Author and climate activist speaks at Princeton University

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By Jimin Kang
Princeton University

Canadian journalist and author Naomi Klein, who also serves on the board of directors of the climate activist group 350.org, believes the U.S. Congress is more prepared to address climate change than it has ever been before.

“It’s the first time, that I can remember, where there has been this number of politicians … who are ready to talk about responses to the climate crisis, at the scale of the crisis, with the urgency that it demands,” she said on Dec. 12 to an audience of around 200 at Princeton University. “That hasn’t happened before.”

Klein, whose 2014 non-fiction book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate,” was invited to Princeton as part of the Art+Environment speaker series jointly organized by the Princeton Environmental Institute and the Princeton University Art Museum. The series has been curated to coincide with the “Nature’s Nation”exhibit on display until Jan. 6 at the museum, which explores the portrayal of the environment in American art.

In her talk, Klein referenced cases of climate-related action—and inaction—taking place not only in the United States but in countries all over the world. She argued that politicians could be more creative in their climate change policies.

“We talk so much about carbon tax, about cap and trade. These policies feel either completely outside people’s lives or are tangibly seen to increase their daily costs,” Klein said. “Something like public transit is not really taken up as a conversation.”

She gave the example of Paris, where the metro becomes free on days with high levels of smog. The practice, according to Klein, makes the air better “within a couple of days.”

Klein believes that under the current political system, environmental policies are only successful if economic policies are successful too—which means an economic downturn could undo progress made towards climate change. She referenced events of the mid-to-late 2000s, when the global financial crisis overshadowed significant climate milestones like the release of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” and the awarding of the Noble Peace Prize to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“We’ve been on this boom-bust cycle,” she said. “I think that there’s going to be another economic downturn. If we were to take the usual win-win kind of strategy, then I think we’ll be very, very vulnerable.”

By “win-win” strategy, she is referring to a model that requires the economy to thrive if the environment is to thrive as well.

Looking ahead, Klein believes that, as a potential grassroots solution to climate change, societies need to “valorize” low-carbon work—like the work that nurses or teachers do, she said, versus the work of fossil fuel companies—and “make it pay better.” She also argues that the “dying” fossil fuel sector should pay for the transition to clean energy.

“We need to talk about how to get the last remaining profits of that sector to pay for that transition,” she said. “We need to hugely increase royalties for fossil fuel extraction. We need to put climate justice in negotiations.”