Naomi Klein, black-clad and sharp-tongued mistress of the global anti-corporate left, friend to Occupiers and scourge of oil barons, stood outside a dressing room backstage at Boston's Orpheum Theatre one night last month, a clear-eyed baby boy on her hip.
"I'm really trying not to play the Earth Mother card," Klein told me over the phone the week before, as she talked about bringing Toma, her first child, into the world. But she didn't need to worry.
>> INTERVIEW: Naomi Klein on motherhood, climate justice, and the failures of the environmental movement <<
Inside the dressing room, she'd been fielding questions from a small gaggle of young reporters alongside 350.org's Bill McKibben, who had invited her to play a key role in the 21-city "Do the Math" climate-movement roadshow that arrived at the sold-out Orpheum that night. With a laugh, Klein noted to the reporters that McKibben's devastatingRolling Stone article last summer, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math" — revealing that the fossil-fuel industry has five times more carbon in its proven reserves, which it intends to extract, than the science says can be burned if we want to avoid climate catastrophe — had received no industry pushback.
"I mean, that's remarkable, for a piece like that, to not feel the need to correct the record in any way? Actually, we don't plan to destroy the planet."
Then she offered an anecdote, as if to dispel any assumptions that she's a conventional green, planet-saving type. Fresh from the Superstorm Sandy disaster zone, she described visiting an "amazing" community farm in Brooklyn's Red Hook that had been flooded. "They were doing everything right, when it comes to climate," she said. "Growing organic, localizing their food system, sequestering carbon, not using fossil-fuel inputs — all the good stuff." Then came Sandy. "They lose their entire fall harvest, and they're pretty sure their soil is now contaminated, because the water that flooded them was so polluted."
"So, yeah," she said, "it's important to build local alternatives, we have to do it, but unless we are really going after the source of the problem" — namely, the fossil-fuel industry and its lock on Washington — "we are gonna get inundated."
For McKibben and Klein, going after that source means, to begin with, going after the industry's business model and its very legitimacy. To that end, they've used the sold-out national tour, which ended on December 3 in Salt Lake City, to help launch a student-led divestment campaign calling on universities to stop investing in fossil fuels. As of early December, that effort had already spread to more than 150 campuses around the country, including more than a dozen in New England. The point of divestment may not be whatever economic leverage it can wield over some of the richest companies on Earth, but instead a kind of moral leverage, as a rallying point for a broad-based movement — committed to mass protest and nonviolent direct action — that aims to delegitimize what McKibben calls a "rogue" industry and its lobby.
Later that night, on the Orpheum stage with McKibben, Klein told the audience: "Remember this moment. This was the moment we got serious."