A Call to Arms: Bill McKibben

February 13, 2020

“We’re now in the early and dangerous stages of climate change.”

Bill McKibben is an author, educator, and legendary environmentalist. He is the Founder of 350.org, spearheaded the resistance to the Keystone Pipeline, and launched the fast-growing fossil fuel divestment movement. We talk about his new book Falter, reducing our carbon footprint, and the power of working together to face climate change.

Nonviolent Social Movement

Through non-violent social movements, we can demand meaningful change in the political and economic calculus for polluters. Climate strikes, extinction rebellions, and concerted efforts to stop devastating environmental policies have inspired a new generation of activists. The successful opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline showed that people could stand up to oil companies, and win. By stopping or delaying new fossil fuel projects, renewables have a better chance to take hold and in the meantime the technology has time to get cheaper and better. The divestment movement is another key piece of non-violent activism. Divestments from fossil fuels now total more than $12 trillion, and has become a material risk for those businesses.

Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

We must all address our individual carbon footprint in order to solve climate change. One Vermont family reduced their carbon footprint by 88% overnight. With the help of Green Mountain Utility, they fully insulated their house and installed high-efficiency air source heat pumps and solar panels. Even after including the costs of new appliances and insulation, their energy bills were still lower than before. We can all do similar makeovers because this technology is widely available at places like Home Depot. The technology and science to move toward carbon-neutrality already exist, we just need to use them.

What if?

Oil giant Exxon knew as early as the mid-1980s that climate change was real and man-made. Exxon was so aware of the impending crisis that they started building their offshore drilling rigs to compensate for the rise in sea levels that they knew was coming. Instead of telling the public, they hid their findings and denied climate change. McKibben wonders what the world would be like if they had been honest and had been part of the solution. His hypothesis is that the price of renewables, such as solar panels and wind turbines, would have fallen much earlier; new oil and gas exploration would have stopped; homes would be better insulated; and that a modest price on carbon would have been enacted. The result? A dramatically less polluted planet and a much different economy. Had we started earlier to combat warming, course correction would have been both easier and less costly.

 

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Bill McKibben is a legendary environmentalist, author, and educator whose 1989 book The End of Nature is regarded as the first book for a general audience about climate change. He has written dozens of books, is a staff writer at The New Yorker, and founded 350.org, the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement.

The Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he was the 2013 winner of the Gandhi Prize and the Thomas Merton Prize, and holds honorary degrees from 18 colleges and universities. Foreign Policy named him to their inaugural list of the world’s 100 most important global thinkers, and the Boston Globe said he was “probably America’s most important environmentalist.” In 2014, he was awarded the Right Livelihood Prize, sometimes called the ‘alternative Nobel.’

A former staff writer for the New Yorker, he writes frequently for a wide variety of publications around the world, including the New York Review of BooksNational Geographic, and Rolling Stone. He lives in the mountains above Lake Champlain with his wife, the writer Sue Halpern, where he spends as much time as possible outdoors. In 2014, biologists honored him by naming a new species of woodland gnat — Megophthalmidia mckibbeni — in his honor.

You can follow Bill on Twitter @billmckibben and 350.org @350.