Bill McKibben is the author of a dozen books about the environment, beginning with The End of Nature in 1989, which is regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change. He is a founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org, which has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009. Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, he holds honorary degrees from a dozen colleges, including the Universities of Massachusetts and Maine, the State University of New York, and Whittier and Colgate Colleges. In 2011 he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. For more information, visit billmckibben.com
[as described by the Environmental Studies Program]
McKibben’s lecture is entitled “Building the Movement to Save the Climate.”
7:32 Lang Concert Hall is abuzz with excitement, and seats are going fast. There seem to be many TriCo students here as well. No sign of McKibben yet.
7:37 Peter Collings, Physics Professor and Coordinator of the Environmental Studies Department at Swarthmore College, starts off the evening as the lights start to dim.
7:38 A representative of Pendle Hill, the Quaker organization that organized this event, is showing photos from a recent protest of the Keystone XL Pipeline in Washington, D.C. She says that the protest, in which many were arrested, would have made her very nervous if it hadn’t been for the leadership of McKibben’s organization. Partly as a result of this meeting, McKibben accepted an invitation to come speak at Pendle Hill.
7:44 McKibben takes the stage, saying “my job is sort of to be a bummer-outer of people.” He was at Capitol Hill this morning.
7:46 ”I know you know a lot about climate change, so I’m not going to talk too much about the science,” McKibben says. “I’m really more interested in talking about where we are right now.”
7:48 McKibben is explaining that human civilization has left the Holocene behind. The Holocene is a period in geological time that, as scientists understand it, cannot exist with the current level of human activity and climate change.
7:50 One major result of climate change, says McKibben, is greater incidence of draught and downpour as the water cycle goes wild.
7:55 ”This is simply the biggest issue people have ever faced,” says McKibben.
7:56 McKibben explains that he and the movement around him have become disillusioned by the US Federal Government’s (and particularly Congress’s) inability to act on clear scientific data about climate change. He seems to suggest that these politicians are not the solution because they will never take climate change seriously as a political issue.
8:00 McKibben is speaking of the strong sense of unfairness in the global effects of climate change.
8:06 A NASA paper that cited the number 350 parts per million as the maximum sustainable level of annual carbon emissions marked a pivotal moment in McKibben’s campaign. His website, 350.org, was inspired by this paper.
8:10 350′s landmark day of protest was reported as CNN as the biggest combined political protest event in history.
8:13 The Copenhagen Climate Conference was a flop, in McKibben’s opinion. 117 countries signed onto an agreement to reduce emissions, but, in McKibben’s words, “they were the wrong 117 countries.”
8:14 350 “is deeply involved in every country on Earth except North Korea,” McKibben reports.
8:15 Part of 350′s mission is to remind people that extreme weather events are part of a pattern. As an example, McKibben points out that if Pakistan floods for a second summer in a row, “people will get a little pissed off.”
8:20 Protests against the Keystone KL Pipeline were “the largest instance of political disobedience in 30 years,” McKibben says.’
8:25 McKibben: “The white-hot center of this problem is the energy industry.
8:28 The “subsidy” McKibben really wants to get rid of is the fossil fuel industry’s right to dump their waste for free. “We can’t win [the fight] until we get rid of this industry,” he says.
8:34 ”If you were a betting person,” McKibben suggests, “you would probably bet against [our movement].” He thinks the Civil Rights Movement may have had greater reason to believe they would achieve their goals than the environmental movement. Revising Dr. King, he says, “the arc of the universe is short and it bends towards heat.”
8:35 ”…but maybe it’ll come out ok.”
8:38 And with that, McKibben’s talk is finished. The audience is on its feet, with many people taking photos. Now on to questions.
8:40 Someone asks about non-cooperation. McKibben says divestment from dirty energy companies is something to work for after the elections, but for now the goal is to take down politicians who take money from them.
8:43 Someone suggests environmentalists put warning labels on gas pumps, similar to the way warning labels are put on cigarette packages.
8:44 Someone asks what a world at “350″ looks like. McKibben says that maybe, just maybe, “by the end of the century we will be back down to that level… We will need a WWII-style effort to build out” clean energy and infrastructure. He adds that this sort of stimulus could be part of a solution to lingering unemployment from the Great Recession.
8:49 McKibben mentions the Intervale Center, a focal point for the local food movement in Burlington, Vermont. We can’t forget about “the beautiful things people are doing in their local communities,” he says.
8:52 McKibben says that a Fee & Dividend Carbon Tax would be the best economic solution to climate change. It would tax the purchase of carbon-emitting products and then redistribute the revenue to the entire population. “Most people would come out ahead… if you own a Lear Jet, you’ll come out behind. But that’s ok, because owning a Lear Jet at this point is a deeply anti-social activity.”
8:58 The talk is over, and people are filtering out.