Naomi Klein | The Nation

Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein

Joining 350.org: The Next Phase

Today I joined the newly formed Board of Directors of 350.org, coinciding with a range of exciting new changes at the organization. I have been a supporter of 350.org since I first heard about the wacky plan to turn a wonky scientific target into a global people’s movement, and I’m thrilled and honored to be officially joining the team.

In the past three years, we have all watched the number “350” morph into a beautiful and urgent SOS, rising up from every corner of the globe, from Iceland to the Maldives, Ethiopia to Alaska. In the process, 350.org helped to decisively shift the climate conversation from polar bears to people—the people whose island nations, cultures and livelihoods will disappear unless those of us who live in the high emitting countries embrace a different economic path.

What has always mattered most about that magic number is that we are already well past it. That means there is no time to waste on stalling tactics like action plans that only get serious in 2020 and shell games like cap-and-trade. Our single goal has to be radically cutting our emissions right here, right now—not a decade from now, and not by paying someone else to do it for us.

If there is one thing that the failure of cap-and-trade has taught us, it is that trying to win this battle by lobbying elites behind closed doors is a disastrously losing strategy. Not only did it fail to deliver even weak climate legislation in the US, it made climate action look like just another opportunity for cronyism, helping to alienate a large sector of the public.

As 350.org has known all along, the real task is to build the kind of mass movement that politicians cannot afford to ignore. That means showing how making the deep emission cuts that science demands is not some dour punishment that will destroy our economy (as the Koch-funded right is perpetually claiming) but rather our best chance of fixing an economic system that is failing us on every level. Shifting to renewable energy and re-localizing our economies could create millions of good new jobs, while leaving us with cleaner cities and a healthier food system. And as 350.org’s Global Work Party showed, a big part of averting climate chaos involves rebuilding and strengthening our frayed communities—and that is a joyful process.

But it’s not enough to dreamily imagine the world we want. We also have to confront, head on, the forces that are determined to use their power and wealth to stop us. Which is why 350.org just launched a campaign targeting the deeply anti-democratic influence that major polluters have over the political process in Washington, starting with the biggest fish of them all, the US Chamber of Commerce (chamber.350.org).

I see this campaign as a breakthrough moment in the history of the climate movement, recognition that the struggles for economic justice, real democracy and a livable climate are all profoundly interconnected. As 350.org founder Bill McKibben puts it: unless we go after the “money pollution,” no campaign against real pollution stands a chance. The same can be said for any progressive goal, from labor rights to net neutrality. As we recognize these (and many other) connections among our various "issues," I am convinced that a new kind of climate movement will emerge, one that is larger, deeper and more powerful than anything we have seen yet. There is no question that 350.org will be helping to lead the way, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

For Obama, No Opportunity Too Big To Blow

Contrary to countless reports, the debacle in Copenhagen was not everyone’s fault. It did not happen because human beings are incapable of agreeing, or are inherently self-destructive. Nor was it all was China’s fault, or the fault of the hapless UN.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, but there was one country that possessed unique power to change the game. It didn’t use it. If Barack Obama had come to Copenhagen with a transformative and inspiring commitment to getting the U.S. economy off fossil fuels, all the other major emitters would have stepped up. The EU, Japan, China and India had all indicated that they were willing to increase their levels of commitment, but only if the U.S. took the lead. Instead of leading, Obama arrived with embarrassingly low targets and the heavy emitters of the world took their cue from him.

(The “deal” that was ultimately rammed through was nothing more than a grubby pact between the world’s biggest emitters: I’ll pretend that you are doing something about climate change if you pretend that I am too. Deal? Deal.)

I understand all the arguments about not promising what he can’t deliver, about the dysfunction of the U.S. Senate, about the art of the possible. But spare me the lecture about how little power poor Obama has. No President since FDR has been handed as many opportunities to transform the U.S. into something that doesn’t threaten the stability of life on this planet. He has refused to use each and every one of them. Let’s look at the big three.

Blown Opportunity Number 1: The Stimulus Package When Obama came to office he had a free hand and a blank check to design a spending package to stimulate the economy. He could have used that power to fashion what many were calling a “Green New Deal” -- to build the best public transit systems and smart grids in the world. Instead, he experimented disastrously with reaching across the aisle to Republicans, low-balling the size of the stimulus and blowing much of it on tax cuts. Sure, he spent some money on weatherization, but public transit was inexplicably short changed while highways that perpetuate car culture won big.

Blown Opportunity Number 2: The Auto Bailouts Speaking of the car culture, when Obama took office he also found himself in charge of two of the big three automakers, and all of the emissions for which they are responsible. A visionary leader committed to the fight against climate chaos would obviously have used that power to dramatically reengineer the failing industry so that its factories could build the infrastructure of the green economy the world desperately needs. Instead Obama saw his role as uninspiring down-sizer in chief, leaving the fundamentals of the industry unchanged.

Blown Opportunity Number 3: The Bank Bailouts Obama, it’s worth remembering, also came to office with the big banks on their knees -- it took real effort not to nationalize them. Once again, if Obama had dared to use the power that was handed to him by history, he could have mandated the banks to provide the loans for factories to be retrofitted and new green infrastructure to be built. Instead he declared that the government shouldn’t tell the failed banks how to run their businesses. Green businesses report that it’s harder than ever to get a loan.

Imagine if these three huge economic engines -- the banks, the auto companies, the stimulus bill -- had been harnessed to a common green vision. If that had happened, demand for a complementary energy bill would have been part of a coherent transformative agenda.

Whether the bill had passed or not, by the time Copenhagen had rolled around, the U.S. would already have been well on its way to dramatically cutting emissions, poised to inspire, rather than disappoint, the rest of the world.

There are very few U.S. Presidents who have squandered as many once-in-a-generation opportunities as Barack Obama. More than anyone else, the Copenhagen failure belongs to him.

Research support for Naomi Klein's reporting from Copenhagen was provided by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

Ambassador Lumumba, What Do You Really Think?

with The UpTake

On Wednesday in Copenhagen, I interviewed Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, the chief negotiator for the G77, the largest developing country bloc represented at the climate summit in Copenhagen. Over the course of the negotiations, Ambassador Lumumba has gained a reputation for candor, putting the stakes for Africa in stark, emotional terms.

This was Ambassador Lumumba’s first chance to react to the shocking news that Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had crossed the G77 and backed the EU position for a 2 degree temperature increase and only $10-billion in financing. He was clearly not pleased, but neither does he think the game is over.

We talked about this and many other issues. See the clips below.

On the state of the negotiations: “Massive rift”

On Zenawi’s big mistake: “He erred on three counts”

On the “He’s from Sudan!” smear: “Simply patronizing”

On what it means to consciously choose 2 degrees over 1.5: “Climate fascism…a murderous act, a calculated one”

On Todd Stern’s Climate Debt Denialism: “Simply unacceptable… a grave injustice has been committed”

On climate change blowback: Potential “climate terrorists”

On the push to seal the deal: “Only if the deal is just…otherwise it’s really hollow”

Climate Structural Adjustment: We’ll Save Your Life On Our Terms

It’s the second to last day of the climate conference and I have the worst case of laryngitis of my life. I open my mouth and nothing comes out.

It’s frustrating because I was just at Hillary Clinton’s press conference and desperately wanted to ask her a question – or six. She said that the U.S. would contribute its “share” to a $100-billion financing package for developing countries by 2020 – but only if all countries agreed to the terms of the climate deal that the U.S. has slammed on the table here, which include killing Kyoto, replacing legally binding measures with the fuzzy concept of "transparency," and nixing universal emissions targets in favor of vague "national plans" that are mashed together. Oh, and abandoning the whole concept (which the U.S. agreed to by singing the UN climate convention) that the rich countries that created the climate crisis have to take the lead in solving it.

Unless every country here agrees to the U.S. terms, the Secretary explained, “there will not be that kind of a [financial] commitment, at least from the United States.”

It was naked blackmail – forcing developing countries to choose between a strong fair deal that stands a chance of averting climate chaos and the funds they need to cope with the droughts and floods that have already arrived. I wanted to ask Clinton: Is this not climate structural adjustment, on a global scale? We’ll give you cash, but only with our draconian conditions?

And who is the U.S. to call the shots when it carries the heaviest responsibility for emitting the gasses that are already wreaking havoc on the climates of the global south – what happened to the principle that the polluter pays?

But…no point raising my hand, no voice.

I feel a bit like a walking metaphor because this is the day that pretty much all the NGOs have been locked out of the Bella Center, making this a much less interesting place. Almost all the side events have been canceled and people are scrambling to find alternative spaces around the city in which to meet. Some youth groups staged a sit-in last night to protest their expulsion.

As the big shots arrive and civil society is expelled, it may well turn out that months of activism and negotiations don’t matter much in the face of raw power plays like the one Clinton launched this morning: sign on our terms or get nothing.

Bolivia’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Pablo Solon put it best: “It seems negotiators are living in the Matrix, while the real negotiation is taking place in the ‘Green room,’ in small stealth dinners with selective guests.”

The image from the Bella Center that will forever stay with me is seeing security guards refuse entry to Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International, who has been fighting Shell and other oil giants in the Niger Delta for decades, losing friends like Ken Saro Wiwa to the struggle and being jailed himself. Meanwhile, the oil execs walk the halls of the Bella Center with impunity.

Even if I could talk I’d be speechless.

Research support for Naomi Klein's reporting from Copenhagen was provided by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

Memo to Danes: Even You Cannot Control This Summit

On Saturday night, after a week of living off of conference center snack bars, a group of us were invited to a delicious home-cooked meal with a real live Danish family. After spending the evening gawking at their stylish furnishings, a few of us had a question: Why are Danes so good at design?

“We’re control freaks,” our hostess replied instantly. “It comes from being a small country with not much power. We have to control what we can.”

When it comes to producing absurdly appealing light fixtures and shockingly comfortable desk chairs, that Danish form of displacement is clearly a very good thing. When it comes to hosting a world-changing summit, the Danish need for control is proving to be a serious problem.

The Danes have invested a huge amount of money co-branding their capitol city (now “Hopenhagen”) with a summit that will supposedly save the world. That would be fine if this summit actually were on track to save the world. But since it isn’t, the Danes are frantically trying to redesign us.

Take the weekend’s protests. By the end, around 1,100 people had been arrested. That’s just nuts. Saturday’s march of roughly 100,000 people came at a crucial juncture in the climate negotiations, when all signs pointed either to break down or a dangerously weak deal. The march was festive and peaceful but also tough. “The Climate Doesn’t Negotiate” was the message, and western negotiators need to head it.

When a handful of people starting throwing stones and setting off sound grenades (no, they weren’t “gunshots” as the Huffington Post breathlessly reported, the marchers handled it themselves, instructing the people responsible to leave the protest, which they promptly did. I was in that part of the march, and it barely interrupted my conversation. Calling this a “riot,” as the British Telegraph absurdly did, really isn’t fair to serious rioters, of which there are plenty in Europe.

Never mind. The Copenhagen cops used a little shattered glass as the pretext for detaining almost a thousand people, picking up another hundred the next day. Hundreds of those arrested were corralled together, forced to sit on the freezing pavement for hours, with wrists cuffed (and some ankles too). According to organizer Tadzio Müller, these were not the people who threw rocks but “the treatment was humiliating,” with some of the detainees urinating on themselves because they were not allowed to move.

The arrests, part of a pattern all week, felt like a warning: deviations from the “Hopenhagen” message will not be tolerated.

Inside the official summit, delegates apparently gathered around flat screen TVs and watched the police push protestors against walls and break up the march. For some it must have felt familiar. After all, that’s pretty much what the Danish government and other Western powers have been doing here all week: trying to break up the G77 bloc of developing countries by using classic divide and conquer tactics, including pushing especially vulnerable states up against the wall with special offers.

Having learned nothing from the “leaked Danish text,” this evening featured a meeting of 40 states invited to hash out a deal; the rest of the ministers from the 192 states represented have no idea what they decided--hardly the democracy promised by the UN.

The real test of Danish control issues will come on Wednesday, at the Reclaim Power action. In the morning demonstrators are going to march to the Bella Center to demand real solutions to the climate crisis, not the fuzzy math and carbon trading on offer inside. The delegates on the inside who feel the same way--and there are thousands--are being invited to join the demonstrators.

If all goes well, somewhere in the vicinity of the Bella Center will be a “people’s assembly,” a chance to highlight some of the many common sense solutions that have been shut out of the official negotiations, including keeping Alberta’s tar sands in the ground and paying climate “reparations.”

The organizers of Reclaim Power have stated clearly that they are committed to non-violent civil disobedience. Even if attacked by police, they will not respond with violence. Still, the specter of unscripted dissent upstaging the official conference on Wednesday no doubt has our Danish hosts deeply freaked out.

Let’s hope they don’t deal with their control issues by trying to hoard everyone into pens: the protestors kept far from the Bella Center; the delegates locked inside. Because this action--more than anything that has happened so far--has the potential to send a clear and much-needed message to the world: only a deal that is dictated by both science and justice will do.

So memo to our Danish hosts: sure, Copenhagen is your city, and we love you for your bicycles and windmills. But it’s everyone’s planet. Stop trying to design us out of the picture.

Research support for Naomi Klein's reporting from Copenhagen was provided by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

Fight Climate Change, Not Wars

In the U.S. plenty of bloggers have pointed to the irony of Barack Obama collecting the Peace Prize while he launches a major escalation of the war in Afghanistan.

Here in Copenhagen, the Nobel--which was awarded in part because of Obama’s re-engagement with the climate change negotiations--carries a special set of ironies.

The figure U.S. negotiators are floating for how much Washington will contribute to an international climate change fund is a paltry $1.4 billion. Meanwhile, the cost of the “surge” in Afghanistan is estimated at $30-billion to $40 billion. Yesterday I interviewed Kumi Naidoo, the new director of Greenpeace International, and he made this point forcefully:

And the issue is not only that wars hog money that needs to be spent helping countries adapt to climate change and shift to green energy. Those wars also deepen the climate crisis because they are themselves major sources of greenhouse gasses.

So, in honor of Obama’s Nobel, Stephen Kretzmann of Oil Change International has pulled together this superb analysis of the links between war and climate change.

Take a look--it's just one more reason to bring the troops home.

 War and Warming, by Stephen Kretzmann

The connections between war and warming go deeper than as Alan Greenspan put it, the “politically inconvenient” [fact that] “everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." When we choose to go to war, that choice means money is no longer available for other things, such as clean energy or funding for communities vulnerable to climate impacts around the world. And the war itself, with all its planes, trucks, missiles, and ships, emits huge amounts of greenhouse gases--that no one tracks.

Fighting wars is mind-bendingly expensive, exceeding the costs of even the bank bailout money. Some key figures:

Fighting wars is mind-bendingly expensive, exceeding the costs of even the bank bailout money. Some key figures:

  • -Projected Total Cost Iraq War: at least $3 trillion
  • -Total Obama Admin (FY2010) Defense Budget request: $687 billion
  • -Additional amount estimated for Obama's Afghan surge: $40 billion

The fact that the Obama administration has already chosen to invest further in war has a rather steep opportunity cost, in addition to its actual cost.

The money that has been spent this decade by the American taxpayer on war could instead, had we wanted it to, funded all the needed global investments in clean energy out to 2030.

The sums being discussed here in Copenhagen are actually much more modest than the trillions spent recently on war. The United Nations recently estimated that $500 billion would be needed (from all the developed world – not just the US) to help build a global clean energy economy and to help vulnerable communities adapt to the impacts of climate change. Oxfam puts it at $200 billion.

Sadly, even these sums aren’t on the table. There is an ongoing discussion of just $10 billion in so-called "fast track funding", and of that, the US has pledged “its fair share. Jonathan Pershing, Obama’s Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, seems to be arguing that this is only $1.5 billion.

That’s right, that would be half of what the Administration just gave Exxon, and a fraction of its ongoing subsidies to fossil fuels.

There is currently nothing, nada, zip on the table for long term climate finance.

Obama to World: Drop Dead.

Turns out that money doesn’t actually grow on trees – it’s manufactured in weapons factories.

Emissions from war are more difficult to quantify. On the fifth anniversary of the war, Oil Change International published A Climate of War, a report that quantified the emissions of the war from March 2003 through until December 2007. We used very conservative estimates and left many things out when we couldn't get reliable numbers, and still the number was staggering.

The Iraq war was responsible for at least 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) from March 2003 through December 2007. To put that into perspective, if the US military operations in Iraq were ranked as a country in terms of emissions, it would emit more CO2 each year than 139 of the world’s nations do annually. Falling between New Zealand and Cuba, the war emits more than 60% of all countries.

This was a difficult report to write – because this information is not readily available. The reason the information is not available is because military emissions abroad are exempt from national reporting requirements under US law and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

All these emissions need to be counted, because the atmosphere doesn't care if you're looking for weapons of mass destruction or terrorists, or even fighting the good fight (not that we’ve seen much of that recently). These are currently completely uncounted emissions. It’s a loophole big enough to drive a tank through.

So while President Obama is receiving his Peace Prize for whatever it is he might do someday on climate change, perhaps someone should ask if the emissions from the Afghan surge will swamp the meager reductions that the US has on the table in Copenhagen. But that’s not really a politically convenient question, now is it?

-Steve Kretzmann is Director of Oil Change International.


Research support for Naomi Klein's reporting from Copenhagen was provided by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

Copenhagen: Where Africa Took On Obama

The highlight of my first day at COP15 was a conversation with the extraordinary Nigerian poet and activist Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International. We talked about the fact that some of the toughest activists here still pull their punches when it comes to Obama, even as his climate team works tirelessly to do away with the Kyoto Protocol, replacing it with much weaker piecemeal targets.

If George W. Bush had pulled some of the things Obama has done here, he would have been burned in effigy on the steps of the convention center. With Obama, however, even the most timid actions are greeted as historic breakthroughs, or at least a good start.

"Everyone says: 'give Obama time,'" Bassey told me. "But when it comes to climate change, there is no more time." The best analogy, he said, is a soccer game that has gone into overtime. "It's not even injury time, it's sudden death. It’s the nick of time, but there is no more extra time."

The solution for Bassey is not carbon trading or sinks but "serious emissions cuts at the source. Leave the oil in the ground, leave the coal in the hole, leave the tar sands in the land." In Nigeria, where Bassey lives, Friends of the Earth is calling for no new oil development whatsoever, though it does accept more efficient use of existing fields. If Obama isn't willing to consider those types of solutions, Bassey says, "he may as well be coming [to Copenhagen] for vacation."

Those kinds of gloves off criticisms are scarce around here. Most groups don’t seem to have figured out their Obama-era strategy yet: Tough love? Gentle encouragement? Blaming Congress? Bassey likened the political discombobulation to what his own country went through when democracy finally replaced dictatorship in 1999. Suddenly they didn’t know how to fight anymore, and it was all about giving the politicians time—despite the fact that the oil companies were still ravaging the Delta and violence was (and still is) spiraling out of control. Sometimes hope can be dangerous.

Speaking of hope, the Scandinavian establishment is still clearly swooning over Obama, showering him with prizes for things he hasn't done yet and renaming this city "Hopenhagen" for the duration – a not too subtle homage to Mr. Hope himself.

In sharp contrast, one of the most interesting developments here is that Africa is clearly cooling off its Obama love affair. For months the African negotiating bloc has been the toughest and most united voice in the climate talks. At a pre-conference negotiation in Barcelona, the African team walked out en masse—a protest against the paltry emissions cuts proposed by the rich world, led by the U.S.

The African bloc has plenty of dodgy actors in it, of course, and standing up on this one issue does not turn a war criminal into a hero. That said, when it comes to climate change, Africa has emerged here as the conscience of the world– and its best hope of avoiding a disastrously weak deal.

Today, while big NGOs bit their tongues, Lumumba Di-Aping, the Sudanese chairman of the G77 group of developing nations, greeted the news that rich countries will spend a mere $10-billion helping poor states cope with climate change by saying that it was "not enough to buy us coffins." And when the Danish draft of the final agreement was leaked to The Guardian—incorporating much of Washington’s destructive wish list—it was the Africans who were out protesting it first.

Obama, the son of a Kenyan man, still inspires a great deal of pride among African delegates here, and rightfully so. But the louder message we are hearing is that that the continent has a great many sons and daughters and our collective failure to address the climate crisis is an immediate threat to their survival. As the African delegates chanted at the Bella Center tonight: "We will not die quietly."

Note: After my interview with him, Nnimmo Bassey reiterated some of what he said to our friends at The Uptake, who are videoblogging the conference. You can check it out here:

Research support for Naomi Klein's reporting from Copenhagen was provided by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.


Syndicate content