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We Talked to Naomi Klein About Canada’s Climate Record and Her Vatican Alliance

Not surprisingly, Klein doesn't have many nice words for Stephen Harper.

Naomi Klein. Photo via Flickr user Justine Warrington

Around 10,000 people—from Indigenous groups to labour unions—filled the streets of Toronto on Sunday for the first Jobs, Justice, and the Climate march, which activists are calling the most diverse climate mobilization in Canadian history.

Big names in the climate movement, including David Suzuki and Jane Fonda, showed up to lend support (although Fonda bolted right before the actual march began).


I sat down with Naomi Klein in Allan Gardens after the march to talk about why all these people came together now and her controversial new partnership with the Vatican.

VICE: What's the point of this march?
Klein: The overall message is that our politicians are not treating climate change like the emergency that it is. They are also not treating action on climate change like the opportunity that it is. Because if we take this crisis seriously, if we stop denying it, then we would be making huge investments in our energy economy, our transportation economy, that would create massive numbers of jobs. We could make sure they were well-paying jobs and we could make sure that the people who got those investments were the ones who needed it most. And that's why the framing of this march is jobs, justice, and climate action. Because we've been told we need to choose between these things, between jobs and the environment. And that's just not true. We can create jobs by responding to climate change in a way that our current economy is failing to do.

With all these groups here today, especially the labour unions, which aren't typically involved in these kinds of events, does this mean that the climate movement is changing?
Look, I think it is changing. And it's changing because we have an economic system that is failing us on so many fronts. You look at what's happening in Europe right now: a huge uprising against austerity and the endless squeezing of healthcare, education, salaries. That same logic is also squeezing the planet. So it's obvious that if we take climate change seriously, the logic of austerity has to go. We have to invest in the public sphere. One of the things you're seeing is that people who have been involved in protecting education, healthcare, working with the homeless, working on the frontline of agencies that depend on there being public funding for social services are realizing this is all part of the same fight. And we have to work together. The thing about climate change is it puts us on a deadline and it says we have to win, we have to win in the next five years.


The crowd at the March for Jobs, Justice, and the Climate. Photo courtesy

Pope Francis recently invited you to take part in a climate change conference at the Vatican. Why did you accept that invitation?
It's not that I didn't deliberate over the decision. Obviously I did deliberate because I disagree with the Catholic church on so many issues: reproductive rights, gay marriage, colonialism. I mean, it's a pretty long list. But I also think that what this Pope is doing is extraordinarily courageous within the Catholic church. His encyclical represents [what] I would have to believe [is] a power struggle that's taking place within the Vatican. And I certainly met people while I was there who were not at all pleased that the Pope has waded into these waters. There are very conservative elements in the Catholic church in Europe and North America that would really like him to stick to talking about abortion and gay marriage.

So, to me it seemed absolutely worth engaging, but also making it clear that this is an alliance, it's a strategic alliance, it's not a merger. It doesn't mean that we agree on everything by any means.

Was it difficult for you to reconcile your own views on feminism on women's rights with working with the Pope on climate change?
Not once I read his encyclical. I really do believe the encyclical is an extraordinary document. And the most extraordinary part of it is that it challenges the dominance-based worldview, this idea that we have the right to dominate all of nature. That God gave us nature in order for us to subjugate it. It explicitly challenges that, and the central theme of the encyclical is that we are in community and in relationships of interconnection with the natural world. That's something all Indigenous people believe, it's something most people in the world used to believe, but this strain of Christianity came to dominate that said the world is ours to use up. So I think if you're challenging that idea, in a sense you're challenging everything, because so much of the way we dominate people flows from that original sense of entitlement.


I went to the Vatican for the same reasons people are here today. Yes, we have disagreements on all kinds of things, but we agree on something really big, that this is an emergency and we need to treat it as such.

One Guardian writer, Giles Fraser, said Pope Francis is "a bit like Naomi Klein in a cassock (priest's robes)." What do you make of that comparison?
I mean, it's just silly. He was just being provocative, obviously. But the point he was making is that this Pope, on several different fronts, is challenging the logic of capitalism. Not just on climate change, he's been very strong taking on the financial institutions and the cult of money, as he calls it. I really do feel like this is unprecedented and utterly unexpected that such a powerful and conservative institution would be stepping up and leading in the way that it is. But I really don't think we have much in common, but we both see some big problems in capitalism, yeah.

What can Canadians do right now to combat climate change?
Well it depends on what level we're talking about. Federally, I think it's pretty important that we have a different government representing us in Paris at the United Nations conference in December. Our election is in October, and the Harper government has made it absolutely clear that it's not taking climate change seriously. So that's one thing Canadians can do, however they choose to do that. It's not the end of the story, but that's the baseline of what we need in order to get the justice-based transition in our society that this march is all about. If there is going to be a change in government, and it looks like there will be, it's really important for social movements to have a coherent vision, to push the government on what we want. We want to tackle poverty and inequality and climate change at the same time, we don't want those issues pitted against each other.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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