'Inequality kills': Author Naomi Klein explains why climate change is an 'economic justice' issue

'Inequality kills': Author Naomi Klein explains why climate change is an 'economic justice' issue
Author Naomi Klein in 2014 (Creative Commons)

Canadian author/activist Naomi Klein has a long history of writing about climate change, which she tackled from both an environmental standpoint and economic standpoint in her 2015 book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate." Klein, now 52, sees neoliberal economics as one of the things that is aggravating climate change. And she addressed the “climate justice” movement during an interview with The Guardian published in Q&A form on February 13.

Asked to describe climate justice, Klein responded, “I always think about climate justice as multitasking. We live in a time of multiple overlapping crises: we have a health emergency, we have a housing emergency, we have an inequality emergency, we have a racial injustice emergency, and we have a climate emergency. So, we’re not going to get anywhere if we try to address them one at a time. We need responses that are truly intersectional.”

Klein noted that when climate change activism is divorced from the economy, people who are struggling financially are more likely to think, “That’s a rich person problem. I’m focused on the daily emergency of staying alive.” But with a climate justice approach, she said, they are more likely to realize that climate change affects their ability to survive economically.

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“If you can connect the issues and show how climate action can create better jobs and redress gaping inequalities, and lower stress levels,” Klein told The Guardian, “then you start getting people’s attention. And you build a broader constituency that is invested in getting climate policies passed.”

The Montreal native points to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans as a crisis that inspired her to fully embrace the climate justice movement.

“I date my awakening around climate change to Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” Klein told The Guardian. “I saw how Katrina unveiled and exacerbated pre-existing inequalities and injustices, in the same way that the pandemic and other climate disasters have served as social unveilings. The people who had resources and cars left town and got a hotel. But those who didn’t — who were overwhelmingly poor and Black — were stranded on their rooftops holding signs that said: ‘Help’…. The story I started telling was a very dystopian one: it was the story of ‘The Shock Doctrine.’”

Klein’s most famous book, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” came a few years after Hurricane Katrina and expressed her very negative view of neoliberal economics. And she warns that climate change will continue to underscore the dangers of severe income inequality.

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“Climate justice also means, at its most basic level, dealing with the wild overconsumption of the rich and the underconsumption of the poor,” Klein told the Guardian. “Survival demands a correction because climate change keeps showing us that it’s inequality and injustice that kills. It’s not just Katrina, think about the British Columbia heat dome in 2021: when you turn the heat up, it doesn’t affect everyone equally. Over 600 people died in the heat dome. We now know that there was a strong relationship between the lack of affordable, adequate housing and those fatalities.”

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Read The Guardian’s full Naomi Klein interview at this link.

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