Journalist, climate activist and author Wen Stephenson said climate change “demands a radical response,” during a speech on Thursday, Oct. 15 where he discussed his writing and activist efforts in areas such as divestment from fossil fuels.
Stephenson spoke about his new book “What We’re Fighting For Now is Each Other,” to over 40 Brandeis students and faculty, regarding the “catastrophic” climate change striking our planet. Stephenson’s book highlights students, including Brandeis students, who are protesting for fossil fuel divestment at their universities.
Professor Sabine von Mering (GRALL/WMGS), part of the year-old group Faculty Against Climate Threat, introduced Stephenson to a crowd of enthusiastic listeners ranging from members of Brandeis Climate Justice, who hosted the event and are responsible for major divestment activism on campus, to members of Brandeis Students for Environmental Action and curious faculty and students.
“It all started with a walk to Walden Pond,” Stephenson reflected as he traced back to his first revelation that the world was decaying right before our eyes. Former editor of The Atlantic Monthly and contributing writer for The Nation, Stephenson, wears many hats as he continues to write about the intersection of climate, culture and politics for dozens of publications across the country. Aside from his journalistic endeavors, Stephenson helped launch 350 Massachusetts, a statewide volunteer climate action network that includes hundreds of activists. He also served on the volunteer board of Better Future Project, a Cambridge-based non-profit devoted to building the climate movement in New England and across the states.
In the Mandel Reading Room, Stephenson spoke about his journey to become a passionate climate activist. His book, beginning with the words “This is really happening,” captures his sentiment of frustration at the unbelievable rate at which the arctic is melting, he said. Stephenson warned that the window to prevent the worst climatic scenarios is closing right before our eyes: Nations are disappearing, mass extinction is spreading, and underprivileged people are losing their lives.
“We face a radical situation that demands a radical response,” Stephenson said. His goal in writing his book was to help evoke a serious wake up call to our crumbling environmental emergency, he explained.
As his speech continued, Stephenson spoke about strong human rights campaigns throughout American history, some of which were led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., suggesting that that same radicalization is necessary in combating climate change. Stephenson pressed that we should treat climate change just like we would treat human injustice, for it is after all a human catastrophe.
The ideas of other figures, such as Henry David Thoreau also resonate with Stephenson. Thoreau’s ideas of solidarity helped radicalize Stephenson who. Stephenson repeated one of his favorite Thoreau quotes several times throughout the speech: “Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.”
Aside from Thoreau’s radical abolitionist works, Stephenson’s own children, who “face a deeply uncertain issue living on this planet,” also inspired him to take action against what he calls our “human injustice.”
“Inequality is very much intertwined with climate change,” Stephenson argued. “When we stare our climate reality in the face, looking at what people with wealth are willing to do to hold onto power, we realize what type of society we have.” Nonetheless, Stephenson pointed out that Americans still fail to accept climate change as a real issue and still fail to accept that fossil fuel emissions continue to affect underprivileged families who still live in catastrophe from Hurricane Katrina, which killed around 1,800 people in 2005, or other climatic disasters.
To avert this climatic crisis, we must come together and fight for humanity, said Stephenson, explaining his belief that not only does this crisis call for a fight for survival, but also a fight for justice. “It’s time to fight like there’s nothing left to lose other than our humanity.”