Naomi Klein challenges Alberta to lead

Naomi Klein - Content
Naomi Klein spoke to a receptive crowd of about 550 people at Mount Royal on March 10. ~Photo by Kourosh Keshiri

Current economic difficulties provide an excellent opportunityWriter, environmental activist, documentary filmmaker and top influential thinker Naomi Klein visited Mount Royal University on March 10 to deliver a lecture entitled "Crisis and Opportunity", which specifically pointed towards the singular challenges and opportunities that Alberta is facing right now. Sponsored through the Institute for Environmental Sustainability (IES), the event sold out in a week, and boasted an attendance of more than 550 people.

Klein recognized the recent collapse in oil prices and the economic shock as a result. As stated in her book The Shock Doctrine, she warned that historically these sort of declines tend to translate into severe budget crises that tend to lead to attacks on social safety nets, hurting the vulnerable most of all.

"Moments of shock have been systematically used by governments and corporations to push through policies that are extremely unpopular under of crisis to erode civil liberties, to private public services, to do what is sometimes called 'shock therapy,'" she says.

This happens with wars, economic emergencies and natural disasters, and she cites Hurricane Katrina as a definitive example. She was there to witness the failure of the levees, which many had warned for decades needed improvements. She also saw the lack of ability to provide timely assistance to the public sphere, and an observed an overall impact segregated by race. Afterwards, public housing was mowed down for affluent neighbourhoods to be built. Charitable hospitals closed. And New Orleans is now essentially a privatized city.

"The people were abandoned and the victims were vilified. What Katrina taught me is that climate change is not just about things getting hotter and wetter. It's about things getting meaner and uglier…unless something changes."

"This script can be reversed," she says.

Throughout the lecture Klein reiterated many times the unique opportunity that Alberta has at this point in time. She says it is the responsibility of the public to never offer blanket support to a government, no matter how much you may agree with its policies.

"Alberta has the best chance at this time to set an example for the world. To lead," she says.

Reversing the shockThe opportunity for Alberta to set a global example presently is incredible, Klein says. She encouraged the public to, "Push to be more ambitious, more visionary, especially in this province, that has incredible potential, perhaps the best in North America for what renewable energy could be. The sudden collapse or drop in the economy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something better in its place. To come to a commonality grounded in the protection of life, the environment and in care for one another."

Connie Van der Byl, director of Mount Royal's Institute for Environmental Sustainability, agrees, saying, "We are at an interesting nexus in environmental sustainability. Concerns about environmental impact have been increasing and intensifying in recent years. At the same time we see oil and gas prices toppling to new lows. Both of these economic and environmental factors are causing a shift here in Calgary."

According to Klein, there is no doubt in her mind that the earth is warming, in fact, global temperatures have already risen 1 degree Celsius worldwide. This may seem minor or insignificant, but Klein cites melting glaciers and drought famines as an examples of the effect. She would like to see a global commitment to keep temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees, in fact anything more than that will put all low-level countries under water, she says.

Mike Quinn, PhD and Mount Royal's associate vice-president of of Research, Scholarship and Community Engagement, was instrumental in bringing Klein to campus.

"No matter your politics, Naomi Klein makes you think," says Quinn.

"She is one of the most influential commentators on the critical issues of our times. Her fourth and most recent book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, challenges the dominance of our current political and economic structures. She builds a compelling case for radical reform needed to address climate change. The IES thought inviting her to Calgary, the heart of the Canadian petroleum economy, was a great way to generate more dialogue. All indicators point towards a need to transition to a lower carbon future for social, economic and environmental sustainability. Her ideas contribute immensely to charting that new course," he says.

The audience and Mount Royal students all benefit from hearing diverse opinions on issues of environmental sustainability, says Van der Byl.

"Naomi Klein is an accomplished and well-known writer in the field. Her views on the environment may be controversial to some but the great advantage of universities is in encouraging dialogue. I hope that Naomi's talk has been the catalyst for conversation and has challenged some ways of thinking. I also hope our students consider her views critically and as part of a larger body of work as they develop their own opinions on complex environmental sustainability issues," she says.

Not a life-long environmentalist, Klein's work has focused on a range of issues, including social justice, economic justice, human rights, anti-racism and feminism. Some of her literary works include No Logo, The Shock Doctrine and the award-winning This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. She also wrote a documentary film about Argentina's occupied factories entitled The Take, and was named as a 2014 Thought Leader (Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute), a 2014 world thinker by Prospect magazine, and was on Maclean's 2014 Power List. Currently her energies are going into the The Leap: System Change on a Deadline, an organization that is working to change economic and political systems as a global community.

One Hour No Power: Campus Challenge 2016 - Saturday, March 19

The Institute for Environmental Sustainability invites the campus community to take part in the annual Earth Hour event organized by the World Wildlife Fund in the global fight against climate change. Mount Royal is joining the One Hour No Power: Campus Challenge 2016. In this challenge, post-secondary institutions volunteer to participate and invite their members to pledge to go without electricity for one hour on Saturday, March 19 at 8:30 p.m. Last year, over 3,500 students, staff and faculty members from thirteen post-secondary institutions across Alberta participated, turning off lights and non-essential electric appliances for 60 minutes. This year, Mount Royal is participating alongside 13 other schools; so we invite all members of the MRU community to visit to pledge their participation and help MRU reach #1 with highest participation rates per capita. If you don't have a valid email address, you can still take part in Earth Hour by going without electricity on March 19th.

March 11, 2016 - Michelle Bodnar