Naomi Klein’s “Climate Change Is a People’s Shock (condensed)

This is an excerpt from Naomi Klein’s essay, originally published by The Nation


I’ve heard the story many times: “One day it was just me and my friends dreaming up impossible schemes; the next day the entire country seemed to be out in the plaza alongside us.” And the real surprise, for all involved, is that we are so much more than we have been told we are; that we long for more and—in that longing—have more company than we ever imagined.

No one knows when the next such effervescent moment will open, or whether it will be precipitated by an economic crisis, another natural disaster or some kind of political scandal. We do know that a warming world will, sadly, provide no shortage of potential sparks. Sivan Kartha, senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, puts it like this: “What’s politically realistic today may have very little to do with what’s politically realistic after another few Hurricane Katrinas and another few Superstorm Sandys and another few Typhoon Bophas hit us.” It’s true: the world tends to look a little different when the objects we have worked our whole lives to accumulate are suddenly floating down the street, smashed to pieces, turned to garbage.

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Meeting science-based targets will mean forcing some of the most profitable companies on the planet to forfeit trillions of dollars of future earnings by leaving the vast majority of proven fossil-fuel reserves in the ground. It will also require coming up with trillions more to pay for zero-carbon, disaster-ready societal transformations. And let’s take for granted that we want to do these radical things democratically and without a bloodbath, so violent vanguardist revolutions don’t have much to offer in the way of road maps.

The crucial question we are left with, then, is this: Has an economic shift of this kind ever happened before in history? We know it can happen during wartime, when presidents and prime ministers are the ones commanding the transformation from above. But has it ever been demanded from below, by regular people, when their leaders have wholly abdicated their responsibilities? The answer to that question is predictably complex, filled with “sort ofs” and “almosts”—but also at least one “yes.”

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We are are significantly less isolated than many of us were even a decade ago: the new structures built in the rubble of neoliberalism—everything from social media to worker co-ops to farmers’ markets to neighborhood sharing banks—have helped us to find community despite the fragmentation of postmodern life. Indeed, thanks in particular to social media, a great many of us are continually engaged in a cacophonous global conversation that, however maddening at times, is unprecedented in its reach and power.

Given these factors, there is little doubt that another crisis will see us in the streets and squares once again, taking us all by surprise. The real question is what progressive forces will make of that moment, the power and confidence with which it is seized. Because these moments when the impossible suddenly seems possible are excruciatingly precious and rare. That means more must be made of them. The next time one arises, it must be harnessed not only to denounce the world as it is and build fleeting pockets of liberated space; it must be the catalyst to actually build the world that will keep us all safe. The stakes are simply too high, and time too short, to settle for anything less.

Allison Beauregard

Allison is a New York City based writer with a focus on sustainability. Her work demonstrates how it is possible to have the “things” that make us happy without compromising the resources that provide these goods. With this vision, Allison sees a future where environmental degradation is reversed and the quality of human life is equally distributed. She is the Category Editor of The Franklin Report and was among the top 5 contributors for Elephant Journal in October 2014.

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