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This Changes Everything: Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything: Naomi Klein

Ecofeminism, intersectionality, and protecting our planet.

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[00:00:09] Naomi Klein: I am a writer. I write books like the Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything. I'm also an activist. I'm part of the movements that I write about. I come from a history of organizing and radical activism. I live in Canada on unceded Tseshaht territory on the coast of the Pacific. And my parents came here during the Vietnam War, so we're part of a war-resisting tradition. I work at the University of British Columbia and I'm building out a new climate justice research institute. So I have a bunch of hats, I guess.

[00:00:51] Aja Monet: Hello everyone. My name is Aja Monet, and I am so grateful to welcome you all to The Sound Bath: Conversations that cleanse brought to you by Lush Cosmetics. This podcast explores what personal, social and environmental care and wellbeing really mean in today's society. This show is designed to be listened to in the bath. So, sit back and enjoy the conversation. At the end, stick around for a beautiful, meditative, sonic sound bath. You all probably already know Naomi Klein, she's an award-winning journalist and a New York times bestselling author, as well as the senior correspondent for The Intercept.

I personally know Naomi Klein from work we've done together, envisioning a feminist future for the world we want to see together. I think she's an incredible thinker and activist and organizer of our time. And I'm so honored to call her a friend and comrade.

[00:02:01] Naomi Klein: Hi, Aja. Great to hear your voice.

[00:02:04] Aja Monet: I'm so honored to have you here in conversation with me today. One of the things I wanted to ask you was what is this term ecofeminism for someone who doesn't understand or know, has never heard of it, how would you explain ecofeminism to a listener.

[00:02:21] Naomi Klein: Yeah, it's a tradition that understands the ecological crisis that we're in, which includes the climate crisis, but it's part of a broader crisis of depletion and exhaustion and extraction in the natural world as a symptom of a dominance-based worldview. That is the same system that dominates women, Black people, Indigenous people, and in fact that dominates anyone seen as too close to the earth, I think is part of an ecofeminist analysis. That part of the hatred of women is the way in which women and women who give birth are seen to challenge the mythology of the individual against the world, the atomized individual, because of course it's a lie and of course we're part of interdependent, beautiful relationships.

And we all come from bodies and we all depend on bodies and our bodies are enmeshed and intertwined, and that challenges the core story of the singular individual that is able to dominate the natural world and other people and non-human beings. So, I think ecofeminism is a holistic analysis of a dominance-based system that sees the ecological crisis as a very big part, because we're inside ecology obviously and we're part of it, but that doesn't try to pry apart these systems of domination. And that understands that feminist futures inspires and uplifts and liberates, but yeah, ecofeminism is not just diagnosing the crisis, it's also imagining a different world.

[00:04:29] Aja Monet: The reason why I'm just so curious about how you define it is the conversations we have around intersectionality, and I don't know that we always bring in ecology into that conversation as much as we should in some of our movement spaces.

But I wanted to ask you, what were some of the things that you saw in our young people that really inspired, but also maybe even highlighted some of the imperatives of the work that you're doing now?

[00:04:58] Naomi Klein: Yeah, I think there is a true generational shift, and I'm sure you're seeing it as well, where I think that folks in their teens, in their twenties today are just absolutely committed to a holistic and intersectional analysis, and aren't threatened by it in the same way that my generation of climate activists have been and even millennial climate activists, to be honest. I think there is such a sort of an NGO mindset, where it's like, “We have our issue, we almost have our brand, right? And we have stay in our lane.” And you almost see other issues as a threat to you, right?

But even just like, what does capitalism reward in terms of activism? You have to be able to claim your victories, right? Which means you need to make your goals small so that you can then claim that you won. And collaboration is a threat because how do you claim credit and say, “We did this, now give us more money”, whether to a foundation or whether to your list building if you're collaborating with lots of organizations from lots of different sectors. And I think that really limited what people even tried to do.

And so, the biggest shift I see with this sort of sunrise generation and the climate strike generation is just they get that they are growing up amidst interlocking and intersecting crises, and that they just don't have the luxury of choosing between caring. And I think that this is/has been true for racialized young people for a very long time, that you have to care about the existential threat of police violence and asthma of living next to a refinery and the broader climate crisis. That any movement that expects you to choose is not your movement, right? But the white climate movement did not get that for a very, very long time, which is why it was white. And so, I think there is a generational shift where young people are reaching more internationalist too, which is very exciting.

Like the climate strike movement was just this web of young people, of children and teens reaching towards each other from very different positionalities, learning from each other, challenging each other, growing together, bringing their whole selves to the movement in a way that I hadn't seen. You know, sometimes like when that book came out, it's called How to Change Everything, I get invited to some of these ‘Fridays for Future’ meetings in places like Ireland over Zoom. And it's beautiful, I think you'd love it. You know, these are teens reading poetry to each other, sharing their feelings, like really showing up with their whole selves, and a recognizing that when you engage with the destabilization of the life support systems, it's going to really scare the hell out of you.

And if you do not make space for that grief and that fear and that anger that that evokes, you're gonna really have a messed up movement. And so, after having been part of like, you know, big green NGOs and so on, it was just beautiful to see this generation making sure to make space for those emotions and taking care of each other.

[00:08:16] Aja Monet: Yeah, that's good.

Your book Shock Doctrine was so important for so many people in the movement at large. I mean, it's an internationalist lens and I wanted to ask you how you see power, and are we too human-centric in our ideas of power? As we see with the pandemic and with what happens when we sit still and stop doing and making everything so much about us, that it was really beautiful and powerful to see, wait, like things changed when we weren't taking up so much space, and that even just being still allowed the earth to do what it needed to do.

And I wanted to ask you, have you seen power differently in this work that you do?

[00:09:04] Naomi Klein: That's such a huge question. Let me try to grab a little corner of it.

Yeah. I think whenever we really open ourselves up to the force of the natural world, it's gonna be humbling, right? And you know, whether it's the aftermath of a hurricane or just the force of a hurricane being in it—I don't know if you've ever been right in the middle of it, you probably have because you spent a lot of time in Florida—I mean, it's just like you are not in control here. Or just witnessing the reduction of a lifetime of stuff, transformed to ash or rubble, because I've seen the stuff of life reduced to rubble from many different directions and forces, whether it's a flood or a storm in Puerto Rico, or the wildfires that we experience here in British Columbia. So yeah, that is power and I think it's important to think of it as power.

You know, when I was writing This Changes Everything, my working title of that book was The Message because I wrote about climate change as a message from the earth to us, that is being spoken to us in the language of floods and fires. And the message is you're not the boss, right? That fossil fuels created an illusion of dominance.

And this is one of the really interesting historical facts: poring over the early marketing materials of the coal-fired steam engine in the 1700s, it was pitched to the merchant class as "freedom from nature," right?

You no longer have to be at the mercy of the winds, right? If you had sail powered boats, you were at the mercy of strong winds, but if you had a steam powered boat, you go whenever you want. You are “the boss”.

"Freedom from nature."

And so, the whole rhetoric of the fossil fuel age was, you are the boss of the natural world. You can sever from these forces that you used to have to navigate with and negotiate with, and climate change comes along a couple hundred years later and says, “Actually, every action has a reaction.” All that coal you are burning and all that oil and gas has been accumulating in the atmosphere and is now coming back in the language of floods and fires, and it is humbling.

And this is why I think that you have such strong climate change denial on the far right. And all the sort of social science shows that the people most likely to deny climate change are people who have what sociologists call a dominance-based worldview, coming back to where we started, right? If you believe that the current hierarchies that dominate our world are natural, that some people just belong on top, and those people happen to be rich white men, that people get what they deserve, they measure dominance-based worldview based on agreement with statements like that, that people basically get what they deserve, you know, and so on. If you have that worldview, it is vastly more likely that you will deny climate change because climate change challenges your worldview, because it demotes you, if that's how you see the world, right? It says actually you never were in charge. You never were in charge of nature. So yeah, that's one of the ways how I see power, but I also feel like it's not as simple as Mother Nature is going to put us in our place, right?

Because this system is so violent, and so bent on extracting the last wealth of this planet in order to eke out the last quarter of profits that they can get, that there's just so much, so much destruction and death in the last throes of it, that that is also power. This system that knows everything about what the risks are, and yet is continuing to double down and wants more pipelines and more coal fired power plants, more, more of all of it, despite everything they know. That's power too, and it's a power to destroy, and it will destroy, and it is destroying, and so we're in this tension, I think, between these different forms of power.

I think the planet will survive us, but the question is just how much suffering on our way out? I guess we can say the earth has changed before, there've been mass extinctions before, and this is cyclical. But I think if we stop and imagine what this really looks like in terms of the final stages of that, there's too much suffering to not at least attempt to reduce the suffering.

And that's where I think, you know, a truly intersectional response to the climate crisis is just a matter of life or death. Because if we're thinking about a framework of responding to planetary warming, that is not just simply how do we produce less greenhouse gases, but how do we transform our society and how do we have a radical shift in values and how do we re-imagine borders and nation states and how do we start from the basic fundamental needs and right to have food and water and shelter, and build societies from there, from those needs and not wait for some sort of trickle down.

If we have that kind of revolution in values, then as we face these shocks—and we are going to be facing those shocks, whether or not we really get our act together and reduce emissions, I mean, things are gonna get worse—then this will be the difference between whether we turn on each other in some eco-fascist warzone that we've seen in every cli-fi vision of the future, right? Or whether we have a sense of solidarity, enoughness. I think if we look at what's happening on borders right now, we're already seeing that that's a barbaric response of just we're gonna protect our own, whether it's Europe and letting people drown in the Mediterranean, whether it's letting people die in the deserts of Mexico. I mean, it's already happening, this kind of lifeboat-fortress response.

And so, that shift in values of saying absolutely everybody's life is of equal value is what is going to save us, right?

And we glimpse this. I mean, this is the flip side of The Shock Doctrine, right? Is that in these moments of disaster, we also see what the best that people are capable of, right? There's incredible acts of solidarity and generosity and just people just putting their lives on the line for their neighbors, for people they don't know, right? And so, what part of us is going to get lit up? Cause every time there's one of these shocks, whether it's COVID or an earthquake or a hurricane, we see both. We see the worst, we see the best. And I think if we think about systems like capitalism or ecosocialism, or a feminist ecosocialism or whatever we want to call it, these are decisions about what part we're going to light up. Capitalism lights up the worst parts of us. The scarcity parts of us, the competition parts of us, the individualism parts of us, but we all have all of it in us, right? The same person is capable of hoarding the toilet paper and saving their neighbor, right? But it's like, which part of that person are we going to support? And which part are we going to repress? And right now we live in systems that repress the best parts of ourselves, that punish the best parts of ourselves.

[00:17:17] Aja Monet: I'm excited to hear about maybe some of the practices you see in the world that are exciting you and lighting you up in this time.

Or even just you, yourself, what are you doing for yourself that lights you up, or at least brought you some peace and some sense of wellness around the work that you're doing?

[00:17:40] Naomi Klein: MM-hmm, mm-hmm. I'm inspired by an amazing little walk I did yesterday with some friends and with my nine-year-old son, up to a salmon hatchery. So, our salmon are in crisis and that means everything is in crisis in the salmon nation, because everybody loves salmon.

The seals love salmon, the sea lions love salmon, the orcas love salmon, the eagles love salmon, the trees. So, it's just that species that is so generous, and so much relies on them, and we've had floods and we had this heat dome, which was the deadliest weather event in the history of our country.

And all of this is really a threat to salmon, right? Because we've had these, these floods that lead to all the silt going into the salmon streams and the temperature is a threat to them. They like cold water and the water has been getting way too warm. So, we have this hatchery and they just kind of help, I don't know, it’s sort of like, it's not IVF for salmon exactly, but they give the baby salmon a little bit of a better chance in the very early stages of life. And then they take the little, tiny little salmon and release them into the stream, and they look just like tadpoles at that stage.

But yesterday they had their salmon release, and so all these kids went and they took their little buckets and they released little buckets filled with hundreds of baby salmon into the stream and just did their part, you know? And next week there'll be a release of, I think something like 200,000 salmon into the stream.

And just being able to be part of that little, little, tiny little assist, to help this incredible species that helps so many other species, including our own, just felt like so hopeful and just so wonderful for everyone who was involved. So that was a great day. It's not activism in the kind of classic sense, but it was very replenishing.

Some of the work that I've had the most fun with in recent years have been these little experiments in futurisms with our friend Molly Crabapple.

[00:19:40] Aja Monet: Oh, yes.

[00:19:41] Naomi: Art!

[00:19:42] Aja Monet: Art!

[00:19:43] Naomi Klein: Yeah. Yeah, we made a couple of films together Message from the Future I and Message from the Future: Two Years of Repair.

So, Message from the Future I, we collaborated with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and my partner, Avi Lewis, co-wrote the script with her and Molly, and her team visualized how we want a Green New Deal. And I mean it was an amazing experience, honestly, Aja, that little film, because it definitely reached more people than all of my books combined. And just the hunger for a vision of the future that is not just us only worse, and that isn't perfect, right? I mean, these experiments in futurism that we do, we don't gloss over the fact that there's going to be big losses and big grief, but how do we meet those shocks? How do we meet that grief in a way that is loving and caring? But I'm not saying this should be like the centerpiece of our activism, but we need to exercise that muscle of imagining. Cause it's so atrophied by decades of neoliberal war on imagination that this is, I think, one of the most lasting legacies of the neoliberal ideological onslaught. And it's taken a while to shake it off, at least for me.

[00:21:05] Aja Monet: I think that the role of art and what art can do in people, not just in terms of like people who are deemed professional artists, but also what I've always tried to do in the work that I've done is, you know, I see poetry as an organizing tool. I think about, you know, Black women, Chicano women writers and thinkers, and Indigenous women writers from all over the world who really, really shaped our ideas around decolonizing the imagination.

So, I'm excited to hear you talk about art as a part of what brings you out of your own head sometimes and finding ways to get people who don't see themselves as artists to become artists, you know, to become creators.

[00:21:46] Naomi Klein: Yeah. I think that artists like you who play that kind of almost like a midwife role for others to find their imagination, it's just, I think we need it more than anything. And I also think just in terms of imagining new ceremonies and containers to hold, to really feel the weight of our moment is very important. Things are moving so fast that even, you know, talking about this little piece of the world where I live in is what's a few of the things that we collectively have experienced. It's just been so much when you think about the heat dome, we had this thing called an atmospheric river which washed away highways, and COVID, and the ongoing genocide and all of this repression. And I feel like part of what art can do in addition to that, imagining the future, is just slow down the present so that we can actually believe what's happened, like what we've lived.

[00:22:48] Aja Monet: Oh, yeah.

[00:22:49] Naomi Klein: And I think this is what's been so hard about this these past couple of years is just, we do that together and we haven't been able to be together enough.

[00:23:03] Aja Monet: Yeah.

This question is about sound, or sounds, that either bring you peace of mind or a sense of calmness, a sound that comforts you. If you could share with us.

[00:23:25] Naomi Klein: Yeah, I think definitely drums. Yeah, drums in the place where they've been for millennia and you can almost feel that the earth recognizes them because they have accompanied one another. Yeah.

[00:24:00] Aja Monet: Yeah. Yeah, oh, Naomi, thank you so much for your time. I really, really appreciate it. And I really think that your insights will be so useful and I hope so helpful to people who are listening and thinking about, you know, care and wellness and the planet, and it's in a very different way.

So, I am so grateful for you and I look forward to continuing to be in this wonderful struggle for climate justice together, as well as for an imaginative future. Thank you for your time.

[00:24:38] Naomi Klein: Thank you so much, Aja. It was a joy.

[00:24:41] Aja Monet: Yay.

The Sound Bath Podcast

The Sound Bath Podcast