"It's a 'go big or go home' moment."
I asked her what she thinks it signifies to see Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein working together so closely.
"Climate change is the human-rights struggle of our time," she said. "And it's too important to be left to the environmentalists alone. I mean, we need the environmental movement — but not if they're going to be afraid of the left."
If there's a central idea driving Klein these days, it's that the historic projects of economic and social justice and the urgency of climate justice are interdependent and inseparable — from the local level on up to the global.
Klein's entry point into the climate issue was her interest in reparations for slavery and the historic crimes of colonialism. In 2008, covering the United Nations conference on racism known as "Durban II," she realized that the reparations movement had shifted its focus to the idea of "climate debt" — that is, what the developed world, in tangible economic terms, owes to the people of developing nations who will bear (and are already bearing) the brunt of climate change, but have done little or nothing, historically, to cause it.
"The refusal to accept the importance of economic justice is the reason we have had no climate action. It's just that simple," Klein told me. "What has bogged down every round of UN negotiations on climate is the basic principle that the people who are most responsible for creating this crisis should take the lead and bear a heavier burden." And for poor nations, "there should be a right to develop a certain amount, to pull oneself out of poverty." The issue remains a sticking point for any global climate treaty, as witnessed again last week at the UN conference in Doha, Qatar, where wealthy nations failed to make concrete commitments to help the most vulnerable countries deal with climate change.
Klein first met McKibben and the 350.org team in late 2009 at the disastrous UN climate conference in Copenhagen, where she was pushing these issues. She was profoundly impressed, a friendship formed, and in April 2011 she joined 350's board.
"I'm sort of used to the environmental movement seeing me as a pain in the ass," she told me. "You know, when I talk about reparations and climate debt — it's seen as being off-message. You're just supposed to shut up about things like that. It's inconvenient — an inconvenient truth that can't be sold to the American public."
"So I was surprised when Bill invited me to be on the board, because I sort of thought that I was toxic," she said. "I think it just speaks to 350's deep understanding that these movements have to come together."
Klein is known for saying that the job of the left is to "move the center." I asked if that's what she and McKibben are up to with "Do the Math" and the divestment campaign.
"Oh, yeah," she said. "And when I said 'Move the center,' you know what I was always saying is, let's nationalize the oil companies."
She laughed, and so did I, and I reminded her that she's also been known to say that "moving the center" can require "saying some crazy shit."