Hours before author Naomi Klein took the stage at the Brilliant Cultural Centre on Saturday evening, six Greenpeace activists camped out atop a Seattle-bound Shell drilling rig near Hawaii were forced to climb down after a week-long demonstration.
“Shell has been trying to get them off using the courts, but what brought them down was the weather. The winds were too high and rough and they were worried about safety, which is something they can’t expect from Shell,” said the 44-year-old bestselling author, who recently won the Hilary Weston Writer’s Trust Prize for Nonfiction.
Klein went on to praise the protesters, who are emblematic of the transnational environmental movement she has dubbed Blockadia, and encouraged those present to find their own individual ways to stand up to the current “merger of oil and state”.
“The Obama administration has refused to stop Shell, so people have taken it into their own hands.”
Klein praised 21-year-old activist Zoe Buckley Lennox, one of the six who climbed the rig.
“She’s like a real world action hero. She scaled up this rig and then gave amazing interviews informed by her science education. She pointed out the insanity of taking advantage of melting Arctic ice. It’s only possible to drill because of climate change, and you’re digging it up to cause more climate change,” she said.
“She describes it as psychopathic and she’s right.”
‘This is why we fight’
Klein’s talk, which was brought to the Kootenays as part of the Mir Centre for Peace lecture series, primarily focused on the thesis of her latest book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate.
But she also took the opportunity to share her personal reflections on recent events, such as the recent oil spill in Vancouver’s English Bay.
She wrote both Everything and The Shock Doctrine while living in the area.
“I deeply believe I could not have written those books without the solace of the beauty of the Sunshine Coast, where my family is,” she said, going on to express her shock and anger at the devastation.
She said people often question whether she feels daunted by the climate crisis.
“The only thing that kept me going was the beauty of that place. Seeing those beaches coated in oil and knowing that the marine life that has given me so much pleasure, inspiration, sustenance and solace is now in grave danger, and the government wants nothing more than to up the ante many times over and turn BC into an ever-larger portal to transport the toxic stuff…Sometimes it’s simply too much to bear.”
She encouraged those present to look at the photos of the disaster.
“If you haven’t yet, look at those images of people in Vancouver cleaning up their beaches with their own hands while the government is nowhere to be found. This is what happens when you systematically attack the public sphere. This is why we fight. We can’t just feel the love, we also have to feel the threat.”
She said the old model of putting aside land as a sacrifice zone is no longer feasible.
“We’re all in the sacrifice zone now.”
Welcome to Blockadia
Much of Klein’s book is devoted to detailing the way the forces of global capitalism are intrinsically at odds with the natural world, and at the event she encouraged those present to help dismantle the current system before it’s too late.
In Everything, Klein asserts that “Resistance to high-risk extreme extraction is building a global, grassroots, and broad-based network the likes of which the environmental movement has never seen”.
Pointing out that we’re heading for 4 to 6 degrees of worldwide warming, and that a 2 degree bump would already be problematic, she said the time for action is now.
“This is a profound spiritual crisis. This is the atmospheric version of class warfare,” she said.
In order to adjust, she said humans need to realize, “You were never in charge. We can think of it as a terrible demotion, or as a gift.”
And though many social movements are dominated by young radicals, she said systematic change will only come when the older generations and established institutions start throwing their weight and money behind renewable energies and transitioning into a post-extractive economy.
“Nature speaks, man must listen,” she told the crowd. “It’s time for old people to start getting arrested.”
And though she encourages people to continue living in an environmentally friendly fashion, the issue is no longer about individual choice.
“So many of you have been doing the right thing, but the temperatures continue to rise. This has become a much bigger issue.”
The future is radical
Klein received a number of standing ovations over the course of the night, and the facility was full to capacity. Cars were parked for kilometers down the highway.
“I really am incredibly moved by this warm welcome. This is a part of unceded Turtle Island I’ve never been to before, and it feels particularly overwhelming to be greeted in this way.”
Klein said she’d received offers of meditation retreats, massages and yoga classes. But she was most excited to hear about a local meeting that had been set to explore a potential coalition of the federal NDP and the Greens in the Kootenay-Columbia riding.
“I hope to be hearing more about that soon,” she said, noting that “the idea that Harper might get back in horrifies me.”
She encouraged those present to start engaging aggressively with the climate change issue, and to consider the environmental implications of who you vote for. Though she lambasted Harper, she was not keen on the Liberals or NDP either.
“Mulcair and Trudeau have each picked their pipeline.”
Klein is part of a group convening a coalition of social movements. She encouraged everyone present to become involved, and to encourage their employers and governments to divest from the fossil fuel industry.
And though that may sound extreme to some, she’s convinced it will become the new normal.
“The future is radical,” she said.