Bestselling Climate Activist Naomi Klein Heads Up York Uni Seminar

In just 90 minutes, Naomi Klein made the future seem a little less confusing and a little more hopeful, to me at least. 4 stars.

On Thursday night, world-renowned activist and author Naomi Klein took part in an online discussion about the release of her latest book, ‘On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal’.

The discussion was part of a series of guest lectures hosted by the University of York Open Lectures and proved to be very popular.

Having read two of her books already, I was excited that the University had managed to get such a huge name to attend a guest lecture, and Klein definitely did not disappoint. 

Naomi Klein is mostly known for her writing about capitalism, globalisation and more recently, the climate crisis.

Her books have been New York Times bestsellers and she regularly writes columns for international newspapers, as well as serving as a director on the board of a climate activism group, and as a department Chair at Rutgers University in the US. 

Speaking from her home on the West Coast of the United States, which Klein says is currently in a haze of smoke due to the wildfires, she talked with clarity and sincerity about the contents of her book, and so much more.

‘On Fire’ is a collection of essays from the last decade which covers lots of significant environmental issues ranging from the BP oil spill in 2010, to the role of the Green New Deal in the upcoming US election.

Questions and discussion came from Professor Kiran Trehan, the University of York’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Partnerships and Engagement, and centred around current political, social and environmental issues.

The 90-minute seminar proved to be very thought provoking and insightful; the full discussion will be available to watch soon on the ‘York Ideas’ Youtube channel, linked below. 

Early on, the discussion turned to the wildfires burning not far from Klein’s home; as the title of her book is ‘On Fire’, she spoke about the intersectional nature of the wildfires currently ravaging the US and the Amazon, the political fires in Washington DC where the Green New Deal debate is especially poignant right now, and a third, less obvious type of fire – ‘Us’. Klein spoke clearly and sincerely about the (metaphorical) fire that ignites activist movements around the world, and linked her analogy to the often-bypassed indigenous knowledge of fires; that they have a healing, rather than destructive nature and make way for new growth and new futures.

This is only a short and arguably clumsy summary of what was from Klein a very articulate and poignant discussion, and I would urge you to listen for yourselves. 

Other talking points were the lessons that COVID-19 can teach us about reimagining economies, societies and politics; how the Green New Deal could disrupt the almost excessive compartmentalisation in politics, and the inspiration she takes from Generation Z when it comes to desire for change and adapting societies and economies to be more caring.

Professor Trehan’s final question for Klein was about the future of the environment, carbon footprints and whether we’ve left everything too late. Klein’s answer is thoughtful and thorough, and here she referred back to what she had started the discussion with: a short video that she executive produced that debuted yesterday. ‘Message From the Future II: The Years of Repair’, is nine minutes of moving narration and art that encapsulates the global feeling at everything that has happened in the last year. It was co-written by Opal Tometi, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, whom Klein called an ‘inspiration’. She goes on to say that she finds hope rooted in pathways forward, led not by politicians but by activists such as Tometi.

While Klein praised politicians who are working to fight the climate crisis from the inside, such as the formidable AOC, she said that she was most inspired by those out on the streets, protesting, speaking truth to power, and publicly calling for change. Klein says that “hope isn’t something you have, but have to earn”, an impassioned statement which makes it easy to see why she is highly regarded by many as a leading influential thinker and activist.

The seminar concluded with Klein stating that now, post-2020, is the moment for realignment; politically, socially, and environmentally. ‘No pressure!’, she joked. Even through Zoom, it would be difficult not to feel energised and reassured by her presence and her intelligence. Not as an Environment student but as a person with a conscience, I cannot recommend watching this seminar enough. If you do, I hope you come away from it feeling informed, assured and with an emboldened sense of faith in humanity’s capacity for change. Because in just 90 minutes, Naomi Klein made the future seem a little less confusing and a little more hopeful, to me at least. 

The full seminar will be available to watch soon on the ‘York Ideas’ Youtube channel, which can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/c/YorkIdeas/videos

Klein’s short film, ‘Message From the Future II: The Years of Repair’, can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2m8YACFJlMg 

Naomi Klein’s full works, including ‘On Fire’, are available to loan from the University of York library.

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