Cole: Naomi Klein offers inspiring, refreshing outlook on climate change

Renowned activist-author Naomi Klein challenged students, faculty and the local community alike, to reimagine what combating a changing climate might mean for this earth.

Klein presented on Tuesday night as part of the University Lectures Series at Hendricks Chapel. The lecture centered around her book, “This Changes Everything,” a call to understand the vast structural overhauls, in practice and in ideology, needed to fight climate change.

At the heart of Klein’s work is a critique of the narrative that responding to climate change means losing something. But, as Klein argues, this approach is a disempowering one, and must be replaced by the notion of potential gains on a scale never seen before.

This flip in thinking posits climate change as an opportunity, although I use that word with caution. It must not be forgotten that the effects of climate change are already afflicting people every day, and that to reframe the issue in this positive light is by no means an attempt to discount its accompanying, already existing injustices.

Klein argues that social issues, such as Black Lives Matter, the prison-industrial complex and food justice, to name a few, are fighting the same basic systems of oppression as the climate justice movement. Given the political makeup of the United States, Klein correctly asserts that limiting the fight to strictly combatting climate change will be futile.

Klein suggests that there is a distinct difference in talking about “climate action” and “climate justice,” and she is right.

Climate action views climate change mitigation as strictly scientific, dealing with dense reports, facts and figures followed by economic sparring between developed and developing countries. In contrast, climate justice deals with the entire spectrum of realms climate change affects, including a wide variety of social, political and geographical inequalities.

Framing the issue as one of climate justice rather than climate action humanizes the problem, putting faces to the issues rather than limiting the issue to CO2 warming projections inherent to climate science.

Visuals help mobilize. Klein knows this, and it is no coincidence that her documentary “This Changes Everything” is not told in the same style of its namesake book. It is people-driven, utilizing vivid, shocking images meant to galvanize public support. This is a savvy, powerful addition to Klein’s best-selling book, and will be an important resource for activists all over the world as the push for climate justice pushes onward.

The most important takeaway from the lecture was to maintain hope and resolve in a fight that is far from finished. Compassion fatigue, the idea that, at a certain point, it may be too exhausting to individually keep pushing for social justice, is a real thing. As Klein observed, “even though the fight’s not over, we’re acting like it is.”

When her 45 minutes were up on Tuesday, a packed house rose to its feet, delivering an impassioned round of applause.

In Hendricks Chapel on that alarmingly warm November evening, the collective fight that Klein argues as paramount existed and, in that moment, I realized it had always been real — the task at hand now is one: to mobilize.

Azor Cole is a senior public relations major and geography minor. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at azcole@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @azor_cole.


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