A path forward
Activist/journalist Naomi Klein makes a case for the Green New Deal
Back in 2005, Naomi Klein was in New Orleans. The journalist, social activist and best-selling author was there to investigate the economic crisis unfolding in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. As she interviewed real estate developers who surveyed the surrounding devastation and spoke of opportunities to rebuild condominiums instead of public housing projects, Klein had a revelation.
“I realized there was no way to understand climate change and the impact without looking at how our economic and political systems were driving pollution and making us so much more vulnerable, some more than others,” Klein said in a recent interview.
Her latest book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, released this week, does just that. The collection of essays features highlights from Klein’s past work that are bookended with clearly defined arguments for the potential impact and benefits of a Green New Deal.
Inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the wake of the Great Depression, the Green New Deal is legislation spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey that aims to tackle climate change, along with economic and social inequality. Its goals are wide-reaching, which has been its main criticism— primarily from conservatives—but Klein makes the argument that a multifaceted approach is what’s needed.
“I think the mistake we [make] about the Green New Deal is we talk about it as a policy—it’s a governing framework,” Klein said. “FDR’s New Deal wasn’t a policy, it was dozens and dozens of social programs, laws, regulations—the overarching mission of attempted transformation. I talk in [On Fire] about the many failures and exclusions of [people of color] who [were] left out in that vision, but I think we’re still having trouble wrapping our minds around that.
“We have [presidential] candidates talking about how they support the Green New Deal, but it’s literally one item on a checklist,” she continued. “You don’t just talk about it when you get asked about climate change; you talk about it when you get asked about the economy, immigration, agriculture. We’re not going to do anything of the scale we’re talking about unless it is the overarching mission of the entire administration; it’s too heavy a lift. I think we’re getting closer to it.”
In support of the fact that corporations are the largest contributors to climate change, Klein’s book presents the startling statistic (one of many) that our world’s richest 20 percent are responsible for 70 percent of global emissions. Those kinds of numbers can make individuals feel hopeless, but the author argues the Green New Deal is an opportunity to mobilize our communities and make change.
“What we’re seeing right now from the leading candidates vying to win, they’re listening to what people want and putting it in their platform,” Klein said. “I think we should be as organized as we can in every sector. We need teachers coming together and saying, ‘This is what a Green New Deal would look like for education,’ and health care workers coming together and doing the same. We need the women’s movement to come together and say, ‘Whoa, there isn’t nearly enough about women in the Green New Deal.’ There’s tons of work to be done that’ll make people feel empowered; the tricky thing is we don’t really have the infrastructure, so a lot of it has to be self-[organized].”
Klein’s upcoming talk at Chico State (Sept. 28) comes a little more than a month before the anniversary of when the Camp Fire broke out and forever reshaped the lives and landscape of Butte County.
“Chico is an extreme frontline because of the impact of the Camp Fire,” Klein said. “Even if you’re not at the center of the blaze. … People are breathing it, they’re living it.”
Klein offers no delusion of there being a smooth road toward solutions.
“I’m not saying it’ll be easy, I’m just saying there’s a [way],” Klein said. “It’s incredibly hard and our chances are slim. What are we gonna do to improve our chances? That’s the only conversation I want to have.”