When it comes to climate change, women are bearing the brunt of the crisis — from floods, to droughts, to food shortages. Women are disproportionately impoverished and make up practically all unpaid care work — in other words, when climate disasters strike, disadvantaged women have no mobility and no economic resources to evacuate affected areas or recover lost property.
Naomi Klein is one of the world’s leading journalists on global economics, capitalism and climate. Recently named the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Klein is the author of six books which revolve centrally around pervasive issues of global inequality and the climate crisis.
Born in 1970 to a family of activists and artists, Klein’s parents moved to Canada from the United States in protest of the Vietnam War. As a young adult, Klein began studying literature and philosophy at the University of Toronto, but she left her studies to work at the Toronto newspaper the Globe and Mail.
Klein started writing editorials and long form journalism, and then moved into lengthier works as she gained recognition as a writer, activist and social critic.
Klein’s first book-length work was an international success. No Logo (2000) focused on the proliferation of global capitalism and the control of consumers by big brands. No Logo set the stage for her widely recognized work This Changes Everything (2014) which examines the way globalism and capitalism contribute ubiquitously and relentlessly to the climate crisis.
This Changes Everything makes insightful commentary on climate change denial, and the ability for those with privilege (of class, race or gender, among other things) to deny imminent climate destruction when the markets that uphold the crisis are to their direct benefit. She describes this privileged anti-climate rhetoric as mostly male: “The bottom line is that we are all inclined to denial when the truth is too costly—whether emotionally, intellectually, or financially. As Upton Sinclair famously observed: ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!’” (This Changes Everything).
Klein explains how the global community has been stagnant in efforts to reduce global warming: “We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe—and would benefit the vast majority—are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets” (This Changes Everything).
In a recent talk at the Southbank Centre in London, Klein described the way feminism and climate activism are mutually essential. The dominant ideology of “independence” and “productivity” is at the centre of a capitalist economy, valuing increased profits and lower costs as the meaning of “success.” Traditionally male-dominated global markets work within this culture of exclusion and radical independence to assert an individual vision of success, ignoring the often lesser paid, unrecognized people who helped them build that vision — people who are often women.
Both causes — feminism and environmentalism — require a closer look at consent, Klein explains. For example, large oil and gas companies should be mandated to obtain consent if they intend to alter natural landscapes or ecosystems for profit. Klein asks, “is it really ‘consent,’ when indigenous populations are ‘asked’ to sell their land when they are struggling for money and food due to the system which devalues them? Complying under duress is not ‘consent’ (Southbank Centre, March 8, 2019).
The ideology of power and control upholds gender-based violence and violence against our natural environment, which often go hand in hand. To make radical change, corporations as well as individuals need to consider needs outside their own. Klein makes it clear that the concept of radical consent is not that radical at all — but actually a very simple way to think about respect, community building and upholding basic human rights.
Klein’s work is theoretically astounding, but she also focuses on actionable change. After This Changes Everything in 2014, Klein contributed to Canada’s Leap Manifesto, a rapid and ethical plan for transitioning the national economy off fossil fuels. This plan has been endorsed internationally and used as a model for climate activists around the world. Klein’s latest book, On Fire: The Case for a Green New Deal, comes out in September.
By Katie Clarke, WAVE Intern.
“About Naomi Klein.” NaomiKlein.org.
Dobson, Kit. “Naomi Klein.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, May 4, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Klein-Naomi
Halton, Mary. “Climate change ‘impacts women more than men.’” BBC News, March 8, 2018. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-43294221
Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything. Simon & Schuster, 2014.
Smith, Elizabeth. “A Conversation With Naomi Klein.” The Beautiful Truth, March 19, 2019. https://thebeautifultruth.org.uk/purpose/conversation-naomi-klein/
“Why the majority of the world’s poor are women.” Oxfam International, 2019. https://www.oxfam.org/en/even-it/why-majority-worlds-poor-are-women