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Naomi Klein: “Donald Trump isn’t the end of the world, but climate change may be”

At the precise moment that Donald Trump was giving his acceptance speech live, I was in a room packed with a thousand people in Sydney, listening to Maria Tiimon Chi-Fang, a leading activist from the island state of Kiribati.

All day I had been sending emails with the subject line “It’s the end of the world”. I suddenly felt embarrassed by the privilege of this hyperbole.

If Trump does what he says and rolls back the (insufficient) climate progress won under President Barack Obama, inspiring other nations to do the same, Chi-Fang’s nation and culture will almost surely disappear beneath the waves. Literally, the end of her whole world.

Chi-Fang talked about how the Paris climate summit was a rare moment of hope. It’s not a perfect text, but island nations waged, and won, a valiant battle to include language reflecting the need to keep warming below 1.5 degrees.

“We didn’t sleep,” she told the crowd.

That 1.5 degree target gives Kiribati and other low-lying islands a fighting chance at survival. But we know that meeting the target, and even the higher 2 degree one, means we cannot sink a single piece of new fossil fuel infrastructure. We have already blown our carbon budget just with the carbon from fossil fuels now in production.

The village of Tebunginako in the Kiribati islands had to move because of rising seas and erosion. The new village (pictured) is now under threat of inundation and sea walls have to be constantly maintained. Photo: Justin McManus

Donald Trump, in his “100-day plan to Make America Great Again”, unveiled at the end of October, made it clear that he intended to grab carbon as aggressively as he bragged about grabbing women. Here are a few of his immediate plans:

  • allowing the Keystone XL pipeline to move forward;
  • lifting restrictions on fossil fuel production;
  • cancelling “billions” in payments to United Nation climate change programs.



Protesters march in Salt Lake City in support of the Standing Rock Sioux against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo: AP

That’s right: warm the planet as quickly as possible and burn the paltry life jackets that are now being thrown to the people who will suffer most. And lest there be any doubt that he means it, he just appointed Myron Ebell, from the climate-denying, scientist-harassing Competitive Enterprise Institute, to transform the Environmental Protection Agency.

This is just some of what is at stake if Trump does what he says he will do. We cannot let him. Outside the US, we need to start demanding economic sanctions in the face of this treaty-shredding lawlessness.

In the North America region, where the carbon that Trump wants to unleash is now buried, we need to get ready to warrior up – and if you want to know what that looks like, turn your eyes to the Indigenous-led resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock.


Naomi Klein is the author of This Changes Everything and will accept the Sydney Peace Prize at Sydney Town Hall on Friday evening 11 November.

This article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on November 10, 2016.