Tag Archives: Bill McKibben

The chance on climate change that Obama’s re-election gives us

Bill McKibben tweeted the gist of what we have to do: “What if grassroots activists joined with green D.C. insiders, got the president to kill the Keystone pipeline, and made putting a price on carbon into a national priority?”

Read Bill’s post on Grist to see why he’s optimistic, and look for ways to get involved with 350.org or other group. You can also write to President Obama, call the White House, post the story to your networks, and emphasize the positive in Obama’s press conference this week. About half of the news accounts of what he said were positive and half negative on the chances for real leadership from the White House on climate change; we may have to make him a follower of us and our grass-roots action. Let’s be ready!


Why Urgency about Climate Change Was Slow to Arrive

From David Remnick’s post on NewYorker.com about how to overcome the  “magical thinking” that so far has prevented the action required:

Inaction on climate change has an insidious ally: time. As the writer and activist Bill McKibben writes in The New York Review of Books, “Global warming happens just slowly enough that political systems have been able to ignore it. The distress signal is emitted at a frequency that scientists can hear quite clearly, but is seemingly just beyond the reach of most politicians.” When the financial system collapsed, the effects were swift and dramatic. People could debate how best to fix the problem, but they could not doubt that there was a problem and it had to be fixed. Yet, as Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank, who studied the costs of climate change for the British government, has observed, the risks are vastly greater than those posed by the collapse of the Western financial system.

The big question: will the politicians hear the distress signal this time? It’s up to the people, to you and me, to make sure it persists at an annoying level. As Remnick says, in the words of that old hymn, “Here cometh the hard part.”

It will be a colossal task, enlisting science, engineering, technology, regulation, legislation, and persuasion. We have seen the storms, the droughts, the costs, and the chaos; we know what lies in store if we fail to take action. The effort should begin with a sustained Presidential address to the country, perhaps from the Capitol, on Inauguration Day. It was there that John Kennedy initiated a race to the moon—meagre stakes compared with the health of the planet we inhabit.

Why don’t we all call the White House and suggest it?


Why the “Do the Math” Tour Just Might Work

Bill McKibben kicked off the 22-city tour the day after Obama was re-elected; it’s getting a lot of attention because he’s leading a frontal assault on the fossil-fuel corporations, the most profitable industry in the history of the world, urging a global stock-divestment scheme similar to the one that brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa. (I’ll be posting about it regularly.) For an account of the stirring kickoff lecture, read this in Yes!McKibben Spearheads Plans to Hit Dirty Energy Where It Hurts.

For the nuts and bolts of how the lecture tour encourages grass-roots action in the cities it visits, see the Huffington Post article by Matthew Fleischer of TakePart on McKibben’s talk at UCLA.

[O]rganizers are turning what would otherwise be a lecture circuit into a political machine. Before rolling into town, Do the Math smartly organizes with local environmental groups. Prior to McKibben’s lecture, these groups are allowed to take the stage and talk about local initiatives that need fighting. Contact information is gathered to keep the audience updated on those efforts. Instead of simply listening to McKibben, as they perhaps intended, the audience has suddenly become part of their local environmental movement.

Despite the sensational headline,”‘Do The Math’ Tour Points to 2028 as the Year of Catastrophic Climate Change,” Fleischer says that McKibben is actually quite optimistic about our ability to forestall catastrophe:

Between renewable energy and more efficient engineering, the technology already exists to stave off catastrophic global warming. Though its application is lagging in the United States, it is being employed on a mass scale in other countries. In socially-stratified China, with its billion-plus population and tremendous wealth inequalities, 25 percent of the country still manages to use solar arrays to heat its water. Germany—Europe’s economic powerhouse—in less than a decade, has managed to get upwards of half of its energy from sustainable sources.

The problem is getting the political will to force the oil companies to accept lower profits from leaving reserves in the ground, unexploited.  Fleischer writes, “McKibben says the key to realizing that goal is to battle the lifeblood of the fossil fuel industry—its bottom line.” Thus the push for divestment.


Watch Frontline on PBS October 23 (or online) if you’ve ever wondered why everyone isn’t taking part in mass protests to demand action on climate change. We know what we need to do: shift to renewable energy sources, put a … Continue reading

Global Climate-Action Day

May 5, 2012, was the day to “Connect the Dots.” As 350.org explained on Saturday, “Today the world is stepping up to connect the dots between climate change and extreme weather – because climate change is too real and happening too fast to let our leaders continue to ignore it.” That was the motive. The method was to take a photo that illustrated the effect of climate change in your locale and to feature prominently a dot, so that others viewing the 1,000-plus photos on the Climate Dots website would see what havoc weather extremes–record droughts and floods, increased intensity and frequency of tornadoes and hurricanes, and rising sea levels here in the Pacific and in island nations–have already wrought.

Bill McKibben, of 350.org, which organized this, the third annual international day of action on climate change, once again draws out the significance of the mass protests in a blog post that appeared first on Tom Dispatch and was re-posted on Yes!  Originally titled “Too Hot Not to Notice? A Planet Connected by Wild Weather” and in Yes! headlined “A Worldwide Effort to Make Climate Change Visible,” the essay makes not just the connection between climate change and its effects but an analogy between this causal connection and tobacco and lung cancer. There is the same denial (termed “skepticism” by the industry that stands to lose in each case–oil and coal now, the tobacco companies then) and a similar lack of in-depth coverage by the news media–until in the case of tobacco evidence was so overwhelming that the media got on board. McKibben makes it clear that despite the recent polls showing that a majority of Americans accept the reality that a warming planet is unleashing unprecedented disasters and want leaders to do something about it, a very real obstacle is the disinformation campaign emanating from the fossil-fuel corporations and the stonewalling of initiatives (such as a cap-and-trade bill) by the legislators they have bought with campaign contributions.

Therefore May 5 was not a culmination but a beginning. As McKibben writes, “It’s time for each of us to get involved in the full-on fight between misinformation and truth.”  Tom Engelhardt of Tom Dispatch predicts that doing something about climate change may be a campaign issue, because people are starting to demand controls on carbon emissions (63%, according to a recent poll) and fully three-fourths of Americans support “regulating carbon dioxide as a ‘pollutant.'” When the president brings it up, you know he has read the polls. He quotes the president as saying, “I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way.”  Engelhardt suggests that taking a strong position might help Obama get re-elected “if this summer and fall prove just as weather-freaky as our North American winter and spring have been, leaving Republican climate-change deniers and prevaricators in the dust.”

It won’t happen if we don’t keep the issue front and center. Join the movement at 350.org; there are several other projects in the works, including 350 Earth ART, which uses art to spark a global climate movement, and a campaign to end fossil fuel subsidies. A good description of 350.org: “our online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions are led from the bottom up by people in 188 countries.”

Keystone XL Pipeline may be back: Bill McKibben on the Colbert Report

If you get action emails from Move On, 350.org, or NRDC, you know about the “undead” Keystone pipeline, and may have been one of the 700,000+ signers of the petition against bringing it back to life. You may have missed Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, on the Colbert Report Feb. 13  Check out Bill’s third attempt to enlist Stephen in the fight to make climate change a top-tier issue. He was jailed after a protest at the White House, which led to Obama’s decision to shelve the Keystone XL pipeline for now; Senate Republicans have brought it back to life by introducing an amendment to a transportation bill, which led to the emergency petition and signature drive. The segment is embedded on Rolling Stone online; or watch it with more context on the Huffington Post Green blog.

There’s No Reason to Build the Keystone XL Pipeline–and Many Reasons Not To

There are many reasons to oppose building the Keystone XL pipeline to get oil from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to Gulf Coast refineries, such as likely environmental damage from spills, the energy required to get the oil out, and the threat to aquifers along the route, but the biggest threat the Keystone pipeline poses is the catastrophic amounts of carbon that will be released if this oil is extracted and burned. As Bill McKibben of 350.org has said frequently, citing NASA’s Jim Hansen, if the world’s second largest deposit of oil is tapped, the amount of carbon released will essentially doom all mitigation efforts: it will be “game over” for the climate. Given the lack of political will to act on other than short-term interest, even this warning is not likely to stop the project at a time of high oil prices and growing demand. Indeed, NPR reported on Morning Edition on January 18 that extraction of the tar sands oil continues, with much of it traveling on huge tankers and existing pipelines to the American West Coast and with plans to expand pipelines to the East Coast.

But Republicans’ and the oil industry’s claim that the project would provide jobs has been thoroughly debunked, at least on the blogs, which is the only place you are likely to find the story. On January 11 Danielle Droitsch of the National Resources Defense Council punctured claims that the pipeline will provide thousands of jobs. She showed that linking Keystone XL to job creation is a scam–a pretense to get the oil to international customers, for the US is already reducing its oil imports and the tar sands extracted oil would glut the market, lowering the price and thus oil companies’ profits. A subhead neatly sums up her contentions:  The Oil Goes to China, the Permanent Jobs Go to Canada, We Get the Spills, and the World Gets Warmer. (Note: I’m linking to the January 13 repost on Climate Progress because of the number of substantive comments it received there. Also, a video from CNN posted there has an interview with an executive of  TransCanada conceding that permanent jobs created will number only in the hundreds; some thousands would be hired, but only on a temporary basis, to construct the pipeline.)

Droitsch argues that not only would few jobs be created (under 100 permanent ones); building the pipeline would hinder the creation of  jobs in the  renewable energy sector, which is where they are growing exponentially. She asserts, “The evidence shows the future of job creation is in global clean energy markets,” and  “approving Keystone will set that task back decades.” On January 18, with news outlets reporting that Obama was set to reject the pipeline, Sarah Laskow confirmed Droitsch’s claim on Grist.org. Although mainstream media continue to report Republican claims that rejecting the pipeline makes Obama a job-killer, they ought to cite the evidence provided by Laskow that proves clean energy policies create more jobs than Keystone. Her figures, borrowed from Think Progress, derive from an independent study of job creation caused by programs such as the Energy Department’s loan guarantees and the EPA’s new mercury emissions rule.

This won’t stop the extraction of tar sands oil. But there are a couple of ways to slow it: decrease demand for gasoline and increase production of energy from alternative sources. As the Morning Edition reporter said, “by raising fuel efficiency standards, as the Obama administration recently did, . . . you stand a much better chance of slowing production in the oil sands.” Opponents of Keystone  will take heart from today’s decision, for building one pipeline opens the gate to many more, and stopping this big one for now buys time for activists to work on the other front: reducing consumption of fossil fuels in as many ways as we can think of.