Everything changes. As Buddhists, we know this. But perhaps too often we’re content to let things be. In her latest book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, the Canadian journalist and social activist Naomi Klein makes a compelling case for all of us—Buddhists and otherwise—to join arms and demand the changes we need to make before we reach the point of no return. For Klein, climate change is a symptom of an even bigger problem: global capitalism. Thus, healing the earth, she says, will also mean healing the wounds of slavery and colonialism to create a more racially and economically just world.
The author of two previous bestsellers, The Shock Doctrine and No Logo, Klein recently spoke with Tricycle contributing editor Sam Mowe about climate change as a narrative crisis, the importance of connecting different social movements, and how she maintains a sense of possibility and purpose while facing overwhelming challenges.
Do you consider climate change to be a spiritual crisis? I consider climate change to be a profound narrative crisis for Western civilization, one that is inextricably linked to questions of worldview and spirituality. I came to this issue from more of a hard-politics background, but I’ve found that it is much more about the stories that our culture tells about itself and our relationship with nature. Are we apart from nature or of it? Is the earth a living system or a machine for us to dominate?
I always try to follow my research where it leads me, but sometimes it leads me into areas that I don’t consider myself best equipped to be a spokesperson for—and that’s the strange tension in which I find myself currently around these more spiritual questions and climate change. That’s not the kind of writing I do. It’s not the kind of speaking I do. But I am trying to push myself beyond my comfort zone. Recently I got an invitation from the Vatican to come and help launch their encyclical on climate change. Now I’m struggling with what it means to be a secular feminist Jew at the Vatican.
Can you say more about climate change as a narrative crisis? What narratives are failing us? What climate change deeply challenges is the narrative that emerged in the 1600s in the British countryside, which was that the earth is an inert machine—or a prone woman, depending on the metaphor of choice—that could be entirely understood and dominated by the genius of man. This was a new idea at the time, and it displaced a relationship to the natural world that was much more humble and reciprocal. Before, the earth was seen as a living system or as a mother, and we approached nature with humility, reverence, and a healthy dose of fear. Then, because of breakthroughs in science, a new idea emerged. We started to think,We are becoming a god and we will eventually know absolutely everything there is to know. And you can understand why, with these huge breakthroughs in understanding, it seemed as if the momentum would eventually lead to everything being known.
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