SWF: If we could change for Covid-19, we can change for the climate, says Naomi Klein

Author Naomi Klein during a virtual dialogue at the Singapore Writers Festival. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM SINGAPORE WRITERS FESTIVAL

SINGAPORE - Covid-19 may have devastated the world, but it has also shown humanity's capacity for drastic change, said journalist and activist Naomi Klein.

"What the past few months have proven to me is that when societies decide to treat an emergency as an emergency - precisely what climate activists like Greta (Thunberg) have been calling for - all manner of possibilities instantly bloom.

"This should make us tremendously hopeful about our chances of winning a future that dares to solve multiple crises at once, that simultaneously confronts climate pollution, entrenched racial and gender hierarchies and widening economic inequality."

Klein, 50, was speaking to moderator Kamalini Ramdas at a virtual dialogue at the Singapore Writers Festival, which is organised by the National Arts Council and runs until Sunday (Nov 8) in its first fully digital edition.

The Canadian-American author has written game-changing books such as No Logo (1999), about branding and sweatshops; The Shock Doctrine (2007), about how disasters are exploited by those establishing controversial policies; and On Fire (2019), a call to action against the climate crisis.

"Having changed our lives to fight the virus, a great many people are hungry for more change," she said, citing the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of African-American George Floyd's death at the hands of the police.

"Having changed our lives to cut out all but the most essential driving and flying, many of us are in no rush to go back to all that rushing - a development with more climate benefits. Our cities are changing too. To facilitate social distancing, many have opened up dramatically more bike lanes and pedestrian roads."

She quoted Princeton University professor Eddie S. Glaude Jr on how the pandemic has increased solidarity. "It created a feeling of shared vulnerability and that created a context for solidarity and empathy."

This also has to do with the much slower speed of lockdown life, she added.

"In every sci-fi apocalyptic movie, there's the zombie moment when people suddenly come out of their homes to eat brains. It was literally the opposite. Everybody was locked down for two months.

"Then George Floyd was murdered. People saw it on their screens. They were operating at a speed that I think allowed more people to feel the excruciating violence, pain, racism and indifference captured in that video.

"This is not, sadly, something rare in America. What was rare was that more people felt it. Somehow the velocity of life had slowed down enough that it wasn't just one more thing flying by on people's feeds. People stopped, watched, felt, then left their homes - not to eat brains, but to stand up for black life."

She stressed, however, that it is change at the highest levels that most urgently needs to occur. "If our governments can pump trillions of new currency in to bail out markets, surely that money can be found to bail out the planet.

"Why can't they pay millions more to perform green jobs like planting trees, remediating polluted lands and building energy-efficient affordable housing? Why can't workers be paid to retool their skills to shift from high carbon sectors to zero carbon ones?"

Klein is a proponent of the Green New Deal, the proposed legislation by New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts that would wean the US off fossil fuels and build up its green energy industries.

She compared it to US president Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, a sweeping economic stimulus programme introduced during the 1930s after the Great Depression.

"It was opposed by many elites of its day, but it managed to overcome those barriers because it offered what so many people needed in the depths of the Great Depression - jobs, food, but also joy, in the form of publicly funded art and access to nature."

The future is up for grabs, she said, quoting science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson: "We are now stuck in a science fiction novel that we are writing together."

The key words, she said, are "writing together".

"No one knows how this ends, because we haven't written it yet."


  • WHERE Sistic Live (swf2020-live.sistic.com)

    WHEN Available on video-on-demand until Nov 18

    ADMISSION Festival pass, $20 from Sistic (call 6348 5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg). Passes are $12 after Nov 9

    Books by Klein and other speakers are available at the online festival bookstore at swfbooks.com. For more details, go to the website.

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