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Bill McKibben, planet citizen
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- @350.org / https://www.greenpolicy360.net/w/350.org
The Question I Get Asked the Most
Via Green Builder
The questions come after talks, on twitter, in the days' incoming tide of email—sometimes even in old-fashioned letters that arrive in envelopes. The most common one by far is also the simplest: What can I do? I bet I've been asked it 10,000 times by now...
"What can I do to make a difference?"
It's the right question or almost: It implies an eagerness to act and action is what we need. But my answer to it has changed over the years, as the science of global warming has shifted. I find, in fact, that I'm now saying almost the opposite of what I said three decades ago.
Then — when I was 27 and writing the first book on climate change — I was fairly self-obsessed (perhaps age appropriately). And it looked like we had some time: No climate scientist in the late 1980s thought that by 2016 we'd already be seeing massive Arctic ice melt. So it made sense for everyone to think about the changes they could make in their own lives that, over time, would add up to significant change. In The End of Nature, I described how my wife and I had tried to "prune and snip our desires," how instead of taking long vacation trips by car we rode our bikes in the road, how we grew more of our own food, how we "tried not to think about how much we'd like a baby."
Some of these changes we've maintained — we still ride our bikes, and I haven't been on a vacation in a very long time. Some we modified—thank God we decided to have a child, who turned out to be the joy of our life. And some I've abandoned: I've spent much of the last decade in frenetic travel, much of it on airplanes. That's because, over time, it became clear to me that there's a problem with the question "What can I do."
The problem is the word "I." By ourselves, there's not much we can do. Yes, my roof is covered with solar panels and I drive a plug-in car that draws its power from those panels, and yes our hot water is heated by the sun, and yes we eat low on the food chain and close to home. I'm glad we do all those things, and I think everyone should do them, and I no longer try to fool myself that they will solve climate change.
Because the science has changed and with it our understanding of the necessary politics and economics of survival. Climate change is coming far faster than people anticipated even a couple of decades ago. 2016 is smashing the temperature records set in 2015 which smashed the records set in 2014; some of the world's largest physical features (giant coral reefs, vast river deltas) are starting to die off or disappear. Drought does damage daily; hundred-year floods come every other spring. In the last 18 months we've seen the highest wind speeds ever recorded in many of the world's ocean basins. In Basra Iraq — not far from the biblical Garden of Eden — the temperature hit 129 Fahrenheit this summer, the highest reliably recorded temperature ever and right at the limit of human tolerance. July and August were not just the hottest months ever recorded, they were, according to most climatologists, the hottest months in the entire history of human civilization. The most common phrase I hear from scientists is "faster than anticipated." Sometime in the last few years we left behind the Holocene, the 10,000 year period of benign climatic stability that marked the rise of human civilization. We're in something new now — something new and frightening.
Against all that, one's Prius is a gesture. A lovely gesture and one that everyone should emulate, but a gesture. Ditto riding the bike or eating vegan or whatever one's particular point of pride. North Americans are very used to thinking of themselves as individuals, but as individuals we are powerless to alter the trajectory of climate change in a meaningful manner. The five or ten percent of us who will be moved to really act (and that's all who ever act on any subject) can't cut the carbon in the atmosphere by more than five or ten percent by those actions.
No, the right question is "What can we do to make a difference?"
- Sept 2016 / Recalculating the Climate Math
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SJS / GreenPolicy360 Siterunner: On behalf of planet citizens within the global, open source Wiki networking community, GreenPolicy360 would like to take this time, following the historic next-step accomplishments of the 2015 Paris climate summit, to send multi-language "greening our blue planet" thanks to our former advisor, Bill McKibben.
Back when we, at Green Institute with our GreenPolicy project start-up, we approached Bill to join our advisor group and although he was deeply involved in his "Deep Economy" book and in initial phases of his own start-up project with the climate change/global warming movement group that became 350.org, he agreed to add his name to the Green Institute and share his thoughts as we conceived sharing "best green practices" via global online networking.
- May 24, 2016, a moment's reflection on 350.org founder Bill McKibben
I personally want to thank Bill, a voice of our generation who feels deeply and acts with persistence and foresight to advance the critical, even life-enabling, work that all of us in the larger green, environmental movement are attempting. The climate change work is opening eyes now across the globe, in every country, every community.
Thank you Bill.
You are a true planet citizen.
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Wikipedia bio of Citizen McKibben
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William Ernest "Bill" McKibben (born 1960) is an American environmentalist, author, and journalist who has written extensively on the impact of global warming. He is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and environmentalist Bill McKibben appointed Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and leader of the anti-carbon campaign group 350.org. He has authored a dozen books about the environment, including his first The End of Nature in 1989 about climate change.
In 2009, he led 350.org's organization of 5,200 simultaneous demonstrations in 181 countries. In 2010, McKibben and 350.org conceived the Global Work Party, which convened more than 7,000 events in 188 countries as he had told a large gathering at Warren Wilson College shortly before the event. In December 2010, 350.org coordinated a planet-scale art project, with many of the 20 works visible from satellites. In 2011 and 2012 he led the environmental campaign against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project and spent three days in jail in Washington, D.C. It was one of the largest civil disobedience actions in America for decades. Two weeks later he was inducted into the literature section of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
He was awarded the Gandhi Peace Award in 2013. Foreign Policy magazine named him to its inaugural list of the 100 most important global thinkers in 2009 and MSN named him one of the dozen most influential men of 2009. In 2010, the Boston Globe called him "probably the nation's leading environmentalist and Time magazine book reviewer Bryan Walsh described him as "the world's best green journalist".
McKibben grew up in the Boston suburb of Lexington, Massachusetts, where he attended high school. His father, who was arrested in 1971 during a protest in support of Vietnam veterans against the war, had written for Business Week and was business editor at The Boston Globe in 1980. As a high school student McKibben wrote for the local paper and participated in statewide debate competitions. Entering Harvard University in 1978, he became editor of The Harvard Crimson. In 1980, following United States presidential election of Ronald Reagan, he determined to dedicate his life to the environmental cause.
Graduating in 1982, he worked for five years for The New Yorker as a staff writer writing much of the Talk of the Town column from 1982 to early 1987. He lived simply, sharing an apartment with David Edelstein, the film critic, and found solace in the Gospel of Matthew. He became an advocate of nonviolent resistance. While doing a story on the homeless he lived on the streets; there he met his wife, Sue Halpern, who was working as a homeless advocate. In 1987 he quit The New Yorker when its longtime editor William Shawn was forced out of his job, and soon moved to the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York where he worked as a freelance writer.
McKibben began working as a freelance writer at about the same time that climate change appeared on the public agenda in 1988 after the hot summer and Yellowstone fires of 1988 and testimony by James Hansen before the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in June, 1988. Dr. Hansen of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration told a Congressional committee that it was 99 percent certain that the warming trend was not a natural variation but was caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide and other artificial gases in the atmosphere.
His first contribution to the debate was a brief list of literature on the subject and commentary published December, 1988 in The New York Review of Books and a question, "Is the World Getting Hotter?"
He is a frequent contributor to various publications including The New York Times; The Atlantic; Harper's; Orion magazine; Mother Jones (magazine); The American Prospect; The New York Review of Books; Granta; National Geographic (magazine); Rolling Stone, Adbusters, and Outside (magazine). He is also a board member at and contributor to Grist Magazine.
His first book, The End of Nature, was published in 1989 by Random House after being serialized in The New Yorker. Described by Ray Murphy of the Boston Globe as a "righteous jeremiad," the book excited much critical comment, pro and con; was for many people their first introduction to the question of climate change. "Gentle climate warrior turns up the heat", Toronto Star, 5 July 2015 and the inspiration for a great deal of writing and publishing by others. It has been printed in more than 20 languages. Several editions have come out in the United States, including an updated version published in 2006.
His next book, The Age of Missing Information, was published in 1992. It is an account of an experiment in which McKibben collected everything that came across the 100 channels of cable TV on the Fairfax, Virginia, system (at the time among the nation's largest) for a single day. He spent a year watching the 2,400 hours of videotape, and then compared it to a day spent on the mountaintop near his home. This book has been widely used in colleges and high schools and was reissued in a new edition in 2006.
Subsequent books include Hope, Human and Wild, about Curitiba, Brazil and Kerala, India, which he cites as examples of people living more lightly on the earth; The Comforting Whirlwind: God, Job, and the Scale of Creation, which is about the Book of Job and the environment; Maybe One, about human population; Long Distance: A Year of Living Strenuously, about a year spent training for endurance events at an elite level; and Enough, about what he sees as the existential dangers of genetic engineering and nanotechnology. Speaking about Long Distance at the Cambridge Forum, McKibben cited the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi's idea of "Flow (psychology)" relative to feelings he, McKibben, had had — "taking a break from saving the world", he joked — as he immersed in cross-country skiing competitions.
Wandering Home is about a long solo hiking trip from his current home in the mountains east of Lake Champlain in Ripton, Vermont, back to his longtime neighborhood of the Adirondacks. His book, Deep Economy: the Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, published in March 2007, was a national bestseller. It addresses what the author sees as shortcomings of the growth economy and envisions a transition to more local-scale enterprise.
In the fall of 2007 he published, with the other members of his Step It Up team, Fight Global Warming Now, a handbook for activists trying to organize their local communities. In 2008 came The Bill McKibben Reader: Pieces from an Active Life, a collection of essays spanning his career. Also in 2008, the Library of America published "American Earth," an anthology of American environmental writing since Thoreau edited by McKibben.
In 2010 he published another national bestseller, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet--"Eaarth" is NOT a typo -- an account of the rapid onset of climate change. It was excerpted in Scientific American.
Some of his work has been extremely popular; an article in Rolling Stone in July 2012 received over 125,000 likes on Facebook, 14,000 tweets, and 5,000 comments - Global Warming's Terrifying New Math: Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe - and that make clear who the real enemy is
Step It Up
Step It Up 2007 was a nationwide Environmentalism campaign started by McKibben to demand action on global warming by the U.S. Congress.
In late summer 2006 he helped lead a five-day walk across Vermont to call for action on global warming. Beginning in January 2007, he founded Step It Up 2007, which organized rallies in hundreds of American cities and towns on April 14, 2007 to demand that Congress enact curbs on carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The campaign quickly won widespread support from a wide variety of environmental, student, and religious groups.
In August 2007 McKibben announced Step It Up 2, to take place November 3, 2007. In addition to the 80% by 2050 slogan from the first campaign, the second adds "10% reduction of emissions in three years ("Hit the Ground Running"), a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, and a Green Jobs Corps to help fix homes and businesses so those targets can be met" (called "Green Jobs Now, and No New Coal").
In the wake of Step It Up's achievements, the same team announced a new campaign in March 2008 called 350.org. The organizing effort, aimed at the entire globe, drew its name from climate scientist James E. Hansen's contention earlier that winter that any atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) above 350 parts per million was unsafe. "If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm, but likely less than that." Hansen et al. stated in the Abstract to their paper. Hansen, J., Mki. Sato, P. Kharecha, D. Beerling, R. Berner, V. Masson-Delmotte, M. Pagani, M. Raymo, D.L. Royer, and J.C. Zachos, 2008: Target atmospheric CO2: Where should humanity aim? Open Atmospheric Science Journal, 2, 217-231
350.org, which has offices and organizers in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, attempted to spread that 350 number in advance of international climate meetings in December 2009 in Copenhagen. It was widely covered in the media. On Oct. 24, 2009, it coordinated more than 5,200 demonstrations in 181 countries, and was widely lauded for its creative use of internet tools, with the website Critical Mass declaring that it was "one of the strongest examples of social media optimization the world has ever seen." Foreign Policy magazine called it "the largest ever global coordinated rally of any kind."
Subsequently the organization continued its work, with the Global Work Party on 10/10/10 (10 October 2010).
McKibben is the lead environmentalist against the proposed Canadian-U.S. Keystone XL pipeline project.
People's Climate March
On May 21, 2014, McKibben published an article on the website of Rolling Stone magazine (later appearing in the magazine's print issue of June 5), titled "A Call to Arms", which invited readers to a major climate march (later dubbed the People's Climate March in New York City on the weekend of September 20–21. Both dates were mentioned in the article because the actual date of the march was uncertain at the time of publication. After negotiations with New York City authorities, event planners chose Sunday, September 21 as the date. In the article, McKibben calls climate change "the biggest crisis our civilization has ever faced", and predicts that the march will be "the largest demonstration yet of human resolve in the face of climate change".
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McKibben has been awarded both a Guggenheim Fellowship (1993) and a Lyndhurst Fellowship. He won a Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction in 2000. In 2010, Utne Reader magazine listed McKibben as one of the "25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World." He has honorary degrees from Whittier College, Marlboro College, Colgate University, the State University of New York, Sterling College (Vermont), Green Mountain College, Unity College (Maine), and Lebanon Valley College. In 2010 he won the Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship for his work with 350.org. In 2013, he won the international environment and development prize. In 2014, he and 350.org were awarded the Right Livelihood Award"...for mobilising growing popular support in the USA and around the world for strong action to counter the threat of global climate change".
McKibben resides in Ripton, Vermont with his wife, writer Sue Halpern. Their only child, a daughter named Sophie, was born in 1993 in Glens Falls, New York. He is a Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, where he also directs the Middlebury Fellowships in Environmental Journalism. McKibben is also a fellow at the Post Carbon Institute. McKibben is a long-time Methodist.
- The End of Nature (1989) ISBN 0-385-41604-0
- The Age of Missing Information (1992) ISBN 0-394-58933-5
- Hope, Human and Wild: True Stories of Living Lightly on the Earth (1995) ISBN 0-316-56064-2
- Maybe One: A Personal and Environmental Argument for Single Child Families (1998) ISBN 0-684-85281-0
- Hundred Dollar Holiday (1998) ISBN 0-684-85595-X
- Long Distance: Testing the Limits of Body and Spirit in a Year of Living Strenuously (2001) ISBN 0-452-28270-5
- Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age (2003) ISBN 0-8050-7096-6
- Wandering Home (2005) ISBN 0-609-61073-2
- The Comforting Whirlwind : God, Job, and the Scale of Creation (2005) ISBN 1-56101-234-3
- Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future (2007) ISBN 0-8050-7626-3
- Fight Global Warming Now: The Handbook for Taking Action in Your Community (2007)
- The Bill McKibben Reader: Pieces from an Active Life (2008) ISBN 9780805076271
- American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau (edited) (2008) ISBN 9781598530209
- Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (2010) ISBN 978-0-8050-9056-7
- The Global Warming Reader (2011) ISBN 978-1-935928-36-2
- Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist (Times Books, 2013) ISBN 9780805092844
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Global Work Party (2010)
Global Work Party
- Let's get to work to stop climate change
- Find an event near you
- Top 10 ideas for activities
- Register your own event!
- Background - 13 July, 2010
- We're teaming up with 350.org and a global coalition of folks doing something about climate change to create a global day of action: the 10/10/10 Work Party.
- Help us make October 10th the biggest single day of action against climate change that the world has ever seen.
- Thanks to the folks at 350.org for this information about how to register your event.
Top 10 ideas for activities
Have ideas to contribute to this list? E-mail them to WorkIdeas@350.org
- 1 Organize a street party in your neighborhood and invite experts to teach your community about ways on how you can decrease a household’s carbon footprint.
Here is a list of suggested workshops and tips on organizing one:
Workshop on how families can maximize the potential electricity savings at home. From smart power use, avoiding energy waste and structural or design changes. Ask your guests to share what they’ve done at home.
Workshop on bicycle safety and maintenance. Get your local bicycle shop to co-host the event by providing a mechanic or ask avid-cyclists in your neighborhood if they’re interested to be one.
Workshop on growing your own food and making organic compost. Invite your local garden center to talk about which plants are suitable to your area’s weather and endemic to the place.
- 2 Get your community to switch to green energy
Sometimes, it’s just a matter of letting people know that they have a choice! Some tips in getting your community to switch:
Research all the renewable energy providers in your area and make a leaflet about it. Include advice on smart energy usage.
It’s time to chat with your neighbor! Knock on their doors; having a face-to-face conversation is a great way for people to take on your challenge.
If the energy providers in your area don’t offer green energy – start a petition to get your community to demand them to do so.
- 3 Veggie dinner or picnic
Organize a dinner or picnic with friends and family and serve only yummy vegetarian food. By the end of the dinner, get them to commit to go meat-free at least 1 day a week.
Remember to opt for local and organic ingredients
- 4 Mass Bike Riding
Gather hundreds of friends and friends of friends for a mass bike ride to show how a car-free community could look like. If your area doesn’t have the proper infrastructure to make cycling safe and convenient, get your school or office to install bike racks. Also ask your local government to designate more bike lanes in your community.
- 5 Deliver a message about dirty fuels to your local government
If you have a local dirty power plant, take some photos of the facility and deliver them to your local government. Tell your leader about the risks this power plant represents to the community and to the planet. Remind them that what your community need is an Energy [R]evolution.
- 6 Tell our leaders to “get to work” for you, not dirty energy companies
Research how much money your local representative have received from dirty energy companies. Deliver giant price tags or checks to politicians that say how much dirty energy money they’ve received. Remind them that what their voters want is an Energy [R]evolution.
- 7 Organize a party demonstrating energy solutions to show your leaders that you want an Energy [R]evolution in your community. Some of the things you can do are:
Gather lots of people and go to a dirty energy facility near your home Hold mini wind turbines to show the contrast between clean and dirty energy. Set up an exhibit area featuring solar-powered lamps, solar cookers, solar-powered charging stations for laptops and mobile phone.
- 8 Put Solar On It
Ask by letter, phone, email or personally your local politician whether they will install solar energy and/or hot water systems on their roof on the Energy [R]evolution work party. If they agree, great! If they don’t, you could pool community money to buy them one, and deliver it to the office. Ask them to pay the tab after they accept it!
- 9 Plant a tree in front of a dirty energy power plant or at the site of a proposed plant.
Better yet, gather 100 people and plant 100 trees or a thousand! Do your homework first to make sure you find a spot where you can do this legally. Your local garden center might be able to donate some trees and teach you the best way to plant them. Check out the status of the trees after you’ve planted it.
- 10 Conduct an energy audit at your local government representative’s office and get them to support an Energy [R]evolution.
Get them to choose a green energy provider to power the building or implementing smart ways on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or commit to a renewable energy source for your community instead of hosting dirty energy such as coal, oil or nuclear power.