Best-selling author Naomi Klein thinks 'transition is coming' in fight against climate change

In the last University Lecture of 2015, Klein urged students to continue to act as part of a global network of social justice.

By November, the fear of imminent and endless snow weighs heavily on everyone’s mind in Syracuse. No surprise than that the uncharacteristically balmy 70-degree weather Tuesday delighted most students.

But for author and environmentalist Naomi Klein, this delightful weather only further proved the perturbing and unabated rise in temperature associated with climate change.

Photo: Shumin Lai

“This is the warmest early November weather recorded in 38 years,” Klein said in her opening remarks. “Right now, 2015 is shaping up to be the warmest year recorded, just as 2014 was the year previously.”

The award-winning journalist, author and social activist’s work criticizes contemporary capitalist systems of corporatism and globalization. Her latest book and the title of her lecture, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, focuses on how these systems create and exacerbate climate change. Her most popular book, No Logo, was an international best-seller. Her later work The Shock Doctrine was made into a feature-length documentary by Michael Winterbottom. She is also on the board of directors for, an environmental group founded by fellow author Bill McKibben.

Students, faculty and Syracusans packed Hendricks Chapel to hear Klein discuss the interplay of climate change, political and economic systems and the role of activism described in This Changes Everything Tuesday night. Although the systems she described — neoliberal capitalism, white supremacy and “safe centrism” — are incomprehensibly huge and entrenched in Western culture and law, Klein said she did not believe that all hope was lost. To the contrary, she claimed it was precisely that sort of fatalism that sabotages the movement’s energy and cause.

“The fight’s not over, but we’re acting like it is,” Klein said.

Klein’s argument centered on the urgent need for disparate social-justice movements to coalesce in order to fight climate change. She said these issues could no longer be contained to their respective “silos,” or separate territories of concern. All of these issues are bred from systems of exploitation, discrimination and willful ignorance, Klein said. She pointed specifically to the Black Lives Matter movement, Fight for $15, and the call to end mass incarceration as issues interrelated to the fight to stymie climate change.

“We have waited so long that only radical change is left,” Klein said. “In the words of Quinton Sankofa, ‘Transition is inevitable, justice is not’. We want a great and just transition.”

That transition is coming, she said. She detailed how the dramatic drop in oil prices, along with the rise of the climate change movement and the “renaissance of renewables” could galvanize the culture to leave the old, “business as usual” way behind. She referenced her involvement with The Leap Manifesto, a Canadian environmental and social justice mission, as an example of this transition manifested in policy. 

During the Q&A, Klein had a message for students involved in the climate-change movement.

“You are winning every time you tell peers and administrators that these sources of funding [in reference to the divestment movement] are immoral, and you encourage people to do the math. But, the fight isn’t about one single decision. All of your choices are important because they are part of a global movement.”

Klein was introduced by Sherburne “Shere” Abbott, a professor of sustainability science and policy. Prior to Syracuse University, Abbott served as the associate director for environment and energy in President Barack Obama’s cabinet. In her introductory remarks, she likened This Changes Everything to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the seminal work on the deadly effects of pesticides that launched the modern environmental movement.

Klein is the final guest speaker in SU’s 2015 University Lecture series. The spring semester’s Lecture Series will kick off with Dacher Keltner’s “Survival of the Kindest: Toward a Compassionate Society” on March 8, 2016.

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