The April 8th presentation was recorded by CBC Ideas and aired on May 10th. Listen here.
In her first visit to Winnipeg since 1999, Naomi Klein, a Canadian author and activist, commanded her audience to take action against climate change.
Klein criticized the world’s response to global warming and the United Nations climate agreement made in Paris at the COP 21 summit in front of a sold out crowd of 1,100 people at Knox United Church. The event was put on by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Manitoba Office on April 8.
She said the Paris deal was both an ecological disaster and a political breakthrough.
“It’s the best our governments have been able to come up with so far,” Klein said. “It was a real feat of diplomacy to get the United States and China on the same page.”
In December 2015, those governments committed to holding the global average temperature increase to below 2 degrees celcius above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees celcius.
Klein, who was in Paris for the climate change conference, said countries affected by global warming fought to have “1.5” in the clause.
“It was coming from countries like the Philippines, that’s already being battered by super typhoons like Haiyan,” Klein said. “It was coming from countries in Africa that know if we allow warming to increase by 2 degrees Celsius, the upper level of the commitment, that that will translate to 3.5 degrees warming in southern Africa and large parts of the continent will become uninhabitable. They described 2 degrees warming as the death sentence for Africa.”
Klein also said countries, like Bolivia, that rely on glaciers for clean drinking water are seeing their glaciers disappear. Low-lying Pacific island states are also concerned as they believe 2 degrees warming means their countries will disappear below the water.
“The slogan for many of these low-lying island states was pretty clear: ‘1.5 to stay alive,’” Klein said.
“There are human beings behind those numbers. There are entire countries behind these numbers. Ancient cultures behind these numbers.”
But the countries, including Canada, that signed the Paris agreement aren’t bound to keeping that promise.
The U.N. doesn’t dictate what each country has to do to meet the target. Instead, it asked each country to come up with its own plan. But those plans together won’t keep the world on track to keeping warming below 2 degrees C. Those plans will only keep warming to 3 or 4 degrees, according to Klein.
“The targets that our governments brought to Paris are not legally binding,” Klein said. “If we break these intended commitments, there are no repercussions.”
And, if those intended commitments are broken, warming could reach 6 degrees celcius. Climate scientists say tar sands oil needs to stay in the ground to prevent green house gas emissions and climate change.
Klein said that’s why it’s up to Canadians to pressure the government to do better.
She said both the Alberta provincial government and the federal government okayed the expansion of the Alberta tar sands.
“There is no room for expansion of the Alberta tar sands if we are going to keep these promises that we made. I believe they are sacred promises and that is why I am highlighting it.
Klein is one of the board members for 350.org, a grassroots climate movement aiming to keep leaders accountable. Her talk was introduced by Clayton Thomas-Muller, a campaigner for the organization.
Muller unfolded a banner reading “leave it in the ground” over the podium and told the audience it has a responsibility to stand up for the climate and people affected by warming.
Everything is connected and as such, we need to get a lot more sophisticated about our social movements,” Thomas-Muller said.
“The way that we organize on issues such as stopping the Energy East pipeline from threatening the water of the City of Winnipeg. And not just doing it to protect our own backyard, but stopping that pipeline in the interest of standing in solidarity with Indigenous peoples in Alberta who are trying to stop the expansion of the Alberta tar sands. And not just doing it in solidarity with them, but also in solidarity with the people across the planet who are experiencing the direct impacts of our rapidly destabilizing climate. “
During a question and answer period following her presentation, Klein said Winnipeggers are doing fantastic climate justice organizing and that they need to keep working together for change.
“The government is going to be coming up with their climate strategy,” she said. “They’re going to be having town halls across the country, and people need to go to those town halls with their own plan. There has to be a vision that comes from below. And the only way that’s going to happen is if we get into rooms where there isn’t just somebody at the front making a speech but where you’re all talking to each other.”
Klein’s presentation included a call to action. She asked her audience members to consider signing The Leap Manifesto. In 2015, Klein, her partner Avi Lewis and a number of prominent Canadians wrote The Leap Manifesto, a document calling for the use of alternatives to fossil fuel energy and ending pipeline projects while upholding the rights of Indigenous people and their land and addressing income. If the current and/or future governments sign the manifesto, it could be a game-changer for Canada — it suggests our country could have a 100 per cent clean economy by 2050 through initiatives like electricity produced from renewable resources. To much criticism, including from Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley, the New Democratic Party of Canada adopted Leap as a statement of principles and has started a process of debating it in electoral districts across the country.
Milena Markovic is an environmental studies student at the University of Manitoba, which is how she became familiar with Klein and her work. She said it was exciting to see so many people share her passion.
“I was actually surprised to see that there are so many people in Winnipeg who are into this sort of thing,” Markovic said. “When you don’t come out to events like this, you don’t really know what’s going on in the city and you don’t really know what can be done.”
Markovic said it was great to see local climate justice organizations, like the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition and Solidarity Winnipeg, make an appearance, and that they, along with Klein, prompted her to take action.
“I’ve been inspired to join with some other organizations instead of just being an observer and attending events like this and learning,” she said. “It’s actually time to take action considering everything that’s going on with the Energy East pipeline. It’s time to have a more meaningful role so it’s something that I want to pursue.”
Scott Blyth drove to Winnipeg from Brandon for the event. Blyth is the chair of a new chapter of the Council of Canadians in Brandon. He says he’s very familiar with Klein’s work.
“We recently had a showing of her movie This Changes Everything in Brandon put on by the Council of Canadians,” he said. “Through the efforts of someone like her, there is truly a groundswell of potential for change that will hopefully save our world, save our planet, and that climate change won’t be the doomsday sort of message that we’re hearing.”
Blyth said he’s proud to be a Canadian knowing that Klein’s work is at the front of the movement.
“A big part of the problem is that we have a Canadian problem — the Alberta tar sands — and she’s not afraid to recognize the fact that we have to make this change. It’s based on science and we have to leap, but there’s going to be pain associated with that.”
Klein’s latest book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate is available in bookstores, libraries and at the CCPA-MB office. The documentary adaptation, directed by Avi Lewis, is currently screening around the world.
Bailey Hildebrand is a freelance journalist based in Winnipeg. You can find her work at baileyraedene.com.