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Climate Change Is a Crisis We Can Only Solve Together

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Reprinted from Common Dreams

This speech was delivered on June 6, 2015, in Bar Harbor, Maine, as the College of the Atlantic commencement address. It appeared at The Nation on June 17.

Part of the team from Greenpeace that tracked Shell's drilling rigs as they recently crossed the Pacific Ocean on their way to Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska. From left: Johno Smith, Zoe Buckley Lennox, Aliyah Field, Andreas Widlund, and Miriam Fri
Part of the team from Greenpeace that tracked Shell's drilling rigs as they recently crossed the Pacific Ocean on their way to Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska. From left: Johno Smith, Zoe Buckley Lennox, Aliyah Field, Andreas Widlund, and Miriam Fri
(Image by (Photo: Vincenzo Floramo/Greenpeace))
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First of all, a huge congratulations to all the graduates -- and to the parents who raised you, and the teachers who guided you. It's a true privilege to be included in this special day.

Mine is not going to be your average commencement address, for the simple reason that College of the Atlantic is not your average college. I mean, what kind of college lets students vote on their commencement speaker -- as if this is their day or something? What's next? Women choosing whom they are going to marry?

Usually, commencement addresses try to equip graduates with a moral compass for their post-university life. You hear stories that end with clear lessons like: "Money can't buy happiness." "Be kind." "Don't be afraid to fail."

But my sense is that very few of you are flailing around trying to sort out right from wrong. Quite remarkably, you knew you wanted to go not just to an excellent college, but to an excellent socially and ecologically engaged college. A school surrounded by tremendous biological diversity and suffused with tremendous human diversity, with a student population that spans the globe. You also knew that strong community mattered more than almost anything. That's more self-awareness and self-direction than most people have when they leave graduate school--and somehow you had it when you were still in high school.

Which is why I am going to skip the homilies and get down to business: the historical moment into which you graduate -- with climate change, wealth concentration, and racialized violence all reaching breaking points.

How do we help most? How do we best serve this broken world? And we know that time is short, especially when it comes to climate change. We all hear the clock ticking loudly in the background.

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Because, let's face it: The generations before you used up more than your share of atmospheric space. We used up your share of big failures too. The ultimate intergenerational injustice. That doesn't mean that we all can't still make mistakes. We can and we will. But Alicia Garza, one of the amazing founders of Black Lives Matter, talks about how we have to "make new mistakes."

Sit with that one for a minute. Let's stop making the same old mistakes. Here are a few, but I trust that you will silently add your own. Projecting messianic fantasies onto politicians. Thinking the market will fix it. Building a movement made up entirely of upper-middle-class white people and then wondering why people of color don't want to join "our movement." Tearing each other to bloody shreds because it's easier to do that than go after the forces most responsible for this mess. These are social-change cliches, and they are getting really boring.

We don't have the right to demand perfection from each other. But we do have the right to expect progress. To demand evolution. So let's make some new mistakes. Let's make new mistakes as we break through our silos and build the kind of beautifully diverse and justice-hungry movement that actually has a chance of winning -- winning against the powerful interests that want us to keep failing.

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Naomi Klein is the author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, now out in paperback. To read all her latest writing visit

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