Harvard Book Store; WGBH Forum Network; Bill McKibben: Eaarth
And now it's my pleasure to introduce Bill McKibben Bill McKibben is an environmentalist climate change activist and author whose work has primarily focused on the on the impact of humans and human economies on the planet. He began his journalistic career here at Harvard where he was president of the Harvard Crimson and he went on to work as a staff writer for The New Yorker. After leaving the New Yorker he assents written been a frequent contributor to a wide range of publications including The New York Times the Atlantic money monthly over his not so much fan that when Granta Rolling Stone and outside. He's also written numerous books from the End of Nature which was the first book written for a general audience on the issue of climate change up to his most recent Deep Economy which offers a critique of our concept of a growth economy and advocates a more locally focused sustainable way of life. Mr. McKibben new book Earth making a life on a Tough New Planet argues that we have already irrevocably changed the face of the planet as a result of pollution particularly carbon emissions. The new planet that we have created is livable but all but will only remain so if we drastically change the way we approach food economy energy and community.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
It's great fun to be in this room where at a different point in my life I spent many pleasant hours in the dark. I've actually been looking forward enormously to getting here in part because I've been on the road for weeks upon weeks and I get to go home tomorrow and in part because I like it here so much. And the sad truth is I find myself when I finally get here today very bummed out of spent part of the day on the phone with friends of mine working now down in the Gulf. And the story is just so we're sort of by the minute I talk with a friend of mine who'd been in Alaska during the veld these things said this is going to be far worse we have no rocks to clean off we've got just marshland that will never you know there'd be no way to scrub clean of this oil. The pictures of the of the oil just bearing down I mean somehow the just incredible irony of the places where it's hitting first are some of the richest wildlife refuges in the whole world just thousands upon thousands of birds it's at the height of the migration season. Just couldn't get the whole thing couldn't be more more horrible especially since you know this is about the third time we've seen this movie.
You know 1969 in Santa Barbara and the iconic images that launched Earth Day and then the X and Vel DS.
Much as I admire our new president the you know the notion three weeks ago that he was going to open the coastline again to offshore drilling and confidently saying that new technology meant that really there wasn't much danger from it and things was I'm afraid symptomatic of just how bad we are at figuring out the essential truth which is that fossil fuel for all its charms is dirty in almost every way.
Horror of what's happening in the Gulf is that it's the smallest thing that's happening around the world right now it's just the one that we can see because it's actually colored you know that same ocean.
And this is sort of one of the points of the book that same ocean long before any oil spill than it is you're revocable changed as it's absorbed carbon from the atmosphere over the last 50 or 60 years it's grown 30 percent more acid we didn't know that until about four years ago when we started measuring the chemistry of seawater and it never occurred to us that we could actually alter it because the oceans are well they're our metaphor for bigness you know. But it turns out we can and have just in the same way that we've altered almost every other major physical feature of this earth.
Hence the title of the book when I wrote The End of Nature 20 years ago we didn't think it would happen this quickly but we were on the earth turned out to be very finely balanced and the one degree that we've raised the temperature already about to watch for extra per square metre of the earth's surface extra energy has been enough to set everything frozen on earth to melting.
It's been enough to.
Almost unbelievably increase the amount of moisture in the atmosphere by about 5 percent just astonishing change in a basic physical feature of the planet warm air holds more water vapor than cold and hence we now see around the world. These kind of epic downpours in day loses and floods some place around the world every week. You know three weeks ago it was in Rhode Island. You know the parts of which came close to washing away two weeks ago it was Rio de Janeiro thousands of people dead tens of thousands of people without homes because they had the biggest rainstorms they'd ever experienced. On and on and on. The point of calling the book what I did and I've been telling people that if you want to pronounce it correctly you have to kind of channel your inner Schwarzenegger and sort of.
The point of doing that was simply to try to say to people climate change is not a problem for your grandchildren. You know it's a problem right now right this second breaking over our heads far more urgent than we understood or knew. I'm not going to. There's no point in. Continuing on describing all the bad things that are going on the first chapter of the book dutifully does that does it as hard as I can to really try and make the point and some of it in that first chapter is pretty brutal because it really forces us to come to terms with the fact that the very beautiful and sweet world that we were born on to we have managed to change in profound and disturbing ways that will limit the options for us and for everything else in the world.
That said we then have to figure out how to live on that planet.
There's no sense moaning about it forever never part of our job is to be realistic enough and mature enough to then figure out how we're going to inhabit it and that's what I really want to talk about a little bit tonight. And that job requires two different things it seems to me. One is coming to terms with this new world and almost literally coming to terms with it. I'll read just a few. Page is here a couple pages and then I'll stop reading because really mostly what I write doesn't need to be read aloud it doesn't improve as unlike great poetry that improves by being read aloud it's just words you know.
But the the the central one of the central messages before I get to all the specifics in the last half of the book is that our answer for everything for a long time has been growth and that's an answer we don't get to use anymore. We're running into those limits to growth that people in this city first pointed out in 1972 in that book of the same name. When you're melt the Arctic that's a bad sign.
You know that's a sign that you've pushed too far. So. The trouble is that growth the only thing we've thought about for a very long time in our political systems especially an economic system so it's hard for us to figure out what the alternatives might even feel like we lack the vocabulary and the metaphors we need for a life on a different scale we're so used to growth that we can't imagine alternatives at best we embrace the squishy sustainable with its implied claim that we can keep on as before. So here are my candidates for words that may help us think usefully about the future. Durable sturdy stable hearty robust. These are squat solid stout words they conjure a world where we no longer grow by leaps and bounds but where we hunker down where we dig in their words that we associate with maturity not youths with steadiness not flash. They aren't exciting but they are comforting. Think husband not boyfriend now. Our time has been marked by ever increasing speed paddle wheeler to locomotive to airplane to rocket Model-T to Formula One. Can you imagine slower our time has been marked by great ups and downs and with the occasional bust Can you imagine steadiness. Can you make it work in your mind. Most of all of course our time has been the time of bigness the amazing ever steepening upward curve for things grew and grew and then grew some more economies and road networks and houses inflating until there were entire subdivisions filled with starter castles for entry level monarchs stomachs and breasts and lips cars and debts proportions and bonuses can we imagine smaller it's not easy to make the imaginative leap Slow Food is one thing but shrinking is another. The pain of the recession a word that after all literally means getting smaller has been entirely real because our economy is geared to work only with growth. By definition the only way to escape recession is to grow larger again. On the other hand in certain ways our economic trouble gives us real insight into scale. Makes it easier to start thinking subversive thoughts. If there is a phrase that sticks in the mind and in the craw from the last few years it is too big to fail. Giants like Citibank or AIG had swelled to a size where if they collapsed they could bring down the entire financial system. The phrase loosely translated meant the government must bail us out. But the simpler meaning of the phrase was that they were too big for anything too big to fail is by definition too big. We thought we'd spun a kind of magic that would suspend the laws of gravity. Ever since Reagan the libertarian economist insisted that self-interest alone was enough to hold at bay the possibility of collapse. That's why the amount of retail space per person in the United States doubled from one thousand to thirty eight square feet between 1990 and 2000 and 5. It didn't make rational sense but it made sense as long as the magic killed the spell broke late in the summer of 2008 and after that there was only poor Alan Greenspan looking less like the master magician and more like the tired tiny wizard behind the curtain.
His belief system it turned out to be flawed he testified to Congress. I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interest of organizations were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity he said.
And you almost felt sorry for him. I mean we'd lost our money but he'd lost an entire belief system.
As he put it the whole intellectual edifice collapsed in the summer of last year because the data inputted into the risk management models generally covered only the last two decades a period of euphoria.
On a larger scale our whole civilization stands on the edge of collapse because the data inputted into our risk management models come from the last couple of hundred years a very atypical time a giddy time high on oil. It's not just the banks that have gotten too big to fail but all the arrangements of modern life. Our time on air every front has been marked by the dizzying Allison her first pill explosion in the size of the human enterprise for almost all of human history. Our society was small and nature was large in a few brief decades that key ratio is reversed. Most of the time it's happened just a little too slowly for us to really feel it. But every once in a while there's been a flash the first to announce it was probably Oppenheimer watching the nuclear explosion at Alamogordo in the New Mexico desert he quoted from the Hindu scripture from the Gita we are become as gods destroyers of worlds. That particular kind of explosion is easy enough for us to imagine. Hence we have so far done what we can to hold it at bay. It is far harder for us to imagine that the explosion of a billion Pistons every minute can be doing damage on the same kind of scale.
But that's us big.
So much of the book is devoted to the question about how we might figure out how to get smaller how we might deal with the too big to fail systems energy and agriculture probably chief among them. There are far more dangerous even than having a top heavy banking system and there are at least the beginnings of good signs there.
Things that are really hopeful I've told you lots of bad numbers a few minutes ago let me tell you a good one as this local food movement has grown in the last decade for the first time in one hundred fifty years.
The number of farms in America is on the increase instead of the decrease according to the last USDA census. That's pretty good news. It's the sign that we can begin that we sort of may have hit bottom and turned the corner.
We need that same kind of thing to happen with energy the same kind of decentralized spread out. Not too big to fail system. We need the same farmer's market as it were in electron's that we increasingly have in tomatoes you know with solar panels on top of a million roofs instead of a few huge centralized power plants someplace. And we're beginning to get it. The question is how can we get it fast enough. And that leads to the other thing that I want to talk about tonight and here I not completely that because I write about it some at the end but to some degree leave the book behind for a moment. Don't tell my publisher that I'm abusing my you know trip here to in essence do a little organizing for the thing that I spend most of my time on now albeit as a volunteer. And that's the other task that we have besides learning how to inhabit a world that's already somewhat stressed in fact more than somewhat stressed. We also need to make sure that that world doesn't get any more stressed than it has to because unless we're able at a global and national level.
To make the kind of changes that would very quickly staunch the flow of carbon into the atmosphere then there's nothing we can do with the glow but the local level that will work for very long.
I mean you can be the best organic gardener on earth and it still has to rain some time you know the temperature still has to fall in something like the range that our crops are used to. We've raised the temperature one degree there's another degree in the pipeline from carbon we've already put out there. But and that's enough to make you know this new planet I described.
But if we don't get our act together very quickly it's quite clear from the consensus of climatologists that we're looking at five six seven degrees before the century is out and that's not a world that we can make work in any way. So this second half of this job is political unavoidably political. I wish that that could be avoided because that's really not my thing. You know I'm not an activist by nature I'm a writer sort of clan of people self-selected to sit in their rooms and type you know for human interaction is you know painful and and.
All of that but.
Some years ago it became clear to me that we were not making political progress at all. I mean my initial when I was 28 21 years ago and published the end of nature my theory of political change was people will read this book and then they will go out and make the necessary changes and that will be that people did read it I mean it came out in 24 languages I think.
But it turns out that's not actually how political change happens power responds to power and the forces that are keeping us on the path we're on are the most powerful forces in the world. You know I mean the fossil fuel industry is the single most profitable enterprise that human beings have ever figured out how to do. And hence it became pretty clear to me that we were going to need to do what we had done which was build a real movement. We had the superstructure of a movement we had Al Gore we had scientists we had politicians we had economists we had policy people we had stacks of reports you know taller than the theater. The only part of the movement we'd forgotten was the movement part. You know and I figured that out when almost by accident organized in the fall of 2006 this march across my home state of Vermont we walked for five days we got to Burlington and we had a thousand people. And it was great and you know I got all of our legislators to sign on to this pledge that they would work to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050 there's people here tonight who are on that march. The only depressing part of the whole thing was to open the newspaper the next day and read a story that said that that thousand people was probably the largest demonstration about climate change that had yet taken place in the US. And when I read that I thought that would I mean that's why we're losing. You know there's there's no.
The environmental movement built itself up at the first Earth Day and it's still running off that sort of momentum now. And if you don't believe me check out the average age of members of the Sierra Club or whatever you know that organizing had largely stopped that movement building was sort of over. So we tried first around this country with something we called STEP IT UP. That was pretty effective in the spring of 2007. We organized when I say we me and seven undergraduates at Middlebury College where I'm teach a little bit we were going to 14:00 rallies in all 50 states and got both Obama and Clinton then running for president to adopt this 80 percent by 2015 goal which made us quite pleased except that six weeks later the Arctic started to melt. And by the time that summer was over it was clear that our all goals were obsolete that what happens in 2050 is not as important as what happens in 2020.
And that we're not going to deal with this not only not one light bulb at a time but really probably not even one country at a time we're going to need to try to go one planet at a time because unless we can get everybody to kind of hold hands and leap together it's very very hard to get anybody any country to go along. We decided we were going to do some global organizing or try to. That was a daunting prospect because the globe is a large place. We did have one advantage a sort of horrifying advantage in the January of 2008 our foremost climatologist Jim Hansen a dear man who I saw last night and while I was there he got the news that he just had his fourth grandchild. So it was a good night. Jim Hansen and his team at Nassau published a paper saying that we finally had enough information to say how much carbon in the atmosphere was too much. They instantly took in obscure scientific data point and made it the most important number in the world. And the number was 350. They said any value for carbon in the atmosphere greater than 350 is not compatible with the planet on which civilization developed or to which life on earth is adapted.
OK. That's that's sobering language it made us sad to read. Very sad. It made it clear that we were never going to have the world back that we've had because the temperature the carbon concentration outside is already 390 parts per million we're already too high. We're already doing daily damage the same way that having your cholesterol to hide does daily damage to you you know.
On the other hand it made us happy in the sense that we now saw a way forward to do some global organizing.
We had something that was very useful to us a number.
And the reason it was useful was because the minute you set out to try to organize the globe the first obstacle you run into is people's stubborn insistence everywhere on speaking their own language. All right this is a real problem if you're trying to do this work. Numbers cut across that Arabic numerals you know 350 means the same thing in Cambridge and Caracas. It's you know it's easy to do so even though it was an obscure scientific data point and people said well maybe that you know people won't understand that. We thought maybe they could we set out to try anyway. By this time there were the seven young people that are sort of the core of this team had graduated from college thank God seven of them was the correct number because there are seven continents and each one took one. And.
The guy who had the Antarctic also had the internet it's sort of its own continent you know and we set out to organize which meant look for people who thought the same things we did are around the world most of whom turned out to be not part of the environmentalist but people worried about health about community development got their own communities about war and peace about all the things that are so deeply threatened by these destabilizing changes. We didn't know how well we were doing. The test would come on the 24th of October last which we said as a kind of day to kind of take this number and push it out into the world.
And I'm going to.
Well we've gathered in New York early that week to kind of wait for the results to come in because we told people to upload pictures of these things as soon as they had them. We were going to sort of use the web to make the part of the sum larger than the the parts as it were. I won't be suspenseful the thing didn't work. We organized as it turned out by the time the weekend was over. Fifty two hundred different demonstrations in 100 in 81 countries. CNN said it was the most widespread day of political action in the planet's history on any issue at any time. But the pictures themselves were amazing and I want to show you just a few of them I think as much to make the point as anything else to make the point that to sort of show you who you're.
You know brothers and sisters are who care about these things. And one of the things I want you to notice about them most of all is that they do not fit our stereotype that environmentalism is something for rich white people once they've taken care of their other problems. Most of the people in these pictures are poor black brown Asian young some combination of those. Because that's what most of the world is OK. The very first picture that came in two days before two days early can tell you the story to sort of show you how we organize a little bit. It came from. We got a call from these two wonderful sisters in Addis Ababa. We've done a training camp we did all over the world but we did one in Africa we brought young people from all over the continent one or two per country. Most had never left their country most had never been on an airplane but they were unbelievable. They completely figured out what we were talking about in our style of organizing and then they dispersed back across the continent and then we didn't hear from them because Africa is the one place where the Internet is still mostly notional. You really just can't Skype people easily. We got a call on that Thursday the 22nd from one of these sister she said I'm so sorry so sorry we had to go early. Ethiopia is that I think autocratic would be a polite word for their government. The government told them they couldn't do it on Saturday so they just said we're going to do it on Thursday before they have a chance to really tell us not to.
I'm so sorry she kept saying I apologize I know we're not supposed we're early I hope we're not wrecking it but we do have 15000 people out in the street right now in Addis Ababa. And we were like well that's actually pretty good you know I mean this is like the poorest capital in the world.
We need a picture right now she said. Well the internet's down again we can't get you a picture.
We were tearing our hair out because we had to show it to like CNN so that they would cover the whole thing that they know is going to be. We finally found one Western Hotel in Addis where I think all the development people go. And it had internet in the lobby. The first three people we sent in the who base intend to send the pictures were some combination of too young and too black to really be welcome in the lobby of the hotel. We finally found a white lady center in she sat at the bar ordered a drink pushed the button on the computer and you know minutes later we had pictures like that and minutes later we had them out to the world's media and after that they just started coming in from everywhere just flooding in. The next one came from U.S. troops in Afghanistan they made a 350 with sandbags and sent a note saying We're parking our Humvee for the weekend you know.
And then just around the world from you can't These are dark some of them on the screen but you know starting in New Zealand and then just moving around the world and some of them were moving to me beyond belief.
Bangladesh is a place where I've spent a lot of time in a place that's being royally screwed by the rest of the world they don't produce hardly any carbon but their country is going to be gone more or less. Lots of actions lots of them coming from places that we've never really been or you know we didn't really know anybody but it just made us so happy to see them 300 big demonstrations across India some of them from places we didn't know where they were.
Some Buddhist part of Buddhist Asia someplace but many of them from places extraordinarily poor these are dugout canoes some place on the Congo River near Kinshasa. They didn't have a digital camera. They developed this in somebodies home darkroom it obviously didn't come out so well because they had to write in what their banner said. But just the fact that somehow in the middle of the Congo you know there were people in 350 T-shirts worrying about that made us very happy and there were a lot of strange pictures like that sort of from a different decade kind of across.
Africa we had tons of underwater rallies there were three hundred fifty people actually on the Great Barrier Reef that day holding signs. Istanbul What had the worst flooding in its history six weeks before so we had no trouble doing like seven huge gatherings like that.
Beautiful public art all over the place that's from the Space Needle. Those are the colors of the Venezuelan flag. I just sort of like that picture from Tahiti.
It's an operating room in Puerto Rico hopefully they didn't stop for too long. Just amazing pictures.
One of the things that made us most happy was for the first time serious involvement from religious communities around the world. That's the head of Muslim South Africa a leader of the kind of indigenous native traditions behind him in the callers. Archbishop Tutu successor is Archbishop of South Africa leading a huge multi-faith march through the streets of Cape Town. It's a Pentecostal school in Ghana. That's not even that interesting a picture and less you know that Wheaton College is the most important this is the one in Illinois the most important. Evan Jellicoe a liberal arts college in the world that's where Billy Graham went to school even two years ago there would not have been an environmental demonstration there that there was was a a good sign. Similarly I've been to Bethlehem a few weeks before. This is these are hard to see but Bethlehem is you know a hard place even to get to. But the Dead Sea is disappearing. So people want is the temperature warms. People wanted to do something. You can't get people back and forth across checkpoints and things. So what they said was in Jordan will do the big three in Palestine will do the big five in Israel the big zero you know along the shore and put them together which believe me got a lot of press across the Mideast because people aren't really actually that good at working together often on problems there are lots of that kind of giant Scrabble those are 10000 people in Delhi from the top of the Red Fort. That was a picture the BBC put together that night. Iconic places so in India palaces it's an autumn Saturday in the US. Football games. Those are the Syracuse cheerleaders helping us out. Just place after place after place there's I don't want to go too fast through Massachusetts. There isn't. There was great stuff all over this part of the world and thank you all so much you helped make it happen. Just to see the size of those banners there in Chiapas do you see them now against the. They did a lot of climbing Soweto. They did three hundred fifty bungee jumps but the best thing about it was they strung the bungee line from the between the cooling towers of a defunct coal fired power plant and they sent us a note saying this is what we need to do with coal fired power plants the world over you know this is their best use.
It is and it's one of my it's my daughter. In Vermont just because I'm homesick 300 big demonstrations across China. It's not you know one of them got busted up by the police but the other one's walked right up to the line and didn't go over it and it was great. Those are trying to use the Climate Network making a human wind turbine and behind them you can see the edge of the largest wind farm in the world. Lots of groups involved of all kinds I hate the kind of intermural bickering of the environmental movement so we figured out a sort of campaign that would let everybody play and they did. It was nice. That's my favorite picture in some ways. She started out with a bunch of people to go to the site of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon but she had to go through so many military checkpoints and things that most of them got scared and left. She was determined to go on and took that very powerful picture. She's an amazing organizer. We brought her to Copenhagen. Now she's back in Iraq doing amazing organizing for the next sort of round of these that will tell you about in a second. Maldives isn't going to be there much longer. Incredibly beautiful country highest point a metre and a half above sea level. The student government held their meeting in the lagoon that day. The government government this is an entirely Muslim country. The prime minister taught his cabinet how to scuba dive so they could hold an underwater cabinet meeting on their dying coral reef and send the resolution off to the UN big stump in Tasmania. Not a good idea to cut down trees that size place after place after place.
It worked we owned Google News for 36 hours you know it was on the front page of every newspaper in the world almost the next day. Pictures just kept flowing in and some of them did not look like what are the idea of environmentalists are that 0 up there is all women in full burka.
We have a file of about 100 pictures of women in you know full burka who are taking part in doing great demonstrations. Aboud Dhabi oil rich but wise that's the edge of the largest solar array in the world that they are you know determined to be rich no matter what so they're getting a jump on the next thing. There's also I confess five or 600 pictures labeled 350 adorable that are.
And that one SLAYS ME THOSE GIRLS ARE SO BEAUTIFUL.
And those girls will be refugees by the time they're of childbearing age probably.
You know those guys were all born the same day in a hospital in London their parents met in August and then they the maternity ward they held a party on the 24th.
The guy on the far right sort of expresses my opinion of the whole. Predicament we're in from the sublime to the ridiculous those are electric golf carts in Laguna Woods mostly just incredibly poor people or for an engine in the Asia Bangladesh.
You know when you make 40 cents a day selling T-shirts you don't take a day off from work. But all over Bangladesh people stopped at their sewing machines for a little while to send out the message that they know what needs to happen.
If their kids are going to have any future at all that's my team. Delivering photos to the U.N. The next day. I wish they could tell us it worked perfectly and we carried the day. We got to Copenhagen six weeks later with enormous momentum was great. We had a church service there at the cathedral that Desmond Tutu preached in and they rang the church bell three hundred fifty times and three thousand churches across Europe did the same thing. We convinced 117 nations to sign on to this 350 target which was pretty awesome and thanks to all of you who made that happen. The trouble is it was the wrong hundred seventeen nations. It was the poorest and most immediately vulnerable and the richest and most addicted led by our own were not yet willing to take any significant action. So I was commenting on that final day when the whole thing was falling apart and fizzling and I was very glad that we brought along 350 because we're numerical freaks three hundred fifty young people from around the world many of whose picks some of whose pictures you've seen here to help organize they've been great in Copenhagen meeting with their prime ministers and foreign ministers and things and doing a great job it's one of the reasons one hundred seventeen nations signed on to this thing. But that day they were mostly just sort of coming up to me one by one. Very kindly saying don't be so bummed out. We're up against the hardest most powerful industry we've only been doing this a year. We didn't think we were going to win. You know we come from I mean the subtext was we come from places where it's easier to understand power than Sometimes it is for us. We didn't think we're going to win right away. We need to go back and make it stronger and bigger. And that's our only hope. So that's what we're doing. We need your help on the 10th of October this time.
We're doing a global work party not a political rally this time all over the world. People will be putting up solar panels digging community gardens putting in bike lanes in thousands of communities not because we're going to solve Climate Change one bikepath at a time. We clearly are not we will solve it the der even begin addressing it. The day that we have national and global legislation that puts a price on carbon. But not only will it be good to do these things for their own sake it will allow us to send a more pointed political message to our leaders which is we're getting to work. You know what about you. If we can climb up on the roof of our school and hammer in a solar panel you could be bothered to climb up on the floor of the Senate and hammer out a little bit of legislation you know. The unbelievable inactivity around the world but especially in this country for 20 years to accomplish nothing and to put forward now maybe in the next few weeks a piece of legislation so shamefully weak that it's not even clear it's worth adopting.
That's what we've got to start shaming people out of if nothing else. We've got to build the kind of movement big enough to command a little bit of respect and get something finally done because we do not have much time. So that's what I've been up to. As you can tell from this book we're not going to win entirely.
And it's possible we're not going to win it all. There are scientists who think we've waited too long to get started on all of this and there are political scientists who think the odds are simply too large. If you were a betting person you might be inclined to bet that way yourself.
But that's the one bet that we're really not allowed to make you know faced with the biggest problem that we've ever faced as a civilization. The one that we happen to be alive for and conscious of we've got no choice but to try to do what we can to change the odds a little bit in that bet. And that's what. Try to do what I write and what we try to do when we organize and it's really good to be in a room full of people who are already engaged in this fight and it's a real pleasure to be doing it alongside of you.
So thank you very much and thank you for coming. And.
Yes she just said movements are funny you never know when something's going to work and you know in fact we organize to stop the war and we did eventually. I didn't I was too young but that's you know I know that that's what happened to our sense you know doing this 350 thing last year was amazing. Nobody had really tried to do it. You know the problem with climate change is it seems so big that anything any of us could do seems so puny and pointless in a way so. That stroke of inspiration was figuring out how to tell everybody that they were going to be linked together to make a noise at the same time. And that was really one of the things we did and I skipped over the picture quickly there was a picture of me speaking in Times Square. We took over the End of Times Square and three or four of those huge Jumbotron. They're normally advertising vodka. We were just showing these pictures thousands of them as they came in from this 25000 of these in the Flicker account as they came in from around the world. And one of the thing we wanted to show the New York media what was going on but we were also taking pictures of them as we did that because we were sending them back out to people in the Congo or wherever saying here's what you look like 50 feet tall you know understand that you are a powerful part of a movement you know deeply connected in there and people completely did understand it. So we'll see we'll see what we can keep doing. I would just like to say it's a great pleasure to be back in the Cambridge I remember.
Know look absolutely and we're one of the things we're trying really hard is to think about how to make movements work in a world like this. And you'll recall I talked a lot about in the book about the book about decentralizing food and energy and things like that. We do have this tool in terms of the net that allows us to decentralize politics in a weird way too. When we were first starting up you always got to do is have a march on Washington that's how it's done. We were like no you know a sort of old hat be telling people to drive across America to protest global warming seems somehow off. But but mostly it's like we don't need to do that anymore because we're able to to you know to be in our place and make a noise and then. Have it resonate in a larger sense that's what we're trying to do. So you know God knows we've not got this figured out and the best part of it was I mean I mean literally I mean I can't tell you how amateur and homemade this 350 thing was. You know we didn't know what we're doing we didn't have money we didn't whatever we still don't. And we try to go on. But the best part of it was that it just operated like a kind of potluck supper. We set the date and said here's the theme it has to have a 350 in it. And other than that you figure it out and it turned out that if you don't worry about sort of protecting your brand or all over the world people have you know all kinds of creativity and you know thought of hundreds of things we would never have thought of in a million years and did an amazing job with them and that was extremely reassuring to see to me. And one of the reasons it worked as well as it did. Well I'm telling you around the world it actually did. I mean we can and the good thing about media now is it's easy to catalog and I mean we can show you the 14000 or whatever articles that were around. Look I'm not as I said we didn't succeed. You know we haven't yet done what we needed to do and we've got to make it bigger and stronger and there may well be people who can organize some you know national thing we don't have the chops to do it. We've got this sort of sense of how we do things that work sort of but God knows we have no monopoly on. We need lots and lots of people organizing and intil we have it. It's too much to expect our leaders. I mean it's you know sometimes I get annoyed at John Kerry about this too but it's not really his fault at all. You know I think he's doing as much as he can with what he's got. When we have these five or six hundred environmental lobbyists in Washington fewer than there are oil company lobbyist but still a lot. OK. But that's mostly what many of those big organizations do. And when those guys go in the lobby. The senators that they're talking with know that there's not enough behind them to reward or punish them. You know and hence they don't pay much attention. They know that the guy from Exxon is completely capable of rewarding them especially now that the Supreme Court has declared that companies can you know buy elections at their will. But it's it it's you know we've got to build a bigger movement. That's the only way that we suffered for a very long time. And the delusion the simple fact that we were right and that the world was coming to an end would be enough to cause sweeping political action. It's nowhere near enough to cause it. You know the thing that has to you know the thought that one's political career might come to an end is a far more pressing you know concern some. There are people who are beginning to figure out that they can make serious money on what's coming multinational corporations that are exposed to public opinion in other parts of the world are usually fairly agreeable to at least modest change. Because they understand that that's what the world is demanding so on and so forth. The problem is that most of those companies don't have as much at stake as the people who want to stop it.
OK so while they'll fight a little bit for you know to get what concessions they can out of energy bills or they won't fight with the same dogged determination that the coal and oil industries will to stop it. And that's where the battle really really hinges right now. So yeah but you know as you if this Senate bill ever gets introduced the forces behind it you know that people will pay attention to will be largely businesses that are backing it and will be part of the whole gambit.
It is about economics.
But the the the economics here is what has to have everybody who looks at this eventually decides that what has to happen is we have to attach a stiff price to carbon at which point our economic system will start doing with that's the one lever that's big enough to pull. But it's not fundamentally an economic lever to attach that price to carbon is a political decision that has to be made in our Congress and globally. OK. And hence that's why we have to all we need in a sense is from our political system is to do that one thing and then maybe get out of the way. But that's the battle royale because it's that's where Exxon and Peabody Coal or whatever know that the battle lies and that's what they've fought successfully all this time. It's very hard to do. It's very hard to do boycotts and things with 2 or 3 percent of people politically engaged you can get a lot done politically but it doesn't show up you know on a balance sheet you got to the Art of Movement building in a sense is to take small numbers and make them count for a lot. Which political you can do that's enough 2 or 3 percent of people really engage should be enough to turn the tide on most political questions. That's a good point. Kids not only help with the 350 thing they mostly run it.
So like this year we're doing this thing on October 10th right. This is work day so whatever your school or in your neighborhood you can help figure out some project that would be cool to do. Digging a new gun harvesting the community gardens around whatever something that sort of work you know for a couple hours. And while you're doing it with your friends to take a big picture of it make sure there's a big 350 painted someplace in the background send it to us. That's one of the things that kids can do and kids your age and older are doing all over the world. And the other thing you can do when you get I don't know you're probably you're not you're not your little Hopefully tiny bit too young to be like on Facebook and things right. But a little bit older than you that's you know young people around the world now have a kind of visceral sense of community and connection that was you know that I think people didn't beforehand because they've experienced sort of through the web some of that. I want to just finish by saying that. My experience of this has been that in an odd way young people have been more mature about dealing with this question in by and large than older people. The young people I know who were everybody we were quits young because that's what most of the world has you know. So the chances are they do but they don't waste a lot of time you know sort of with the whole kind of catharsis thing. You know it's like OK we understand that the world that we've been left is not as good as the world that you've got. You know when you got here and you know it I wish to you we wish you hadn't you know screwed up quite but so what. I mean we're now we have to live here for the next 60 or 70 years. So let's do what we can. Let's get to work. That's why we've made the theme for this year the sort of getting to work thing because that's what it's going to take. And it's really really fun and now the rest of us older people have to figure out how to follow that lead. All close since we've just talked about youth all closed because I was thinking about her the other day with the story of one of my favorite people in the world who just died.
Woman that some of you may have heard of called Granny D. Doris Haddock from New Hampshire.
Is she an I. I was actually arrested in the first global warming sort of civil disobedience are about 10 years ago she was. She was 93 then and she just she called me up said we're going to go to Washington this was after she'd walked across the country so we're going to go to Washington I need you to come down. You know I'm well raised for somebody who's 93 tells me to do something I do it.
And we went and we were in the rotunda of the Capitol and holding a sign to stop global warming stop campaign contributions from Global Warmers. They the return is closer than they wish you to exercise your First Amendment rights so we were arrested and they handcuffed the two of us together which was very funny because she's about four foot four maybe and.
Over like this.
And she looked up which you know 93 I've never been arrested before. I should have started long ago.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
- Harvard Book Store
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- Bill McKibben: Eaarth
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- Bill McKibben, a journalist, writer, and climate change activist, discusses his most recent book, "Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet." Twenty years ago, with his first book "The End of Nature," Bill McKibben offered one of the earliest warnings about global warming. Those warnings went mostly unheeded; now, he insists, we need to acknowledge that we've waited too long, and that massive change is not only unavoidable but already under way. Our old familiar globe is suddenly melting, drying, acidifying, flooding, and burning in ways that no human has ever seen. We've created, in very short order, a new planet, still recognizable but fundamentally different. We may as well call it Eaarth. That new planet is filled with new binds and traps. A changing world costs large sums to defend -- think of the money that went to repair New Orleans, or the trillions it will take to transform our energy systems. But the endless economic growth that could underwrite such largesse depends on the stable planet we've ma
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Speaker: McKibben, Bill
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- Chicago: “Harvard Book Store; WGBH Forum Network; Bill McKibben: Eaarth,” 2010-04-30, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 18, 2019, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_15-8s4jm23h6q.
- MLA: “Harvard Book Store; WGBH Forum Network; Bill McKibben: Eaarth.” 2010-04-30. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 18, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_15-8s4jm23h6q>.
- APA: Harvard Book Store; WGBH Forum Network; Bill McKibben: Eaarth. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_15-8s4jm23h6q