An Interview with Naomi Klein

This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Thank you so much Naomi Klein for joining us virtually tonight at the Wilson Institute for Canadian History. I should acknowledge the generous support we’ve received from the Future of Canada Project, which has funded our Syndemic Series, and McMaster’s Faculty of Humanities, which sustains our Institute….

Since No Logo in 1999, Naomi Klein has been a must-read for everybody interested in how our planet and its peoples have been transformed by neoliberal capitalism. The Shock Doctrine (2007) focused on how, in conditions of socioeconomic turmoil, elites are able to implement far-reaching plans that seem to be responses to crisis but in fact work to secure their own narrow interests. This Changes Everything: Capitalism Versus the Climate (2014) picked up this theme, emphasizing how a neoliberal order was in effect “now at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life.” (This is a theme echoed fairly directly, I have to say, by Pope Francis in his most recent encyclical, [Laudato Si]).  No Is Not Enough: Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need (2017) emphasizes the need for progressives both to break free from the forces that lock them into the reigning economic paradigm, but also to enunciate a positive vision of the world we might create.

Naomi has recently brought out a book aimed at a younger audience, How to Change Everything: The Young Human’s Guide to Protecting the Planet And Each Other (2021). On Fire: The Burning Case for A Green New Deal (2020), her seventh major book, focuses closely on climate change as a “civilizational crisis” – one that calls into question humankind’s commitment to growth-at-any-price. My questions tonight will focus a lot on that title and on Naomi’s recent pandemic journalism.  The warmest of welcomes, Naomi Klein.

NAOMI KLEIN: Thank you so much, Ian. I’m thrilled to be with you and welcome everyone, wherever you are. I’m speaking to you from unceded shíshálh territory in British Columbia, also known as Half Moon Bay on the Sunshine Coast.

MCKAY: As I prepped for this interview, I reread many of my voluminous notes on your work and was struck by both the continuities and changes within it. To what extent, your conservative critics ask, is your entire movement simply a “green Trojan Horse” whose belly is full of “red Marxist socioeconomic doctrine”?  “Green is the new red,” complains one of Margaret Thatcher’s closest collaborators [Nigel Lawson]. Do these critics have a point? Would it be accurate to discern in your work a growing emphasis on critiquing capitalism as an economic system? Can you offer us your own description of your intellectual journey from No Logo to How to Change Everything?

KLEIN: Well, I can try. I definitely see continuities between my books, in the sense that I try to follow my research where it leads me. Each book ends [with] me at a certain place and then it becomes a little bit unsatisfying. I end up trying to resolve the contradictions of the last book [in the next one].

I think you can see that most clearly in the relationship between The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything, in the sense that The Shock Doctrine is about a right-wing strategy of exploiting states of shock as an anti-democratic tool…. When I released The Shock Doctrine in 2007, we had a little film that went with it… The slogan of that film was: “Information is shock resistance, arm yourselves.”

I think I had this sort of arrogant idea that if we understood … that these very unpopular policies get smuggled in under cover of crisis – then just knowing that would be armour against this cynical tactic. As I said, that was 2007. In 2008, the financial crisis happened. A lot of people understood that that crisis was being exploited in order to further enrich elites and to push through privatization and deregulation. The slogan on the streets of Europe was, “We will not pay for your crisis.” But – they did pay for the crisis of the bankers.

I think puzzling through why that was … is what made me start thinking about – well, as the title of another of my books [says], No is Not Enough.  It’s not enough just to say no to their bad ideas. We need our own crisis strategies. We need our own solutions to crisis. So that’s what set me off on the journey to write This Changes Everything.  

…We need solutions on the scale of the crises. And that is what I think a Green New Deal is. That is what I think a systemic response to the climate crisis is. And so that’s the argument I made in This Changes Everything.

I think [there’s] another way of seeing the ways in which my ideas progressed. The first few books that I wrote were really critiques of neoliberal capitalism. No Logo was. And The Shock Doctrine was an alternative history of how we ended up with neoliberalism around the world – this extreme form of capitalism. It’s gone by many names, and I make an argument [that]… shocks and crises played a role in advancing the neoliberal revolution.

When I set off to write This Changes Everything, I thought that it was also going to be a book about neoliberalism and capitalism, but as you quoted in your very kind introduction, Ian, the book doesn’t only talk about the neoliberal stage of capitalism and how it is at war with life on earth. It talks about the growth imperative at the heart of capitalism, neoliberal or Keynesian (although Keynes argued for a steady state). In following my research, it  became clear to me that this was not just a clash [about] neoliberalism but the growth imperative itself.

Another aspect is that in state-centralized “socialisms” – socialism in quotes, because I think there’s definitely a strong argument to be had about whether or not there really was socialism in the Soviet Union – [we also find] a war with life on earth and I think that that’s important to acknowledge as well…

MCKAY: What would you say to the “Trojan Horse” charge?

KLEIN: That we’re green on the outside and red on the inside? We’re all red on the inside!

What I would say… is that the research that I did that led to the writing of No Logo was about the ways in which capitalism sacrifices both workers and ecologies to pursue short-term growth. A few of its examples were the sweatshops producing our disposable consumer goods, but also the Niger Delta and what Shell had done there. It wasn’t a book that was engaging with climate change specifically, but it was engaging with localized ecological “sacrifice zones.”

The argument at the time that you would hear from boosters of neoliberalism in the 90s was: “Okay, yes, these places are being polluted and these people are working under terrible conditions, but eventually it’s going to lead to so much growth and so much prosperity that the benefits are just going to trickle down… and benefit everybody. A rising tide will lift all boats.” In fact, what has happened is that the sacrifice zones of the capitalist project have expanded from those localized impacts on [those] places… to the planet itself.

I’m not trying to hide anything. I really have a critique of capitalism that extends from the local to the global.  [Think of that quote from] Thatcher’s former chancellor, Nigel Lawson. It’s not coincidental that it comes from the man who shepherded in [the idea] that  “there is no alternative to privatization and deregulation.”  He is the one who has an ideology that is …incapable of squaring with the reality of what is happening with our planet.  He has become one of the major climate change deniers in the world… You can’t believe in privatization and deregulation and growth at all costs, and also acknowledge what is happening with our planet’s life-support systems.

MCKAY: Along with Andreas Malm, who was an earlier guest on Syndemic, you enunciate what you call an “inconvenient truth” – i.e., there is no time for gradualism. As you write, “when you have gone off as badly off course as we have, moderate actions don’t lead to moderate outcomes, they lead to dangerously radical ones.” Do you agree with Malm that, as COP26 seemingly illustrated in late 2021, the many international conferences [on climate change] have essentially failed, and now humanity requires a much more militant environmental movement? Or, as you put it so brilliantly in This Changes Everything, “the only thing rising faster than our emissions is the output of words pledging to lower them?” How, in the 2020s, do we build opposition movements able to do more than “burn bright and burn out,” in your words? Can the momentum of 2019 be regained?

KLEIN: …I agree with Andreas, in the sense that I was reading some of the reports after COP26, the conference of the parties (the parties to the UN climate convention.) And everybody acknowledged that it was completely inadequate. But you saw … headlines [saying], “It Was a Good Start.” If you find yourself saying that something is a “good start,” and that something is called “COP26” – as in, it has happened 26 years in a row – there’s something badly amiss, right? We’re not at the starting point. We are 26 COPs in. We’re still patting ourselves on the back for our tiny, little gains, even as the impacts are no longer off in the distance but are banging down the doors.

I’m speaking to you from BC, and it’s just hard to describe to folks who are not on the West Coast what we’ve lived through in these past months.  We are not [located in] the most vulnerable climate geography – certainly Pacific islands, …the Arctic,…parts of Africa are more [affected] – but when it comes to North America, we’ve been living with these staccato climate events,  from the heat dome in June (the deadliest weather event in Canadian history: 600 people died in a week; the estimates are now that 10 billion marine creatures also died…these were mussels, clams, and barnacles, and this is the food of the seabirds)….Then comes the “atmospheric river.”  We’re learning all these new words – “pineapple express” and “heat dome,” and it’s just been extraordinary.

…We don’t need a “good start.” We need transformative action… There’s no doubt that our movements have failed to produce it. It’s not just the COPs that have failed. We’ve all failed.

Now, I don’t know that I agree with Andreas that what the missing piece is, is sabotage, as he’s been arguing…. I think our movement needs to become broader. I think it needs to become more militant, in the sense of general strikes.

You talked about regaining the momentum of 2019. I think the student youth strikes were incredible, but the youth strikes were never going to be enough. The slogan of the 2014 climate march was “to change everything, it takes everybody.” And we’ve never really had … a really broad coalition of social movements, truly engaged. And the missing piece, frankly – more than any other – has been organized labour… Most of the large trade unions have had a much more ambivalent relationship with the kind of transformational climate action that we really do need. The hopes of something like a Green New Deal is that the job creation potential and attaching measures like a wage guarantee, a benefits guarantee, a jobs guarantee – that these can be enough to capture the imagination of workers and their representatives so that they will fight for it. I don’t think it is just going to be a vanguard that’s going to win the kind of transformation that we need.

MCKAY: [Looking at your book for a teenage audience, How to Change Everything]  I was wondering if that perhaps reflected your sense that it is the young who stand a chance of really transforming the world. On Fire has a lot on Greta Thunberg and her gift for unvarnished truth-telling, while also reflecting on the besuited bureaucrats who “clapped and filmed her on their smartphones as if she were a novelty act.” Hers was a transnational youth movement in 2019 with perhaps 2,000 youth climate strikes in 125 countries, with around 1.6 million young people joining in.

And then came the pandemic. And what seemed a movement ready to take on the world really went into reverse.

Does this recent history, and perhaps earlier ones from the 60s or the 80s, illustrate both the strengths, but also maybe some of the limitations, of a generational emphasis? … Do we need something more than a multitude of grassroots movements led by the young? And is it even fair to ask young people to bear this planet-saving burden?

KLEIN: Well, I’ll start with the last part of that really important question first. “Is it fair?” It’s not fair. In championing this extraordinary youth movement, I’m very clear that my generation, generations older than me, [those] in between my generation and the youth strikers – we all have to get involved, and we all need to do our parts. One of my minor claims to fame, Ian, is that I sent On Fire to Jane Fonda, when it was still in galleys, and her response was to go get herself arrested every week in Washington.  I think the message is very clear: young people are taking extraordinary risks. They are not saying, “We’ve got this.”  They’re saying, “Show up with us! Do your part!”  We all have pieces in this ecosystem. There’s no possible replacement for youth energy, but we need intergenerational movements.

One of the most powerful movements I’ve been a part of in recent years was against the Dakota Access Pipeline. When I was at Standing Rock, what was most striking to me was that it was the most intergenerational movement space that I’d ever been in.  There really was a role for everybody. I think we have to take that lesson… It really does take everyone.

I think it’s too soon to talk about the youth climate movement in the past tense. I have to push back a little bit on that. I think people have had a tough pandemic, as we all have, but I think it’s been particularly hard for young people to cope with the isolation and … the difficulty of organizing and … the weight of the pandemic on top of the climate crisis. There’s a lot of grief. But I believe that this generation is going to be able to get their fire back. I have a lot of faith in Spring.

One thing I would just say about Greta that I love:  there is a new version of Greta that we saw in Glasgow, which is the “blah blah blah” Greta,[1] which is her response to all of those selfies and the way in which she was paraded around and invited [to partake] in this weird kind of “tell us how bad we are” [ritual], like some sort of political S&M. “Come and tell us how we’re failing, and we’ll all get our pictures taken with you.” And she completely turned the table on these leaders and refused to play the role of the innocent, pleading with leaders to (please, this time) really listen to her. She just mocks them mercilessly – all of their pledges. And I think her “blah blah blah” speech is … the greatest piece of oratory, certainly that I’ve seen from her, but potentially that I’ve seen in twenty years. I think it will be studied –  it is so brilliant. The way she snuck in on them. At first they thought she was praising [them], right? They’re kind of clapping as she says, “Build Back Better” – and then she says, “blah blah blah – green economy, blah blah blah…” And then she says, “You’re not going to save us – we are going to save us.”  And I think that this is a turning point. I think this generation now understands that it isn’t going to be the perfect speech to the EU or to the UN that’s going to suddenly make these leaders see the light. It’s really about building outside power… This story is still being written, I believe.

MCKAY: Your pandemic journalism underlines the message of The Shock Doctrine, asking whether all the computer-facilitated discipline that we’ve been subjected to over the past two years will be constrained by democratic oversight – or “will it be rolled out in a state-of-exception frenzy without asking critical questions that will shape our lives for decades to come?”  You theorize that the pandemic has been grasped by corporations as a “living laboratory for the permanent and highly profitable no-touch future,” which you ironically term “the screen new deal.” Public schools, universities, hospitals are facing existential questions about their futures. You write, “well before Covid-19, Silicon Valley had an agenda of replacing so many of our personal body experiences by inserting technology in the middle of them.” In our years of Covid-19, a principal driver of this transformation has been the state. Does that complicate a narrative that, since No Logo, has focused intently on how corporations are transforming our lives…. Hasn’t the state also revealed itself to be quite capable of its own shock doctrines?

KLEIN: Well, I think it has always been a kind of corporatist collaboration between the state and large multinational corporations. You always need that kind of partnership if you’re going to change laws, and what I describe in The Shock Doctrine are governments working at the behest of large corporations.

In the piece you’re talking about,… I was reporting on then New York Governor Cuomo collaborating with Google’s Eric Schmidt and Michael Bloomberg and Bill Gates to reimagine New York State. Now, thankfully, Cuomo is no longer governor.  And organized labour was able to push back on some of the plans that they were trying to rush through.

Cuomo was giving speeches at that time, arguing, “Why do we even need classrooms? Why do we even need teachers?” It was similar to what happened after hurricanes that I’ve reported on, like after Hurricane Katrina when the school system was radically reinvented. It became a laboratory for the charter school system. Same thing happened after Hurricane Maria, where they closed hundreds of schools in Puerto Rico, and reversed a law that banned charter schools.

During Covid, we’re seeing something quite different. To be honest with you, it’s been a little tricky for me. I did write a book about how governments exploit states of emergencies. I do believe we are seeing that. We also are at a time of peak conspiracy theory and misinformation. So, a lot of my ideas are being put into a banana blender.  They’re being used and abused … and being taken places where they really don’t belong. They’re being used by people who are denying that Covid is real.

I don’t like Bill Gates, but I don’t like Bill Gates because he has way too much influence over public health.  Bill Gates has interfered to protect the patents of drug companies, to keep vaccines that should be available to everyone on earth from being distributed…–  Bill Gates intervened to say, “No, Pfizer should keep their patents and Moderna should keep their patents.” So, he’s played a really terrible role.  But there are lots of people who are out there claiming that Bill Gates is doing all this because he wants to depopulate the earth and the vaccines have tracking devices. It’s become [part of] the tidal wave of misinformation in the context of Covid-19.

It’s …a new ball game. Conspiracies are always part of disaster ecosystems. After Katrina, you had this kind of disaster opportunism that I call “the Shock Doctrine.” It was so convenient for the rich … who… wanted to clear out the public housing and gentrify New Orleans. You had [conspiracy theories that claimed],  “Well maybe they blew up the levees to do this on purpose.”

I heard the same thing when I was covering the Asian Tsunami.  It was so convenient for real estate developers who seized the beaches from the small-boat fishing people.  People started saying that the whole tsunami was caused by an underground nuclear weapons explosion by the United States, and they did the whole thing so that they could have [a] military occupation. But these things didn’t go totally viral in the way that the pandemic conspiracies go viral….

…Steve Bannon’s strategy – which he described to Michael Lewis –  is “flood the zone with shit.” … The strategy is to make people doubt any kind of fact… So, you don’t believe anything at all.  And if nothing is true, then anything is possible. It creates a very malleable political moment for people to exploit.

And what’s interesting about the anti-mask and anti-vaxx crowd is that, in the US, they’ve provided incredible cover to the people who want to privatize the school system. So, this same thing that I have covered after Katrina, after Maria, is happening in Arizona, in Florida.

Now,… the wedge is: “Well, if you don’t want your kid to go to school with a mask, you should be able to get a voucher” – which is the same thing that they asked for after Katrina, the same thing they asked for after Hurricane Maria. “Parents should be able to get vouchers, so if their kids don’t have to go to schools that are either doing remote learning or requiring vaccines or masks, they should be able to spend that money in private school.” So, they’re using [the pandemic] in the same way they use every single disaster – to wage war on public education…. Now, they’re not just using the pandemic, they’re using the misinformation about the pandemic. It’s a whole new kind of shock doctrine…

MCKAY: Sounds like it might be a book for you.

KLEIN: I am writing the book [Laughter].

MCKAY: One major thrust of left discourse in the pandemic has been that many more such calamities lie in our future, because capitalism has fundamentally disrupted humankind’s metabolism with the natural world. So, we think of deforestation, frenzied infrastructure construction, the uprooting of vast peasant populations and their relegation to a planet of slums, all [happening alongside] global climate change. Since the 1970s, these have all combined, meaning that we have been living in an Age of Pandemics, as geographer Mike Davis and epidemiologist Rob Wallace have argued. Now, I don’t sense that this would be a message dramatically out of line with your lifetime of research and writing.  Yet,  apart from one passage in On Fire, this line of inquiry is not really a prominent feature of your work. In This Changes Everything, you write that the climate change is delivering a “powerful message spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions.” Would you consider it a friendly, or unfriendly, amendment to add “pandemics” to that list of calamities?

KLEIN: Well, I’d hesitate to call the pandemics friendly, but I would certainly agree that they belong on the list…. It’s an area that I have not written about enough. I had a little bit in The Shock Doctrine about the disaster of the Tamiflu profiteering that went on under the Bush administration… Donald Rumsfeld, before he became Secretary of Defense, was the CEO of Gilead. He was in the business of producing the key responses to pandemics, and this became one of one of the examples of disaster profiteering that I documented in The Shock Doctrine. And I did add a new forward to the paperback of On Fire about Covid.

And we made a little film … Avi Lewis, my partner, and Molly Crabapple and I … with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez [made a film] a few years ago called Message from the Future … that told the story set from the standpoint of a couple of decades into the future of how we won a Green New Deal. And during the pandemic, we started thinking about doing a sequel to that… called A Message from the Future to the Years of Repair II.[2] The concept was, what if Covid is a teacher?…

MCKAY: Your video seems to agree that we’re on the verge of many more pandemics if we don’t change the way that we live.

KLEIN: There’s no doubt [of that].  What we call for in that video are the real investments that make a society able to weather shocks. You can’t put everything on a vaccine mandate. You need to invest in the infrastructure of care (or what we call the infrastructure of care and repair). There have been some great pieces written about this. One, co-written by Judy Rebick, is about the Canada’s pandemic response.[3]

In the early days, we did pay people to stay home, but we didn’t invest in a community care core. We didn’t invest in outdoor education. We didn’t make the big infrastructure investments that would have made it possible for people to gather more safely in schools or make our hospitals more resilient. It’s just [been] “the vaccine, the vaccine, the vaccine”…. This has created an atmosphere that is very ripe for conspiracy theories, because people are seeing the huge profits that are being won by a small group of people. It doesn’t feel right, so they’re looking for explanations. We are going to be seeing more shocks. But that doesn’t mean that we need to respond in the ways that we’ve been responding. There are ways that we can come together in crisis.

MCKAY: My last question. A dual citizen, born in Montreal, now returned from New Jersey – and welcome home – and resident in British Columbia, you have undoubtedly introduced tens of thousands of young Canadians to progressive environmentalist thought. On Fire repeatedly underlines the moral contradictions of our Prime Minister, who is green-sounding but also pipeline-addicted. And your Leap Manifesto caught the eye of Canada’s New Democratic Party. Yet, when it comes to On Fire, I found the central historical metaphors or analogies – the New Deal and the Marshall Plan – are drawn from the repertoire of US politics of the 1930s and 1940s. Now, is there a risk that disregarding national specifics and foregrounding US models inadvertently strengthens some of the colonial relationships of which you are so critical? As someone with rare insights into working on both sides of the border, do you think the next left should work harder to adapt its universal message of human survival to the national contexts in which that message is being articulated?

KLEIN: It’s a great question. As a writer, I work with what I have. I’m not inventing this from scratch, and so the decision to call it a “New Deal” was a decision that was made by the Sunrise Movement and the Squad, particularly Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It had a lot of traction. The call for a Marshall Plan for Planet Earth actually came from Bolivia, and I was quoting Angelica Navarro, Bolivia’s climate and trade negotiator in 2009. As you point out, when we did our own version of this in Canada, we called it “The Leap.” We didn’t call it a Green New Deal or a Marshall Plan or the Green Industrial Revolution (which is what they call it in the UK). We called it The Leap. And then we got slammed. We were called Maoists.

We weren’t modeling it on the Great Leap Forward.  But, we were very specific, when we had the gathering that led to the writing of the Leap Manifesto, that we didn’t want to appeal to nostalgia. We didn’t want to appeal to a Canada that never was, because a lot of the left then – the white left in Canada – had sort of fetishized postwar Canada as a… moment that we need to return to. It hasn’t really reckoned with the exclusions and the violence of that era…

…One of the things that we are most challenged by, as we organize in the rubble of neoliberalism, is a powerful sense among a lot of people that there’s something in human nature that makes it impossible for us to do big things together, that we’re just too selfish… That’s where I think that these drawings on historical precedence [are useful], whether it’s Canada’s own experience during the Second World War – my brother Seth Klein wrote a terrific book called The Good War that draws on Canada’s history during the Second World War. I’ve seen the ways [such historical precedents] can resonate.  Take the Civilian Conservation Corps that hired two million young people, planted two billion trees, built 800 state parks, and did that in the 1930s. That happened. So, it isn’t “human nature” that says that we can’t do things at that speed and scale again….

QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE. How do you feel that neoliberalism has changed or evolved over the past 30 years? What is it today that it wasn’t in 1992?

KLEIN: That’s such an interesting question. The history of capitalism is a history of enclosure. It’s a history of bringing swaths of life that are outside of the market and enclosing them inside the logic of the market – and in the process, transforming them. Once something is within the logic of the market, what it needs to do is completely different. If we think about enclosures of land in the British countryside,… it isn’t just that a fence was put around previously communal farmland, where people who lived around that land [used to be] able to graze their animals, were able to collect firewood. It’s that the role of that land [also] changed, and it now had to yield crops… So, it’s both enclosed and changed.

I would say that … the history of neoliberalism,  is a history of a whole of a new kind of enclosure that began with enclosing parts of the state that had been kept outside of the reach of the market, like education and healthcare, and bringing them in.

Where we’re at now is so radical, because what’s being enclosed is us and our relationships. (Enclosing human beings within capital is not new… that’s what slavery is. It’s turning free human life into commodity, in the most violent way imaginable.) What we’re seeing with surveillance, what Shoshanna Zubov calls “surveillance capitalism”[4] or Nick Couldrey and Ulises A. Mejias called “data colonialism,”[5] is a process of enclosure whereby our friendships, our speech, this conversation [are] enclosed in a corporate platform (some people are watching it on Google’s platform; we’re having it on Zoom.) The data from our conversations become a raw resource to be extracted, and then the purpose of the conversations changes. The purpose of the conversation for Google is not to facilitate us having a conversation; it’s to extract the data to drive more engagement on their platforms, so that they can sell ads. I think that that’s the radical edge of what’s happening with neoliberalism.

MCKAY: You have that really brilliant analysis of Donald Trump as a brand, and his whole family is a brand… That made me really think that one of the most distinctive things about the changes of neoliberalism since the 1990s has just been that emphasis on branding, taken [to be] a kind of psychological imperative for each and every one of us. We’re supposed to be branding ourselves all the time. It’s is, as you say, a radical extension of traditional capitalism.

KLEIN: We are supposed to self-commodify, and do.

QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE: What are your thoughts about… corporate capitalism creating more emerging diseases and viruses, as long as it continues to destroy nature?

KLEIN: I think that the history of zoonotic viruses would support that claim. There are still debates about the origin of Covid-19, but I think that we do know that, as we encroach more and more on wild lands,  on the homes of animals, we have more human/animal interfaces, and more opportunities for viruses to jump from animals to humans.

QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE: No one is talking about the austerity measures that will surely happen once the pandemic is behind us. What can be done to prepare to fight against them?

KLEIN: Such a great question.  I think we’re starting to see… overloaded hospitals as an excuse for back-door kinds of privatizations (or partial privatizations) of health care. But I think what you’re referring to is the fact that we’ve seen some huge spending and we’re seeing some inflation. These are the conditions under which some of the most brutal austerity [measures] have been imposed in the history of neoliberalism. So, we must be prepared for that.

This comes back to why we need a broad-based left. It’s not just a climate movement. We need a left, and we can’t all just be in our silos, because only a very broad coalition [could] have the ability to really stage strikes and get the attention of political leaders….

MCKAY: I was wondering about your prognostications for the decade to come… People are just so exhausted – they’re so sick of this.  Many are bereaved and mourning loved ones…To me, it doesn’t strike me as a likely base for an energetic movement of resistance…  Do you have a prediction that you’d like to offer?

KLEIN: … I think we have a right to a pandemic dividend, and I think we need we need ambitious movement leaders who demand it and inspire us. And I think we need artists to help revive our spirits after this period of trying to weather these shocks alone. We’re in the uncharted territories.

You’re an historian, I’m not. While certainly humans have gone through great difficulties before, I think the technology-enabled isolation of Covid is… quite unique: to be two years as separate from one another as possible. So, my hope is that the thrill of being able to be together after such sort of unnatural separation – because we are social beings, we are social animals – will be such that we will be overcome with energy. As depleted as we feel right now, we will be energized by being in each other’s company. There’s a fantastic role for artists to help give us the soundtrack and the inspiration to alchemize the grief into something energetic.

QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE:  Do you see fascism creeping into the neoliberal project? A lot of left analysts are talking about imminent fascism and the great debate on the left [focuses on the question], is this classical fascism? How does it differ? So, do you do you see a risk of fascism in our present moment?

KLEIN: I definitely see a risk of eco-fascism. I see a risk of the climate crisis being folded into a narrative around “great replacement” fears and white supremacy, creating an even more toxic cocktail than climate change denial.  It’s one thing to deny it [climate change].  It’s another thing to say, “Okay it’s happening, but we need to fortress our countries and our borders and maybe they [outsiders] should die.”

…You have a [sort of convergence] of wellness worlds … with the conspiracy and far-right worlds. It’s really terrifying, because you’ll hear things like: “Well, I have a great immune system” and “I take care of myself –  so why should I have to sacrifice for all these people who aren’t taking care of themselves? Maybe they should die.” This is a fascist world view. Frankly, I see it spreading quickly and in areas that are surprising, like in yoga studios (not all of them). “Conspirituality”: a coming together of the wellness world with far-right QAnon worlds. It’s real….

QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE: How can citizens demand change when the government has been subverted to corporations?

KLEIN: …This is not new. Our governments have been doing the bidding of corporations now for a very long time.  We have found ways to come together and stand up and out-organize our opponents. We have stopped trade deals before and we have won huge victories for the public good, but there is no substitute for truly broad-based organizing, with a willingness to take action. It isn’t just about voicing our opinions. It’s actually about interrupting business as usual, withholding labour….

MCKAY: This has been a great evening and a wonderful insight into your work. Thank you so much, Naomi Klein, not only for visiting us tonight, but also for doing so much to inspire the coming generation as it strives to save our troubled world.

KLEIN: Thank you for your fantastic probing questions and for all you do, and thank you all for listening.

[Naomi Klein spoke to Syndemic on 17 February 2022].

[1] For Greta Thunberg’s “Blah, Blah, Blah” speech, see “Greta Thunberg’s ‘blah blah blah’ speech, Milan, 2021,” Carbon Independent org.,

[2] For the film, an excerpt from which was shown during the Interview, see The Leap and The Intercept, Message from the Future II: The Years of Repair (2020),

[3] Judy Rebick and Corvin Rusell, “The Left is nowhere on COVID. And that’s a big problem,”, 4 February 2022,

[4] Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (New York: PublicAffairs, 2020).

[5] Nick Couldry and Ulises A. Mejias, The Costs of Connection: How Data Is Colonizing Human Life and Appropriating It for Capitalism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019).