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We Are Seeing the Shock Doctrine in Effect After Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

Naomi Klein interviewed by Amy Goodman - Democracy Now!, September 18, 2017

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Increasing climate chaos has driven a number of celebrities to warn of the dangers of global warming. Tuesday night’s "Hand in Hand" hurricane relief telethon kicked off with a message from Stevie Wonder, who called out climate deniers ahead of a rendition of the classic song "Stand By Me."

STEVIE WONDER: As we should begin to love and value our planet, and anyone who believes that there is no such thing as global warming must be blind or unintelligent.

AMY GOODMAN: The music legend Beyoncé also called out the effects of climate change during the "Hand in Hand: A Benefit for Hurricane Relief" telethon.

BEYONCÉ: The effects of climate change are playing out around the world every day. Just this past week, we’ve seen devastation from the monsoon in India, an 8.1 earthquake in Mexico and multiple catastrophic hurricanes. Irma alone has left a trail of death and destruction from the Caribbean to Florida to Southern United States. We have to be prepared for what comes next. So, tonight, we come together in a collective effort to raise our voices, to help our communities, to lift our spirits and heal.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Beyoncé. And we’re spending the hour with Naomi Klein, author of the new book No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. The book just became a finalist for a National Book Award, or Naomi did. So you have Beyoncé, Naomi. You’ve got Stevie Wonder weighing in. But you have the networks, not—I’m not even talking about Fox—MSNBC and CNN hardly mentioning the word "climate change" when it comes to these horrific events, when they are spending 24 hours a day on these—this climate chaos. One of your latest pieces, "Season of Smoke: In a Summer of Wildfires and Hurricanes, My Son Asks 'Why Is Everything Going Wrong?'" well, CNN and and MSNBC aren’t letting him know. But what about not only what President Trump is saying, but this lack of coverage of this issue, and also the lack of coverage of the connections between this terrible—these hurricanes, past and the coming ones, with the fires, the storms, the droughts, and what’s happening in the rest of the world, which make the number of deaths in this country pale by comparison—1,300 in South Asia now from floods?

NAOMI KLEIN: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, and Nigeria. And I think this really is the moment to explain the connections between these events, because what climate scientists have been warning us about for decades is that a warmer world is an extreme world. It’s a world of extremes that is sort of ricocheting between too much and not enough, right? Too much precipitation, these extreme precipitation events, not just rain, but also snow—you know, if you remember these bizarre storms in Boston, where you’ll have these winters with very little snow, but then you’ll have these massive snow dumps—and then not enough, not enough water, and those conditions creating the perfect conditions for wildfires to burn out of control, right? But fire is a normal part of the forest cycle, but what we are seeing is above and beyond that, which is why we’re seeing record-breaking fires, largest fire ever recorded within the limits of the city of Los Angeles, for instance, a plume of smoke that a couple of weeks ago reached from the Pacific to the Atlantic, the entire continent covered in this plume of smoke, which didn’t receive that much coverage, because it happened as Irma was bearing down on Florida.

So, this is the extreme world—we’re catching a glimpse of it—that we’ve been warned about. And we hear this phrase, "the new normal." And it’s a little bit misleading, because I don’t think there is a normal. You know, it’s precisely the unpredictability that we have to understand. And I think what a warmer world means is that there are, you know, fewer and fewer breaks between the extreme events.

AMY GOODMAN: So you have the Houston mayor, Sylvester Turner, announcing that he’s appointed the former Shell Oil Company chairman and president, Marvin Odum, to the new position of chief recovery officer for Houston. Turner said in a statement, "With all the resources we have in Houston for ingenuity, problem-solving and public-private partnership, it’s a natural step for me to reach outside City Hall to a business leader eager to assist us with our recovery from unprecedented flooding. ... Marvin E. Odum is the right person for the job, in light all of his accomplishments in dealing through the energy industry with governments far and wide; with business adversity such as the huge hit that Hurricane Katrina put on the oil and gas sector." So, this goes to your book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. When a disaster strikes, how is it dealt with, and what is it used as an opportunity for?

NAOMI KLEIN: Right. I mean, look, we need to respond to crises like this. They’re messages. They’re messages telling us that something is broken with the system. You know, these are not just natural disasters. These are disasters that have become unnatural, that have become unnaturally catastrophic, because of the impacts of climate change, but also because of the impacts of deregulation, because of inequality, of racial injustice.

And the oil industry is at the dead center of this. If we look at the way in which a storm turns from a disaster to a catastrophe, like Harvey, we see the impacts locally with the intersection of the floodwaters, with a deregulated oil and gas industry and petrochemical industry creating this toxic soup, as you’ve reported on extensively, Amy, right? And then you also have just the strength of the storm being stronger because of the global impacts of this industry and other industries, as well. So, the oil and gas industry is intensifying the impacts of the storm locally, on the—because of what the industry is doing in a city like Houston, and then globally, because of the cumulative impacts of burning all of those fossil fuels.

And then, who is in charge of the reconstruction but a former president of Shell Oil, one of the oil majors that we now know—we can trace—you know, we know how much of global emissions, more or less, come from that handful of fossil fuel majors. They should be in the dock, and not in charge. And here, I’m talking about Exxon and Shell and BP, and the core company, and, of course, the coal industry, that have so intensified this disaster. So it really is a world upside down, where the people most responsible, who should, at the very least, be paying the bill for this disaster, instead are calling the shots and planning how the public’s money, which is really needed, should—in a sane world, it would be going towards paying for a transition to 100 percent renewable energy as quickly as technology allows, which is, in fact, very, very quickly, to be designed in a fair way, in a just way, which would mean that the people who have gotten the worst deal, whose communities have been poisoned by this industry, who have borne the toxic burden, would be first in line to own and control their own renewable energy, to get the jobs, you know, making sure that the workers who lose their job in this industry are retrained and ready to work in the clean energy economy. Well, do we really think that Shell is going to shepherd a process like that? Of course not. So we need a huge amount of pushback in this moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Some have suggested the hurricane should be named after these companies.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, I like that idea. Or we could just call them "Rex."

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Bryan Parras. He took us on a "toxic tour" of Houston just after Hurricane Harvey devastated us, a toxic tour led by a person who works for the Sierra Club and works in what they call the fenceline communities—not front-line, but they share the fences with, oh, like in Baytown, with companies like ExxonMobil. This is the environmental justice organizer Bryan Parras.

BRYAN PARRAS: We’re on our way to Baytown. Baytown is home to Exxon, you know, a very, very old plant. It’s the second-largest refinery Exxon has. And it was inundated with water during the storm. It may still be. I haven’t been there yet. But they had some massive flares that were documented by USA Today, and burning these chemicals that we were just talking about, you know, during their shutdown process.

AMY GOODMAN: And did the EPA give them waivers to burn all this out or all these companies to release toxins?

BRYAN PARRAS: Yeah. So, normally, in a regular situation, you know, they would be limited in how long they could flare. In this case, the EPA gave them a waiver so that there were no penalties for exceeding those time limits.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re looking at a sign that says "Kinder Morgan. Warning! Gas pipeline crossing."

BRYAN PARRAS: And just, you know, 20 feet behind it is someone’s home. You know, someone lives right here.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Bryan Parras of Sierra Club and t.e.j.a.s., an environmental group, taking us through Texas, a "toxic tour" of Houston and the Houston Ship Channel. And this is as Hurricane Irma was gaining steam and just about to pummel the Caribbean before heading to Florida. Donald Trump used Hurricane Irma as an excuse to push for tax cuts to the rich. This is Donald Trump speaking last week in the midst of these hurricanes.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: To create prosperity at home, we’ll be discussing our plan for dramatic tax cuts and tax reform. And I think now, with what’s happened with the hurricane, I’m going to ask for a speed-up.

AMY GOODMAN: "A speed-up" on tax cuts. Naomi Klein?

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, and he’s reiterated this since then. But what’s remarkable about that moment was that Irma had not even made landfall yet. You know, I have, over the years, documented some pretty egregious cases of political leaders responding in the immediate aftermath of some kind of catastrophe, some kind of major shock, and pushing through a pro-corporate agenda that actually makes the problem worse, that caused the crisis. The classic example of this is Katrina, where in the immediate aftermath of this catastrophe created by the collision of heavy weather, of the kind we are seeing more of on a warmer planet, slamming into a weak and neglected public sphere, that can’t manage an evacuation, that abandoned people in New Orleans for five days on their rooftops, in the Superdome. And then the response is, "Well, let’s get rid of the public sphere altogether," right? So, what I documented around Katrina was a period of people taking a few days before they said, "Well, let’s demolish the public housing. You know, let’s not reopen the schools"—maybe 10 days, maybe two weeks, Amy. But Trump, surely, beat that record by calling for—by using a hurricane that had yet to make landfall in the continental United States to say, "Well, this is why we need to speed up my tax cuts." I think Bill McKibben put it well. He said, you know, "In a sane world, you would be calling for carbon cuts, not tax cuts."

But it’s really—it’s, once again, a world upside down, right? In a moment like this, where governments are about to be handed a multibillion-dollar cleanup bill and reconstruction bill, and have already been handed that because of Harvey, surely you need more money, you know, from corporations. And let’s remember that his tax plan would give the biggest tax cut to corporations that they have had in many decades. He wants to—we’ll see what ends up happening through the negotiations, but his original goal was to cut corporate taxes down to 15 percent, right? So he’s bankrupting the government. How do you pay for the impacts of climate change? So it’s exactly the wrong approach.

But, you know, what I argued in the piece you mentioned earlier is that it was really revealing, not just around the shock doctrine, but why the crisis of climate change is such a profound threat to the ideological right, to the people who have been advancing this radical vision of the world that Joseph Stiglitz has called market fundamentalism, which has at its centerpiece privatization, deregulation, tax cuts, offset through massive cuts to social spending, all of it locked in through these corporate-friendly trade deals and alongside, accompanied by mass incarceration and a fencing-in of people who are disposed of by this economic model, right? That’s the neoliberal agenda. And it clashes fundamentally with what we need to do in the face of the climate crisis, because of course you need to tax corporations and the wealthy to pay for a pretty heavy bill that we are getting, and we’re catching a glimpse of this. Of course you need to regulate corporations so that they don’t keep polluting and making the problem worse.

So, the reason why people like Trump deny climate change is not because they have found flaws in the science. It’s because if the science is true—and it is true—then their entire ideological project, which is an extremely profitable project, as we know, for the wealthy, falls to pieces, because we need to regulate. We need to tax the rich. You know, we need to build the public sphere. More importantly, we need to transform it to change where we get our energy, how we move ourselves around. We need to reinvent our cities. And there is no way that that political-economic project survives real climate action. That’s why they deny climate change. Let’s not worry about what they actually think about the science. It’s not about the science. It’s about the consequences, the political and economic consequences, of the science.

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