Leading environmentalist Bill McKibben hopes climate change talk inspires action

loberle@islandpacket.comOctober 12, 2013 

Bill McKibben has been a leader in the fight against climate change since his first book was published in 1989.

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  • IF YOU GO:

    WHAT: "The Climate Heats Up," Bill McKibbens lecture

    WHEN: 5 p.m. Oct. 18

    WHERE: The Lord of Life Lutheran Church, 351 Buckwalter Parkway, Bluffton

    DETAILS: Meet & Greet Lowcountry supper for $30 at the church immediately following. Reservations required; call 843-208-8247

For more than 20 years, Bill McKibben has been a fiercely engaged leader in the fight to save the planet.

His first book, "The End of Nature," was published in 1989 and is regarded as the first general audience book on climate change.

"At the time we knew it was a huge threat, but it was still theoretical," McKibben said. "Now, of course, there's nothing theoretical. The Arctic melted, the temperature is rising, the sea level is rising, and on we go."

He has since published 16 books and numerous articles in the New York Times, National Geographic and Rolling Stone.

And his actions backup his words.

He is the founder of 350.org, an organization that in 2011 coordinated 5,200 demonstrations on the climate crisis in 181 countries -- what Foreign Policy magazine called "the largest ever global coordinated rally of any kind."

After an August 2011 protest against the Keystone XL pipeline -- which would carry crude oil from Canada to Texas -- in front of the White Hosue, he and 64 other demonstrators were arrested and spent three days in jail.

He's been called "the nation's leading environmentalist" by the Boston Globe and the "world's best green journalist" by Time magazine. He's won the Gandhi Peace Award, and on Oct. 19 will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Environmental Media Awards.

McKibben resides in Middlebury, Vt., with his wife, writer Sue Halpern, and their daughter Sophie, and is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College.

He will be lecturing at 5 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Bluffton. A question and answer session will follow his presentation.

Question. What are the biggest changes you'd like to see individual people making in their lives to combat climate change?

Answer. Get politically involved. Everybody knows at this point the things we should be doing, like changing light bulbs. I have solar panels installed all over my roof. But individually, we're not going to win this fight. Solving global warming is going to take structural reform. The biggest problem is that the fossil fuel industry doesn't have to pay for this huge pollution problem they've caused. We're going to have to come together as citizens to take on them and their political power.

Q. What is some of the positive progress you've seen in the environmental movement?

A. The two big things we're working on right now at 350.org have to do first of all with the Keystone Pipeline, which was a done deal a year or two ago and now it's very much an ongoing fight. ... The other is this divestment that's taken off, with colleges, cities and churches divesting from the fossil fuel industry.

Q. Tell me more about the arrest in Washington, D.C. and going to jail.

A. Civil disobedience is not the only tool in the activist toolbox, and we shouldn't use it all the time. But once in a while, it's a way to underline the urgency of something. It wasn't particularly fun going to jail for a few days, but it wasn't the end of the world. The end of the world is the end of the world. That's why we do what we do.

Q. As a devout Methodist, what role has your faith played in your passion about climate change?

A. Climate change is kind of an ultimate test to (your faith). In the Gospels, we're told to love our neighbors. But at the moment we're kind of drowning our neighbors and making them sick and making it hard for them to grow their food.

Q. What will this lecture address, and what will the focus be? What do you hope people will get out of it?

A. I'll try and talk about where we are with climate science at the moment, the depth of the problem and also the depths of the ways which we can respond to it across the country and all around the world. I'll show some pictures and talk about demonstrations that have taken place around the world and the exciting things going on. ... I hope (attendees) get a better sense they should engage in the fight of climate change.

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