Aug 18, 2015 by

The writer, who is coming to Australia on a speaking tour, says she cannot tell where the coal industry ends and the federal government begins

Naomi Klein
Canadian author Naomi Klein says climate science denial is prevalent in English-speaking countries with a ‘powerful frontier mentality’ such as Australia, Canada, the US and the UK. Photograph: Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Rex

Tony Abbott is a climate change “villain” who is repeating the slogans used by the coal industry in the US, according to bestselling author and social activist Naomi Klein.

Klein, who is heading to Australia for a series of public events, said the level of inaction on climate change in Australia was only matched by her native Canada.

“In Canada I can’t tell where the oil industry ends and the government begins and in Australia the same is true when it comes to coal,” she told Guardian Australia.

“The Abbott government is repeating the talking points of the coal industry, the same stuff I heard at the Heartland Institute, that ‘coal is good for humanity’ and ‘God bless coal’.

“We have elections in Canada in October and I hope we have a different government. If that happens, Australia will be isolated as a climate villain. At the moment we are giving you a run for your money.”

Klein, whose latest book, This Changes Everything, argues governments have fundamentally failed to deal with the issue of climate change, said Abbott’s promotion of coalmines and the attempt to keep climate off last year’s G20 agenda “crossed a line where it’s impossible to come back from”.

“One part I find particularly shocking is that Australia is very much on the frontline of climate change,” she said.

“Also, being a Pacific nation, your closest neighbours are facing a truly existential threat. So I find it even more shocking that Australia is a hotbed of climate denial.”

Klein said climate change would exacerbate social problems such as racism and inequality, predicting Australia would become “meaner” as it gets hotter.

“You see that in Australia where the treatment of migrants is a profound moral crisis,” she said. “It’s clear that as sea levels rise that this mean streak and open racism is going to become more extreme – climate change is an accelerant to all those other issues.”

Abbott, who famously once called the science of climate change “crap”, now insists he accepts human activity is influencing the climate. Last week the government unveiled an emissions reduction target of 26-28% by 2030, based on 2005 levels, which Abbott hailed as “environmentally and economically responsible”.

But several scientists have claimed the target is not consistent with a worldwide effort to avoid the internationally agreed goal of avoiding 2C of global warming from pre-industrial times.

According to the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, climate change will hit Australia harder than many other countries, with a temperature increase of up to 5.1C by the end of the century if the burning of fossil fuels isn’t curbed.

In this scenario sea levels would rise by up to 82cm by 2090, the number of days with severe bushfire danger would increase, snow cover would decline and droughts would become more extreme.

Klein said the denial of climate science was prevalent in English-speaking countries such as Australia, Canada, the US and the UK because of a “colonial settler mentality”.

“Countries founded on a powerful frontier mentality have this idea of limitless nature than can be endlessly extracted,” she said.

“Climate change is threatening to that because there are limits and you have to respect those limits. Where that frontier narrative is strongest is where denialism is strongest.

“The rest of Europe has a keener sense of boundaries – they’ve lived against the limits of nature for longer.”


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