Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bill McKibben and 10/10/10: Show Fossil Fuels the Emergency Exit Now

Bill McKibben looks like an aging basketball player, tall and lanky, when in actuality he is a Methodist Sunday school teacher in Vermont who has spent a great deal of time according to his own account, “in a basement coloring.”  But looks don't tell the whole story.

Bill McKibben also is an educator, environmentalist and author of more than 10 books on climate change. He helped to organize the most widespread day of political activity on the planet when on October 24, 2009 according to CNN, 5,200 separate events were held in 181 countries including beneath the ocean at the Great Barrier Reef.

Speaking April 23 at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley to publicize his latest book, “eaarth,” McGibben wore a t-shirt with the numbers “350,” a commitment to limiting the amount of C02 in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, which according to scientists is compatible with life on the planet.  The number currently hovers at 390.

McGibben built the climate change case from ground-up evidence and discussed how there is now 25 percent less ice in the world including the glaciers of Greenland and the Andes. Scientists are now panicked, he said, with “every visible system beyond the top of its boundaries. Last summer typhoons marched over Asia with 9 ½ feet of rain,” he said. With five percent more moisture in the atmosphere, there’s also more evaporation, and more drought.

“Even things that are too big to change are changing,” he said, “causing problems for organisms at the bottom of the food chain. Global warming and fossil fuel emissions are creating more acidic oceans. Some at the top of the food chain like cruise liners are being denied anchorage in places like the Maltese Islands, a country that is shifting its dollars from the tourist industry to moving the island's population before it floods due to global warming

Instead of continuing to build starter castles for entry-level monarchs and listening to people like Alan Greenspan, “the tiny tired wizard behind the curtain,” McKibben flatly said “our civilization stands at collapse.” While acknowledging the growth in the number of organic farms within the last 50 years, he also noted that assuming a six or seven degree temperature increase, many of those farms will not be successful. Nor will changing to energy efficient light bulbs impact the affect of global warming. 

McKibben counsels that our entire civilization needs to transition from fossil fuels and learn new habits for a new planet. “Gas, coal and oil is the single most profitable enterprise in the history of the world,” which is why the world looks the way it does, he said.

“The only moral response is to do everything we possibly can to change the odds and that requires our full participation,” which brings us back to the idea of  “350” a measurement that was proposed by James Hansen and his team at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. Hansen was one of the earliest scientists to raise broad awareness of global warming.  Today he advocates a rising price on carbon emissions with fees collected to promote other energy sources, a proposal that doesn’t sound totally unlike levying taxes on cigarette smoking with money going toward prevention.

Earlier this year at the Copenhagen Climate Change Accord, 117 of the poorest and most vulnerable countries who directly understand the affects of global warming, agreed to reduce carbon emissions by 2020.  But the United States still has not planted its feet firmly on that terra firma.

McKibben and others involved in organizing a global 350 movement, want to continue turning down the fossil fuel heat. They announced that this coming October 10, (10/10/10) will mark a “global work party” toward reducing carbon emissions.  Go to to sign up or to create a work party in your local area.

Also keep your eyes peeled for discussion in the coming weeks about a bill that is being introduced as a “New U.S. Senate Climate, Jobs, and Energy Bill by Senators John Kerry, (D-Mass.) Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut), and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) “It’s a giveaway gift to the industries that created the problem,” said McKibben. Find out more by reading the bill that will be published in coming weeks on Senator Kerry’s website.

Lenore Weiss

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