Naomi Klein to Degrowth Conference: Climate Change Can Deliver 'People's Shock'

Status quo is not an option if we are to rein in runaway emissions, This Changes Everything author says in address to conference

"You're having the core conversation of our time."

That was the message delivered on Tuesday by author Naomi Klein to participants of a conference whose focus is on "concrete steps towards a society beyond the imperative of growth."

Klein's opening address to the Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, which kicked off Tuesday in the German city of Leipzig, made perfect sense, as the themes of her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. The Climate, overlap those of the conference — that addressing the climate crisis is incompatible with the current growth-focused economy.

"The premise from which my book begins is one that I think we all pretty much agree on," Klein said, "that when it comes to addressing the climate crisis, we ... have failed catastrophically."

The world's track records on climate action "are not something to be proud of," she said, and they have set us on on a trajectory to live in a world that could see as much as a 6-degree rise in temperature from pre-industrial levels.

The "status quo is not an option," Klein said. "Radical change of some kind, whether physical or political, are our only options left."

"This is why the climate crisis challenges centrist liberals most of all because they subscribe to an ideology that is so resistant to the idea of radical change, to the idea of anything but incremental, reformist change."

As she argues in This Changes Everything, she said in her address that "our failure, most of all, has to do with the tragic, bad timing of this particular crisis." Scientific consensus on emissions-drive carbon crisis has been in for over 50 years, yet it took until the late 1980s when noted climate scientist James Hansen testified before Congress about the link between emissions and warming for it to hit a turning point in North America, she explained. Yet, she said, this same moment in time marked a so-called triumph of "liberal ideology." It was the time of the rise of "free trade" and WTO trade tribunals, austerity policies that clash with measures that could prevent and deal with climate disruption, the global north's refusal to own up to climate debts it owes the global south, and the privatization of energy sector fueled by profit motive. These liberal triumphs "systematically sabotaged the actions that were needed to respond to this crisis," she charged.

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