We Interview Bill McKibben: Be More Confrontational

bill-mckibben-arrest-white-house-keystone-pipeline-tar-sands-350I speak to the recently arrested environmental author Bill McKibben, who insists that campaigners need to be more confrontational about their demands (and start wearing ties)

I think it’s fairly safe to say that Bill McKibben has had an eventful couple of weeks. As well as being imprisoned for three days at the end of August for protesting against the Keystone XL Pipeline project – which NASA climate scientist James Hansen has warned could mean ‘game over’ for the planet if given the go ahead – his organisation 350.org recently launched a campaign to promote green transport and he is currently touring the UK. I spoke to him in leafy and surprisingly sunny Cambridge where he was giving a talk at the KLICE and Faraday Institute Conference on ‘Faith and The Crisis of Sustainability’.

Fossil Fuel Industry Makes ‘More Money Than God’

For more than two decades, we’ve had clear scientific evidence telling us that if we are serious about keeping the planet habitable we must to stop burning fossil fuels. Yet all these years later and we are no closer to the elusive agreement or solution we are desperately after. Copenhagen, where the last major environmental summit took place, failed to convince leading polluters to cut their emissions to the extent needed. So where are we going wrong?

Well, according to Bill McKibben the problem is pretty obvious- it’s the the fossil fuel industry. Making ‘more money than god’, McKibben insist that they have been ‘drowning out the science’ and blocking potential change. So in response, environmental campaigners need be tougher than they have been- they need to take more risks and become more confrontational. He explains that whilst community and local action is important, alone it isn’t enough to bring about the change that we need to see.

Wear A Tie And Get Arrested

As such he sees the protests (and subsequent mass arrests) outside the White House against projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline as justified and necessary. What’s more, it’s the older campaigners who have contributed more to climate change and have less to lose from a criminal record who should be taking the risks- preferably wearing a tie or a dress to highlight that they are ordinary people. As McKibben adds, fossil fuel companies that are changing the face of the planet in dangerous ways are the real ‘radicals’.

The Environment Is Not Just For White People

I was able to steal McKibben away from his adoring fans after the lecture for a quick chat on the environment and the Middle East. He told me he was quite surprised at the level of support 350.org got three years ago from the region when they joined 5,200 demonstrations in 181 countries in a day of international action on October 2009. Jordanians, Palestinian and Israeli worked together in a joint protest whilst campaigners in countries as diverse as Yemen, Egypt and Lebanon marked the event by highlighting the number 350, which is the safe level of carbon per million parts in the atmosphere.

Still, it’s clear that the movement is new and developing so McKibben advises that we give it a gentle nudge in the right direction if it strays from the green path. McKibben also points out that the diverse range of support 350.org receives illustrates that caring for the environment isn’t a white, rich person’s issue. Rather, people of all races are concerned about the future especially those who understand that it is the poor and vulnerable who are going to feel the pinch more than anyone else.

A Protest For Justice And Survival

It clear that this injustice- of poorer nations such as Bangladesh (which Mckibben has visited) having to deal with the impacts of a warming planet caused by rich nations- is what keeps McKibben going. Yes, its true that some scientists say it’s too late and some politicians say the odds are too high, he explains, but we must continue to fight to protect poorer nations such as the Maldives whose very survival is at stake.

And the way that we are going to do this, he insists, is by making our protests louder, more confrontational, more engaging and more beautiful.

:: Images via 350.org and tarsandsaction/flickr.

For more on Mckibben and environmental issues see:

Why The Middle East Should Support The Keystone XL Pipeline Protests

Interview: Bracing For A Warmer Future With Bill Mckibben

Middle East Joins 350.org’s International Climate Change Protest

Cairo’s Climate Art Of Epic Proportions

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7 thoughts on “We Interview Bill McKibben: Be More Confrontational”

  1. Kerri Tang says:

    I believe it was the receding glaciers in northern midwest (Michigan in particular) about 10,000 yrs ago, that gave us what we know today as Michigan, Wisconsin and the beautiful Great Lakes. 10,000 yrs! What say you on that? Global warming? Your argument is empty and totally a waste. Most of us have been protecting the environment for decades, w/out the likes of you and your rhetoric,& the only reason all of your “ideas” sound so new & fresh, is because it wasn’t a political campaign issue until 2000. But, many companies have been doing environmental/green programs & recycling for 20-30 yrs. Yes, indeed.
    So see, your global warming concerns have already been in place for a long time, and using the energy sources we have in this country will not alter our land or air to a detrimental level. Coal, oil or natural gas companies have plenty of regulations to keep them clean. And, they are using technology never used even 20 yrs ago.

    1. Kerri,

      Read the book American Earth edited by Bill McKibben. You might catch from reading this book, the scope of his knowledge and expertise.

    2. Kerri,

      Read the book American Earth edited by Bill McKibben. You might catch from reading this book, the scope of his knowledge and expertise.

  2. Kerri Tang says:

    Natural gas pipelines do not have one darn thing to do w/global warming. It’s groups like yours that keeps this country dependent on energy from countries that are our enemies. What’ wrong w/your thinking, anyhow? The 2 biggest contributors to global warming are these: 1)volcanic/earthquake activity and 2)the oceans & their changes. And no one, no matter what your global warming plan, can ever chg or alter those.

    1. Kerri,

      Natural gas is a cleaner solution to burning diesel, oil and coal. So when several countries lose their natural gas lifeline, it does matter.

  3. I once told a group of girls in the UAE that hypothetically, if they stopped buying endangered fish in a nearby supermarket they would make the shop seller stock different species. The teachers present accused me of trying to incite unrest… I think the so-called Arab Spring, whatever that now means, demonstrates that people in the Middle East are willing to stick out their necks for important causes. But how do we get the old fogies to clear their calcified minds?

    1. I think I would either be very calm or very frustrated if I lived in the UAE.

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