The Current

'A transformational vision for the next economy': Naomi Klein on the Green New Deal

Canadian author Naomi Klein's new book of essays On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal argues that fighting climate change requires a fundamental economic shift.

Canadian author says jobs and the climate fight must go hand-in-hand

Canadian author Naomi Klein's new book is titled On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
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For Canadian author Naomi Klein, the case for embracing a new approach to fighting climate change is a simple one: "Nobody should have to choose between the end of the month and the end of the world."

Klein, the author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, was riffing on the slogan of French yellow vest protesters who, angered at proposed fuel taxes, claimed their government didn't understand their need to pay their monthly bills.

"We actually all care about both," she told The Current's interim host Laura Lynch. "So why don't we design policies that [don't] force people to choose?"

Klein's new book On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal attempts to answer that question.

Several hundred students gather on Parliament Hill as they protest climate change on March 15, 2019 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

In the collection of essays, she argues that developed countries like Canada need to radically shift their economies away from fossil fuels, invest in creating new jobs in renewable industries and create policies that fight inequality.

"It is not a single carbon tax or cap-and-trade the way we talk about it in Canada," Klein said. "It is a transformational vision for the next economy that is is about battling inequality on every level."

In the United States, the Green New Deal has been championed by freshman Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Democratic senator Ed Markey, and has now been embraced by several Democratic candidates. It takes its name from former president Franklin D. Roosevelt's Depression-era programs to reboot the U.S. economy.

The Democrats' proposal calls for major investment in initiatives like high-paying clean energy jobs, a national "smart" electricity grid to increase energy efficiency, high-speed rail infrastructure as well as basic income and universal healthcare programs, which supporters say would make it easier to ease people off of fossil fuel jobs.

Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one of the main backers of a Green New Deal proposal in the U.S. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)

Critics of the plan have called it unrealistic and extreme, but Klein refutes their claims.

"Even though it's often dismissed as being un-serious because it's so ambitious, I think it's precisely because it marries economic policy with those sorts of bread-and-butter economic issues that makes it more pragmatic," she said.

In Canada, says Klein, the conversation has mostly remained fixed on what she calls "a very narrow approach to climate change, that is just about a sort of a market mechanism, like a carbon tax."

Ahead of the Canadian federal election, "of the three top political parties I don't think that we have seen enough ambition on this issue," she said.

Students gather on Parliament Hill as they protest climate change on March 15, 2019 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Klein said these kinds of market mechanisms can put a disproportionate burden on lower-income people. "There's been a fundamental unfairness, or at least a perceived unfairness, in how climate policies have rolled out," she said.

As climate change makes larger areas of the world unfit for human life, Klein asserted that Canadians need to have serious conversations about whether they are willing to share their country, and their resources, with those in parts of the world where the devastation of climate change is already being felt first-hand.

People walk next to a shattered and water-filled coffin lays exposed to the elements in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, at the cemetery in Mclean's Town, Grand Bahama, Bahamas on Sept. 13, 2019. (Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press)

"That means re-imagining our borders, it means redistributing wealth so that people in the Global South are able to leapfrog over fossil fuels ... and prepare for the climate impacts that are already upon them," she said.

Klein characterized recent events like the U.S. turning away Bahamians fleeing the archipelago after a Category 5 hurricane, or former Italian deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini blocking migrant ships from docking — even as thousands died at sea, as examples of "climate barbarism."

She said Canadians are at a crossroads where they need to decide: "Are we going to hoard or are we going to share?"

"I personally think that there is still a very large constituency of Canadians who are ready to do that, who do not want to slide into this kind of barbarism," she said.

"So we have a big question to answer and it is not just a political question. It is a spiritual question about what kind of people we want to be."


Written by Allie Jaynes. Interview produced by Max Paris.

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