In the short film made with the Guardian and posted online Sunday, Klein experiences the diminished reef—which this year underwent a massive coral bleaching event—through the eyes of her son, four-year-old Toma.
She notes that "most of the time, climate change is hard to pry apart from all the other crises rocking our world: poverty, racism, militarism. They get all mixed up. But here, on the reef, it feels really simple. This world-changing event is mostly just about warming."
Indeed, researchers reported late last month that "the extreme underwater heatwave of 2015-2016" killed "millions of corals" in the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef. "The large-scale devastation is now being compounded by disease infecting the damaged corals and by coral predators," read a release from the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the Guardian quoted Australia's environmental minister as calling the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority—the agency tasked with protecting the world heritage site—as "being starved of funds and...operating as a shell of its former self."
Klein doesn't shy away from how these reports—and the damage she witnessed—make her feel.
"There is shame in all this," she says in her narrated voice-over. "As parents, we are vested with one over-arching duty: to protect and safeguard the future for our kids. And we are failing at it."
"When I contemplate what my son will never experience of our collective natural heritage, it's not just loss and grief that I feel, it's also rage," Klein admits, before pointing fingers at fossil fuel companies that profit off such destruction and world governments that allow the pillaging to take place.
"For the past eight years, I have been writing and speaking about climate change pretty much around the clock," she writes. "I use all the communication tools I can—books, articles, feature documentary, photographs, lectures."
"Yet I still struggle with a nagging feeling that I'm not doing justice to the enormous stakes of this threat," the Shock Doctrine author continues. "The safety and habitability of our shared home is intensely emotional terrain, triggering perfectly rational feelings of loss, fear, and grief. Yet climate discourse is usually pretty clinical, weighed down with statistics and policy jargon."
In turn, after initially turning down the Guardian's request to film her visit to the reef, Klein writes:
I started thinking: maybe this was a chance to get at aspects of climate disruption that scientific reports and political arguments just can't convey. Perhaps it could communicate, in a visceral way, the intergenerational theft at the heart of this crisis.
There is no question that the strongest emotions I have about the climate crisis have to do with Toma and his peers. I have flashes of sheer panic about the extreme weather we have already locked in for them. But even more intense than this fear is the sadness about what they won’t ever know. These kids are growing up in a mass extinction, robbed of the cacophonous company of being surrounded by so many fast-disappearing life forms.
Watch Under the Surface below: