Tuesday, February 19, 2013 12:23 PM
From climate science to grassroots organizing, for 350.org founder Bill McKibben, it's all about the numbers.
This article originally appeared at Waging Nonviolence.
You can’t build a movement without
numbers. If anyone understands that, it’s 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben.
Standing in front of an estimated crowd
of 50,000 people gathered for the Forward on Climate rally yesterday on the
National Mall in Washington,
D.C. he said, “All I ever wanted
to see was a movement of people to stop climate change, and now I’ve seen it.”
Billed as “the largest climate rally in U.S. history,”
the event was intended as one final push to convince President Obama that his
environmental legacy hinges on whether he rejects the Keystone XL pipeline — a
conduit to what has been called by NASA scientist James Hansen “the world’s
largest carbon bomb.” To underscore this point, 350.org has consistently made
an effort to quantify its achievements into superlatives, ready-made for
Yet, had they not put so much effort into
creating the perception of a powerful movement, they might not have ever built
one. According to political scientist Erica Chenoweth, co-author of Why
Civil Resistance Works, “There is power in numbers, and the more people
participate, the more likely the movement is to effect real change.
Interestingly, this may lead more people to participate because they want to
join a movement that will ultimately be successful.”
Patrick Reinsborough of the Center for Story-Based Strategy (formerly smartMeme),
which trains activists to use narrative as a tool, agrees. “The most important
thing to communicate is that this movement is growing, and that everyday
citizens are willing to step out of their comfort zone in order to be seen and
heard,” he said.
For more than six years, McKibben has
been at the forefront of efforts to create a broad-based movement that can
create the pressure for policies that would bring carbon emissions to a safe
upper limit. According to James Hansen, that limit, which was long ago
surpassed, is 350 parts per million — a number so important to McKibben, he
named his group after it.
While this decision has led some to
criticize 350.org for having a name that’s too ambiguous or scientific for the
average person, McKibben
has long argued, “Arabic numerals are the one thing that cross globally.”
This fact seems to be guiding his broader belief in the power of numbers as
“The hardest thing about climate change
is the sense that one is too small to make a difference,” McKibben told Waging
Nonviolence. “So we’ve helped people to understand that they’re part of
something large, maybe large enough to matter. That helps them feel engaged, I
think, and has the advantage of being the truth.” McKibben’s
feature article for Rolling Stone last summer — one of the most-read
in the magazine’s history — and his recent 21-city
sold-out speaking tour had the word “math” in the title.
Even before the debate over its name,
when 350.org was just six students and a professor at Middlebury
College in Vermont, the focus was on numbers — numbers
that set records, showed the scale of an action or quantified an achievement.
For instance, in 2006, the group
successfully pressured Middlebury to commit to carbon neutrality by 2015. Soon
after that, it organized a five-day march across Vermont to demand action on global warming.
Nearly a thousand people took part, and many newspapers called it the largest
climate change demonstration in America.
Then, in 2007, with a campaign called Step It Up, which sought to visually
depict the concept of an 80 percent carbon reduction by 2050, 350.org organized
a day of action that netted 1,400 demonstrations across all 50 states, calling
it, “the first open source, web-based day of action dedicated to stopping
Since becoming 350.org a year later, the
group has had a string of even more impressive achievements. In 2009, it
organized 5,200 actions in 181 countries for “the most widespread day of
political action in the planet’s history.” The following year saw two other
landmark actions: the Global Work Party and 350 EARTH. The former generated
more than 7,000 climate solutions projects in 188 countries and has been called
the most widespread day of climate action in history. Meanwhile, 350 EARTH,
which took place a month later, managed to gather tens of thousands of people
for several of the biggest
art projects ever seen — so big they could only be seen from space.
If there was any criticism of 350.org at
this point, it was that that the organizers were having too much fun. During
those two years of dramatic actions, Congress and the United Nations failed to
pass binding climate legislation. Many activists were beginning to wonder
whether the impressive showing by 350.org was anything more than just a show.
Leading voices within the climate
movement, such as Tim DeChristopher — who famously disrupted an oil and gas
lease auction in 2008 and spent
the last two years in prison as a result — wanted to see the group leverage
the power of its growing base by engaging in civil disobedience. McKibben
eventually heeded the call and in August and September of 2011, 350.org — under
the guise of Tar Sands Action — held two weeks of sit-ins outside the White
House, calling on President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. Despite
some initial uncertainty about whether arrests would scare people away, the
campaign proved to be yet another historic moment for the climate movement.
Over 1,200 people were arrested and McKibben called it “the largest civil
disobedience action on any issue in 30 years.”
Since then, there has been a boom in
civil disobedience and nonviolent direct actions against the pipeline, from grassroots
activists in Texas and Oklahoma
to mainstream environmentalists like Sierra
Club executive director Michael Brune. McKibben has also recently hinted at
another mass civil disobedience, possibly this summer, telling a crowd of
students in New York City
a couple weeks ago to “keep an eye on 350.org and save up bail money.”
In order to get to this point, 350.org
has had to slowly build upon action after action, finding the right way to
frame its accomplishments for maximum effect. Other successful movements have
done the same, such as the Serbian student movement Otpor!, which started with
just 11 people and used graffiti and small, clever actions that never revealed
their numbers until they had grown enough to topple dictator Slobodan
More recently, in Egypt, says
Erica Chenoweth, “groups of activists would deliberately make their way down
small alleyways to give the impression that there were many more people
participating. It created something of an optical illusion — a small number in
a small space looks bigger than a small number in a big space.”
While the climate movement may be close
to toppling a pipeline, it’s far from toppling the dictatorship of the
fossil-fuels industry. Chenoweth has a number of her own for what major
systemic change requires. “If you buy the
5 percent rule — that if 5 percent of the population mobilizes, it’s
impossible for the government to ignore them — then in the U.S. context it
would mean mobilizing well over 15 million people in a sustained way,” she
When asked what he thought winning would
require, McKibben said, “I’ve got no idea. It will take more than any of us can
imagine.” That might be surprising coming from a man so concerned with numbers
and so good at making them compelling. But right now, the only math that seems
to matter to him is how long it has taken to get to this point. And for that
reason, he’s savoring the moment.
“I waited a quarter century since I wrote
the first book about all this stuff to see if we were going to fight,” McKibben
told yesterday’s crowd. “And today, I know we are going to fight. The most
fateful battle in human history is finally joined, and we will fight it
Image of Bill McKibben at Sunday's Forward on Climate rally in Washington, DC by Josh Lopez, 350.org.
Monday, June 04, 2012 11:58 AM
This post originally appeared on Tom Dispatch.
It’s been a tough few weeks
for the forces of climate-change denial.
First came the giant
billboard with Unabomber Ted Kacynzki’s face plastered across it:
“I Still Believe in Global Warming. Do You?” Sponsored by the Heartland
Institute, the nerve-center of climate-change denial, it was supposed to draw
attention to the fact that “the most prominent advocates of global warming
aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.” Instead it drew
attention to the fact that these guys had over-reached, and with predictable
hard-hitting campaign from a new group called Forecast
the Facts persuaded many of the corporations backing Heartland to
withdraw $825,000 in funding;
an entire wing of the Institute, devoted to helping the insurance industry,
calved off to form its own nonprofit. Normally friendly politicians like
Wisconsin Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner announced that they would
boycott the group’s annual conference unless the billboard campaign was ended.
Which it was, before the
billboards with Charles Manson and Osama bin Laden could be unveiled, but not
before the damage was done: Sensenbrenner spoke at last month’s conclave, but
attendance was way down at the annual gathering, and Heartland leaders
announced that there were no plans for another of the yearly fests. Heartland’s
head, Joe Bast, complained that his
side had been subjected to the most “uncivil name-calling and disparagement you
can possibly imagine from climate alarmists,” which was both a little rich --
after all, he was the guy with the mass-murderer billboards -- but also a
little pathetic. A whimper had replaced the characteristically confident snarl
of the American right.
That pugnaciousness may return: Mr. Bast said last week that
he was finding new corporate sponsors, that he was building a new small-donor
base that was “Greenpeace-proof,” and that in any event the billboard had been
a fine idea anyway because it had “generated more than $5 million in earned
media so far.” (That’s a bit like saying that for a successful White House bid
John Edwards should have had more mistresses and babies because look at all the
publicity!) Whatever the final outcome, it’s worth noting that, in a larger
sense, Bast is correct: this tiny collection of deniers has actually been
incredibly effective over the past years.
The best of them—and that
would be Marc Morano, proprietor of the website Climate Depot, and Anthony
Watts, of the website Watts Up With That—have fought with remarkable tenacity
to stall and delay the inevitable recognition that we’re in serious trouble.
They’ve never had much to work with. Only one even remotely serious scientist
remains in the denialist camp. That’s MIT’s Richard Lindzen, who has been
arguing for years that while global warming is real it won’t be as severe as
almost all his colleagues believe. But as a long article in the New
York Times detailed last month, the credibility of that sole dissenter is
basically shot. Even the peer reviewers he approved for his last paper told the National
Academy of Sciences that it didn’t merit publication. (It ended up in a
“little-known Korean journal.”)
Deprived of actual publishing
scientists to work with, they’ve relied on a small troupe of vaudeville
performers, featuring them endlessly on their websites. Lord Christopher
Monckton, for instance, an English peer (who has been officially warned by the House
of Lords to stop saying he’s a member) began his speech at
Heartland’s annual conference by boasting that he had “no scientific
qualification” to challenge the science of climate change.
He’s proved the truth of that
claim many times, beginning in his pre-climate-change career when he explained to readers of the American
Spectator that "there is only one way to stop AIDS. That is to screen
the entire population regularly and to quarantine all carriers of the disease
for life.” His personal contribution to the genre of climate-change
mass-murderer analogies has been to explain that a group of young
climate-change activists who tried to take over a stage where he was speaking
were “Hitler Youth.”
Or consider Lubos Motl, a
Czech theoretical physicist who has never published on climate change but
nonetheless keeps up a steady stream of web assaults on scientists he calls
“fringe kibitzers who want to become universal dictators” who should “be
thinking how to undo your inexcusable behavior so that you will spend as little
time in prison as possible.” On the crazed killer front, Motl said that, while
he supported many of Norwegian gunman Anders Breivik’s ideas, it was hard to
justify gunning down all those children—still, it did demonstrate that
“right-wing people... may even be more efficient while killing—and the probable
reason is that Breivik may have a higher IQ than your garden variety left-wing
or Islamic terrorist.”
If your urge is to laugh at
this kind of clown show, the joke’s on you—because it’s worked. I mean, James
Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who has emerged victorious in every Senate
fight on climate change, cites Motl regularly; Monckton has testified four
times before the U.S. Congress.
Morano, one of the most
skilled political operatives of the age—he “broke the story” that became the Swiftboat
attack on John Kerry—plays rough: he regularly publishes the email addresses of
those he pillories, for instance, so his readers can pile on the abuse. But he
plays smart, too. He’s a favorite of Fox News and of Rush Limbaugh, and he and
his colleagues have used those platforms to make it anathema for any Republican
politician to publicly express a belief in the reality of climate change.
Take Newt Gingrich, for
instance. Only four years ago he was willing to sit on a love seat with Nancy
Pelosi and film a commercial for a campaign headed by
Al Gore. In it he explained that he agreed with the California Congresswoman and then-Speaker of
the House that the time had come for action on climate. This fall, hounded by
Morano, he was forced to recant again and again. His dalliance with the truth
about carbon dioxide hurt him more among the Republican faithful than any other
single “failing.” Even Mitt Romney, who as governor of Massachusetts actually took some action on
global warming, has now been reduced to claiming
that scientists may tell us “in 50 years” if we have anything to fear.
In other words, a small cadre
of fervent climate-change deniers took control of the Republican Party on the
issue. This, in turn, has meant control of Congress, and since the president
can’t sign a treaty by himself, it’s effectively meant stifling any significant
international progress on global warming. Put another way, the various right wing billionaires
and energy companies who have bankrolled this stuff have gotten their money’s
worth many times over.
One reason the denialists’
campaign has been so successful, of course, is that they’ve also managed to
intimidate the other side. There aren’t many senators who rise with the passion
or frequency of James Inhofe but to warn of the dangers of ignoring what’s
really happening on our embattled planet.
It’s a striking barometer of
intimidation that Barack Obama, who has a clear enough understanding of climate
change and its dangers, has barely mentioned the subject for four years. He did
show a little leg to his liberal base in Rolling Stoneearlier this spring
by hinting that climate change could become a campaign issue. Last week,
however, he passed on his best chance to make good on that promise when he gave
a long speech on energy at an Iowa
wind turbine factory without even mentioning
global warming. Because the GOP has been so unreasonable, the president clearly
feels he can take the environmental vote by staying silent, which means the
odds that he’ll do anything dramatic in the next four years grow steadily
On the brighter side, not
everyone has been intimidated. In fact, a spirited counter-movement has arisen
in recent years. The very same weekend that Heartland tried to put the
Unabomber’s face on global warming, 350.org conducted thousands
of rallies around the globe to show who climate change really affects. In a
year of mobilization, we also managed to block—at
least temporarily—the Keystone pipeline
that would have brought the dirtiest of dirty energy, tar-sands oil, from the
Canadian province of Alberta to the Gulf Coast.
In the meantime, our Canadian allies are fighting hard to block a similar
pipeline that would bring those tar sands to the Pacific for export.
Similarly, in just the last
few weeks, hundreds of thousands have signed on to demand
an end to fossil-fuel subsidies.
And new polling data already
show more Americans worried about our changing climate, because they’ve noticed
the freakish weather of the last few years and drawn the obvious conclusion.
But damn, it’s a hard fight,
up against a ton of money and a ton of inertia. Eventually, climate denial will
“lose,” because physics and chemistry are not intimidated even by Lord
Monckton. But timing is everything—if he and
his ilk, a crew of certified planet wreckers, delay action past the point where
it can do much good, they’ll be able to claim one of the epic victories in
political history—one that will last for
Bill McKibben is Schumann
Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of the global climate
a TomDispatch regular,
and the author, most recently, of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter
@TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.
Copyright 2012 Bill McKibben
Image by Ansgar
Walk, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 12:43 PM
Ever feel like your entire life is unsustainable? Sure, you recycle, maybe even compost or bike to work. But your student loans are out of control and you’re working overtime just to pay the bills and eat organic. Health care, vacation time, and retirement savings feel like pipe dreams. One misstep and the whole thing could unravel.
Mostly, you try to avoid asking “what if?” But you’re not the only one looking for answers. The creators of Global Teach-In believe that if we put our heads together, we can come up with a set of solutions for the economic, environmental, and energy crises. April 25th, in cities across the US (and a handful of cities worldwide), Global Teach-In will aim to inspire and empower everyday people to create change. Speakers including Bill McKibben of 350.org, Pamela Brown of the New School for Social Research, and Robert Pollin of the Political Economy Research Institute will start conversations on topics from alternative energy to corporate personhood, single payer health care to the student loan crises. For anyone waiting to get inspired and be part of the solution, it's an opportunity not to be missed.
Image: "Change" by Felix Burton, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, April 05, 2012 3:45 PM
This post originally appeared on Tom Dispatch.
“fivedollaragallongas,” the energy watchword for the next few months is:
“subsidies.” Last week, for instance, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez proposed ending some of the billions of dollars in handouts
enjoyed by the fossil-fuel industry with a “Repeal Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act.”
It was, in truth, nothing to write home about -- a curiously skimpy bill that
only targeted oil companies, and just the five richest of them at that. Left
out were coal and natural gas, and you won’t be surprised to learn that even
then it didn’t pass.
President Obama is now calling for an end to oil subsidies at every stop on his
early presidential-campaign-plus-fundraising blitz -- even at those stops where
he’s also promising to “drill everywhere.” And later this month Vermont Senator
Bernie Sanders will introduce a much more comprehensive bill that tackles
all fossil fuels and their purveyors (and has no chance whatsoever of passing this
Whether or not
the bill passes, those subsidies are worth focusing on. After all, we’re talking
at least $10 billion in freebies and, depending on what you count, possibly as
much as $40 billion annually in freebie cash for an energy industry already
making historic profits. If attacking them is a convenient way for the White
House to deflect public anger over rising gas prices, it is also a perfect fit
for the new worldview the Occupy movement has been teaching Americans. (Not to
mention, if you think about it, the Tea Party focus on deficits.) So count on
one thing: we’ll be hearing a lot more about them this year.
But there’s a problem: the very word “subsidies” makes American eyes glaze
over. It sounds so boring, like something that has everything to do with
finance and taxes and accounting, and nothing to do with you. Which is just the
reaction that the energy giants are relying on: that it’s a subject profitable
enough for them and dull enough for us that no one will really bother to
challenge their perks, many of which date back decades.
By some estimates, getting rid of all the planet’s fossil-fuel
subsidies could get us halfway to ending the threat of climate change. Many of
those subsidies, however, take the form of cheap, subsidized gas in
petro-states, often with impoverished populations -- as in Nigeria, where popular protests forced the government to back down on a
decision to cut such subsidies earlier this year. In the U.S., though,
they’re simply straightforward presents to rich companies, gifts from the 99%
to the 1%.
attention is to be paid, we have to figure out a language in which to talk
about them that will make it clear just how loony our policy is.
Start this way: you subsidize something you want to encourage, something
that might not happen if you didn’t support it financially. Think of something
we heavily subsidize -- education. We build schools, and give government loans
and grants to college kids; for those of us who are parents, tuition will often
be the last big subsidy we give the children we’ve raised. The theory is: young
people don’t know enough yet. We need to give them a hand when it comes to
further learning, so they’ll be a help to society in the future. From that
analogy, here are five rules of the road that should be applied to the
subsidize those who already have plenty of cash on hand. No one would propose a
government program of low-interest loans to send the richest kids in the
country to college. (It’s true that schools may let them in more easily on the
theory that their dads will build gymnasiums, but that’s a different story.) We
assume that the wealthy will pay full freight. Similarly, we should assume that
the fossil-fuel business, the most profitable industry on Earth, should pay its
way, too. What possible reason is there for giving Exxon the odd billion in
extra breaks? Year after year the company sets record for money-making -- last
year it managed to rake in a mere $41 billion in profit, just
failing to break its own 2008 all-time mark of $45 billion.
subsidize people forever. If students need government loans to help them get
bachelor’s degrees, that’s sound policy. But if they want loans to get their
11th BA, they should pay themselves. We learned how to burn coal 300 years ago.
A subsidized fossil-fuel industry is the equivalent of a 19-year-old repeating
third grade yet again.
you’ll subsidize something for a sensible reason and it won’t work out. The
government gave some of our money to a solar power company called Solyndra. Though
it was small potatoes compared to what we hand over to the fossil-fuel
industry, it still stung when they lost it. But since we’re in the process of
figuring out how to perfect solar power and drive down its cost, it makes sense
to subsidize it. Think of it as the equivalent of giving a high-school senior a
scholarship to go to college. Most of the time that works out. But since I live
in a college town, I can tell you that 20% of kids spend four years drinking:
they’re human Solyndras. It’s not exactly a satisfying thing to see happen, but
we don’t shut down the college as a result.
subsidize something you want less of. At this point, the greatest human
challenge is to get off of fossil fuels. If we don’t do it soon, the
climatologists tell us, our prospects as a civilization are grim indeed. So
lending a significant helping hand to companies intent on driving us towards
disaster is perverse. It’s like giving a fellowship to a graduate student who
wants to pursue a thesis on “Strategies for Stimulating Donut Consumption Among
5. Don’t give
subsidies to people who have given you cash. Most of the men and women who vote
in Congress each year to continue subsidies have taken
campaign donations from big energy companies. In essence, they’ve been
given small gifts by outfits to whom they then return large presents, using our money, not theirs. It’s a
good strategy, if you’re an energy company -- or maybe even a congressional
representative eager to fund a reelection campaign. Oil Change International estimates that fossil-fuel companies get $59 back for every
dollar they spend on donations and lobbying, a return on investment that makes
Bernie Madoff look shabby. It’s no different from sending a college financial
aid officer a hundred-dollar bill in the expectation that he’ll give your
daughter a scholarship worth tens of thousands of dollars. Bribery is what it
is. And there’s no chance it will yield the best energy policy or the best
These five rules
seem simple and straightforward to me, even if they don’t get at the biggest
subsidy we give the fossil-fuel business: the right -- alone among industries
-- to pour their waste into the atmosphere for free. And then there’s the small
matter of the money we sink into the military might we must employ to guard the various places
they suck oil from.
rid of these direct payoffs would, however, be a start, a blow struck for, if
nothing else, the idea that we’re not just being played for suckers and saps.
This is the richest industry on Earth, a planet they’re helping wreck, and
we’re paying them a bonus to do it.
In most schools
outside of K Street,
that’s an answer that would get a failing grade and we’d start calling
subsidies by another name. Handouts, maybe. Freebies. Baksheesh. Payola. Or to
use the president's formulation, "all of the above."
McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of
the global climate campaign
, and the author, most
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.
Image by Ben Lunsford, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, January 05, 2012 1:52 PM
This post originally appeared at
My resolution for 2012 is to be naïve—dangerously naïve.
I’m aware that the usual recipe for political effectiveness is just the opposite: to be cynical, calculating, an insider. But if you think, as I do, that we need deep change in this country, then cynicism is a sucker’s bet. Try as hard as you can, you’re never going to be as cynical as the corporations and the harem of politicians they pay for. It’s like trying to outchant a Buddhist monastery.
Here’s my case in point, one of a thousand stories people working for social change could tell: All last fall, most of the environmental movement, including 350.org, the group I helped found, waged a fight against the planned Keystone XL pipeline that would bring some of the dirtiest energy on the planet from Canada through the U.S. to the Gulf Coast. We waged our struggle against building it out in the open, presenting scientific argument, holding demonstrations, and attending hearings. We sent 1,253 people to jailin the largest civil disobedience action in a generation. Meanwhile, more than half a million Americans offered public comments against the pipeline, the most on any energy project in the nation’s history.
And what do you know? We won a small victory in November, when President Obama agreed that, before he could give the project a thumbs-up or -down, it needed another year of careful review. (The previous version of that review, as overseen by the State Department, had been little short of a crony capitalist farce.) Given that James Hansen, the government’s premier climate scientist, had said that tapping Canada’s tar sands for that pipeline would, in the end, essentially mean “game over for the climate,” that seemed an eminently reasonable course to follow, even if it was also eminently political.
A few weeks later, however, Congress decided it wanted to take up the question. In the process, the issue went from out in the open to behind closed doors in money-filled rooms. Within days, and after only a couple of hours of hearings that barely mentioned the key scientific questions or the dangers involved, the House of Representatives voted 234-194 to force a quicker review of the pipeline. Later, the House attached its demand to the must-pass payroll tax cut.
That was an obvious pre-election year attempt to put the president on the spot. Environmentalists are at least hopeful that the White House will now reject the permit. After all, its communications director said that the rider, by hurrying the decision, “virtually guarantees that the pipeline will not be approved.”
As important as the vote total in the House, however, was another number: within minutes of the vote, Oil Change International had calculated that the 234 Congressional representatives who voted aye had received $42 million in campaign contributions from the fossil-fuel industry; the 193 nays, $8 million.
I know that cynics—call them realists, if you prefer—will be completely unsurprised by that. Which is precisely the problem.
We’ve reached the point where we’re unfazed by things that should shake us to the core. So, just for a moment, be naïve and consider what really happened in that vote: the people’s representatives who happen to have taken the bulk of the money from those energy companies promptly voted on behalf of their interests.
They weren’t weighing science or the national interest; they weren’t balancing present benefits against future costs. Instead of doing the work of legislators, that is, they were acting like employees. Forget the idea that they’re public servants; the truth is that, in every way that matters, they work for Exxon and its kin. They should, by rights, wear logos on their lapels like NASCAR drivers.
If you find this too harsh, think about how obligated you feel when someone gives you something. Did you get a Christmas present last month from someone you hadn’t remembered to buy one for? Are you going to send them an extra-special one next year?
And that’s for a pair of socks. Speaker of the House John Boehner, who insisted that the Keystone approval decision be speeded up, has gotten $1,111,080 from the fossil-fuel industry during his tenure. His Senate counterpart Mitch McConnell, who shepherded the bill through his chamber, has raked in $1,277,208 in the course of his tenure in Washington.
If someone had helped your career to the tune of a million dollars, wouldn’t you feel in their debt? I would. I get somewhat less than that from my employer, Middlebury College, and yet I bleed Panther blue. Don’t ask me to compare my school with, say, Dartmouth unless you want a biased answer, because that’s what you’ll get. Which is fine—I am an employee.
But you’d be a fool to let me referee the homecoming football game. In fact, in any other walk of life we wouldn’t think twice before concluding that paying off the referees is wrong. If the Patriots make the Super Bowl, everyone in America would be outraged to see owner Robert Kraft trot out to midfield before the game and hand a $1,000 bill to each of the linesmen and field judges.
If he did it secretly, the newspaper reporter who uncovered the scandal would win a Pulitzer. But a political reporter who bothered to point out Boehner’s and McConnell’s payoffs would be upbraided by her editor for simpleminded journalism. That’s how the game is played and we’ve all bought into it, even if only to sputter in hopeless outrage.
Far from showing any shame, the big players boast about it: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, front outfit for a consortium of corporations, has bragged on its website about outspending everyone in Washington, which is easy to do when Chevron, Goldman Sachs, and News Corp are writing you seven-figure checks. This really matters. The Chamber of Commerce spent more money on the 2010 elections than the Republican and Democratic National Committees combined, and 94% of those dollars went to climate-change deniers. That helps explain why the House voted last year to say that global warming isn’t real.
It also explains why “our” representatives vote, year in and year out, for billions of dollars worth of subsidies for fossil-fuel companies. If there was ever an industry that didn’t need subsidies, it would be this one: they make more moneyeach year than any enterprise in the history of money. Not only that, but we’ve known how to burn coal for 300 years and oil for 200.
Those subsidies are simply payoffs. Companies give small gifts to legislators, and in return get large ones back, and we’re the ones who are actually paying.
Whose Money? Whose Washington?
I don’t want to be hopelessly naïve. I want to be hopefully naïve. It would be relatively easy to change this: you could provide public financing for campaigns instead of letting corporations pay. It’s the equivalent of having the National Football League hire referees instead of asking the teams to provide them.
Public financing of campaigns would cost a little money, but endlessly less than paying for the presents these guys give their masters. And it would let you watch what was happening in Washington without feeling as disgusted. Even legislators, once they got the hang of it, might enjoy neither raising money nor having to pretend it doesn’t affect them.
To make this happen, however, we may have to change the Constitution, as we’ve done 27 times before. This time, we’d need to specify that corporations aren’t people, that money isn’t speech, and that it doesn’t abridge the First Amendment to tell people they can’t spend whatever they want getting elected. Winning a change like that would require hard political organizing, since big banks and big oil companies and big drug-makers will surely rally to protect their privilege.
Still, there’s a chance. The Occupy movement opened the door to this sort of change by reminding us all that the system is rigged, that its outcomes are unfair, that there’s reason to think people from across the political spectrum are tired of what we’ve got, and that getting angry and acting on that anger in the political arena is what being a citizen is all about.
It’s fertile ground for action. After all, Congress’s approval rating is now at 9%, which is another way of saying that everyone who’s not a lobbyist hates them and what they’re doing. The big boys are, of course, counting on us simmering down; they’re counting on us being cynical, on figuring there’s no hope or benefit in fighting city hall. But if we’re naïve enough to demand a country more like the one we were promised in high school civics class, then we have a shot.
A good time to take an initial stand comes later this month, when rallies outside every federal courthouse will mark the second anniversary of the Citizens United decision. That’s the one where the Supreme Court ruled that corporations had the right to spend whatever they wanted on campaigns.
To me, that decision was, in essence, corporate America saying, “We’re not going to bother pretending any more. This country belongs to us.”
We need to say, loud and clear: “Sorry. Time to give it back.”
Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of the global climate campaign
, and the author, most recently, of
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
. To catch Timothy MacBain’s first Tomcast audio interview of the new year in which McKibben discusses how the rest of us can compete with a system in which money talks, click here, or download it to your iPod here.
Copyright 2012 Bill McKibben
Image by Fort Wainwright Public Affairs Office, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011 12:21 PM
Some of the best stuff from the Twitter feeds we follow...
The Nation (@
Robert Reich eviscerates the Supercommittee's skewed priorities, draws a cartoon.
See more at The Nation
Mother Jones (@
Chart of the Day: How Not to Create Jobs mojo.ly/vy6C5e
Chuck Marr of CBPP notes that the CBO recently studied a laundry list of job creation proposals and concluded that higher unemployment benefits had the biggest bang for the buck. "That’s not surprising," he says, "given that jobless people are severely cash constrained and would quickly spend most of any incremental increase in cash and that, in turn, would lead to higher demand and job creation."
But which proposal came in last?
See Kevin Drum’s Chart of the Day at MoJo
The American Prospect (@
Despite what you've heard from many pundits, Mitt Romney isn't the kid who gets picked last in gym class. ampro.me/u6m2We
Mitt Romney is just as popular as Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich, his problem—in part—is that he has too many competitors, and Republican voters are indulging the extent to which they have a fair amount of choice. When the field begins to winnow in January, odds are very good that Romney will pick up a lot more support from Republican voters.
Read more about a Gallup poll about the Republican presidential candidates at The American Prospect
In These Times (@
Library in the slammer, roughed up. Librarians surveying the damage. bit.ly/sxUK22 @melissagira livetweeting from the garage.
OWS librarians attempted to reclaim their collection and found it decimated, according to the Maddow Blog. The librarians told Maddow that they only found 25 boxes of books in storage, many of which were damaged or desroyed. Laptop computers were recovered, damanged beyond repair.
Read more at In These Times
Bill McKibben (@billmckibben)
If you want to see someone looking nervous on Colbert, tonite is your big chance
Oxford American (@
Musician Chris Isaak likes Oxford American
“I was reading the ‘Oxford American,’ a great, great music magazine,” he said. “It’s like getting four years of ‘Rolling Stone’ all in the same magazine.”
Read the rest of the article about Chris Isaak in The Kansas City Star
Tuesday, November 15, 2011 4:28 PM
This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.com
Conventional wisdom has it that the next election will be fought exclusively on the topic of jobs. But President Obama’s announcement last week that he would postpone a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline until after the 2012 election, which may effectively kill the project, makes it clear that other issues will weigh in -- and that, oddly enough, one of them might even be climate change.
The pipeline decision was a true upset. Everyone -- and I mean everyone who "knew" how these things work -- seemed certain that the president would approve it. The National Journal runs a weekly poll of “energy insiders” -- that is, all the key players in Washington. A month to the day before the Keystone XL postponement, this large cast of characters was “virtually unanimous” in guaranteeing that it would be approved by year’s end.
Transcanada Pipeline, the company that was going to build the 1,700-mile pipeline from the tar-sands fields of Alberta, Canada, through a sensitive Midwestern aquifer to the Gulf of Mexico, certainly agreed. After all, they’d already mowed the strip and prepositioned hundreds of millions of dollars worth of pipe, just waiting for the permit they thought they’d bought with millions in lobbying giftsand other maneuvers. Happily, activists across the country weren’t smart enough to know they’d been beaten, and so they staged the largest civil disobedience action in 35 years, not to mention ringing the White House with people, invading Obama campaign offices, and generally proving that they were willing to fight.
No permanent victory was won. Indeed, just yesterday Transcanada agreed to reroute the pipeline in Nebraska in an effort to speed up the review, though that appears not to change the schedule. Still, we're waiting for the White House to clarify that they will continue to fully take climate change into account in their evaluation. But even that won't be final. Obama could just wait for an election victory and then approve the pipeline -- as any Republican victor certainly would. Chances are, nonetheless, that the process has now gotten so messy that Transcanada’s pipeline will die of its own weight, in turn starving the tar-sands oil industry and giving a boost to the global environment. Of course, killing the pipeline will hardly solve the problem of global warming (though heavily exploiting those tar sands would, in NASA scientist James Hansen’s words, mean “game over for the climate.”)
In this line of work, where victories of any kind are few and far between, this was a real win. It began with indigenous activists, spread to Nebraska ranchers, and eventually turned into the biggest environmental flashpoint in many years. And it owed no small debt to the Occupy Wall Street protesters shamefully evicted from Zuccotti Park last night, who helped everyone understand the power of corporate money in our daily lives. That these forces prevailed shocked most pundits precisely because it’s common wisdom that they’re not the sort of voters who count, certainly not in a year of economic trouble.
In fact, the biggest reason the realists had no doubts the pipeline would get its permit, via a State Department review and a presidential thumbs-up of that border-crossing pipeline, was because of the well-known political potency of the jobs argument in bad economic times. Despite endless lazy reporting on the theme of jobs versus the environment, there were actually no net jobs to be had from the pipeline. It was always a weak argument, since the whole point of a pipeline is that, once it's built, no one needs to work there. In addition, as the one study not paid for by Transcanada made clear, the project would kill as many jobs as it would create.
The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson finally demonstrated this late in the game with a fine report taking apart Transcanada’s job estimates. (The 20,000 jobs endlessly taken for granted assumed, among other stretches, that modern dance troupes would move to Nebraska, where part of the pipeline would be built, to entertain pipeline workers.) Still, the jobs trope remained, and you can be sure that the Chamber of Commerce will run 1,000 ads during the 2012 presidential campaign trying to hammer it home. And you can be sure the White House knew that, which was why it was such a tough call for them -- and why the pressure of a movement among people whose support matters to them made a difference.
Let’s assume the obvious then: that one part of their recent calculations that led to the postponement decision might just be the suspicion that they will actually win votes thanks to the global-warming question in the next election.
For one thing, global warming denial has seen its apogee. The concerted effort by the fossil-fuel industry to underwrite scientific revision met its match last month when a team headed by Berkeley skeptic and prominent physicist Richard Muller -- with funding from the Koch Brothers, of all people -- actually found that, what do you know, all the other teams of climate-change scientists were, um, right. The planet was indeed warming just as fast as they, and the insurance companies, and the melting ice had been insisting.
Still, scientific studies only reach a certain audience. Weird weather is a far more powerful messenger. It’s been hard to miss the record flooding along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and across the Northeast; the record drought and fires across the Southwest; the record multi-billion dollar weather disasters across the country this year; the record pretty-much everything-you-don’t-want across the nation. Obama certainly noticed. He’s responsible for finding the cash every time some other state submerges.
As a result, after years of decline, the number of Americans who understand that the planet is indeed warming and that we’re to blame appears to be on the rise again. And ironically enough, one reason may be the spectacle of all the tea-partying GOP candidates for the presidency being forced to swear fealty to the notion that global warming is a hoax. Normal people find this odd: it’s one thing to promise Grover Norquist that you’ll never ever raise taxes; it’s another to promise that you’ll defeat chemistry and physics with the mighty power of the market.
Along these lines, Mitt Romney made an important unforced error last month. Earlier in the primaries, he and Jon Huntsman had been alone in the Republican field in being open to the idea that global warming might actually be real. Neither wanted to do anything about it, of course, but that stance itself was enough to mark them as realists. It was also a sign that Romney was thinking ahead to the election itself, and didn’t want to be pinned against this particular wall.
In late October, however, he evidently felt he had no choice but to pin himself to exactly that wall and so stated conclusively: “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet.” In other words, he not only flip-flopped to the side of climate denial, but did so less than six months after he had said no less definitively: “I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world’s getting warmer… And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that.” Note as well that he did so, while all the evidence, even some recently funded by the deniers, pointed the other way.
If he becomes the Republican presidential candidate as expected, this may be the most powerful weathervane ad the White House will have in its arsenal. Even for people who don’t care about climate change, it makes him look like the spinally challenged fellow he seems to be. But it’s an ad that couldn’t be run if the president had okayed that pipeline.
Now that Obama has at least temporarily blocked Keystone XL, now that his team has promised to consider climate change as a factor in any final decision on the pipeline’s eventual fate, he can campaign on the issue. And in many ways, it may prove a surprise winner.
After all, only people who would never vote for him anyway deny global warming. It’s a redoubt for talk-show rightists. College kids, on the other hand, consistently rank it among the most important issues. And college kids, as Gerald Seib pointed out in the Wall Street Journal last week, are a key constituency for the president, who is expected to need something close to the two-thirds margin he won on campus in 2008 to win again in 2012.
Sure, those kids care about student loans, which threaten to take them under, and jobs, which are increasingly hard to come by, but the nature of young people is also to care about the world. In addition, independent voters, suburban moms -- these are the kinds of people who worry about the environment. Count on it: they’ll be key targets for Obama’s presidential campaign.
Given the economy, that campaign will have to make Mitt Romney look like something other than a middle-of-the-road businessman. If he’s a centrist, he probably wins. If he’s a flip-flopper with kooky tendencies, they’ve got a shot. And the kookiest thing he’s done yet is to deny climate science.
If I’m right, expect the White House to approve strong greenhouse gas regulations in the months ahead, and then talk explicitly about the threat of a warming world. In some ways it will still be a stretch. To put the matter politely, they’ve been far from perfect on the issue: the president didn’t bother to waste any of his vaunted “political capital” on a climate bill, and he’s opened huge swaths of territory to coal mining and offshore drilling.
But blocking the pipeline finally gave him some credibility here -- and it gave a lot more of the same to citizens' movements to change our world. Since a lot of folks suspect that the only way forward economically has something to do with a clean energy future, I’m guessing that the pipeline decision won’t be the only surprise. I bet Barack Obama talks on occasion about global warming next year, and I bet it helps him.
But don’t count on that, or on Keystone XL disappearing, and go home. If the pipeline story (so far) has one lesson, it’s this: you can’t expect anything to change if you don’t go out and change it yourself.
Bill McKibben is an
visionary and founder
, and Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College. His most recent book is
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
Copyright 2011 Bill McKibben
Image by tarsandsaction, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011 11:34 AM
This post originally appeared at
For connoisseurs, Barack Obama’s fundraising emails for the 2012 election campaign seem just a tad forlorn -- slightly limp reminders of the last time ‘round.
Four years ago at this time, the early adopters among us were just starting to get used to the regular flow of email from the Obama campaign. The missives were actually exciting to get, because they seemed less like appeals for money than a chance to join a movement.
Sometimes they came with inspirational videos from Camp Obama, especially the volunteer training sessions staged by organizing guru Marshall Ganz. Here’s a favorite of mine, where a woman invokes Bobby Kennedy and Cesar Chavez and says that, as the weekend went on, she “felt her heart softening,” her cynicism “melting,” her determination building. I remember that feeling, and I remember clicking time and again to send another $50 off to fund that people-powered mission. (And I recall knocking on a lot of New Hampshire doors, too, with my 14-year-old daughter.)
It’s no wonder, then, that I’m still on the email list. But I haven’t been clicking through this time. Not even when Barack Obama himself asked me to “donate $75 or more today to be automatically entered for a chance to join me for dinner.” Not even when campaign manager Jim Messina pointed out that, though “the president has very little time to spend on anything related to the campaign… this is how he chooses to spend it -- having real, substantive conversations with people like you” over the dinner you might just win. (And if you do win, you’ll be put on a plane to “Washington, or Chicago, or wherever he might be that day.”)
Not even when deputy campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon offered to let me “take ownership of this campaign” by donating to it and, as an “added bonus,” possibly find myself “across the table from the president.” Not even when Michelle lowered the entry price from $75 to $25 and offered this bit of reassurance: “Just relax. Barack wants this dinner to be fun, and he really loves getting to know supporters like you.” Not even when, hours before an end-of-September fundraising “deadline,” Barack himself dropped the asking price to three dollars. God, have a little self-respect man! Three dollars?
Here’s the thing I’m starting to think Obama never understood: yes, for most of us the 2008 campaign was partly about him, but it was more about the campaign itself -- about the sudden feeling of power that gripped a web-enabled populace, who felt themselves able to really, truly hope. Hope that maybe they’d found a candidate who would escape the tried-and-true money corruption of Washington.
None of us gave $50 hoping for a favor. Quite the opposite. You gave $50 hoping that, for the first time in a long while in American politics, no one would get a favor. And the candidate, it must be said, led us on. His rhetorical flights were dazzling -- to environmentalists like me, he promised to “free this nation from the tyranny of oil once and for all,” and pledged that his administration would mark the moment when “the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
Once in office, it was inevitable that he’d disappoint us to some degree. In fact, we knew the disappointment would come and braced ourselves for it. After all, our movement was up against the staggering power of vested corporate and financial interests. It’s hard to beat big money. Still, we didn’t mind thinking: Yes, we can. We’ll work hard. We’ve got your back. Let’s go!
What we completely missed was that Obama didn’t want us at his back -- that the minute the campaign was over he would cut us adrift, jettison the movement that had brought him to power. Instead of using all those millions of people to force through ambitious health-care proposals or serious climate legislation or [fill in the blank yourself here], he governed as the opposite of a movement candidate.
He clearly had not the slightest interest in keeping that network activated and engaged. Though we had brought him to the party, it was as if he didn’t really want to dance with us. Instead -- however painful the image may be -- he wanted to dance with Larry Summers. (Fundraising idea: I’d pay $75 to be assured I never had to have dinner with Summers.)
As the months of his administration rolled into years, he only seemed to grow less interested in movements of any sort. Before long, people like Tom Donahue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, were topping the list of the most frequent visitors to the White House. And that was before this winter when -- after they’d been the biggest contributors to GOP congressional candidates -- Obama went on bended knee to Chamber headquarters, apologizing that he hadn’t brought a fruitcake along as a gift. (What is it with this guy and food? At any rate, he soon gave them a far better present, hiring former Chamber insider Bill Daley as his chief of staff.)
Now, his popularity tanking, Obama and his advisors talk about “tacking left” for the election. A nice thought, but maybe just a little late.
Increasingly, it seems to me, those of us who were ready to move with him four years ago are deciding to leave normal channels and find new forms of action. Here's an example: by year's end the president has said he will make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude oil from the tar sands of northern Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. The nation's top climate scientists sent the administration a letter indicating that such a development would be disastrous for the climate. NASA's James Hansen, the government's top climate researcher, said heavily tapping tar-sands oil, a particularly “dirty” form of fossil fuel, would mean “game over for the climate.” Ten of the president's fellow recent Nobel Peace Prize laureates pointed out in a letter that blocking the prospective pipeline would offer him a real leadership moment, a “tremendous opportunity to begin transition away from our dependence on oil, coal, and gas.”
But every indication from this administration suggests that it is prepared to grant the necessary permission for a project that has the enthusiastic backing of the Chamber of Commerce, and in which the Koch Brothers have a “direct and substantial interest.” And not just backing. To use the words of a recent New York Times story, they are willing to "flout the intent of federal law" to get it done. Check this out as well: the State Department, at the recommendation of Keystone XL pipeline builder TransCanada, hired a second company to carry out the environmental review. That company already considered itself a "major client" of TransCanada. This is simply corrupt, potentially the biggest scandal of the Obama years. And here's the thing: it's a crime still in progress. Watching the president do nothing to stop it is endlessly depressing.
For many of us, it’s been an overdue wake-up call, a sharp reminder of just who the president was really listening to. In mid-summer, several leaders of the environmental movement, myself included, put out a call for nonviolent civil disobedience at the White House over the upcoming Keystone pipeline decision. And more people -- 1,253 in total -- showed up to be arrested than at anytime in the last 40 years. (One reason Obama’s emails stink this time around: the guy who used to write many of them, Elijah Zarlin, not only isn’t working for the campaign any more, but got hauled off in a paddy wagon.)
Bare months have past and already that arrest record is being threatened, thank heavens, by the forces of #OccupyWallStreet, a movement that includes plenty more of the kind of people who rallied so enthusiastically behind Obama back in 2008.
Obama had mojo when he knew it wasn’t about him, that it was about change. But when you promise change, you have to deliver. His last best opportunity may come with that Keystone Pipeline decision, which he can make entirely by himself, without our inane Congress being able to get in the way. So on November 6th, exactly one year before the election, we’re planning to circle the White House with people. And the signs we’ll be carrying will simply be quotes from his last campaign -- all that stuff about the tyranny of big oil and the healing of the planet.
Our message will be simple: If you didn’t mean it, you shouldn’t have said it. If you did, here’s the chance to prove it. Nix the pipeline.
We don’t want dinner. We want action.
Bill McKibben is an Utne Reader visionary, an organizer at
, and Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College. His most recent book is
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
Copyright 2011 Bill McKibben
Image credit: Illustration: Gluekit • McKibben photo: Nancie Battaglia
Thursday, August 25, 2011 2:48 PM
This article originally appeared at
Bill McKibben was named a 2010 Utne Reader Visionary.
I didn’t think it was possible, but my admiration for Martin Luther King, Jr., grew even stronger these past days.
As I headed to jail as part of the first wave of what is turning into the biggest civil disobedience action in the environmental movement for many years, I had the vague idea that I would write something. Not an epic like King's “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” but at least, you know, a blog post. Or a tweet.
But frankly, I wasn’t up to it. The police, surprised by how many people turned out on the first day of two weeks of protests at the White House, decided to teach us a lesson. As they told our legal team, they wanted to deter anyone else from coming -- and so with our first crew they were… kind of harsh.
We spent three days in D.C.’s Central Cell Block, which is exactly as much fun as it sounds like it might be. You lie on a metal rack with no mattress or bedding and sweat in the high heat; the din is incessant; there’s one baloney sandwich with a cup of water every 12 hours.
I didn’t have a pencil -- they wouldn’t even let me keep my wedding ring -- but more important, I didn’t have the peace of mind to write something. It’s only now, out 12 hours and with a good night’s sleep under my belt, that I’m able to think straight. And so, as I said, I’ll go to this weekend’s big celebrations for the opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial on the Washington Mall with even more respect for his calm power.
Preacher, speaker, writer under fire, but also tactician. He really understood the power of nonviolence, a power we’ve experienced in the last few days. When the police cracked down on us, the publicity it produced cemented two of the main purposes of our protest:
First, it made Keystone XL -- the new, 1,700-mile-long pipeline we’re trying to block that will vastly increase the flow of “dirty” tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico -- into a national issue. A few months ago, it was mainly people along the route of the prospective pipeline who were organizing against it. (And with good reason: tar sands mining has already wrecked huge swaths of native land in Alberta, and endangers farms, wild areas, and aquifers all along its prospective route.)
Image: Bill McKibben being arrested on August 20, 2011, for protesting the Keystone XL pipeline.
Now, however, people are coming to understand -- as we hoped our demonstrations would highlight -- that it poses a danger to the whole planet as well. After all, it’s the Earth’s second largest pool of carbon, and hence the second-largest potential source of global warming gases after the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. We’ve already plumbed those Saudi deserts. Now the question is: Will we do the same to the boreal forests of Canada. As NASA climatologist James Hansen has made all too clear, if we do so it’s “essentially game over for the climate.” That message is getting through. Witness the incredibly strong New York Times editorial opposing the building of the pipeline that I was handed on our release from jail.
Second, being arrested in front of the White House helped make it clearer that President Obama should be the focus of anti-pipeline activism. For once Congress isn’t in the picture. The situation couldn’t be simpler: the president, and the president alone, has the power either to sign the permit that would take the pipeline through the Midwest and down to Texas (with the usual set of disastrous oil spills to come) or block it.
Barack Obama has the power to stop it and no one in Congress or elsewhere can prevent him from doing so. That means -- and again, it couldn’t be simpler -- that the Keystone XL decision is the biggest environmental test for him between now and the next election. If he decides to stand up to the power of big oil, it will send a jolt through his political base, reminding the presently discouraged exactly why they were so enthused in 2008.
That’s why many of us were wearing our old campaign buttons when we went into the paddy wagon. We’d like to remember -- and like the White House to remember, too -- just why we knocked on all those doors.
But as Dr. King might have predicted, the message went deeper. As people gather in Washington for this weekend’s dedication of his monument, most will be talking about him as a great orator, a great moral leader. And of course he was that, but it’s easily forgotten what a great strategist he was as well, because he understood just how powerful a weapon nonviolence can be.
The police, who trust the logic of force, never quite seem to get this. When they arrested our group of 70 or so on the first day of our demonstrations, they decided to teach us a lesson by keeping us locked up extra long -- strong treatment for a group of people peacefully standing on a sidewalk.
No surprise, it didn’t work. The next day an even bigger crowd showed up -- and now, there are throngs of people who have signed up to be arrested every day until the protests end on September 3rd. Not only that, a judge threw out the charges against our first group, and so the police have backed off. For the moment, anyway, they’re not actually sending more protesters to jail, just booking and fining them.
And so the busload of ranchers coming from Nebraska, and the bio-fueled RV with the giant logo heading in from East Texas, and the flight of grandmothers arriving from Montana, and the tribal chiefs, and union leaders, and everyone else will keep pouring into D.C. We’ll all, I imagine, stop and pay tribute to Dr. King before or after we get arrested; it’s his lead, after all, that we’re following.
Our part in the weekend’s celebration is to act as a kind of living tribute. While people are up on the mall at the monument, we’ll be in the front of the White House, wearing handcuffs, making clear that civil disobedience is not just history in America.
We may not be facing the same dangers Dr. King did, but we’re getting some small sense of the kind of courage he and the rest of the civil rights movement had to display in their day -- the courage to put your body where your beliefs are. It feels good.
Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of
, and a
. His most recent book, just out in paperback, is
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
Copyright 2011 Bill McKibben
Illustration at top by Gluekit based on McKibben photo by Nancie Battaglia.
Image of protest by tarsandsaction, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, June 30, 2011 1:08 PM
“Officials Say The Darnedest Things” blogs quotes from politicians with just enough context to make you roll your eyes.
The Atlantic Wire counts four reasons why Obama is probably hand-wringing over his reelection chances.
Horacio Castellanos Moya on what it’s like to be a writer in exile.
“The discussion page for the article on ‘Toilet Paper Orientation’ is 2x longer than that for the Iraq War.” That nugget comes from a wastefully informative infographic that presents everything you never needed to know about the different ways to hang your toilet paper. Let us ask, Over or under?
Bookforum ponders what the Bestseller List would look like if authors could only make the list once in their careers.
GOOD magazine examines The Eternal Shame of Your First Online Handle. Was yours worse than “Fink Ployd” or “principalrichardbelding”?
Jorge may have earned a PhD in the United States, but he’s still an illegal immigrant with a bleak job outlook.
It’s Poop Week at the birding and conservation blog 10,000 Birds. Boy, is it ever.
What are you doing this summer? Please come to Washington and help stop a massive oil pipeline, say Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry and other green leaders.
Fukushima who? Nuclear power supporters get back to business as usual.
Thursday, February 17, 2011 3:49 PM
From The Nation:
Bill McKibben, author and founder of the international environmental organization 350.org, says that without a global campaign to curb climate change, the ecological devastation of our warming climate will make our planet uninhabitable. His appeal to citizens and policy-makers, the seventh video in the series "Peak Oil and a Changing Climate" from The Nation and On The Earth Productions, is a call to action as much as it is a sobering account of the damage we're already doing to our environment.
Bill McKibben was named a 2010 Utne Reader Visionary. You can read an interview with McKibben by Utne senior editor Keith Goetzman here.
Source: The Nation
Tuesday, November 30, 2010 10:34 AM
The power of art, John Berger suggested, is that it often shows that what people have in common is more urgent than what differentiates them. The smart minds behind 350.org must have taken Berger's suggestion to heart. The organization’s first global climate art project, “350 Earth,” was a series of art installations that recently and simultaneously mounted in seventeen cities around the world between November 20 and 28 this year. By presenting a global mix of celebrations and large-scale public art works that show how climate change impacts all of us, “350 Earth” reveals just how interconnected the world is.
Timed to take place during the lead-up to the United Nations climate meetings in Cancun, Mexico, the overall goal of “350 Earth” is to show national leaders and politicians the massive public concern that exists over the climate crisis. Participant projects were located in cities in six of the seven continents (only Antarctica was excluded), and involved varying numbers of people at each site, as well as artists and designers as diverse as: Molly Dilworth, Jorge Rodriguez Gerada, Thom Yorke, Liu Bolin, Jason deCaires Taylor, Sarah Rifaat, Daniel Dancer, and Bjargey Ólafsdóttir. Calls were often made public in advance of the commencement of a project, often on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, and human bodies were often the main medium for each work. Each art installation was designed to be large enough to be seen from space, and “350 Earth” organizers arranged with the satellite imagery provider company DigitalGlobe to document the projects.
Among the more evocative projects was one of the first, which took place on November 20 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and drew upwards of a thousand area residents under the auspices of the Santa Fe Art Institute. The gathered participants dressed in blue clothing and held blue placards, and they acted out a human “flash flood” in the dry Santa Fe River bed while chanting, “It's hot in here, there's too much carbon in the atmosphere!” In another noteworthy project, mounted in New York City also on November 20, a large “roof mural” depicting a flooded New York and New Jersey coastline was placed atop a city rooftop. The painting was produced in conjunction with NYC°Coolroofs, a New York City initiative encourages building owners to cool their rooftops by applying a reflective white coating that reduces energy use, cooling costs, and carbon emissions.
In many of the artworks, the number 350 made an appearance. In Mexico City, on November 22, thousands of children gathered to form the shape of a huge hurricane, with “350” depicted in the eye of the storm. In the Australia outback, on November 26, volunteers carried torches and lights to form a giant “350” at night as a warning about the risk of a spread of wildfires if global warming is not halted. 350 is a significant number for the artists, the organizers, and indeed for the Earth itself. 350.org, which was founded by U.S. author Bill McKibben to inspire the world to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis, takes its name from what the organization claims to be the “most important number in the world.” 350 parts per million is what climatologists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Not all projects were as immediately successful or resonant as the ones mentioned above. In Los Angeles, on November 21, thousands of people gathered at Los Angeles National Park to form a giant image of an eagle taking flight, and solar-voltaic panels made up the outlines of the bird’s wing feathers. The rendering and execution of the eagle were somewhat rudimentary and unappealing, and the project was less clear—and likely less effective—than it could have been. But overall organizers seemed pleased with the results. McKibben acknowledged that when it comes to inspiring people to change, he was confident the images photographed from space would resonate with those who see them. But McKibben also added that, based on the lack of progress made thus far toward a global deal to reduce harmful emissions he was not optimistic about how much influence the art might have on the Cancun talks. “I think it is going to be a longer process than everyone has hoped.”
Images courtesy of 350 Earth.
Thursday, October 14, 2010 4:53 PM
Environmental writer and organizer Bill McKibben is the only person who’s been chosen twice as an Utne Reader Visionary—first in 2001 for his writing on climate-change issues, and now in 2010 for his role as founder of 350.org, turning his expertise into passionate activism. I recently spoke with McKibben about how he helped build 350.org into a force to be reckoned with, what keeps him inspired, and how he retains his cool demeanor in heated debates about our warming world:
You’ve long been a strong voice on climate change and in fact were one of the first commentators to call widespread attention to the problem. What made you take on a more activist role by forming 350.org?
“I spent a long time thinking that I was doing my part by writing and speaking about this, and that since it wasn’t really my nature to go be a political organizer, someone else whose nature it was would go and build a movement. But it never happened, and it became clearer and clearer to me that that was one of the things that was really lacking—one of the reasons we were making so little progress. I’d been dealing with the most important issue we’ve ever come up against, so I figured I’d better do what I could.
“As usual, these things begin as small and manageable, and end up completely out of control. We started with a march across Vermont in the fall of 2006. That was very successful, and it grew into Step It Up in the spring of 2007, and that was very successful—we coordinated about 1,400 demonstrations on a day in April 2007, and got [Barack] Obama and [Hillary] Clinton to change their positions on climate change. And that grew into 350.org, which has been very, very large, and so far not successful, at least in slowing global warming quite yet.”
When you say 350.org is large, are you talking about the membership of the organization?
“It doesn’t really have membership, I guess, in any traditional way. In fact, we’ve set it up not to be an organization. One of the insights we’ve had from the beginning is that in the Internet age, it’s probably less necessary to have more organizations—we have a lot of good ones yesterday—and more important to have ways to let everybody work together toward a common goal.
“So we set 350 up as a campaign and tried to make it easy for absolutely everyone to play along, and that’s what’s been happening all over the world. And I think it explains why we were able to help coordinate this massive Day of Action for last October, this thing that spanned 181 countries and that CNN said was the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.”
Despite high-visibility events like this, and some pretty high-profile media coverage of 350.org, why do say you haven’t been successful so far?
“Well, we didn’t actually expect that we were going to defeat on fossil fuel industry inside of a year. Movement building takes time. We need to build a movement strong enough to take on the most profitable and powerful enterprise that the human civilization has ever seen—the fossil fuel industry. That’s by its definition difficult work. I think it’s an open question whether a) we’ll succeed, and b) probably more, whether we’ll succeed in time. Because physics and chemistry put a very definite time limit on how much margin we have.”
Despite leading this campaign-style organization, you’re still appearing often as a talking head on climate change matters on the news, and you’re taken quite seriously as a climate change expert. How do you maintain that sort of credibility while also taking a very clear side in this fight?
“Well, I obviously can’t go do beat reporting on climate for a major newspaper or something—that would be wrong, you know, because I am a part of the—I long ago took a side that I really don’t want the planet to burn up. On the other hand, we’ve always put the science first and foremost. That’s why we operate something that attempts to really people around a wonky scientific data point.
“And I suppose there a certain amount of credibility that comes from having written the first book for a general audience about all this stuff, all those many years ago, and having unfortunately been proven right. I would frankly far rather have been proven wrong, and the damage to my ego would have been quite small compared to the damage to the planet that we’ve had instead.”
In a recent commentary for TomDispatch, which we republished on Utne.com, you pointed out that you’re a mild-mannered guy, slow to anger—and yet you wrote that you’ve basically lost patience with the lack of progress on global warming.
“Well, this has been a very brutal summer. The contrast between the very clear—we’re really seeing this summer what, in its early stages, this global warming looks like. That prospect is so disturbing, and we look at what’s going on in Pakistan, or Russia, or the Arctic, and it’s just especially disturbing when we contrast it with the incredible inaction in D.C., the lack of urgency at the White House, the lack of willingness even to take a vote in the U.S. Senate—to me that’s really scary. And yeah, I might have even said a bad word in that article, which is unlike me.”
I’ve noticed in your media appearances that you seldom come off as argumentative or confrontational—you always keep your cool when taking on arguments about climate change.
“It may be that for better or for worse, having worked on this for more than two decades now, basically as long as anybody on the planet except a few scientists, maybe my emotions get less tangled up in the middle of it all. When I was first wrote the end of nature, I was feeling—I was in a state of, not clinical depression, but I was very sad. And some part of me remains very much that way. But some other part has, in the way that we do after a long time, gotten a grip on it. And now I just—maybe it’s because I spend less time than I used to worrying about whether we are going to win or not. I don’t know. I really don’t know. I just know that it’s necessary for me to get up every day and do everything that I can think of to do.”
In that same commentary you laid out some prescriptions about where we can go from here. You wrote that “Step one involves actually talking about global warming.” How do we go about talking about it?
“Well, what I was contrasting it with was the tendency among some members of Congress or the administration to endlessly talk about it as if the real issue was that we needed some way to create green jobs, or energy independence. Now, these are all good things that would happen were we to take seriously the need to get off fossil fuel. But the need to get off fossil fuel stems from the fact that if we don’t, the planet is not going to work. And that’s what we’ve got to keep saying now with increasing urgency. Most people here, even in the United States, understand that there’s a problem with climate change. The polling shows like two-thirds of people sort of get it—but not too many of them get the fact that it’s happening now in a very dramatic and powerful fashion.”
How do we bring that home to those people who don’t understand that?
“Well, we do what we can. We write; we did this huge political rally last year; we’re doing a huge Global Work Party this October; in November we’re doing this global-scale kind of art project. We’re trying to figure out every way in. It may mean that we need to do more of the civil disobedience kind of stuff in the future that we did some of last year at the congressional power plant in D.C. We’ve got to figure out every way we can to communicate this urgency, and it’ll reach different people in different ways, of course, because we’re all wired kind of different.”
Environmentalists are often told that we’re not supposed to mention things like, oh, civilization as we know it may cease to exist if we don’t do something. But it seems to me that we’ve got to start talking candidly about this. How do we do that without setting off this fear response that allegedly is unhealthy for people?
“I don’t know—and so my default mechanism is just to tell the truth. You know what my books are about. The last book, Eaarth(Times Books, 2010), was no punches pulled. It’s a pretty grim first chapter, it must be said. But it’s just a recitation of the evidence about where we are, with no attempt to sort of showboat it or anything—just say it: Here’s what’s going on, right now. And it’s possible that—you can make an argument that we need to figure out some other message or framing or something—I’m not clever enough to do it. So my default mechanism is just to tell people the truth. And 350 is kind of the height of that. That’s the most important number we know about the world right now.”
Clearly, there’s plenty of discouraging news in climate change action these days. What is it that inspires you day to day, keeps you encouraged and going?
“The incredible outpouring of people all over the world. I go and look at the 25,000 pictures in the Flickr account at 350.org when I get really down about all this, and I see people all over the world, most of whom do not look the way that Americans think environmentalists do—i.e. rich white people. Most of them are black, brown, Asian, poor, young, because that’s what most of the world is, you know. That people in orphanages in Indonesia and slums in Mombasa, and in every kind of circumstance on earth, can join hands to stand up on this stuff, then I can’t find any good reason why I shouldn’t keep trying.”
I know you were tremendously disappointed by the lack of progress in Copenhagen at the climate talks, having read some of your post-conference coverage. Presumably the world is going to have to get around a table again to talk about this—how can we avoid the gridlock and inertia that bogged things down in Denmark?
“The only way we can avoid it is if we built a movement strong enough to have some real power. Look, in the end this isn’t about figuring out some magic set of words, or some perfect conference protocol. This is about power, and at the moment the fossil fuel industry, which is the most profitable business humans have ever engaged in, has enough power to easily beat back the steps that need to be taken to preserve the planet. So unless we can build a movement that has enough power to beat back the fossil fuel industry, then we’re never going to have good outcomes.”
Image by Nancie Battaglia, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, August 05, 2010 10:03 AM
This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
Try to fit these facts together:
* According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the planet has just come through the warmest decade, the warmest 12 months, the warmest six months, and the warmest April, May, and June on record.
* A “staggering” new study from Canadian researchers has shown that warmer seawater has reduced phytoplankton, the base of the marine food chain, by 40% since 1950.
* Nine nations have so far set their all-time temperature records in 2010, including Russia (111 degrees), Niger (118), Sudan (121), Saudi Arabia and Iraq (126 apiece), and Pakistan, which also set the new all-time Asia record in May: a hair under 130 degrees. I can turn my oven to 130 degrees.
* And then, in late July, the U.S. Senate decided to do exactly nothing about climate change. They didn’t do less than they could have—they did nothing, preserving a perfect two-decade bipartisan record of no action. Senate majority leader Harry Reid decided not even to schedule a vote on legislation that would have capped carbon emissions.
I wrote the first book for a general audience on global warming back in 1989, and I’ve spent the subsequent 21 years working on the issue. I’m a mild-mannered guy, a Methodist Sunday School teacher. Not quick to anger. So what I want to say is: this is fucked up. The time has come to get mad, and then to get busy.
For many years, the lobbying fight for climate legislation on Capitol Hill has been led by a collection of the most corporate and moderate environmental groups, outfits like the Environmental Defense Fund. We owe them a great debt, and not just for their hard work. We owe them a debt because they did everything the way you’re supposed to: they wore nice clothes, lobbied tirelessly, and compromised at every turn.
By the time they were done, they had a bill that only capped carbon emissions from electric utilities (not factories or cars) and was so laden with gifts for industry that if you listened closely you could actually hear the oinking. They bent over backwards like Soviet gymnasts. Senator John Kerry, the legislator they worked most closely with, issued this rallying cry as the final negotiations began: "We believe we have compromised significantly, and we're prepared to compromise further.”
And even that was not enough. They were left out to dry by everyone—not just Reid, not just the Republicans. Even President Obama wouldn’t lend a hand, investing not a penny of his political capital in the fight.
The result: total defeat, no moral victories.
So now we know what we didn’t before: making nice doesn’t work. It was worth a try, and I’m completely serious when I say I’m grateful they made the effort, but it didn’t even come close to working. So we better try something else.
Step one involves actually talking about global warming. For years now, the accepted wisdom in the best green circles was: talk about anything else—energy independence, oil security, beating the Chinese to renewable technology. I was at a session convened by the White House early in the Obama administration where some polling guru solemnly explained that “green jobs” polled better than “cutting carbon.”
No, really? In the end, though, all these focus-group favorites are secondary. The task at hand is keeping the planet from melting. We need everyone—beginning with the president—to start explaining that basic fact at every turn.
It is the heat, and also the humidity. Since warm air holds more water than cold, the atmosphere is about 5% moister than it was 40 years ago, which explains the freak downpours that seem to happen someplace on this continent every few days.
It is the carbon—that’s why the seas are turning acid, a point Obama could have made with ease while standing on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. “It’s bad that it’s black out there,” he might have said, “but even if that oil had made it safely ashore and been burned in our cars, it would still be wrecking the oceans.” Energy independence is nice, but you need a planet to be energy independent on.
Mysteriously enough, this seems to be a particularly hard point for smart people to grasp. Even in the wake of the disastrous Senate non-vote, the Nature Conservancy’s climate expert toldNew York Times columnist Tom Friedman, “We have to take climate change out of the atmosphere, bring it down to earth, and show how it matters in people’s everyday lives.” Translation: ordinary average people can’t possibly recognize the real stakes here, so let’s put it in language they can understand, which is about their most immediate interests. It’s both untrue, as I’ll show below, and incredibly patronizing. It is, however, exactly what we’ve been doing for a decade and clearly, It Does Not Work.
Step two, we have to ask for what we actually need, not what we calculate we might possibly be able to get. If we’re going to slow global warming in the very short time available to us, then we don’t actually need an incredibly complicated legislative scheme that gives door prizes to every interested industry and turns the whole operation over to Goldman Sachs to run. We need a stiff price on carbon, set by the scientific understanding that we can’t still be burning black rocks a couple of decades hence. That undoubtedly means upending the future business plans of Exxon and BP, Peabody Coal and Duke Energy, not to speak of everyone else who’s made a fortune by treating the atmosphere as an open sewer for the byproducts of their main business.
Instead they should pay through the nose for that sewer, and here’s the crucial thing: most of the money raised in the process should be returned directly to American pockets. The monthly check sent to Americans would help fortify us against the rise in energy costs, and we’d still be getting the price signal at the pump to stop driving that SUV and start insulating the house. We also need to make real federal investments in energy research and development, to help drive down the price of alternatives—the Breakthrough Institute points out, quite rightly, that we’re crazy to spend more of our tax dollars on research into new drone aircraft and Mars orbiters than we do on photovoltaics.
Yes, these things are politically hard, but they’re not impossible. A politician who really cared could certainly use, say, the platform offered by the White House to sell a plan that taxed BP and actually gave the money to ordinary Americans. (So far they haven’t even used the platform offered by the White House to reinstall the rooftop solar panels that Jimmy Carter put there in the 1970s and Ronald Reagan took down in his term.)
Asking for what you need doesn’t mean you’ll get all of it. Compromise still happens. But as David Brower, the greatest environmentalist of the late twentieth century, explained amid the fight to save the Grand Canyon: “We are to hold fast to what we believe is right, fight for it, and find allies and adduce all possible arguments for our cause. If we cannot find enough vigor in us or them to win, then let someone else propose the compromise. We thereupon work hard to coax it our way. We become a nucleus around which the strongest force can build and function.”
Which leads to the third step in this process. If we’re going to get any of this done, we’re going to need a movement, the one thing we haven’t had. For 20 years environmentalists have operated on the notion that we’d get action if we simply had scientists explain to politicians and CEOs that our current ways were ending the Holocene, the current geological epoch. That turns out, quite conclusively, not to work. We need to be able to explain that their current ways will end something they actually care about, i.e. their careers. And since we’ll never have the cash to compete with Exxon, we better work in the currencies we can muster: bodies, spirit, passion.
As Tom Friedman put it in a strong column the day after the Senate punt, the problem was that the public “never got mobilized.” Is it possible to get people out in the streets demanding action about climate change? Last year, with almost no money, our scruffy little outfit, 350.org, managed to organize what Foreign Policycalled the “largest ever coordinated global rally of any kind” on any issue—5,200 demonstrations in 181 countries, 2,000 of them in the U.S.A.
People were rallying not just about climate change, but around a remarkably wonky scientific data point, 350 parts per million carbon dioxide, which NASA’s James Hansen and his colleagues have demonstrated is the most we can have in the atmosphere if we want a planet “similar to the one on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.” Which, come to think of it, we do. And the “we,” in this case, was not rich white folks. If you look at the 25,000 pictures in our Flickr account, you’ll see that most of them were poor, black, brown, Asian, and young—because that’s what most of the world is. No need for vice-presidents of big conservation groups to patronize them: shrimpers in Louisiana and women in burqas and priests in Orthodox churches and slumdwellers in Mombasa turned out to be completely capable of understanding the threat to the future.
Those demonstrations were just a start (one we should have made long ago). We’re following up in October—on 10-10-10—with a Global Work Party. All around the country and the world people will be putting up solar panels and digging community gardens and laying out bike paths. Not because we can stop climate change one bike path at a time, but because we need to make a sharp political point to our leaders: we’re getting to work, what about you?
We need to shame them, starting now. And we need everyone working together. This movement is starting to emerge on many fronts. In September, for instance, opponents of mountaintop removal are converging on DC to demand an end to the coal trade. That same month, Tim DeChristopher goes on trial in Salt Lake City for monkey-wrenching oil and gas auctions by submitting phony bids. (Naomi Klein and Terry Tempest Williams have called for folks to gather at the courthouse.)
The big environmental groups are starting to wake up, too. The Sierra Club has a dynamic new leader, Mike Brune, who’s working hard with stalwarts like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. (Note to enviro groups: working together is fun and useful). Churches are getting involved, as well as mosques and synagogues. Kids are leading the fight, all over the world—they have to live on this planet for another 70 years or so, and they have every right to be pissed off.
But no one will come out to fight for watered down and weak legislation. That’s not how it works. You don’t get a movement unless you take the other two steps I’ve described.
And in any event it won’t work overnight. We’re not going to get the Senate to act next week, or maybe even next year. It took a decade after the Montgomery bus boycott to get the Voting Rights Act. But if there hadn’t been a movement, then the Voting Rights Act would have passed in… never. We may need to get arrested. We definitely need art, and music, and disciplined, nonviolent, but very real anger.
Mostly, we need to tell the truth, resolutely and constantly. Fossil fuel is wrecking the one earth we’ve got. It’s not going to go away because we ask politely. If we want a world that works, we’re going to have to raise our voices.
Bill McKibben is founder of 350.org and the author, most recently, of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. Earlier this year the Boston Globe called him “probably the country’s leading environmentalist” and Time described him as “the planet’s best green journalist.” He’s a scholar in residence at Middlebury College. To hear him discuss why the public needs to lead the fight against global warming in Timothy MacBain's latest TomCast audio interview, click here or, to download it to your iPod, here.
Copyright 2010 Bill McKibben
Image by Nancie Battaglia.
Thursday, October 09, 2008 9:19 AM
In a presidential debate dominated by questions about economic uncertainty and foreign policy, climate change made an appearance in a subtly new way. It was only one question, asked by a 30-year old university student named Ingrid Jackson. But the way she posed it, climate change activist Bill McKibben writes on Gristmill, prompted “as close to a real breakthrough as I've seen.”
After noting that Congress worked pretty quickly to address the financial crisis, Jackson wanted to know what the candidates would do in their first two years in office to take on climate change and other environmental issues.
“After approximately 4 million debates over the past year,” writes McKibben, “someone finally asked the right and real question about climate change.” For McKibben, who has been speaking out against climate change for two decades, this small moment signaled a major shift in the great global warming debate. He says Jackson asked the right question by skipping past tired points of contention like "Is it real?" and "Is it manmade?" opting instead to challenge the candidates with a pressing timetable. He also found it remarkable that “their point of disagreement was over who had fought harder for alternative energy in the Senate.” According to McKibben, “it was a way of saying that all serious folks, even if they disagree on tax policy or the war in Iraq, understand that an adult and mature America must take on global warming.”
Jackson, who spoke with Grist after the debate, was satisfied with some parts of the candidates’ answers, but didn’t feel “either one dealt with the urgency issue.” She said she asked the question because the environment has concerned her for a long time, and it too often places low on political priority lists behind issues like Iraq and the economy. “The only time [candidates] deal with the environment is … well, actually, they don’t seem to be dealing with it at all,” she said.
Friday, November 02, 2007 5:32 PM
Tomorrow, November 3, is a big day for the planet. In every one of the 50 states, environmentally minded folks will gather for a National Day of Climate Action organized by Step It Up. To find a rally in your area, visit Step It Up’s website.
The nationwide rallies, organizers say, “will show the contrast between the intense concern of ordinary Americans and the leadership vacuum in Washington” as demonstrators call for leadership on three goals: no new coal plants, an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, and 5 million new green jobs.
We talked to environmental author and Step It Up spokesman Bill McKibben about Step It Up and the National Day of Climate Action. Listen to the interview below. —Keith Goetzman
Utne Reader interview with Bill McKibben: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download
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