Has superstar author and environmental activist Naomi Klein ever had a bad year?
It’s hard to think of one since the publication of her first bestseller, No Logo, in 1999. Based in Toronto, she’s been a syndicated columnist, a filmmaker, a fellow of the London School of Economics and a contributing editor for Harper’s and Rolling Stone.
But for Klein, 2015 was a vintage year.
The award-winning author’s fall 2014 book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, was much lauded and discussed in the months that followed and was the basis for a 2015 documentary directed by her husband, Avi Lewis. The book sets out an equation of economic growth versus carbon emissions that can save or sink the planet.
And Klein’s co-authored Leap Manifesto, released in September, shows how Canada can reach a fully sustainable energy economy over 20 years. Here is Klein’s own view of the year that was:
How would you rate your year?
I’d say considering that I find book writing to be pretty close to misery, the best part was being done. Not having a massive deadline hanging over me was a beautiful thing. I’m not temperamentally a hermit, so the best was just being free to take on collaborative projects like the Leap Manifesto.
And what were the highlights of 2015 for you?
The day of the launch of the Leap Manifesto was the real highlight. It was such a broad, unexpected coalition coming together in a beautiful spirit of collaboration. That day was just wonderful. It was before Conrad Black lost his mind (writing in the National Post that “if it were ever enacted, the results would be national suicide”).
Then there was an invitation to headline the Vatican’s environmental conference.
The Vatican was a highlight, (especially) talking to church activists like Franciscans who had been on the outside for so long, as voices in the wilderness. I’m not religious, and if I were I wouldn’t be Catholic. But I still found it an amazing metaphor for the possibility of change.
And then you addressed the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development in Paris.
I thought I’d been invited to be fed to the lions. But I told them about the Vatican — that if the most tradition-bound, secretive, ancient institution can change this quickly, why can’t the OECD?
This Changes Everything was a massive venture. What made you write it?
It was a five-year process, most of it being research and writing notes. I first started writing before the Copenhagen (climate) summit of 2009. That was a low point of the climate movement. People were in despair after Copenhagen.
The surprise was that the past few years have seen such a resurgence, whether the (West Coast) kayaktivists taking on Shell on Arctic exploration and winning, the Keystone campaign winning or the divestment movement, (with) trillions of dollars, pledging not to invest in fossil fuels. When I began the book I was just hoping that a movement would emerge. In the final year it had. Now it’s incredible.
Is the Paris climate summit a culmination?
It’s not the only space in which we’re seeing climate action. It’s in the courts, at the municipal and provincial levels, the market, with divestment and the rise of renewables. But (UN climate chief) Christiana Figueres’s statement that “never has a responsibility so great been in the hands of so few” is an outmoded model. Paris is just one stop along the way.
Your book went head to head with capitalism. Is it a winnable war?
The ideology which has been triumphant since (Ronald) Reagan and (Margaret) Thatcher is completely incompatible with the level of action we need now. If it were just climate change activists taking on the whole project we’d be cooked — literally. But since the 2008 Wall Street collapse, that ideological project has been in crisis. It’s what (Nobel prize-winning economist) Paul Krugman calls a “zombie project.” It’s moving along, but it’s not animated.
You’ve accomplished an astonishing amount in the past couple of decades. At 45, then, no midlife crisis for you?
It’s hard to have a midlife crisis when you have a 3-year-old (her son, Toma). Being an old mom helps. And another highlight of my year is that my son is at an age when he enjoys travelling with us. He’s very social, and he’s really good at being in adult spaces. We find playgrounds in every city, and swimming pools.
What do you do for downtime at home?
We’re looking forward to finding out. I was on deadline for the book all of the summer of 2014, and Avi was on deadline the summer of 2015 for TIFF (with the film This Changes Everything). We’ll have a nice break for the holidays to play with Toma and read. And I’m totally obsessed with (the Danish political TV series) Borgen.