An overflow crowd estimated at over 700 turned out to hear Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth and leader of an international grassroots climate change movement known as 350.org, give a talk at Warren Wilson College on October 6, 2010. Warren Wilson’s Chapel reached capacity (500+) during the hour leading up to the widely-read environmental author’s presentation. The spillover crowd was able to hear McKibben’s lecture outdoors, thanks to a sound system allowing those gathered outside the chapel to listen.
McKibben has led the charge in 350.org’s so-called 10/10/10 initiative, billed as a “global work party,” intended to elicit “bold energy policies from our political leaders … on a scale that truly matters.” The goal, organizers say, is not to reduce global warming one project at a time but to send a pointed message to legislators about the need to cut carbon emissions.
It was McKibben’s last public lecture before the Oct. 10 “Day of Action,” which he said would involve citizens in some 7000 communities in 188 countries the world over. “The biggest problem we’ve faced as a planet is climate change,” he said, “and the pace [of change] is faster than what is politically and economically convenient.
“Cheap fossil fuel is the central feature of our modern economy — it explains so much of how we live,” he said, referring to everything from suburban sprawl to cheap lettuce shipped from across the continent. “The fossil-fuel industry is the most profitable industry in the history of the world. It’s necessary to build a movement to push back against that.”
The movement’s title, 350, was chosen for being easily understood in a great variety of languages around the globe: It’s based on the assertion — by climatologist Jim Hansen and his team at NASA — that any amount of atmospheric carbon greater than 350 parts per million “is not compatible with the planet on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted,” McKibben explained.
“We’re at 390 parts per million right now,” he continued. “That’s why Pakistan was flooding. That’s why Afghanistan reached temperatures of 130 degrees this summer. The Russian heat wave and drought reduced their wheat harvest enough that they cut wheat exports altogether. … We’ve got to rein in the increase in global temperature,” he argued. “But can we muster the political will to do it fast enough? There are scientists who think we have waited too long.”
The way to turn the tide, McKibben asserted, is for everyone to pay the true cost of our consumption of fossil fuels. “We need governments to set a steep price on carbon — that’s the key thing,” he asserted.
At the same time, McKibben added, “every Republican running for Senate this November has said they don’t believe in climate science.” At the moment, with the Arctic ice cap reduced by 25 percent and severe weather presenting itself around the globe, it’s a race against time… and “we’re clearly losing.”
Photo by R.L. Geyer.