Hundreds filled Rackham Auditorium on Monday to hear Naomi Klein, a noted Canadian author and social activist, discuss her new book, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate.”
The book discusses the detrimental path political and economic systems have carved for the environment and society as a whole.
“The theme of this series is conversion … conversion of the climate, conversion of the economy,” Klein said. “And that is at the heart of the work that I do for climate change. Climate change changes everything.”
Climate change and social policy often clash when natural disasters occur, Klein said. She shared the example of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005. The storm shut down Charity Hospital, which Klein explained was “one of the only places where poor African Americans could get health care in the city.”
She noted that the hospital is still closed today as a result of negligent policies that prioritize minimizing costs over catering to constituents.
“(This) is one more example of taking advantage of a crisis that was born out of a collision between heavy weather and a deep neglect of the public sphere,” Klein said. “This is how our current system deals with climate change.”
With weak support for constructive public policy in times of natural disasters, Klein argued, there is a great need to change the political infrastructure to implement preventative measures against future environmental disasters and better accommodate the victims of climate change.
Klein also spoke about the power of corporations that wield finances to exert political influence. She referenced billionaires Charles and David Koch’s $889 million contribution to a network of conservative advocacy groups as an example of “slowing down the march toward collectivism.”
By contrast, Klein pointed to the water crisis in nearby Flint, Mich. as an illustration of the power a collective efforts in addressing environmental justice issues. The discovery of lead in the water supply created a host of problems for the community, but local pressure to address the issue has led to progress mitigating it.
“This region is so blessed to have some of the most inspiring grassroots organizers … with a vision of a future that could be so much better,” Klein said.
Klein also spoke about how benefits related to recycling, watching waste, composting and eating less meat could lower individual carbon footprints — but stressed that individual efforts cannot come in lieu of regulatory policy.
“If we aren’t regulating corporations, we’re going to get nowhere,” she said.
“It’s not just enough that we have a green economy … we need a fair economy. That means we need principles,” Klein later added. “The first principle: no new fossil fuel infrastructure … The money we need to pay for this great transformation is out there, we just have to go after it, whether that means an end to fossil fuel subsidies, financial transaction taxes, increased royalties for fossil fuel extraction and cuts to military spendings.”
LSA senior Nicholas Jansen, who is involved with the Divest and Invest organization on campus, an international environmentalist group that lobbies universities to divest from fossil fuels, said Klein spoke to several points the organization aims to promote.
“We’ve really, especially this past year, started incorporating this climate justice narrative around our issues,” Jansen said. “Naomi, she touched on perfectly today why these issues are important, mainly that those who have contributed the least are being affected the most.”
LSA senior Valeriya Epshteyn, also a member of Divest and Invest in attendance Monday night, said she envisions a world wherein special interests and individuals don’t overshadow the collective good.
“We hope to achieve this collective power and a collective vision toward climate justice which pushes forth a just energy transition where the people that are most directly affected by climate change are lifted up as the center of a narrative,” she said.