Naomi Klein, a Canadian environmental crusader who describes herself as a “secular Jewish Feminist,” addressed Vatican officials Wednesday, bashing “economic experts” who place “outsized value on protecting corporate profits and economic growth” rather than the poor, who she said will be most affected by climate change.
Klein is the author of the New York Times bestseller “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate,” in which she contends that the global economy needs to be revolutionized to slow the warming of the planet.
“We can save ourselves, but only if we let go of the myth of dominance and mastery and learn to work with nature,” Klein said Wednesday in a press briefing with Catholic officials in Vatican City held to kick off an environmental summit to be held on July 2-3.
Klein has been invited to co-chair the “high-level” summit along with Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The conference, titled “People and Planet First: the Imperative to Change Course,” will focus on the message of Pope Francis’ recent document on the subject.
Last month Pope Francis published an encyclical letter on care for creation, called “Laudato Si,” addressed to “every person living on this planet” in an urgent appeal “for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.”
The Canadian activist was quick to declare that there are significant differences between her worldview and the Church’s, but she said that the critical state of the planet required unusual alliances to be formed to fight the fossil fuel interests blocking action at U.N. climate conferences.
“This is an alliance on a specific issue. It’s not a merger,” she said. “But when you are faced with a crisis of this magnitude, people have to get out of their comfort zones.”
“No one is being asked to agree on everything, nor do we agree on everything related to climate change,” she said.
The Canadian eco-activist said the urgency of the issues justifies such an unlikely alliance, and forces otherwise opposing parties to work together.
“We understand that the stakes are so high, time is so short and the task is so large that we cannot afford to allow those differences to divide us,” Klein said.
While Klein argued that it is possible for humans to keep global temperature increases below 1.5 degrees Celsius—if climate change becomes a top collective priority—her sanguine forecasts are not shared by all.
Greenhouse gas emissions by wealthy western countries are in fact decreasing yearly as a percentage of total global emissions, and it is estimated that by 2100 the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions will come from other countries—China, India, Brazil and Russia in particular. These countries do not see dramatic emission reductions as being in their national interests.
Klein has blamed capitalism for the situation of the world’s poor as well as the state of the environment, and pushes local agriculture and community-run renewable energy projects. Though Pope Francis does speak of the global economy in his letter, the word “capitalism” remarkably never appears in the 192-page text.
While Klein and other eco-activists applaud the Pope’s efforts for the environment, others are accusing him of “bait-and-switch,” suggesting that he has employed environmental language in order to stealthily work in traditional Christian teaching on abortion, population control, family and human sexuality.
As Miranda Devine wrote in the Telegraph, “now that the Pope has the ears of the world, he’s relentlessly hammering us with unabashed Catholic teaching, sugar-coated with populist environmentalism.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome