo and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.
Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, it’s great to have you with us today together on the U.S. premiere of the film. So, talk about this film. You have been on this journey, Naomi, writing the book, and now to have the cameras following you, and in places you hadn’t even gone, but that you have extensively written about and analyzed. Talk about what you’re doing with the film?
NAOMI KLEIN: So the idea for the film was to do things a little bit differently. Usually what happens is, you write a book, and then a film is made maybe after. That’s what happened with The Shock Doctrine: The [book] was completed, and then it was optioned, and Michael Winterbottom made a film about it. In this—and there’s something kind of inherently flawed about that process, because you’re retracing your steps. You’re going back to places. And, in a way, you’re sort of—you know, you’re mimicking this process of discovery, because, you know, as anyone who’s read the book knows, you’ve already come to those conclusions. So what we wanted to do with this project was Avi and I wanted to work on it together really from the beginning. So we started while—working together on it, actually, while Avi was still working at Al Jazeera. We went to cover the BP disaster together. We went to Bolivia together to cover the Peoples Conference on Climate Change. And then Avi left Al Jazeera to work on this full-time. And so, people who have read the book or skimmed the book, are familiar with it, will see things that are very recognizable. You know, there’s a chapter in the book about my trip to the Heartland conference on—you know, the climate change denier kind of ground zero. And Avi and his crew were filming on that trip, so there are scenes that will be familiar. But it’s very different to be in the room to see the people who are quoted, to see a whole new dimension. Same with reporting that is in the book on geoengineering. But I think the thing that a film can do so much better than a book, frankly, is really bring us into the heart of the social movements that are the final section of the book. And, you know, it’s one thing to read about it—"Oh, these movements are rising up"—but it’s something very different to be immersed in the energy of social movements that are fighting and winning these epic struggles against fossil fuel companies. And, you know, I’m so grateful to Avi and the whole crew for having stuck with this project for now five years to bring that to people.
AVI LEWIS: There’s another thing in the film—there’s another thing that film can do that books just can’t: The look on Naomi’s face in the cutaway in the climate deniers’ conference is pretty unforgettable. That alone was worth the experience.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the other thing a film can do, obviously, is capture, in a way that a book really can’t, the actual beauty of the planet that is being violated by this rampant industrialization, and the haunting pictures that you have are unbelievable. I wanted to ask you about the challenge of being able to put the content of the book into a film.
AVI LEWIS: Well, you know, luckily, I wasn’t trying to take 500 pages of Naomi Klein and force it into a film, because those 500 pages weren’t written when we started shooting. But the kernel of the idea was there. And I think, you know, we talked a lot at the beginning of the process of making nature a character in the film. And I think it’s true that when you see communities who are defending their land and their air and their water, defining rights for communities, and actually challenging the economic logic behind the exploitation of nature, and enacting community-scale alternatives at the same time—the "no" against extraction and the "yes," as well—you know, you see the people, but you also need to know what they’re protecting. And one of the reasons that we shot around the world and made the decision to go epic, as Amy said, is because the scope of Naomi’s argument is vast. The scope of this challenge is global. And the scope of the resistance rising up is global, too. And you need to get that feeling that really these things are happening around the world, and they’re happening in beautiful places that people love. And film has a unique way of touching the heart and the mind at the same time, so we tried to like, you know, bring people to the places.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get a quick question in on AP’s change in their Stylebook, if you’ve heard about this. It was just issued, a staff memo from AP Stylebook editor Sally Jacobsen, David Minthorn and Paula Froke. "We have reviewed our entry on global warming as part of our efforts to continually update the Stylebook to reflect language usage and accuracy. We are adding a brief description of those who don’t accept climate science or dispute the world is warming from man-made forces: Our guidance is to use climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science and to avoid the use of skeptics or deniers." Your response, Naomi Klein? Clearly, Heartland and others weighing in here.
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s good that they are not using "skeptic," because "skeptic" actually has a positive connotation. We should all be skeptical. We should all be skeptical about science, you know, any scientific claim. And we should be rigorous about it. And, you know, indeed, it’s a phrase that’s celebrated in the scientific community. So, you know, I agree with them about no longer using "skeptic."
But these are climate change deniers. They are denying the overwhelming scientific evidence. They are denying the real human impacts. And, you know, that look on my face at the Heartland conference, I mean, I think—and I tried to capture this in the book—what I found most disturbing about immersing myself in that context was the real lightheartedness, you know, and you see that in the film. They’re sort of laughing in the face of the problem. And what I took away from that experience and the extraordinary contradictory scientific claims being made, with no attempt to resolve them—this is not a rigorous scientific conference. You know, one person is blaming sunspots. One person is saying it’s not happening. One person is saying it is happening, but we shouldn’t worry about it. The overwhelming feeling, though, is that we are going to be fine. Right? And so, I think the most disturbing denial is the reality of the massive human costs that we are already seeing. We are coming close to the end of what looks to be the hottest year on record. We saw thousands of people die in heat waves in India. You know, this is not about people dying in the future, though it is about that, too. It’s about a massive death toll in the present. We’re seeing climate change act as an accelerant for conflicts. This is true for Syria. It’s fueling the refugee crisis. So, I think people should be held accountable for that, and I disagree with not calling it "climate change denial."
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: One of the other powerful aspects of the film is when you actually chronicle the people who are benefiting from the rampant industrialization, especially in the Alberta tar sands—
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —where you interview the people who are making $100,000, $300,000, $400,000 a year, and you realize that there is a constituency—I mean, classical Marxists would call it labor aristocracy—that is actually benefiting from this enormous—and they provide a political support for the continued, unbridled expansion.
AVI LEWIS: You know, Juan—
NAOMI KLEIN: It’s complicated.
AVI LEWIS: It is complicated. And people in Alberta, who live next to that biggest industrial project on Earth, have been very anxious about the pace of development and the costs of that project for a long time. And, you know, the oil and gas industry is a very conformist culture. And if you speak about renewable energy, you really get slapped down. It’s like a—there’s a bit of a locker room thing happening there. But the number of workers who told us off camera that they would rather be building wind turbines and putting up—installing solar panels was remarkable. They wouldn’t say it on camera, except for this one amazing guy in the film who’s a boilermaker named Lliam Hildebrand, who started an organization called Iron and Earth, where he’s organizing tar sands workers in support of renewable energy. And he’s building support fast. And there’s a huge constituency up there, especially now that the oil industry is laying off thousands and thousands of people, of workers in that industry who would rather go home and tell their kids what they did that day and feel proud of it.
NAOMI KLEIN: And there was actually a poll that just came out a couple of days ago in Canada, polling Albertans, where the tar sands are, showing that Albertans support a carbon tax. They overwhelmingly support more investments in renewable energy. There’s an exhaustion in Alberta just about the boom-and-bust cycle, the roller coaster of that boom that we chronicle. I mean, we were there during the peak of the boom. The money was just flowing in. We were interviewing these kids going, "This is nuts. I’m making way too much money." That’s what they were saying.
AVI LEWIS: It’s true.
NAOMI KLEIN: They were kind of laughing, but you know. These are like 24-year-old kids, you know? Sorry, I mean young men. But we also interviewed a lot of workers who just talked about the kind of sadness of the place, right? Almost nobody who you meet in Fort McMurray is from Fort McMurray or has any intention of staying in Fort McMurray. People talk about their time there as, you know, "I’m on the four-month plan," "I’m on the six-month plan," "I’m on, you know, maybe the five-year plan," which is all—and the plan is always the same: Go in, work as hard as you possibly can, get as much money as you can, and get the hell out. Right? So in the film—
AMY GOODMAN: And see if you have a family to come back to.
NAOMI KLEIN: Exactly. I mean, this is hardly heaven. It’s that there aren’t better choices out there for a lot of people.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to another clip from This Changes Everything. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we go to a clip of the new film that’s just premiered in the United States, that’s directed by Avi Lewis and written by Naomi Klein, based on her best-selling book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, the film This Changes Everything.
NAOMI KLEIN: Can I be honest with you? I’ve always kind of hated films about climate change. What is it about those vanishing glaciers and desperate polar bears that makes me want to click away? Is it really possible to be bored by the end of the world? It’s not that I don’t care what happens to polar bears; it’s just that we’re told that the cause isn’t out there, it’s in us. It’s human nature. We’re innately greedy and shortsighted. And if that’s true, there is no hope.
But when I finally stopped looking away, traveled into the heart of the crisis, met people on the front lines, I discovered so much of what I thought I knew was wrong. And I began to wonder: What if human nature isn’t the problem? What if even greenhouse gases aren’t the problem? What if the real problem is a story, one we’ve been telling ourselves for 400 years?
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Naomi Klein in the new film, This Changes Everything. Now we’re going to the segment in the film that looks at the smog crisis in China.
UNIDENTIFIED: Previously, the environment issues are just peanuts: We can deal with it when we become rich enough. And then, we had this historical moment of a smog disaster. It totally changed the landscape of environment discussion in China.
CHAI JING: [translated] Have you ever seen a star in the sky?
DAUGHTER: [translated] No.
CHAI JING: [translated] What about a blue sky?
DAUGHTER: [translated] I’ve seen one that’s a little blue.
CHAI JING: [translated] What about clouds?
DAUGHTER: [translated] No.
NARRATION: Chai Jing’s film, Under the Dome, was online for just one week before the Chinese government took it down. In that week, it was viewed in China more than 200 million times.
CHAI JING: [translated] This is every day of 2014 in Beijing. I couldn’t take my daughter outside when it was smoggy. How often was that? One hundred seventy-five days were polluted.
CHEE YOKE LING: You know, when you wake up in the morning and you walk—you cannot walk out in the street, cannot walk out, because you can’t breathe. People are saying, "No, this cannot be. This cannot be the way society and the world is supposed to be about."
NARRATION: Lanzhou, 112 polluted days in 2014. Chengdu, 125 polluted days. Shenyang, 152 polluted days. Tianjin, 197 polluted days.
AILUN YANG: Air pollution has really become a very big topic in China. And the rising middle-class people in China, you know, after their living standards in many ways have improved a lot, now start to ask, "When can we buy clean air?"
AMY GOODMAN: From the film This Changes Everything. Avi Lewis is the director. Avi, China?
AVI LEWIS: Yeah, I mean, you know, I felt that it’s—
AMY GOODMAN: The images are unbelievable of the smog.
AVI LEWIS: It’s so striking. And, you know, but this is the model of galloping economic growth, and now people are literally choking on that growth. And it’s the number one issue in China. I mean, we like to sort of let ourselves off the hook. It’s not—you know, "We can’t do anything about it now. China is the biggest emitter. They consume half the world’s coal. And it’s all about China. They’re building a coal plant every week." Those figures aren’t entirely true anymore. China is curtailing its coal use dramatically. This year, the last coal-fired power plant in Beijing will be retired. Last year was the first time this century that coal use in China declined. And yet they have this—they’re choking on this crisis of pollution, and the environment is the number one issue for people in China. The government knows it.
And there’s a growing movement, right at the grassroots level, of protest and activism in China. You know, it’s not easy to be an activist in China, but there are huge pushbacks from local communities around all sorts of pollution disasters and industrial plants. And so, there’s things happening in China, and the government is responding with really tough climate policies, much, much more than countries like the United States. The explosion of renewable energy in China is—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That’s what I wanted to ask you about, the response of the government now to actually be almost in the forefront now of attempting to make changes at the world level, in terms of emissions.
AVI LEWIS: No question. I mean, the price of solar panels has dropped 75 percent in the last six years, largely because China has supported that industry so massively.
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, and, I mean, this is—the days of the Chinese government being able to say, "Well, it’s our turn to pollute," you know, at U.N. conferences, that’s over. And it’s not because of anything that’s happened at United Nations. It’s because of what’s happening inside China and that internal pressure. So, you know, I think one of the things that the film does very, very well—and, you know, I give Avi full credit for this, because it’s sort of less present in the book—is the two big shoots that they did in India and China, and, you know, very deliberately, because we know—first, not just because this is where emission growth is coming, but also because this is our excuse, in countries like Canada and the U.S., to say, "Well, you know, we can’t do anything because of what’s going on there." So what the film really does is explode any kind of claim that these are monolithic trends. And in India, there’s a very powerful story about the amount of resistance to building new coal-fired power plants. It’s really some of the most—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And India is on track to surpass China in population, not too far—
AVI LEWIS: [inaudible]
NAOMI KLEIN: And is surpassing China in air pollution. But the point is, there’s huge grassroots resistance, and we often don’t hear about the resistance in China and India to—you know, the same kind of resistance that we have here against new extractive projects, like the Keystone XL pipeline or coal export terminals or building new dirty projects. People are rising up here. They’re rising up there, too, and those two forces are really supporting each other. There’s—an Indian company has been trying to build the world’s largest coal mine in Australia. Adani has been trying to build the Carmichael mine, which would be the largest—if built, the largest coal mine in the world. But they are facing this pincer of resistance in India, where the coal would go, and huge resistance in Australia. And now it looks like that mine will never be built.
AMY GOODMAN: And that resistance is what you both convey so well in This Changes Everything, the whole notion of Blockadia. Let’s go back to the film.
PROTESTER: Thank you, guys! We have completely encircled the White House!
NAOMI KLEIN: All around the world, people aren’t just writing to their politicians, politely asking them to do the right thing. They are taking direct action, demanding it. On the front lines, they call it Blockadia. The idea behind it is simple: We are in a hole, and before anything new can grow, we have to stop digging. As the drilling rigs and pipelines crisscross the Earth, so does Blockadia, connecting communities along the way, the metal pathways of dirty energy confronted by this new web of resistance. And I’ve noticed something else: At the forefront are the people from the sacrifice zones, the very ones who have been written off for hundreds of years, the keepers of that other story.
CRYSTAL LAMEMAN: If this pipeline goes through, your government will further assist in the raping and pillaging of the lands of my ancestors. Then they’ll promise to give us back what was never theirs in the first place. Don’t be fooled by their ideology of what reclamation is. Reclamation is me standing here with the 99 percent. We’re here today to say we never went anywhere, and nor do we plan to!
ASAD REHMAN: When you see communities who are thrown into the front line because an environmental or political or economic issue is imposed on them, you see the incredible transformation that happens. They become stronger. They stand up. They’re like, "Isn’t this incredible? Isn’t this the society we want?"
AMY GOODMAN: A clip from This Changes Everything, directed by Avi Lewis, narrated and written by Naomi Klein, based on Naomi’s book, This Changes Everything. Sacrifice zones, Naomi, explain.
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, sacrifice zones, yeah, it’s a theme that comes up again and again, and it’s a phrase that actually used to be a sort of an acceptable phrase used by the U.S. government about how there might have to be some areas which would just be sacrifice areas, energy sacrifice areas. And, in fact, the Powder River Basin was discussed as one, in Montana. But, you know, the argument we make in the film is that fossil fuels have always, since the very beginning of powering our economies on an industrial scale with coal, caused—required sacrifice zones, because this is an inherently dirty and polluting energy process. So, the first sacrifice zones were the black lungs of the coal miners and the soot over cities like Manchester and London. We told ourselves some sort of story that there’s this natural cleaning-up process as capitalism evolves: It naturally cleans itself up, and look at the air in London now, and look at L.A.
The argument we make in the film is, you know, we didn’t move beyond pollution, we just moved the pollution, and now it is in China, and now it is in India, and there’s way more of it. And we are all in the sacrifice zone now. And that idea that there are some places that just have to be sacrificed in order for industrial progress to continue is an idea that just keeps growing and growing and growing, until the people who thought they were safe are no longer safe. And in the film, I guess we make the argument that Hurricane Sandy hitting New York City was the ultimate example of that, because this sacrifice zone mentality is often about talking about the middle of nowhere. And indeed—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, let’s go—
NAOMI KLEIN: —it hit the center of everywhere.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Let’s go, if we can—
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —to a clip from This Changes Everything about Hurricane Sandy—
NAOMI KLEIN: I may have just scooped it a little. I didn’t realize you were going to do that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —filmed seven days after—filmed seven days after the storm in the Rockaways in New York.
SHAKIM: When the weather hit, it was a wake-up call. It was really like, "Wow!" you know, holding on dear for life, holding onto the poles, the gates, you know, people—the water pushing them out their houses. The walls cave in. It’s really, really crazy.
AGNES: I put everything in the first floor. Nobody ever told me that the flood insurance go from the second floor up. The whole first floor went. Everything. I don’t have even one penny in my pocket.
SOFÍA GALLISÁ MURIENTE: We are doing everything that we can, and it’s not enough, because the size of this problem is too huge. We’re not supposed to be here. I’m not supposed to be trying to rescue people that are stuck in apartment buildings dying because of lack of medication.
MICHAEL PREMO: Areas that are the hardest hit are the most marginalized, are the poorest communities, some of the poorest communities in New York City. Right? There’s like hundreds and hundreds of people that are trapped up in these buildings. And there’s no—there’s no attention for them. There’s no clinics, there’s no care.
NASTARAN MOHIT: We have a disaster, where we’re supposed to have agencies tasked with addressing these needs. Just like Katrina, it’s not woefully inadequate, it’s a travesty. FEMA, useless. Red Cross, useless.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Avi?
AVI LEWIS: Well, you know, you see what happened in New York. We had this economic justice movement called Occupy. And when the storm hit, where was the government? Just like in Katrina, people who were already focused on the core of the economic system and the need for system change showed up to be the best disaster first responders. Those people were from Occupy Sandy. They were already organizing in the communities, most marginalized communities, that were hit, that are going to be on the front lines of the climate crisis, that already are. So, you really see people filling in the gaps for the retreat of government, this ideological project of the last three, four decades, and people naming and shaming the core logic of our economic system. We got to change everything.
AMY GOODMAN: That does it for our show, but we’re going to do a post-show, and we’ll post it online at democracynow.org. Avi Lewis, director, Naomi Klein, writer, and on whom the film is based. She is the narrator of the film, This Changes Everything. It’s opening in New York tonight at the IFC theater, and then all over the country.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, joined by the director of a film that has just premiered in the United States. It’s called This Changes Everything. And Avi Lewis is in the house. We are also joined by Naomi Klein, who’s the narrator and writer of the film. And the film, This Changes Everything, is based on her global best-seller, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. We’re going to continue our discussion. We have talked about Blockadia, the grassroots movements around the world that are standing up to the fossil fuel companies. For starters, Avi, in part two of this discussion, talk about this global phenomenon that the corporate media rarely covers, let alone links.
AVI LEWIS: Well, it’s been an extraordinary few years for the climate justice movement. I mean, to be here in New York in the fall is very emotional for us, because we were on the streets with almost half a million people in the People’s Climate March. And what made that moment so extraordinary was the diversity and the connecting-the-dots feeling of the movement these days. You have front-line communities, whether on the front lines of fossil fuel extraction or on the front lines of pollution, and, you know, marginalized communities. We know that the impacts of climate change and industrialization are racialized. The people of economic—without economic means are much more vulnerable. And you see these communities coming together and connecting causes and naming the system at the heart of it. It’s happening around the world.
And what’s really exciting nowadays, I think, is that we’re starting to see not just the no to these damaging projects and to this logic of extraction—extraction of wealth as well as extraction of resources—but we’re seeing more and more of the yes. So look at the divestment movement, which has exploded in three years, $1.2 trillion in capital now—
NAOMI KLEIN: Four-point-six.
AVI LEWIS: How much?
NAOMI KLEIN: Four-point-six trillion.
AVI LEWIS: Four-point-six trillion dollars in capital which is committed to divesting from fossil fuel investments. But it’s not just the no to the fossil fuel stocks and bonds. It’s the yes in terms of redirecting and reinvesting that money in community cooperatives, in renewable energy. And we’re seeing this, and we see it throughout the film, the communities on the front lines of the no—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain those communities that you cover.
AVI LEWIS: Well, so, we went—so, for instance, we went to northern Greece in the middle of this horrific economic assault, you know, of the austerity being imposed on Greece, which is being used as an excuse to open up all these new dirty projects. They’re talking about drilling for oil in the Aegean and Ionian seas, some of the most storied oceans in history. And there’s this massive gold mine proposed and starting to be developed by a Canadian company in a very beautiful area of northern Greece. And there’s this extraordinary community resistance to it, people in a fairly conservative part of the world, who are not activists, who are not lefties, who start to see what’s being done in the name of this economic model and the excuse this brings—
AMY GOODMAN: It fits very much in with your previous book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi.
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I mean, the truth is, I see this book and this project as a sequel to The Shock Doctrine, because that book begins and ends with Hurricane Katrina. And what we are seeing is what climate change looks like when you have an economic system that systematically fuels inequality, ever wider inequality, often along racial lines. And we know what it looks like. It looks like Katrina. Right? I mean, if you had money and resources, you were able to get out of the city, call your insurance company. But if you needed a functional state, you were out of luck, first of all because the levees were neglected, second of all because there was no evacuation, there was—you know, FEMA couldn’t find the Superdome for five days. I mean, you know the story. But then, what happened next, right? The disaster-capitalism complex, as I called it in that book, descends on the city to privatize the school system, to get rid of public housing and replace it with condominiums, you know, to decide not to open Charity Hospital that serves the city’s poor.
So, this book is an attempt to think about how do we respond to crisis collectively in a way that reduces inequality, that builds a fairer society, that is democratic instead of this incredibly antidemocratic process that I described in The Shock Doctrine. And look, you know, climate change is the biggest shock of all. It hits us with shock after shock after shock, whether it’s a hurricane, whether it’s the endless drought in California. And, you know, Amy, I was really—you know, it takes a lot to shock me, because I’ve been immersed in this stuff for a long time. But I didn’t realize that a third of California’s firefighters are prison inmates, being paid $2 an hour to fight California’s—yeah, and for CAL FIRE, it’s apparently half of the firefighters. So this is incredibly dangerous work. They’re being paid $2 an hour, or—and if they’re not actively fighting fires, some of them are being paid less than $2 a day. And it turns out that there are forces in California that are resisting prison reform measures that would lower California’s prison population, because they’re worried about the impact of their firefighter supply.
This is what it looks like to try to deal with climate change within an economic context of what around the world is called neoliberalism, relentless austerity, which—you know, one of the impacts of relentless austerity is increased incarceration, locking up and locking out the people who are losing within this economic system. So, that’s why we’re calling for looking at the root causes of what is driving climate change, and also using climate change as a catalyst to build a fairer economic system. And what we show in the film is that people are doing this very organically. As they’re fighting the fossil fuel projects, they’re fighting for energy democracy, community-controlled renewable energy, that keeps resources in the community so they can pay for services.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, Hurricane Joaquin is barreling up the Eastern coast, and it makes me think, of course, of Superstorm Sandy, as this is the third anniversary. Let’s go to another clip from This Changes Everything.
NAOMI KLEIN: But a strange thing happened as the fossil fuel economy spread over the world: The sacrifice zone got bigger and bigger. It started with the places considered the middle of nowhere. And then, one day, I watched it come to the place that sees itself as the center of everywhere.
REPORTER: This was the moment when Sandy struck, 90-mile-an-hour winds slicing through New York’s streets. Three-quarters of a million people have been forced to evacuate.
NAOMI KLEIN: All those years, we imagined that we had freed ourselves from nature’s bonds, that we were the boss. There was a part of the story we couldn’t yet see: Our machines were filling the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Could it be that we’re not the masters, after all, that we are just guests here and that we can get evicted for bad behavior?
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of This Changes Everything, that’s just premiered in the United States, and bookings of the film are being made all over the country. Just go to—what do you go to, Avi Lewis?
AVI LEWIS: ThisChangesEverything.org.
AMY GOODMAN: And that’s how this film will be seen all over.
AVI LEWIS: And there’s a screening page where you can see a map of all the screenings. Last weekend, we had 17 movement premieres across Europe, where we worked with different movement groups to put on—you know, they’re organizing their own screenings. In Amsterdam, they projected the film on the side of a coal-fired power plant outside the city. There were like a thousand people who gathered in a field at night to watch it. There was a premiere in Manila, where they put out a green carpet, and they had legislators from the Philippine Parliament and movie stars. And so, you know, we—this film is about social movements, it’s of social movements, and it’s for social movements. And we’re working with a visionary team of sales folks and distributors who understand the incredible potential that the film has to be used as an organizing tool.
AMY GOODMAN: And—
AVI LEWIS: So we’re making it available to people who want to organize with it.
AMY GOODMAN: And what we just came out of, this clip on Superstorm Sandy, what it teaches us now?
AVI LEWIS: Well, you know, it’s—we were here in New York a week after the film—after the storm. Obviously, you guys lived right through it. I watched your broadcasts in those days, and it was staggering. And I think now that—everyone gets triggered with post-traumatic stress about these terrible, terrible climate-driven disasters. And I think there are fewer and fewer parts of the world where people don’t hear the warnings and relive the last disaster, because this is a crisis of the now. And I think New Yorkers really are in a state of returning, you know, having flashbacks to that. We need to harness that fear and that trauma, and actually turn it into healing and positive change.
AMY GOODMAN: Naomi, you mentioned that part of the crisis in Syria is caused by climate change. Explain.
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, what we know is that Syria, right before the civil war broke out, had the worst drought in its history, a record-breaking drought. And obviously there are multiple drivers for any conflict, just as there are multiple drivers for any storm. It’s not like you can say this is just because of climate change. But what we do know is that climate change loads the dice, right? It’s an accelerant. So the storm would happen anyway, but because water is warmer, the storm is stronger. Well, climate change is an accelerant on many different levels. So you have conflicts and tensions already, fueled by military intervention, fueled by support for dictatorship. But then, when you layer on top a drought and the fact that people move, and more and more people crowd into cities, and that causes more conflict. So it’s not, you know, a direct causal this—you know, X causes Y. It’s another layer fueling it.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the pope coming to town? He’s left the building now. The pope is no longer in the United States. But he gave the first address a pope has ever given to a joint session of Congress. Before the pope came here, he was in Cuba. Before that, you were at the Vatican. You were invited to address his unprecedented encyclical on climate change and the environment.
NAOMI KLEIN: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: What about his message here?
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I think, first of all, this reflects the fact that the climate movement, and specifically the climate justice movement, is growing. And it’s growing in different constituencies. And the faith community is really, really a major part of this movement.
You know, as I’ve said before, I think, in earlier discussions we’ve had, one of the things that’s most remarkable about the encyclical is the way that it challenges dominant—this idea that humans have a right to dominate nature, that everything in nature is just here to serve us. I think what’s really most bold about the document is the way it celebrates interconnection, that we are all a part of this complex system, and that nature has inherent rights. I mean, this is something that the pope said when he addressed the U.N., which is—I don’t know if people understand quite how remarkable that is, because just a few years ago, before Pope Francis, under Benedict, the Holy See, which is—you know, actually has negotiating status at the United Nations as a country, would try to get references to the rights of nature and Mother Earth taken out of negotiating texts when countries like Bolivia and Ecuador would put them in, because they didn’t like this idea of natural rights, of nature having inherent value, because they were still subscribing, to some degree, to this idea of dominion. So there’s a major shift.
And look, I certainly don’t agree with the Vatican on everything. In fact, we could go through a very, very long list, which I won’t go—won’t bore you with right now. But what I find most remarkable about this pope is he is a man in a hurry. You know, you think about this trip in the U.S. and all of the speeches he made. He’s addressing Congress. He’s on the balcony. He’s talking to the homeless. He’s zipping to New York. I mean, how—and it’s dizzying, and it really—this is what leadership looks like as if the world depended on it. You don’t have to agree with him on everything, but the urgency of this political moment, the fact that we are on such a tight science-based deadline, the fact that it matters so much what we do in the next five years. I think from Obama we’ve seen what it looks like as if your legacy depends on it. But we need to see leadership as if the world depended on it.
AMY GOODMAN: And—
AVI LEWIS: And just what about the resonance that this message is having? I mean, I, as a Canadian, you know, to be in the States right now and see the unbelievable support for Bernie Sanders and the enthusiasm for someone who’s talking about inequality, relentlessly talking about inequality, and connecting it to climate change, which, of course, is central to the pope’s message, too. These two intertwining crises are the defining crises of our time. And these two old guys, who are talking about it in very blunt ways, are summoning massive crowds and real resonance. And yet, you know, obviously, the mainstream media has no interest in connecting these topics or even really addressing them. But the popular support and resonance is just astonishing.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what The Leap Manifesto is.
NAOMI KLEIN: So, in Canada—we’re Canadian—we have been part of a process of bringing different social movements together to try to not just talk about what we don’t want. You know, we don’t want more pipelines. We don’t want more fossil fuel infrastructure. We don’t want our government to continue to be this climate criminal on the world stage, which we have been under Stephen Harper for far too long. But we spend a lot of time—because we have this very extreme government keeping the Bush dream alive, we spend a lot of time saying no. And, you know, one of the things that’s come out of this project is that we need to have a fully articulated yes, a fully articulated yes of what the next economy looks like, because a lot of what holds us back is just this idea that there is no alternative, that, yeah, you can fight austerity, but then what you’ll end up with is even worse.
So, we were really fortunate to be part of this meeting of 60 movement leaders, from labor, indigenous rights, climate justice, anti-poverty, migrant rights, in Toronto for two days. And out of that meeting came this document, which we called The Leap Manifesto. And what it does is it maps out how we can transition away from fossil fuels very rapidly in line with what scientists are telling us we must do and what engineers are telling us we now can do because of these breakthroughs in technology, so getting to 100 percent renewable electricity within two decades, getting to a 100 percent clean economy by mid-century, but doing it in a way that systematically closes inequalities along racial and gender lines, so bringing energy democracy, control over resources to indigenous communities first, to front-line communities first.
And what’s been amazing is the way people have responded to this, both in Canada and around the world, because now there’s plans to write a Leap Manifesto in Australia. We’re hearing from people all over Europe who want to do the same. There’s even some interest in the U.S. And, you know, it’s—the political parties in Canada are having to respond to it. Some are running towards it, like the Green Party, saying this is—you know, "Our platform has much in common with it." Some are running away from it, like the NDP is afraid of being associated with this radical document. But yet, you know, tens of thousands of Canadians have signed it, including people like Leonard Cohen and Ellen Page. And it’s just—what we wanted was to put this on the agenda in the election and force a discussion. And it’s happened.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the October 19th elections that will be taking place in Canada, the significance of these elections?
NAOMI KLEIN: Oh, Avi is way better at talking about electoral politics than me.
AVI LEWIS: Well, I mean, it’s an unprecedented election in that we have three major political parties in Canada. And a lot of Americans understand that the fact that we have a third party, which traditionally was more to the left, is the reason that we have universal healthcare and a lot of our other progressive social programs. Of course, in Canada, since the 1980s, those programs have been under attack, and we’ve experienced a dramatic shift to the right, the way just about everywhere in the world has. But we do have three political parties. And in this election, after—
NAOMI KLEIN: Three major political—
AVI LEWIS: Three major parties. And in this election, after a decade of extreme-right rule from the Harper government, we’ve had this amazing horse race where all three parties have basically been tied. Now, in the last few weeks of the campaign, it looks like the New Democratic Party, the left-most of the three parties, is starting to fall behind. But there’s an overwhelming number of Canadians who want to change course from the Harper years.
NAOMI KLEIN: And interestingly, the reason why that left party seems to be dropping behind is because they moved to the center, and they’re being outflanked by the Liberals, who have moved to the left. And a lot of the polling in Canada is showing that people want—don’t want just gradual, incremental change. They’re ready for more dramatic change. And this is why we’re seeing more support for The Leap Manifesto. But, you know, look, Stephen Harper is an incredibly unpopular prime minister, and because of that, there are a lot of people who are going to be voting strategically for whoever they believe has the best chance of beating Harper, because there’s a lot of concern about splitting the vote.
And that’s the other thing that we’re doing with The Leap Manifesto. If people are voting for a party that doesn’t reflect their full aspirations, particularly on climate change because not one of these three major parties has made climate change an election issue, The Leap Manifesto gives them an opportunity to say, "OK, this is where I’m casting my ballot, but this is what I actually believe in." And our hope is that we’ll end up with a government that is not the Harper government, maybe it will be a coalition government, and it will be looking for, OK, what mix of policy platforms from the Liberals, the NDP and the Greens are we going to embrace and make our platform, and that The Leap Manifesto can really have an influence on that process.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what just happened in the Arctic—I think, to many people’s shock? You had the kayaktivists, the environmentalists converging along—all through the Northwest to try to stop Shell from drilling. You have President Obama, the first sitting president of the United States to go to the Arctic, giving some of the best climate change speeches ever. And yet, right before he went, he approved drilling in the Arctic. And then Shell announces they won’t be doing it, though he had given them permission?
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, and though they had spent, I think, $7 billion on this adventure over the years. You know, it’s remarkable. And one of the things that I think one has to understand is that the fossil fuel industry will go to great lengths not to credit activism as being a contributor to a decision like this, because—
AVI LEWIS: Well, think what they could encourage, if they did.
NAOMI KLEIN: They don’t want to encourage us, yes. But I believe that this is a victory that absolutely should be claimed by this remarkable movement of those daring climbers on bridges, you know, climbing up—also climbing up the rig itself, the Polar Pioneer. I had a wonderful conversation with a 21-year-old named Zoe. When she was at the very top of the Polar Pioneer for seven days, I spoke to her on her satellite phone. But also the millions of people who signed the petition—I think it’s something like 7 million people signed the petition asking Shell not to go to the Arctic. So this was certainly a factor. We know that the price is down for oil, and there were concerns about whether this was even going to be economic. So, I think it was a combination of factors, that the profit margins are going down because the price is down, and this is a very expensive form of drilling, and then the cost to a brand when you have this type of mobilization, obviously, is something that their shareholders are concerned about.
But there’s something else, too, and I was talking about this with a colleague of mine, KC Golden, who’s from Seattle, and he’s the chair of the 350 board of directors. And he was saying, well, it’s something—it’s more than that. And what that is, is that this was always a long-term play. Shell always said, you know, "It’s going to take us a couple of decades before this becomes productive." And KC’s point, and I think it’s a valid one, is that they’re no longer sure there is a long-term play, because of all of this cumulative impact of divestment, you know, of the fact that this movement is really a movement on a roll, that we are starting to see some significant policies. So, this whole idea of, "Well, we’ll do this in 20, 30 years," investors are going, "Are you sure we’re going to be around for that long?" And so, I think that, on that level, it should also be claimed as a victory.
AMY GOODMAN: And the impact of the environmental movement in the United States—though you’re Canadians, you spend a lot of time here—on the elections, Hillary Clinton just coming out against the Keystone XL before President Obama has?
AVI LEWIS: What an extraordinary moment, isn’t it? I mean, just think back a few years to when she was secretary of state, and she was so ready to rubber-stamp that pipeline. And the Obama administration, you know, internally held it up and slowed it down, when people surrounded the White House, a scene from This Changes Everything, the documentary. And, you know, the growing movement against Keystone XL, but, frankly, all of the tar sands pipelines, is really starting to resonate right there in the electoral cycle. It often seems that these worlds are completely separate, and the growing number of activists and movement folks in the United States don’t see themselves reflected. Well, now there’s a little Bernie moment, you know, which is really important. But these worlds seem to be kept so far apart, and yet now the Democratic candidates, the major ones, are falling over each other trying to claim that they’re more anti-Keystone than the others. I mean, that’s an extraordinary impact of that activism on the political class.
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, it’s changed the discussion, and it also reflects their own polling, right? And this is the thing about climate change, is that we often don’t see action on climate change, because what the polling will show is that this isn’t an issue that even the people who care about it aren’t passionate about it. You know, it ranks very low on the list of issues that people care about. But clearly that’s not true, because candidates are coming out, right out of the gate, and making this a defining issue, because they know that this mobilizes the base.
AMY GOODMAN: So you have hope?
AVI LEWIS: I mean, this is the extraordinary thing about, you know, going around the world and spending time with front-line movements and communities in struggle. It’s such a stark reminder that the door is right there. The door to a life of engagement, to fighting for a cause that really connects you to other people and to your place, it’s right there. And yet, it seems distant to us, because we’re wrapped up in everyday concerns and getting the kids to school and making a living and paying insane rents wherever we live. And one of the goals of this project was to help people unlock this barrier that we feel, that we’re not activists. And in the film, you see people in Greece, and you see people in India, and you see people in the Powder River Basin and in Northern Alberta who are not activists. They’re people in communities. They see a threat to their way of life and their land. And they get off their butts, and they do something about it. And that moment where you see change happen and when you see people engage, that’s what we need to find in ourselves. And, you know, it’s so hopeful and inspiring to spend time with people who are fighting—
AMY GOODMAN: I know—
AVI LEWIS: —because, you know, that’s what we’ve got to do.
AMY GOODMAN: I know that you’re just—you have to go. But this news just came in from Reuters this morning: "India has promised to shave a third off the rate at which it emits greenhouse gases over the next 15 years, in a long-awaited contribution towards reaching a deal to slow global warming at [a] U.N. climate summit in December. The world’s third-largest emitter [and] last major economy to submit plans ahead of the Paris summit did not, however, commit to any absolute cuts in carbon emissions. ... New Delhi stressed in its submission that coal would continue to dominate future power generation. ... India’s target for carbon intensity falls well short of China, which pledged at the end of June to reduce [its] carbon intensity by 60-65 percent by 2030."
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, I mean, we’ll see if that—if it stays there, because with China, you know, China has finally agreed to peak emissions in 2030. It’s the first time China has agreed that there will a point, and it’s not that far off in the future, at which point emissions will start going down. This is a lot of movement. And it’s movement not just because they’re under pressure from the U.N. It’s because they’re under pressure from their own people. And this is what, you know, is, I think, most important about the film, is that you see—and particularly in India, this incredible struggle in Andhra Pradesh against coal generation. You know, so if they’re going to continue to power their economy from coal, they need to have places that they can build new coal-fired power plants, and there is resistance in basically every single community where they want to build a new coal plant. So, you know, the ground is shifting.
And I think that looking ahead to the next big Paris—you know, the big Paris U.N. climate conference, the biggest U.N. convention on climate since Copenhagen in 2009—the really important part of this, we know that that deal will not be in line with what our carbon budget is. You know, there is a carbon budget if we’re going to stay below warming of two degrees—or much better would be 1.5 degrees Celsius. And if you add up all the pledges from the major economies, it doesn’t bring us in that carbon budget. We’re headed more toward three degrees, if we’re lucky, and that is if there is real enforcement that keeps governments to these targets. And that’s been the other problem with these deals.
So I think that the key thing is that, given that we know that the deal is going to be inadequate, one, that we don’t celebrate a bad deal as a good deal and give people any impression that they can relax, because they can’t—that’s important. And then the other thing is that whatever is in the deal, that there be a mechanism in it to ratchet it up and make it better, because we’re seeing so much movement just in two years in the major economies, so what could we do in another two years? So what we mustn’t do is lock in these targets as if they’re the best we can do.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, what does climate change mean to your three-year-old? What does he say climate change is? Does he know? Aside from it means he doesn’t see his parents?
AVI LEWIS: Right. Luckily that it’s just book and movie right now, and Mama has to go talk to people about her book.
NAOMI KLEIN: The main thing he knows is that that book is dedicated to him. So he says that that book is for Toma.
AMY GOODMAN: And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?
AVI LEWIS: It is. It is. It is true. It’s true.
NAOMI KLEIN: It is. It is.
AVI LEWIS: One has to embrace the clichés, Amy, you know? When was Toma here? When he was one, I think, and he got his first picture with Amy Goodman. That was—
NAOMI KLEIN: True, he did. But he also went to the tar sands when he was one. So, you know, he’s been around.
AVI LEWIS: We’re giving him—we’re trying to give him, you know, a diverse education—Democracy Now!, tar sands. He’ll find his way.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Naomi and Avi, Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis, congratulations on your film, This Changes Everything, on your book, Naomi, and on your baby.
AVI LEWIS: Thanks, Amy.
NAOMI KLEIN: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: That does it for the show. Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis. Avi is the director, Naomi Klein the writer and narrator of This Changes Everything, the film based on her book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. It’s premiering here in New York at the IFC in downtown Manhattan and available to people all over the world at ThisChangesEverything.org, to book screenings. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.
Photo credit: Zapatista woman from the Beautiful Solutions section on the ThisChangesEverything film website.
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