Bill McKibben, one of the most prominent environmentalists in America, was welcomed to the stage with applause. He was brought to speak by University of Redlands Convocations and Lectures on March 21st in the chapel. This event was widely attended by students, faculty, and Redlands community members. McKibben joked that it is his job to “bum people out” because of the inherently disheartening topic of climate change. He reasoned that there is no way to understand the scale of the change we need to complete until we understand the scale that must be fixed. Climate change is not a new phenomenon. The scientists knew 20 years ago what was going to happen, but they did not know how fast and hard it would strike. McKibben went on to discuss many modern climate issues to lay the gravity of his platform.
The warming of this planet has led to ocean acidification and deep disturbance on a hydrological scale. This havoc was caused by careless human activities such as infrastructure and agriculture. February of 2016 was the hottest ever recorded.
“The temperatures recorded are off the wall the charts are taped to,” Mckibben said.
February marked the the 374th consecutive month in which the global temperature was above the long time average. Bill stated that anyone born after 1984 has not experienced a normal temperature. Bill McKibben brought climate change close to home by discussing the California drought. Vietnam had a drought, which resulted in an economic drop equivalent to five to six hurricanes slamming into the United States. Syria is part of the Fertile Crescent, but they experienced a drought that led to the displacement of farmers and people moving to cities that could not contain them. The evidence is there––climate change is real and will keep having extreme economic and political consequences.
McKibben shares this information with the audience so they know the extent of the planet’s predicament. He urges us students in a place of privilege to start making environmental changes within the United States. The science and resources to slow down the heating of this planet are available, so if humans act now we can make a significant change. Yet, it’s projected that the Earth with heat up by another one degree Celsius. America drags behind on making the necessary changes. California lacks the renewable energy infrastructure that Germany has. There are now more solar panels in Bavaria than the United States. Denmark generated 49% of their energy from wind because they have the political will to become sustainable. As environmentalists in America, we must move towards creating policy that protects the environment first before economic interests. Climate change is the deepest problem this world will ever face and we could make extraordinary rapid change––so why aren’t we?
McKibben has been with the environmental movement since its birth. He published the first book on climate change (and many more since), and has gone on to write for prestigious sources such as the New York Times. McKibben thought that if he kept providing sources for environmental education that people would change. That they would start to act sustainably and reduce their carbon footprint. He came to understand that this was not a battle of ignorance, but of economical power.
“I thought we were in an argument and if we had enough data we would win,” McKibben said. “We won the argument long ago and the fight is not about data or research but money and power and the other side had more. Fossil fuel industry is the richest and stops change.”
McKibben lets us in on one of the dirtiest secrets of American politics. The Koch brothers are owners of the second largest privately owned business in this country as oil tycoons. They have spent 9 million dollars supporting all candidates (excluding Bernie Sanders) in this presidential election. These two continue to suck oil out of the ground and denounce climate change. McKibben has concluded that the only way to truly save the environment is to break the money driven power structure within politics. Within his speech, McKibben endorsed Bernie Sanders and his political revolution, which led the audience to roaring applause. There is no way for the environment to win within the United States of America while the power of fossil fuel industry money seeps into policy.
“We can’t match that power with money,” Mckibben said. “Instead you need a different currency. You need the currency of a movements passion, spirit, and creativity.” With a laugh he said that sometimes this may require going to jail. McKibben was recently arrested while protesting, and this was not the first time he had ever been arrested while protesting for the environment.
While teaching at Middlebury College, McKibben started 350.org. The name of the website refers to climate security. Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere must be reduced from 400 parts in the atmosphere to below 350. This is now the largest grassroots climate movement in existence. 350.org was started by McKibben and seven college students. Their beginning work was to search for other people like themselves. Environmentalists have common concerns regarding hunger, development, and women’s rights. So they sought out people with these concerns all around the world, and they responded. They took a day for everybody to take this number and “drive it into the bloodstream of the planet.” During this day of activism, people protest and show their support for environmental change. Most people who joined were impoverished minorities who support environmentalism because climate change bears down hardest upon them. In Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, 15,000 people came out to protest throughout the streets, many holding signs saying “350 action.” People from Afghanistan, China, Ethiopia, Maldives, and countless more joined in this activism. This became the biggest story on google news because environmentalists didn’t appear the way that was expected. Commonly, environmentalists are stereotyped as privileged caucasian men. But these people were united by their hearts being in the same place, despite their ethnicity and point of privilege.
McKibben is proud of the work that was done in 350.org, but finds that it is not enough. He thinks that if we had 40-50 years to fix climate change, this type of work and peaceful protesting should be done all the time. But it is too slow and gradual to catch the pace of this rapidly heating planet.
“The problem is that we need to start 25 years ago and we are miles behind… We need to supplement with confrontation,” Mckibben said.
One instance of this active confrontation was Keystone XL Pipeline. McKibben shared the process one of the greatest activist successes. Keystone was accomplished because environmentalists knew they had to stop this travesty to the earth. The TransCanada pipeline would have had a permit by 2011. There was hope that President Obama would install environmentally active policies as presented in his campaign, yet this pipeline was projected to be built. McKibben and others started the largest civil disobedience act in the last 30 years. Due to this movement, President Obama eventually called for the pipeline to not be built. The dirty oil stayed in the ground. McKibben told his audience that was a good victory because it made him realize it was possible to stand up to the fossil fuel industry. Actions like these are achievable because there is no single leader of the movement, as opposed to the Civil Rights Movement, it takes common people to make a change and stand up for the environment. Since then, kayakactivsts (a pun on kayak and activist) in Seattle kayaked up to Shell Oil Rigs in protest of oil rigging in the Antarctic.
McKibben calls for nationwide divestment. This calls for removing investments, stocks, and bonds in unclean energy sources, particularly fossil fuels. Only 565 gigatons of carbon can be emitted or else the planet’s temperature will rise by two degrees celsius, and we need to stay under that amount. McKibben stated that oil corporations are not normal businesses because they profit off of the destruction of this earth. Mckibben implored the University of Redlands administration to divest. Students have been actively trying to begin the process divestment on this campus, but have been adamantly blocked. He said that we, University of Redlands, will be in good company with Leonardo Dicaprio if we choose to divest. McKibben calls for us to be on the right side of the greatest issue of our time. What we do as Americans will never really hurt us, but it will hurt people around the world. There’s not a thing a Haitian can do to change things, they can’t go to the White House, divest, or burn fossil fuels.
McKibben has a duty as a writer to tell the truth. The bleak reality is that we don’t know if we can win this environmental fight.
“The arc of the push of the earth is short and bends towards heat. And we haven’t started in time. We can’t stop it, but we may stop it from getting out of control,” Mckibben said. This reference mimics rhetorical structure to a famous quote by Martin Luther King Jr, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Unfortunately, the majority of our society lacks justice and morality towards our planet. He urged that young people keep trying to win this fight despite this reality. This fight is the apartheid of our century, according to Desmond Tutu.
“We want to demonstrate that there is nothing radical about environmentalism,” Mckibben said. “Radicals work at all times and are willing to make a living by altering the physical composition of the atmosphere and the scientists are right about climate change. If you do not believe this you are a radical.”