In 2010, independent journalist Wen Stephenson wrote his first long personal essay about climate change and activism. “Walking Home from Walden” gave him a form to wrestle with his awakening to the climate crisis with help from 19th century transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau. Writing it radically changed his life, leading him to walk away from his mainstream media career. “I couldn’t imagine getting up in the morning and working on anything other than climate justice,” he told an audience at Concord Academy on November 16. “Since then, everything I’ve written has been about that ongoing struggle to come to terms with the climate catastrophe that’s bearing down on us all—and the movement fighting for a livable and just future on this planet.”
Stephenson was the second speaker in this year’s Environmental Symposium, a one-semester evening course and lecture series that offers all CA students an opportunity to learn from professional environmental scientists and advocates. An independent journalist and climate activist, Stephenson is a contributing writer for the Nation. Formerly an editor at the Atlantic and the Boston Globe, he has also written about climate change, culture, and politics for Slate, the New York Times, Grist, and the Boston Phoenix.
In CA’s Performing Arts Center, Stephenson read his recent essay “Walden at Midnight,” which was published in the new anthology Now Comes Good Sailing: Writers Reflect on Henry David Thoreau. (Read the essay in the Nation, there entitled “Seeing the Climate Crisis Through the Eyes of Henry Thoreau.”) He also discussed Thoreau’s political radicalism and its connection to today’s climate and social justice struggles.
Stephenson drew particular parallels between Thoreau’s active—and risky—engagement with the abolitionist movement in Concord and the kind of civic action needed today to address the climate crisis. He cited a line from Thoreau’s radical abolitionist essay we know as “Civil Disobedience”: “Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine.”
“Climate change is an enormous racial injustice in its own right,” Stephenson told CA students. “The vast majority affected by climate change are in the Global South—not white, already burdened with the legacy of white supremacy and colonialism. They’ve done virtually nothing to cause the problem and are the first to suffer from it.”
On a more fundamental level, the lesson Stephenson drew from the abolitionist movement was the role of radical activism and political action in a social movement for societal change. “As a longtime journalist who has focused on American political history,” he said, “I’ll tell you that no major change has ever been accomplished in this country on any deep, fundamental issue without radicals pushing for it.”
Stephenson’s essay cites some dire climate-science forecasts, including catastrophic sea level rise and the extinction of an immense number of species, which has already begun to unfold. In a Q&A session, he was asked how he reconciles the seemingly conflicting notions that natural processes are so much greater than humans but that humans are affecting natural processes. “It is worth reminding ourselves that the earth will go on, that life on earth will continue regardless of what happens with human-caused climate change and mass extinction,” Stephenson said. “It’s easy to lose sight that what we’re really talking about is humanity.” That distinction is important, he said, because “it keeps something vast focused on the here and now.”
In this way, Stephenson said he can better continue to take in the reality of what we are facing, and continue to engage.
Rethinking Call-Out Culture: Loretta J. Ross Speaks to Schools across the U.S. through New Roads Critical Conversations Series
In her work as an activist and teacher, Loretta J. Ross says she leads with “grace, love, and respect” as opposed to “blame, shame, and punishment.” She believes in the power of accountability though calling others in rather than calling them out.
2021 Joan Shaw Herman Award Recipient Dr. Leslie Davidson ’66 Speaks About Service and Public Health with CA Students
Throughout her professional and academic career, physician Leslie Davidson ’66 has focused on meeting communities’ needs. “You have to be linked to the population of the community you are serving,” Davison said during a talk she gave at Concord Academy on November 12.
From Calculators to Cryptocurrency: New Course Allows Students to Explore Real-World Applications of Mathematics
When designing the new course Discrete Mathematics, George Larivee wanted to cover topics outside the scope of the existing math curriculum at CA. He asked himself what both he and students would be interested in, and electronics quickly came to mind. He decided that this topic would kick off his course focused on applied mathematics.