Naomi Klein: How I wrote This Changes Everything
Naomi Klein’s latest book—the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize-winning This Changes Everything—is a book for people, according to Klein, “whose eyes roll back into their heads when they hear about parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere.”
The result is a very personal account of what Klein considers to be the human rights issue of our time: climate change. In her own words, she speaks with us about the struggles of being a new mother while writing this book, and the "Freedom" she needed to make it happen.
The book contains some of the most personal writing I’ve ever done, including a chapter about my own struggles to become pregnant. I struggled a lot with whether to include that material in the book. But the truth is the book took me five years to write and during those five years my personal life was pretty much consumed with the roller coaster of losing pregnancies. I lost several pregnancies while I was writing the book and eventually, after I gave up, I got pregnant, stayed pregnant, and became a mom for the first time
I share this story (in the book) of going to Louisiana during the BP oil disaster, not realizing at the time that I was pregnant. I came back from Louisiana and discovered that I was having a miscarriage, which I thought might have been connected to being exposed to the toxins in the Gulf. It turns out it wasn’t connected, but there was this moment where I realized I had been miscarrying when I was in what I can only describe as a “giant miscarriage”—the oil hit the Gulf at the worst possible moment in the biological cycle, which was spawning season, and so almost every species in the Gulf was spawning at that time and that was what made them so vulnerable to the toxins from the spill.
I wrote about that because the experience of hitting a biological wall helped me to understand the idea of hitting biological walls collectively. Our bodies are incredibly resilient, and because of that we tend to think that we can take everything. But just because we can take a lot does not mean we can’t be pushed too far... it’s the same with the earth’s systems. The earth is incredibly resilient. It can take a lot, but we can push these systems too far and we are pushing them too far.
LOOKING FOR A MOOSE
There was something particularly difficult about writing about the climate crisis with a newborn and then a very young child. Basically, for a very long time, my life was about writing about climate change and then reading stories to my son I had this one moment where I was reading him his favourite book—it’s called Looking for a Moose. It’s a wonderful children’s book about a bunch of kids who really want to see a moose. They search high and low and the refrain is “Have you ever seen a moose? We’ve never seen a moose.” At the end of the book, all of these moose come out and the kids become really happy. I had read this probably 75 times and then it suddenly hit me that he might never see a moose. In my own reporting I talk to first nations people in Northern Alberta who describe how the moose population are collapsing and how they come across moose covered in tumours It wasn’t that I suddenly cared (more) but there was a way in which seeing it through his eyes brought it into my heart.
FREEDOM IS KEY
I was one of the early adapters to Freedom—the technology that allows you to block the Internet as you write. It’s the only product I’ve ever endorsed and it was a real lifesaver for me in the writing of this book. I discovered Twitter right around the time that I started writing and it became a far too effective procrastination tool. I should’ve thanked Freedom in the acknowledgements... That said, social media was an incredible source of information for me was well. It’s so critical to the climate debate. Everybody’s on it. But I’m also aware that social media is eroding our attention span and giving us so many opportunities to distract ourselves, which is part of why dealing with climate change is so difficult. It’s an issue that requires sustained attention and we’re being distracted all the time. So Freedom was key.
THE REVOLUTION WILL BE ENDNOTED
One of the funnier moments was the lawyering of the book. We have the research, and then we have the fact-checking, and then the checking of the fact-checking, and then the lawyers. The book came out simultaneously in Canada, the US and the UK, and each territory had its own lawyer assigned because libel law in all three territories is slightly different. The British libel law is particularly conservative and the US one is comparatively lax. Canada is somewhere in between. There was this one conference call that had two lawyers, my primary researcher Rajiv Sicora, and me on the call and it was 10 hours long This was the first book Rajiv had ever worked on. I hired him right out of grad school and there was a point where he would not stop fact-checking and I finally had to call him and say, “Ok, we are at a point now where we are balancing the relative importance of the absolute accuracy of this endnote versus having books in stores. If you do not let go there will be no books in stores.” He let go.
Photo credit: Ed Kashi
Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and author of the critically acclaimed and #1 international bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism and No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, which the New York Times called “a movement bible.” Klein is a contributing editor for Harper’s, a reporter for Rolling Stone, and a syndicated columnist for The Nation and The Guardian. She is a member of the board of directors of 350.org and a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. Her latest book is This Changes Everything.