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John Green Talks Climate Change and the Apocalypse at Memorial Church

John Green speaks at Harvard's Memorial Church on Friday evening, opening the William Belden Noble Lecture series.
John Green speaks at Harvard's Memorial Church on Friday evening, opening the William Belden Noble Lecture series. By Ben Y. Cammarata
By Rohan Rajeev, Crimson Staff Writer

Students lined up across Tercentenary Theatre on Friday evening to hear best-selling author John Green talk about the end of the world.

Friday’s event kicked off Memorial Church’s 2022-2023 William Belden Noble Lecture series, which will center on the climate crisis. The lecture series was fo unded in 1898 by Nannie Yulee Noble in honor of her husband, who graduated from Harvard College in 1885.

Matthew Potts hosted the event, marking his first time leading the annual lecture series since he was appointed Pusey Minister of Memorial Church in the spring of 2021.

Green is the author of “The Fault in our Stars” and other young adult best-selling novels. He also founded widely popular YouTube channels, including educational series “Crash Course,” with his brother. In his latest work “The Anthropocene Reviewed,” Green published a collection of his essays discussing the influence of human activity on the planet.

In an interview, Green said the invitation to join the lecture series was “too great of an opportunity to pass up.”

“It's a huge privilege to be able to come to Harvard and talk with and learn from an extraordinary student body,” he said.

Green opened the speech by addressing what makes the current climate crisis and the threat it poses to humans unique.

“We're not the first species to become so powerful on Earth that we muck up the climate and threaten the planet's biodiversity by altering its atmosphere,” he said. “But we're the first species to know what we're doing while we do it.”

Green added that a slow response to the climate could result in “a generations-long decline in the planet's habitability by humans” — a scenario he described as “worse than a mere apocalypse.”

Author John Green spoke before a capacity crowd at Memorial Church on Friday.
Author John Green spoke before a capacity crowd at Memorial Church on Friday. By Ben Y. Cammarata

He said such a potential drop in habitability would be “a decline that harms first and disproportionately the most marginalized people, the most impoverished and vulnerable, who are of course also the people least responsible for global carbon emissions.”

Green explained that religion offers him a way to weather a future ripe with uncertainty and potential despair.

“What I need to know is what to do with this surreal miracle of consciousness, how to live and grieve and hope in a world where everything we're certain of will end, and for me the life of Jesus and the disciples offers a path,” he said.

Chinyere S. Obasi ’24, who attended the talk, asked Green how artists, writers, and creators could respond to the words of Jesus in a Q&A session following the lecture.

“I am deeply and pleasantly surprised both by how theological he was willing to be and how hopeful he is — how hopeful he is on our behalf and for himself. It's a truly magical thing to watch,” Obasi said.

Elizabeth Propst, a ministry intern at Memorial Church, said the church is focusing on the important, yet often ignored, aspects of dealing with the climate crisis.

“The church is trying to lead people in thinking — spiritually and just like in terms of mental health and emotional resilience — how are we as a species going to get through this?” she said.

Green ended the lecture on a hopeful note, assuring attendees that despite the harm human activity has caused, humans merit preservation in the face of the climate crisis.

“I want you to believe that we're worth it,” Green concluded, adding that “the human capacity for love is astonishing.”

—Staff writer Rohan Rajeev can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @rohanrajeev_.

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