Kalamazoo, MI – Environmentalist, Bill McKibben spoke at Western Michigan University‘s Miller Auditorium to a crowd of 1,500 people on what is happening as a result of climate change and on what needs to be done about it.
McKibben is the founder of 350.org one of the largest grassroots environmental organizations on the planet with chapters operating in every country on the planet except for North Korea. His was available for a signing of his newest book, Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist after the event.
McKibben briefly described the effects of climate change as a result of the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere including the melting of polar ice caps, oceans becoming more acidic and devastating weather. “This is what happens when the temperature increases by one degree.” said McKibben, “By 2047 every place on the planet will be hotter than anytime ever.”
The emphasis of his speech focused on what needs to be done. “I’m not talking about the technology so much because we know that.” McKibben compared the difference between the U.S. and Germany in terms of solar power generation. “We lack the political will due to a single reason – the petroleum industry. Money has ensured we have a bipartisan effort to do nothing in Washington and it has been successful.”
“We can’t outspend the oil industry, said McKibben, “What currency can we use? The currency of a movement.”
Through 350.org McKibben is facilitating that movement. According to their website, the organization gets its name from, “the number that leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide—measured in “Parts Per Million” in our atmosphere. 350 PPM—it’s the number humanity needs to get back to as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change.”
Mckibben described how he started 350.org five years ago. “We had no money and only seven people and it seemed like a ludicrous idea, but we did it.” McKibben found natural allies in activists working on a variety of issues including the anti-war and economic injustice. But, “we came to a point where we understood that individual change will not make a difference. The problem is structural and we need to stand up and fight.”
Sharing photos and stories of people around the world who participated in events and protests designed to raise awareness of the urgent need to do something to reduce carbon emissions, McKibben said, “We need to play defensively, but we also have to play offensively.”
Part of that fight is the opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. McKibben invited prominent entertainers, musicians and intellectuals to, “Come and get arrested in D.C. with me.” He told his audience that he doesn’t think young people need to be the ‘cannon fodder’ in this fight. Addressing the audience of mostly college students, he said, “It was nice to see your elders acting like elders.”
Another part of McKibben’s offensive effort is to encourage organizations and college campuses to divest their endowment funds from the oil industry. “In our first seven months we have 10 schools divested. the United Church of Christ, – our oldest denomination in America joined saying it’s not OK to pay the pastor with revenue that is putting Genesis in reverse.”
Opposition to the 350.org movement is an indication that they are having an impact. McKibben described a billboard campaign by Heartland.org which compared people who believe in climate change with Ted Kaczynski. In response 350.0rg launched a “connecting the dots” campaign in which people from around the world creatively displayed their awareness of climate change.
McKibben was asked if he felt that the fundamental problem is the pressures of population growth. “No, I think not. It’s not the thing that is driving climate change. Most of this growth is taking place where people use no or very little energy. The problem we have is rapidly rising consumption in places with a flat population growth. It means we need to change the way we use energy in some pretty interesting ways.”
McKibben supported carbon tax as one way to help. “Tax at the well, then send a check to everyone in America every month. The only people who wouldn’t get a benefit are the people using a Lear jet.”
Responding to a question about climate change deniers and propaganda against it, McKibben said, “Seventy-five percent of Americans understand we are serious trouble with climate change. That leaves twenty-five percent. I don’t think it is all that profitable to try to change their minds. I think that means we need to go with people who do get it, but that means people who get it need to do something. ” McKibben called on students, professors with tenure and alumni to exert their pressure on college campuses.