naomi klein: what i learned

by isabella pojuner, 2nd year government and history at LSE

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I was having a really tough week when I remembered I’d bought a ticket to see Naomi Klein speak at Women of the World in London. Naomi Klein, the true idol of my life, didn’t inspire my environmentalism but certainly taught me I could pursue it academically, integrate the study of environmental policy and history into my study of standard history and political science. She showed me I could be a journalist, investigate the moral crimes committed against indigenous peoples, the public and environmentalists. Then she joined the online publication I respect most, The Intercept. She taught me that we are walking contradictions, but that the choices we make still matter. 

I am so lucky to have seen her talk, and I knew I wanted to share what I learned:

We’re at a stage of capitalism where we are all commodified. She expresses anguish: 20 years after her foundational book ‘No Logo’, society is progressing even further down this chain. To ‘have a brand’ might be a niche leftist Twitter trope, but us millennials and Gen Zs can follow it so easily: we’re living in a world where we are being trained to sell ourselves. We are expected to fix an idea of ourselves  online and repeat it endlessly. Then we must compete: and even similar social movements have to compete for a voice. This is the opposite of curiosity, and it’s frightening when our surrounding circumstances expect us to change.

So our need for perfectionism, especially at the personal and identity level, is at a peak. In this stage of civilisation, we have no respect for renewal systems: the supreme being our planetary system. For instance, we have a ‘Dig and Gig’ not ‘Care and Share’ economy. Then we are confronted with the fact that we are actively debilitating the planetary system’s ability to renew itself in a way that suits us, and all life on earth.

What’s the solution? Recognising the interconnection of everything: but also the destructive and constructive power of humanity; marrying this with the all-encompassing power of the natural world. We are subject to its forces. But the solutions to such an interconnected crisis are all connected. Solving the environmental crisis, or reducing its harms, is not separate from moving towards justice: in the economy, between races, sexes and many other identities. She says we have the Global South “because of racism, straight up.”

She tells us that what is needed is a “spiritual” revolution. We are in many political crises, but we are also in a narrative crisis. When we hit a recession, we lose momentum in the environmental movement. Several of these peaks and troughs exist. “Is it all going to be about Brexit or will there be five minutes to talk about climate change?” She hopes we will move to what she calls a “care economy”, where teachers can flourish in their existing role as natural leaders. Where we can make room for other forms of knowledge and pedagogical methods. Where schools, hospitals and post offices return to being vestibules of the community and the nation. 

She wants us to ask ourselves: “What is the good life?” In her view, indigenous knowledge needs to take us to the environmental solutions we need, because it carries centuries of knowledge: thus needs to be the centre of any ‘good life’. The good life, clearly, requires her proposed care economy. She talks about how the adaptability of humanity is one of its best attributes, and we should be studying it. But we must work on bringing a culture of ‘radical consent’. We must acknowledge that our actions can have serious consequences, but doing so requires adapting our culture to asking for consent: for our bodies, for the earth. The assertion of dominance has not worked: on an existential level. So we must have a conversation about how we live: in schools, in our homes, in international climate negotiations and in parliaments. 

This time, the main thing she’s taught me is how to move forward. How to speak unapologetically while acknowledge our words might well have flaws.