International environmentalist Bill McKibben spoke to a cheering “room full of people who are ready to go to work,” a sold-out crowd at the Fremont in San Luis Obispo on Oct. 30. It was an extra stop on his tour, “Brave New Planet: The Fight for a Livable Climate.” The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s environment reporter David Sneed interviewed McKibben the following day.
“We have the passion, spirit and creativity to build a movement,” he said.
He called for distributed generation of electrical power, solar panels on roofs and other diffuse sources to tie into the larger power grid.
“That kind of power can’t support the huge amounts of waste we now use but can support a good life and civilization,” he said.
McKibben, who wrote the first of a dozen books on climate change in 1989, The End of Nature, founded 350.org to transcend language barriers and unite people globally in reducing carbon emissions. The number refers to the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Currently around 393 parts per million, 350 is the target that scientists say is safe for human life. Although skeptics have denied that climate is changing or that greenhouse gases such as CO2 are the cause, prominent denial leader Richard Muller is presenting a paper today to a conference in Santa Fe, NM reversing his position. Having spent two years verifying the data, he now agrees that climate is changing and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is smart.
McKibben dismissed the criticism that environmental activists are wealthy yuppies with nothing better to worry about. His slides showed groups from 181 countries around the world in 2009, the first global action, supporting 350 ppm. Many of them are poor in developing countries that contribute little to carbon emissions. They lined up to form the numbers 350. In Yemen, the 0 was entirely women dressed in burkhas.
McKibben cited the horror stories of the past year’s flooding and weather catastrophes: Pakistan, Queensland, Vietnam, Africa, Bangkok, and the Midwest and more. Warm air holds more moisture, drawing it away from already dry areas and raining it down on others. He noted that the pictures Apollo 8 sent back from space in 1972 are now as out of date as the pictures from his high school yearbook.
“There’s 40 percent less ice in the Arctic,” he said.
He’s currently focusing on fighting the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada’s Tar Sands across the U.S. Continued extraction of oil from the tar sands in environmentally catastrophic for the land, continues reliance on fossil fuels and adds to greenhouse gas emissions. He’s organizing the public to join him in Washington DC November 6 to circle the White House and ask President Obama to reject the pipeline. They will carry signs with statements from Obama’s 2008 campaign speeches.
“He said many beautiful things and we believe what he said,” McKibben said. “We need him to live up to them when he can.”
He encouraged the group to find a local site to encircle and demonstrate support. In Los Angeles, demonstrators plan to encircle Sen. Barbara Boxer’s office.
Because the pipeline crosses an international boundary, the president holds the power to make the decision. The State Department’s environmental review of the project was conducted by a company whose major client is the pipeline developer. Several Senators and Representatives have asked that the review be investigated for conflict of interest.
The Central Coast Clergy and Laity for Justice sponsored his visit and noted that he teaches Sunday School at his Vermont Methodist church. An “Open Space” follow-up meeting has been scheduled for November 15, 7:00-9:00, at the Ludwick Community Center, 864 Santa Rosa St., SLO. McKibben said it’s an issue of faith and the faith community has become involved.
“If you’re a morally awake person and the worst thing possible is happening, you have to act,” he said.