Reflections on Naomi Klein's "No is Not Enough"

Susan Goldman

“No Is Not Enough” is not a new theme for Naomi Klein. I remember vividly reading an article that quoted Naomi in the Nation magazine in October 2011 at the height of the Occupy movement. She stressed the need then for resistance to the economic system of corporate greed causing inequality, the 99% vs 1%, saying “no”, but also the need for creating alternative institutions on a local level as models for a larger vision of a system we want for a sustainable, just, democratic and more equal society, saying “yes”. Resistance and building alternatives, the two spiraling connected strands of DNA, the double helix, was how she described it. Being a nurse, that resonated with me.

In her latest book “No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics And Winning The World We Need”,  this theme of resisting and saying “NO” to a failing system yet also working on building an alternative system, is continued with more urgency than ever. In choosing what to focus on from her book, for this talk, I thought, wow, there are so many issues addressed in this book and they are all interconnected: poverty, racism, gender discrimination [which I guess is the new term for sexism], austerity, fascism, electoral politics. I need to focus on one topic so I chose climate change and protecting the environment and nature, what I believe are the most pressing concerns of our time. Part of the “yes” section in her book is “The Leap Manifesto, A call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another” where it’s stated that the “latest research shows it is feasible for Canada to get 100% of its electricity from renewable resources within two decades; by 2050 we could have a 100 percent clean economy”. Cliff will talk further about what’s in the the Leap Manifesto, but this is an action than would go far to reduce the effects of climate change as 100 fossil fuel companies emit 71% of carbon.

Before summarizing more of her writing on climate change and environmental issues I would like to highlight  Naomi Klein’s biography. She is a dual citizen of Canada & the US. She was able to write this book in a few months because she pulled material from her 3 previous books that are more relevant now than ever: “No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies” 1999,  “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”, 2007, and “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate”, 2014.

Naomi Klein’s books are deeply thoughtful and researched. Other than this book she usually takes at least seven years to finish a book. In her last book on climate change she attended climate change denial conferences and formed meaningful relationships with indigenous women fighting to protect their communities from extractivist industries. These women became sources of inspiration for Naomi. Klein chose Haymarket Books to publish “No Is Not Enough”, the Chicago-based independent nonprofit publisher when she could have chosen a large for profit publishing house.

Last year Naomi Klein won the Sydney, Australia Peace Prize and this was the reason given by the foundation for awarding her the prize : “Climate change is at the root of violence and suffering across the world, from wars over water to fires and floods that destroy livelihoods, displacing thousands. The economic system that has created this crisis has disadvantaged many and has damaged our planet beyond repair. If we want to achieve peace, we cannot ignore climate change. It is the greatest challenge of our time, and we must recognise that this is about justice and human rights, as much as it is about the environment. It requires a transition away from fossil fuels and predatory economics, to a system that cares for people and planet. Naomi Klein shows us how.”

Moving on to Trump. Trump is not a fluke or a mistake. We can focus all we want on Russiagate and impeaching Trump, but we are still left with an economic/political system that is only working for a few. When 8 people control over 50% of the world’s wealth, we have a problem. Trump and his administration  are symbols and symptoms of the worst of the US, of over 40 years of increasing inequality and the growth of a more predatory capitalism that deems citizens and the natural environment disposable. Climate change is accelerated as is environmental destruction in a current extraction frenzy of oil, coal, gas and minerals, the building of dams to provide cheap energy for mining, deforestation and the production and consumption of more and more stuff. Keep doing what you can on an individual level to protect the environment but our collective individual actions are a drop in the bucket and will not do much to affect climate change without keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

This predatory economic system, that many refer to as as “greed,” leaves communities contaminated and destroyed. From my own interest and research, I’m  astonished at the the large number of environmental activists, around the world, often from rural and indigenous communities and inner cities who are fighting the extractivist industries to protect their land, rivers, lakes, forests  and neighbors, their very livelihoods. These environmental activists, ordinary grassroots citizens, are courageous and fight these mega industrial projects at great personal risk. 2017 has already seen the murders of 4 environmental activists a week.

The reality of our world is filled with dystopian fiction come to life but a parallel world exists of millions around the world fighting for, thinking, writing, speaking about and creating a different, caring world, one that has 100% clean renewable energy, worker controlled businesses, democratic communities that promote the commons, where the public directs the well being of our lives, not private industry. This utopia is where our hope lives. Before moving on to talk about dystopian realities we face, I would like to read this brief and beautiful prose by Eduardo Galeano.  Naomi places this quote at the start of part IV “how things could get better”.

“She’s on the horizon...I go two steps, she moves two steps away. I walk ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps ahead. No matter how much I walk, I’ll never reach her. What good is utopia? That’s what: it’s good for walking.” Walking Words, 1995. I think I like this metaphor because I love to walk.

[Eduardo Galeano wrote Open veins of Latin America in 1971. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávezgave United States President a Spanish copy of Open Veins of Latin America as a gift at the 5th Summit of the Americas in 2009.]

Now that I’ve tried to soften the blow, I’ll present a couple of the more dystopian realities in the book.

We have many examples of those resisting, saying “No.” Unfortunately, the corporate world has strategies and money to discredit activists, idealists, realists, those resisting, and that corporate world is now in the highest levels of government and power. They have the ability to take advantage of whatever the crises or shocks are that surround us to continue the predatory capitalism that steals public goods, and privatizes them for the benefit of and profit for a few.  This theme is thoroughly discussed in Klein’s “Shock Doctrine”. One of the most horrifying examples of fossil fuel corporate takeover of the US government, that will set back getting off our addiction to oil, is the appointment of Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil, as Secretary of State. I Like how she refers to the administration as “very oily”.

I’ll read a couple of paragraphs about how Exxon knew about climate change back in the 70’s [read page 67]. The immorality of this, knowing what we are now facing with climate change, is beyond words.

The worst case scenarios of the effects of climate change are scary and dystopian and based on science, not science fiction, like the oceans rising, possibly wiping out coastal cities, the excessive amounts of carbon being released by the melting glaciers, rising global temperatures, droughts, wars over food and water, millions of climate refugees and the list goes on.  Since I don’t have time here to discuss the full scope of climate change disaster I’ll refer you to the best article I’ve read recently on worst case scenarios of climate change from a July 10th 2017 article by David Wallace-Wells, in New York Magazine. The title of the article is “The Uninhabitable Earth: Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.”

For Klein’s political take on the Trump administration’s response to climate change, I want to  read 3 paragraphs from her book, more dystopian fiction come to life. [p 180]

[It includes this passage: “Climate change is not a concern for the Republican Party because a great many people in positions of power clearly think it’ll be “somebody else’s babies” who will shoulder the risks, babies who don’t count as much as their own. They may not all be climate deniers, but almost every one of them is catastrophically unconcerned.”]

In her book, Klein writes of these horrors that confront us but also shares beautiful stories. One of my favorites is her experience going to Standing Rock in North Dakota where the DAPL resistance was taking place for many months. It moved her to see the thousands of people there, camped out in tents, including Veterans, supporting the work of the indigenous community, not trying to takeover but instead learning different ways of being from Native Americans, of living off the land, surviving in freezing temperatures. They called themselves water protectors, not protesters. They were peaceful in the face of harassment by company and local security forces. Now that the pipeline has been approved and the water protectors forced off the land, it’s discouraging and disheartening but as Klein writes:

“It does not erase the profound learning that took place during all those months on the land. The modeling of a form of resistance that, with one hand, said no to an imminent threat and, with the other, worked tirelessly to build the yes that is the world we want and need.”

My other favorite story is about her taking her 4-year-old son Toma to the Great Barrier Reef when she went to Australia to accept the peace prize. Klein’s dilemma as a parent is how much to talk to her son about the scariness of climate change. She decided to focus on the still living, beautiful parts of the reef, not the bleached and dead coral that is a result of warming temperatures. She went with her son and partner, Avi Lewis, snorkeling. Her 4 y/o saw vibrant colors of fish and coral and Nemo. It was pure bliss for him, she said. Naomi realized that her son needed to see the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef. To protect something, you have to fall in love with it first.

Klein is a great story teller and story telling is such an important way to affect change.

Before I close I want to mention a few local organizations that are working in the area of environmental protection that we all can support. El charco del Ingenio, the botanical gardens, is a strong voice in the community against development projects that pose risks to, especially, our waterways. Their mission statement includesto “maintain a botanical garden dedicated to the conservation and study of regional flora and ecosystems, with a primary focus on environmental education.” It’s a good place to walk and fall in love with nature. Caminos de Agua, another local organization, does water testing for flouride and arsenic in SMA communities and assists communities surrounding SMA with building rain harvesting cisterns. They have made ceramic filters to filter bacteria out of the water and are working on filters for arsenic and fluoride. CEDESA in Delores Hidalgo has been around for more than forty years helping campesinos live sustainable and healthy lives by teaching them how to build dry toilets, stoves that burn less wood, organic gardens, and use plants to clean grey water. These are among the many educational opportunities CEDESA provides.

These local organizations are saying “yes” to building a sustainable and just alternative.

The way Klein moves us through her book from what we face in real time to worst case scenarios to how things could get better encompasses the full reality we face. It is up to us where the future leads us. Will we create a kinder, caring world? Will there be enough of us? Is it too late?  To end her book, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate”, Naomi asks “History knocked on your door, did  you answer? That’s a good question for all of us.” She also likes to quote a saying from the French left: “save pessimism for better times.”  Thank You!!!