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Naomi Klein’s call to arms

Cornelia Parker on Klein’s climate change manifesto

September/October 2015

Cornelia Parker, 59, is a British sculptor and installation artist whose work has included putting Tilda Swinton in a glass box and filming the philosopher Noam Chomsky. Naomi Klein, 45, is a Canadian social activist and the author of “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate”

About ten years ago, I was invited to a two-day seminar at Oxford University organised by climate scientists for other scientists, but also for all kinds of people from the arts – writers such as Ian McEwan and Philip Pullman, the choreographer Siobhan Davies, the playwright Caryl Churchill. The basic message was: “We climate scientists have been talking to politicians, we’ve been talking to the media, but nobody seems to be interested. We’re all fearful for the future, and nobody is listening to us, and we’re racking our brains about how to get the message out – because nobody would get in an aircraft that has a 50/50 chance of crashing.” I became very politicised by that. I didn’t know how to deal with it in my work, in my art, but I thought perhaps I just ought to be vocal, be a concerned citizen and speak up, which I’ve been trying to do. I made an open-access video piece called “Chomskian Abstract” in 2007, where I interview Noam Chomsky about the end of the world and climate change. Back then it seemed that it wasn’t particularly his area of interest, but he is now, I think, much more vocal. He is a good friend of Naomi Klein.

I’ve never met Klein, though I would very much like to – but I went to see her speak about her latest book in London. I was shocked by how young she still is, and obviously she’s beautiful, but mostly she is brave: she speaks her mind, articulately and powerfully. There are lots of people that wouldn’t like her to say the things she says, but she says them anyway, and that’s what I admire. The first book I read of hers was “No Logo”, and then “The Shock Doctrine”, which was amazing, and now “This Changes Everything”, which I think is much, much needed. Somebody needed to write an intelligent book about climate change and its politics, because politics is the main reason we are all so blindly riding the boat over the waterfall.

Klein takes the position that custodianship of the planet is at odds with capitalism. The so-called free world is actually run by corporations, and it’s not in their financial interest for us all to get alarmed about our future. (And this though they’ve got children.) What Klein has done is to flag up the huge amount of disinformation that stops us taking the action we need to take. Every politician should be duty-bound to act on climate change, but they don’t because there are too many corporate hands in their jar, as it were. Klein says that China may be able to act because it isn’t a democracy yet; its government can say “you can have only one child”, and everybody has to jump. China could lead a new economic world order because it will be able to make big changes fast. We can’t, because capitalism keeps interrupting. So somehow we’ve got to have a huge paradigm shift, and that’s what Klein is trying to tell us. It’s a call to arms.

Such voices are few and far between. The public seems to think that if the politicians aren’t doing anything about it – if their line is “business as usual” – it must be fine. And that is a big betrayal by our governments. They’re not responding in the way they should. They’re not representing us properly.

In January, the artist Antony Gormley, the economist Lord Stern and I all went to see George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, with a kind of manifesto, saying Britain is well placed to lead the way on this. We’ve got the brainpower and the designers and the architects to lead a smart, new-technology charge: Jonathan Ive of Apple is British, Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Nicholas Grimshaw are building green cities around the world, we’ve got the new graphene centre, which could revolutionise batteries and solar energy. We should be profiting from this, not allowing other countries to get all the patents while we frack for a gas which should be left in the ground in the first place. It doesn’t cost money to legislate for a shift in infrastructure, to encourage investment in new technologies.

I’ve got a 13-year-old daughter who comes home from school and says, “Mum, do I get to have a future? Do I get to have kids, and do they get to have kids? Is there any point? Or should we just realise that we only have a short time?” It makes me want to cry. So I’m glad that we have Klein to point at the elephant in the room. She’s a heroine, and somebody to respect and admire. 

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