Illustration by Aimée van Drimmelen
In your book The Shock Doctrine, you explored how world leaders take advantage of crises to introduce exploitative policies. Now you’re looking at climate change-and saying that the only solution is to abandon capitalism. What led you here?
In 2009, I noticed that movements I’d been a part of-ones dealing with anti-colonialism, land reform, opposition to corporate free trade agreements-were starting to understand that
climate change was the argument to end all arguments. If an economic model is waging war against life on Earth, then we have to change it. It’s hard, but you can change the laws of economics. You can’t change the laws of nature.
It’s a good time to release This Changes Everything, given that we’re still recovering from the polar vortex. How are you able to so deftly anticipate the zeitgeist?
I take movements more seriously than most journalists. When I wrote No Logo, it was about having faith that the pockets of resistance ignored by the mainstream press were going somewhere. Movements build, and then they burst onto the scene. They only come as a surprise if you’ve been ignoring them. The other key is missing deadlines. If you wait long enough, you’ll hit that sweet spot.
According to you, finding effective language is one of the big challenges in mobilizing people around climate change.
Climate-change scientists are amazing. They deserve so much credit for sounding the alarm and have taken so much abuse from the denial movement. But, with a few exceptions, mass communication is not their thing. This discussion about the fate of the Earth is treated as though you need a PhD in atmospheric science to have an opinion. I’m not a scientist. I’ve educated myself, and so must we all. It’s hard to know how to take action when the future seems so dire. We’ve told ourselves versions of the post-apocalyptic narrative-of a few people getting saved and everyone else getting screwed-so many times that we don’t think we’re capable of another kind of future. And yet, in the past, we have come together in crisis. The world wars, the Great Depression. I saw it in Argentina after the economic crisis, when the country came together and remade its democracy. But we don’t tell ourselves those stories.
What stories should we be telling?
Grassroots movements have had tremendous success against fracking. There are moratoriums in Quebec, France, New York state. There’s grassroots resistance against coal exports happening all along the Pacific Northwest. In Canada, the resistance to pipelines in various parts of the country has helped non-indigenous Canadians understand the value of indigenous rights. Currently, 25 per cent of Germany’s energy is coming from decentralized renewable energy systems. It took me five years to write this book, and all these victories happened in that time. I can’t help but feel hopeful, because I’m racing to keep up. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate is available in stores and online now.