Naomi Klein on the Global Climate Crisis and Her New Book

The big story of this week – and of this generation – is the global climate crisis. In her new book, “On Fire,” progressive journalist Naomi Klein is throwing her weight behind legislation that would both address the climate crisis and overhaul the U.S. economy, as she explains to Hari Sreenivasan.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Now, in her new book, “On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal,” the progressive journalist and author, Naomi Klein, is throwing her weight behind legislation that would address climate change and radically overhaul the U.S. economy. She sat down with our Hari Sreenivasan.


HARI SREENIVASAN: You’ve been writing about the climate crisis for years now. Why this book? Why now?

NAOMI KLEIN, AUTHOR, “ON FIRE: THE BURNING CASE FOR A GREEN NEW DEAL”: I wanted to make the case for a transformative approach to the climate crisis, one that is really about building the next economy, not a little carbon tax or a little cap and trade, but really a vision for how we’re going to live if we are going to respect the limits of what the planet can take.

SREENIVASAN: You know, backing up a second, where kind of are we in this climate crisis arc? I mean, I looked at my inbox last night, I get e-mails from NOAA that say literally, this — it was stunning. I mean, the last three months were the second warmest on record.


SREENIVASAN: And then you go back, the warmest on record were in 2016.

KLEIN: Right.

SREENIVASAN: And in 2018 we tied the record for high tides, and that record was tied from the year 2015. I mean, these are happening right in front of our face.

KLEIN: Yes. We’re not talking about a threat off in the future, we’re talking — we’re not talking about preventing a climate crisis, we are in the climate crisis. And we are — we are — we’re a minute to midnight in terms of the ability to do what is necessary to prevent truly catastrophic climate change. Right? And even words like that are troubling to me because if you live in the Bahamas, the catastrophe is here.

SREENIVASAN: It’s already happening.

KLEIN: It’s here. Right?


KLEIN: But I think when scientists tell us, you know, we must do everything to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius — we’re now at one degree Celsius — you know, what they’re talking about is protecting swaths of the earth that are still compatible with human civilization. You know, we know that large parts the earth are already becoming uninhabitable. That’s why so many people are moving from places like Guatemala, because they can’t grow their food. So we’re already in it, but we’re talking about protecting, you know, a habitable space for humanity.

SREENIVASAN: You contend in the book that really, the Green New Deal is the way through this. I mean, there are still areas to be filled in, this is a framework. Why is this the right path?

KLEIN: Well, it’s the right path because it’s holistic. It isn’t — it isn’t just looking at a narrow approach to carbon, like a — like a — like a tax or cap and trade. And I think that those market mechanisms have to be part of, you know, a — a basket of policies. But the difference with a Green New Deal is that it’s — it is a paradigm for the next economy. It is a governing framework. It takes its name from FDR’s original New Deal, right? Which was not a single policy. Right? It was — it was regulating the banks, it was introducing social safety nets like Social Security and unemployment insurance, it was massive infrastructure investments that directly created 10 million jobs, also planted 2.3 billion trees, transformed the way Americans live. That is the kind of big picture thinking that we need. We also need to protect workers, we need to give people something that they’re working towards. So, you know, I think one of the things when we know we have just 10 years to really do this, we can’t afford a backlash. And so we have to learn from climate policies that have failed, like Emanuel Macron introducing a narrow price on carbon that increased the cost of living for working people who are already under tremendous stress at the same time as he’s giving tax giveaways to the very wealthy —

SREENIVASAN: And they took to the streets.

KLEIN: They took to the streets. They said why should we bear the burden of this when polluters are — are — are let off the hook. The chant in the streets in French was, you care about the end of the world, we care about the end of the month. So I think the most important thing to understand about the Green New Deal is everybody has a right to care about the end of the world and the end of the month and the time of asking people to choose is over.

SREENIVASAN: In this era where we cannot even agree on the same set of facts or information —

KLEIN: Right.

SREENIVASAN: — where people don’t see the same newscasts, way — where they don’t even acknowledge the other politician’s almost right to exist, how does something like this bridge that?

KLEIN: By meeting people’s daily needs. By creating really good jobs. By speaking to the anger that — that — that that polarization feeds off of. Not just speaking to it but actually providing release solutions, not scapegoating. You know, one of the lessons of FDR’s original New Deal is when he rolled out of the one of the most popular programs under — it was called the Civilian Conservation Corps. — and people often don’t remember that the New Deal wasn’t just addressing an economic crisis, the depression, it was also addressing an ecological crisis, the Dust Bowl, right, and massive deforestation, land erosion. So the Civilian Conservation Corps. was created very quickly, it employed more than 2 million young men to go out, plant 2.3 billion trees, work with farmers to — to — to battle soil erosion. But if you map where FDR put those camps — and there were hundreds of them — he put them very strategically in parts of the United States that didn’t vote for him the first time. He improved services in those communities, and lo and behold, next time FDR ran he won many of those districts. OK, so you can say that’s poor politics, whatever. But, what I see in that, is that when people have a sense of mission it can break through these political divisions that seem so intractable sometimes.

SREENIVASAN: How does this Green New Deal kind of connect the dots between the ideas of sort of ecological catastrophe, white supremacy, war and equality? I mean, you’re talking about a holistic approach.


SREENIVASAN: Connect the dots on why these other things are happening because we’re not dealing with this issue that actually is underlying all these other issues.

KLEIN: Right. Right. I mean, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as the climate crisis goes from being some future threat that you have to worry about for your kids or your grandkids to being this banging down the door reality. And we see this reflected in the polls. People understand that it’s here. And at the same time, we see the rise of the sort of demagogues around the world who specialize in creating an in-group — and insider group of protected, real Americans, or real Indians, or real Israelis, or real Italians, I mean, it’s happening everywhere, right? And then other, the outsider, right? And they’re the threat, the security threat, the invader, right, the monster at the gate. And this model, I think, is happening because people have the sense of scarcity, OK, that they understand, even if they are denying the reality of climate change, they understand that people are moving at an unprecedented levels. And so, we’re at a cross-roads. This isn’t just about things getting hotter and wetter, it’s also about things getting meaner and more brutal. And we face a question about what kind of people we’re going to be. What sort of values are going to govern us as the world gets hotter, as we face the reality of water scarcity, are we going to hoard and fortress, because that’s — that’s the paradigm we’re seeing right, were thousands of people allowed to drown in the Mediterranean, right, and the in the deserts in Arizona and the off-shore camps, whether it’s in Libya or whether it’s in Madison Nauru off of Australia. I mean this is not syfy, this is happening right now. Or are we going to say we’re in this together, we — this is a crisis created by the wealthyworld that is being felt and worst by the people least responsible for creating it. We can rise to this challenge and create so many jobs, our biggest problem is going to be a labor shortage. And this is why the vision of the Green New Deal that says we have to invest in healthcare, we have to invest in education, we have to invest in the care in economy, it’s so critical because if we don’t invest in that infrastructure, then we are going to turn on each other when the storms hit. I was in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit and as we all know the — what cost so many lives in Puerto Rico was not the storm itself, it was the collapsed infrastructure after the storm, right? And people not being able to plug in their oxygen machines, their dialysis machines, right? So, of course we have to invest in the public sector, in the face of a rocky future, and I don’t think we want to tip into that vision of climate barbarism that we are already catching glimpses of.

SREENIVASAN: In your essay about Puerto Rico it says, God isn’t the one who laid off thousands of skilled electrical workers in the years before the story, God didn’t give vital relief and reconstruction contracts to politically connected firms, God didn’t decide that Puerto Rico should import 85 percent of its food, this archipelago blessed with some of the most fertile soil in the world. God didn’t decide Puerto Rico should get 98 percent of its energy from imported fossil fuels, these islands bathed in sun, lashed by wind and surrounded by waves, these were decisions made by people working for powerful interests.

KLEIN: You know, one of the things I’m really trying to do with this book is, is counter this claim that this is all sort of the result of human nature, right? Because our real fatalism is creeping in. I think climate change denial is receding, like outright, like the science isn’t real, but climate change defeatism and sort of like, it’s too late, we’re just too flawed as humans, that’s really surging. And so, what I try to do is make visible that these are choices, that this is — there was nothing inevitable about building an economic system that relied so heavily on fossil fuels and treated our atmosphere as a waste basket or garbage bin or whatever you want to call it. I mean, these were very profitable decisions, they had to be lobbied for by very powerful interests. People resisted these policies at every turn. And the policies that are making us more vulnerable to the climate shocks, as in Puerto Rico, to — the designing of a colonial economy to the benefit of the colonial powers. I mean, that is the absurdity that, you know, an island that is so fertile would have to import so much of its food. Why? Because they’re a captive market. So these relationships of dependency are set up, right? So we have to make visible the systems and show that, OK, these are a series of human-made choices. We can make other choices. We can design, you know, different kinds of economic structures that build in resilience.

SREENIVASAN: So you’ve heard some of these critiques before of the Green New Deal, and I think it’s worth sharing –



SREENIVASAN: — your counters to them. You have this good quote. It says, “this entire movement simply a green Trojan horse whose belly is full with red marks is socioeconomic doctrine.”


KLEIN: Yes. This is the accusation from the climate change denial movement in the United States, and I went to ground zero of that movement for some of the reporting in this book. And what’s interesting is often, you know, it gets reported on as a scientific disagreement, right? You have some scientists who say this is real and then there are other scientists who say it’s not. And if there’s a dispute, there is doubt. But if you actually go to the engine of the climate change denial movement, which is the Heartland – annual Hearthland Institute conference, what’s clear is that this has very little to do with science. This is a free market think tank, the Heartland Institute, and many other free market think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, you know, the Heritage Foundation, the (inaudible) Institute, I mean, you know all of them. They’re all over D.C., right? These are not atmospheric scientists, right? These are people who have devoted their lives to advancing a vision of the world that is based on, you know, maximum profit for corporations, deregulation, privatization of the public’s fear, very low taxes, cuts to public spending. Why are they so obsessed with climate change is the question, right? They’re obsessed with climate change because they understand and understood early that if it is true that our economy, which is built on fossil fuels, if it continues with business as usual, we’ll destabilize the habitability of our planet. Then their whole ideological economic project is doomed because there is no way to address that crisis without breaking every rule in their rule book. You need massive investments in the public’s fear to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy. You need to invest in housing in a huge way so that we have energy efficient housing. We need to reimagine how we live in cities so we’re not choked in traffic and we’re able to use public transit and bike. I mean, all of this requires planning, not laissez faire economics, right? You know, I interviewed the Head of the Heartland Institute, Joseph Bast, and he said that he understood that if climate change was real it would be the best thing that could ever happen to the left. So he said I took another look at the science. So they’re motivated by the threat it poses to their ideology, but you know, is say in the book, look, it’s also a threat to the left because large parts of the left have really just been arguing over redistributing the spoils of the extracting of the wealth of the Earth, right? I mean, if you think about various petro-populist states, that’s what the argument is about. It’s not about whether or not we’re going to dig up the oil. It’s about whether the profits from the oil or the gas stay at – you know, with the small minority at the top or whether the poor are going to get a piece of it. And that’s a legitimate debate to have, but those of us on the left – and I am on the left – we haven’t reckoned enough with the fact that there are natural limits to how much we can consume.

SREENIVASAN: You know, one of the other concerns with whether or not the Green New Deal moves forward is that there’s always this idea of don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, right? There’s this – a certain centrism and a certain incrementalism.


SREENIVASAN: And you’re literally saying, no, the house is on fire –


KLEIN: Right.

SREENIVASAN: — as Greta Thunberg also says famously.


SREENIVASAN: It’s too late for this incrementalism.

KLEIN: I have to point out that the perfect left the station, you know, quite some time ago, right? I mean, we lost the Great Barrier Reef. You know, we’re losing Arctic sea ice, and we’re losing huge spots (ph) of the Amazon Rainforest. These are major features of our planet that we are breaking or have already broken. So like let’s not be silly. We are not talking about perfect. We’re talking about survival and it is true that there is a ideology that doesn’t really speak its name. You know, the right-wing think tanks are open. You know, they’re free market fundamentalists, you know? They believe in that. But there is another ideology and this is – this often goes unspoken and this is the sort of the ideology of the serious center. You know, we don’t like – you know, we split the difference between all these extremists out there, right? And we pride ourselves on finding that middle path. That’s — that’s what makes us serious, that’s an ideology and it’s very well represented in media, very well represented in different centrist political parties, and it — I think there’s a case for it in a lot of different circumstances. I don’t deny that extremists at various ends of the political spectrum have done huge damage throughout history. But as Greta says, the house is on fire, and the reason why you’re not supposed to scream fire in a crowded theater, is because people will run if the fire is not real. But, you actually are allowed to scream fire in a theater if there is a fire, right? And I think the serious interests have forgotten that part.

SREENIVASAN: Supporters of the statuesque are also going to talk about the costs as one of the big hurdles here. I mean, I heard the young climate activist, Greta Thurnberg, say to you on stage recently, if we can save the banks then why can’t we save the planet.


SREENIVASAN: How much is this going to cost? Or maybe is should say, how much does this cost to implement the Green New Deal versus inaction?

KLEIN: Right. Look, inaction is so much more expensive than action. It’s all expensive, there is no root that is — that doesn’t involve dramatic change. I mean, this is something that I think is hard for us to get our heads around, right? But if we stay on the course we’re on, then business as usual, just doing nothing, that sort of no sudden movements, just statuesque root, leads to radical changes in our physical world. It leads to warming of triple, quadruple what we already have and we’re already seeing the multi-billion dollar storms under — with one degree Celsius warming. We do nothing, we get to four to six degrees warming, OK? So, that is hundreds of trillions — it’s unimaginable amounts of money. We can spend a lot of money, not nearly that much money now, building the next economy, creating huge numbers of good jobs, building better — better public services, and saving lives. I honestly don’t think this is cost-benefit analysis question. This is a question of whether or now we are going to allow a barbaric future to just slide into being because we can’t manage to swerve.

SREENIVASAN: Naomi Klein, thanks so much.

KLEIN: Thank you so much.

About This Episode EXPAND

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif sits down with Christiane Amanpour to discuss the recent attack in Saudi Arabia. U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook joins the program to give his perspective from the UN. Naomi Klein explains her new book “On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal” to Hari Sreenivasan.