Here’s a great speech by Naomi Klein to the new big Canadian union UNIFOR where she shows how climate justice means the opposite of austerity.
Klein starts by saying that at the time she wrote her excellent book The Shock Doctrine, she believed understanding how the system works would allow us to change it.
She now believes that’s not enough. Why? For a generation which has only known "deregulation, privatisation and cutbacks" we need to learn how to do more than ‘reject their story’ – we need our own story. And at the centre of this story, is climate justice.
The mainstream story of 'economic success' runs:
"Dig lots of holes, lay lots of pipe. Stick the stuff from the pipes onto ships – or trucks, or railway cars – and take it to places where it will be refined and burned. Repeat, but more and faster…. It’s an approach to the world based on taking and taking without giving back. Taking as if there are no limits to what can be taken– no limits to what workers’ bodies can take, no limits to what a functioning society can take, no limits to what the planet can take."
Workers are treated exactly the same way as fossil fuels– things to be used up to extract profits.
So what could an alternative story look like? We’re used to hearing that we must ‘cut our emissions’. Yes it’s vitally necessary, but it also sounds like an environmental austerity programme – somewhat unappealing. But Klein says the centre of a ‘genuine climate action plan’ is actually something economic justice activists can really relate to: a revived, reinvented, democratic and accountable public sphere. We need:
"subways, streetcars and clean-rail systems that are not only everywhere but affordable to everyone… energy-efficient affordable housing along those transit lines. We need smart electrical grids carrying renewable energy. We need garbage collection that has, as its goal, the elimination of garbage."
And it’s not just technicians that will build this low-carbon world. It needs "the care-givers, educators, sanitation workers, and other service sector workers". These are low-carbon workers.
Decent jobs, collective action, democracy. 'Energy democracy'. Sounds familar. And what else sounds familiar is how we get there – ripping up free trade deals which prevent governments across the world enacting these policies. Levying hefty taxes on those that have created the mess.
"It’s not a threat to your jobs, it's the key to liberation from a logic that is already waging a war on the entire concept of dignified work."