Sunday, March 25, 2012
Unsung Heroes for Our Times: Writer/Activist Bill McKibben
Many of us have heard a clarion call and we are doing what we can to combat climate change, the use of toxic chemicals, habitat loss, factory farming, pet overpopulation and more. My series, Unsung Heroes for Our Times, calls attention to those who are actively working to make this planet a better place for all living things. I continue now with Bill McKibben, writer, activist and planet Earth’s BFF. He is also the founder of 350.org, an international climate change organization campaigning to reduce the level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere to a safer 350 parts per million.
Bill is a local ― he grew up in the Massachusetts suburb of Lexington. Today he gave a talk on “Report from the Front Lines of the Climate Fight: A Few Jailhouse Notes on What We Still Can Do.” Several hundred people filled the auditorium at Weston High School and listened with rapt attention as he quietly and powerfully spoke the truth about what is happening to our environment and why.
McKibben began by explaining that part of his job description now is to “serve as professional bummer outer” and while he planned to end his talk in a more hopeful place, first he would have to take us “into the valley.” In a nutshell, since publication of his seminal book on the environment, The End of Nature (1989), we have, through the burning of coal and oil, put much more carbon into the atmosphere faster than we thought. Now we have 40% less ice in the arctic in summer and our ocean chemistry is 30% more acidic as a result of absorbing all of this carbon.
The last two weeks were so warm in New England that residents donned shorts and flip flops; bulbs bloomed and trees blossomed more than three weeks ahead of schedule. While it was a pleasant change from the cold, raw and damp weather we normally experience in March, it was also very troubling to those of us who track climate change, and it did not feel right.
McKibben acknowledged that he enjoyed the warm weather as much as everyone else, "but I knew how unnatural it was." And it wasn't only New England that experienced this disruption in normal climate patterns – 15 states set new records with South Dakota reaching 94 degrees. Calling it more than "a cautionary tale," McKibben went further, "This weather pattern is off the wall that the charts are tacked to.” He cited a recent article by Weather Historian Christopher C. Burt, which begins:
"What is probably the most extraordinary anomalous heat event in U.S. (and portions of Canada) history has finally begun to slacken at the time of this writing (March 23rd). Never before has such an extended period of temperatures so far above normal been recorded." Read the rest here.
Like many writers, McKibben is more inclined to be introspective than out talking to crowds of people and he now spends a great deal of time traveling around the world to build the 350.org movement and work toward political change.
“We spent too long a time having our scientists tell political leaders what climate change was and how it was happening. While our scientists were speaking to political leaders in one ear, fossil fuel giants like Exxon were bellowing their message of protecting profits in their other ear, buying political power to delay and block change."
For these reasons and many more you can learn about by visiting 350.org, Bill McKibben is an Unsung Hero for Our Times.