The spell of neo-liberalism is coming to an end… People are beginning to no longer accept the things sold to them.
Naomi Klein, prolific New York Times journalist and author of bestselling works including ‘This Changes Everything’, took to the stage in London’s Southbank to discuss everything from climate change and the Green New Deal, to feminism and the age of consent. Klein’s self-proclaimed “super-fan”, I was lucky enough to get hold of a ticket. Here is a summary of some of the key topics discussed:
In one of her most prominent works, ‘No Logo’, Klein explores the ways in which corporate branding techniques are used to not only sell a product, but, more pivotally, to sell the consumer a way of life. Naomi Wolf, Klein’s conversational counterpart, was quick to ask Klein what changes she has observed in branding, 20 years on from the works first publication.
‘In an age of social media, it is no longer simply companies that brand themselves. It has become something that we all participate in every day’, Klein argued. ‘But a brand is the idea of doing one thing and repeating it – if you apply this to a person, this removes their ability to be curious; to explore and grow personally and intellectually.’
Klein was quick to highlight, however, how the narrowing identity of individuals, the definition of oneself as a brand, can be detrimental to society as we attempt to transition to a sustainable future. ‘At a time when collective action has become crucial, we cannot continue to foster individualistic perspectives. We must find a way to work together.’
We need a culture of radical consent, for both the Earth and our bodies.
As part of the ‘Women of the World’ festival, Wolf was also keen to explore Klein’s perspective on the modern uptake of feminism within corporate advertising and sponsorship. She was curious to discover whether one can affect the other, and whether feminism’s use in branding undermines its ultimate cause.
‘Companies using feminism within branding has caused it to become a form of self-expression,’ Klein argued, a point which was particularly well received by myself and many others in the audience, ‘this has removed it from the collective movement it was intended to be.’
An audience member was also then keen to discuss Klein’s perspective on the modern consent culture, prevalent within current feminist debates.
Klein, in response, used a metaphor to compare the unregulated extraction of resources from the earth, ‘the probing of nature in all her crevices’, with the harassment being uncovered and discussed within current campaigns. ‘It is absolutely feminist to move from an exploitative economy, where we grab and consume whatever we want,’ she states, ‘to a culture of radical consent; for both the earth and our bodies.’
On the Economy
Having recently co-authored the Leap Manifesto, calling for Canada’s Just Transition from fossil fuels, she has been propelled to the forefront of the climate debate, focussing particularly on vested corporate interests within national governance, the protection of indigenous lands, and the addressing social and economic inequalities. Themes such as corporate capitalism and globalisation were central to the discussion.
For example, Klein argued that we must restructure the economic model to incorporate waste. ‘We hold a heavy focus on production and consumption, but then do not account for the remaining waste. This has to be integrated within our economic model.’ To do this, Klein argued we must insure we account for nature in all economic policy. ‘It is what we walk on, what we breathe in… it is implicit within every policy. It can no longer remain as a footnote.’
A topic also inevitably raised by Wolf was the ‘Green New Deal’, a project currently forwarded by members of the American Democratic Party, with the aim of shifting the American economy away from it reliance on carbon. Klein is one of many individuals to have been enlisted to help construct the ambitious proposal.
‘We don’t really know what it will be yet. It’s essentially a jobs programme, particularly focussing on not screwing over the same people screwed over by FDR’s New Deal,’ referring to the series of public and financial reforms enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930’s, recently found to have had negatively impacted black and marginalised workers.
‘We have seen that climate action occurs in waves, with momentum often following a pattern of peaks and troughs. Those troughs have been found to correlate with recessions,’ Klein states. ‘One of the main aims of the ‘Green New Deal’ is therefore to act as an economic stimulus, to prevent any slowing of momentum. We cannot afford to now lose momentum until we reach net-zero emissions.’
It was a very violent process to stamp out our connection with nature.
The discussion also broached the subject of spirituality, a subject that Klein believes is sorely missing from current climate debate. Such spirituality, Klein believes, is constituted of a grounded connection to nature and the world around us. It is this, she argues, which ultimately forms the great chasm between our current society, and the one that we must ultimately arrive at in order to bring about true change.
‘This transformation must be one of our whole perspective. It needs to entail a complete transformation of how we see ourselves, our relation to nature, and, ultimately, what really makes us happy… we cannot simply do this with a few market mechanisms.’
Klein argued that Indigenous People’s must be the ones to lead in this, to teach us how to live at one with, as opposed to dominating, nature.
‘It was a very violent process to stamp out our connection with nature,’ Klein highlights, referring to examples such as the North American genocide of indigenous peoples, and European traditions such as witch burning, ‘but Indigenous Peoples have always warned us of the consequences of our economic model. They ultimately have to be the ones who lead the way in this transition… as they have been the ones doing it the whole time.’
On Youth Activism
What I think these young people are doing is bringing to the Global North a sense of existential urgency about climate change that many, many people in the Global South have felt for a long time.
Wolf was also keen to explore Klein’s take on the global youth strikes. ‘Many I think are saying “Thank God the young are on this, because we don’t know how to do this. They can force us through…,’ Wolf exclaims, ‘nobody can accuse them of being old-fashioned anythings, because they are brand new.’
‘What I think these young people are doing,’ Klein responds, ‘is bringing to the Global North a sense of existential urgency about climate change that many, many people in the Global South have felt for a long time… And that ability that we have had for far too long in the Global North, to just put this off because we didn’t think we were on the front lines, these young people are ending that. They are saying the future is here – you have failed us.’
Klein is also quick to highlight, however, that this movement cannot rest exclusively on the youth alone. ‘What we absolutely cannot do is say “they’ve got this”. They’re saying “join us – go on strike yourself.” We need to be walking off the job and taking the kind of risks that they’re taking.’
On How We Will Do It
In hopes of bringing about such a monumental transition, Klein argues that we must spend less time focussing on climate deniers, those in financial and moral opposition to the cause, and instead must target the large majority of individuals ‘who are sympathetic to the cause, but are just understandably too confused and overwhelmed by it all.’
‘Cities can be the ones to lead the way in this,’ she argues, using cities such as New York and California, found to be already exceeding emission reduction targets, as examples.
‘We also must expand on low carbon jobs,’ Klein explains, ‘but people seem to always forget the obvious examples… Teaching is a low carbon sector. The Arts is a low carbon sector.’ With the audience primarily constituted of trendy, middle class Londoners, this last point was particularly supported by the audience.
The evening was insightful, light-hearted, and, predictably, inspiring; an arguable trademark of Klein. One left feeling reconnected to the grounding principles of the movement, as well as equipped with a manual for how to take the next step forward. The transition requires an engagement with society at large, with our world perspective, the values we hold, and our perception of happiness. This will not be achieved with ‘with a few market mechanisms’ alone, but, rather, a systematic overhaul.