Climate change can be a historic moment to usher in the next great wave of progressive change.
It can be and it must be. It's our only chance. It's actually the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. And we've been kidding ourselves about what it's going to take to get our emissions down to the extent that they need to go down. We're talking about an 80% lowering of emissions if human life and society is to remain sustainable and viable as we know it! But that's going to require a huge shift in our consciousness, our laws, regulations, habits and business practices.
We shouldn't beat up on the big environmental groups, because they do fantastic work, yet part of the reason why public opinion on this issue has been so shaky is that it's not really enough to say to the public, "This is a huge problem. It's Armageddon." Watch Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" and be afraid, be very afraid. But then you say, "Well, the solution is very simple: You can change the kind of light bulbs you use. Plus, we'll have this complicated piece of legislation called cap and trade that you don't really understand, but that basically means that companies here can keep on polluting, and they're going to trade their rights to carbon emissions. And then somebody else is going to plant trees on the other side of the planet and they'll get credits."
And people look at this and say to themselves, "Okay, if this really was a crisis of the magnitude that is alleged, wouldn't be we be responding way more aggressively? Wouldn't we be responding in a way that we've responded in the past during wartime, where there's been a kind of a collective sense of shared responsibility?"
When we really do feel that sense of urgency about an issue -- and I believe we should feel it about climate change -- we are willing to sacrifice. We have shown that in the past. But when you talk about a supposed emergency and actually don't ask anything major of people, they think you might be lying, that it might not really be an emergency after all. So if this is an emergency, we have to act like it. And yeah, this is an emergency.
Naomi Klein is the author of "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism." Readers of two influential magazines to put Naomi Klein high on the list of the 100 leading public thinkers in the world. She is now working on a new book and documentary on how climate change can spur political and economic transformation. She also has joined with the environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben in a campaign launched this week called "Do the Math."